As the TV show Cosmos makes clear (whether it is the Carl Sagan version of the 1970s or the newly released Neil Tyson version) we have learned a great deal about our universe over the last four hundred years. But there is still a lot we don’t know… And one of the biggest mysteries is how life began on Earth. There are theories… All the chemical components were present in Earth’s oceans, rivers and lakes. And scientists have observed the formation of complex molecules that are the building blocks of life. Perhaps something just nudged these molecules to form the first primitive DNA or RNA that was the key to self replication and the beginning life as we know it. God knows there was enough time for a near infinite number of random events to occur in the primordial stew of life-potential on Earth those aeons ago.
But when we think of life the bigger question is why? Why is there life in our universe? What is the point? We don’t know… But there is a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest that life in our universe did not happen by chance alone…
As the Cosmos show points out, in the timetable of the history of the universe, we are newborns. Using the “Cosmic Year” that Carl Sagan first used, where the Big Bang happened as the clock struck midnight January 1 and the time now is one nanosecond before midnight on December 31, we appeared four seconds ago. And yet many of our scientists are arrogant enough to think they know “almost the whole story” of how our universe came to be as we see it today. How ridiculous! We are still in diapers. What we don’t know would fill vast libraries.
We must accept that, in our infancy as an intelligent species, we don’t have the answers to the big questions. One day we may know…but that day is far away. In the meantime it behooves us to be humble…and keep our minds open.
But it is in us to use our intelligence to speculate so that is what I am going to do…
I can’t accept the “it just happened” explanation. That is like an extraterrestrial archaeologist of the future digging on Earth (long after the demise of our species) and excavating the carcass of a Boeing 797…and then deciding that this object was assembled by an accident of nature. Even the most fanatic atheists concede that the odds against life “just happening” are staggeringly long.
The thing is, it took our universe a tremendous amount of effort to produce the conditions that made life possible. Think about it. Life as we know it requires carbon and water. Carbon does not “just happen” – it requires the explosion of a star to produce it and release it into space. And water requires oxygen combine with hydrogen. Oxygen, like carbon, can only be produced by supernovae. And finally, the chemical processes that promote the bonding of molecules to permit the construction of the building blocks of life depend on an extremely fine balance between the fundamental forces (weak force, strong force and gravity) that seem to be magically optimized to make life possible in our universe.
I remember reading a science fiction novel by Robert Sawyer where an extraterrestrial lands on earth and engages in dialogue with a scientist. When the extraterrestrial was asked if he believed in God he was astonished… He couldn’t understand how any intelligent species could NOT believe in a higher power.
I would like to think I am in the majority in believing that life did not “just happen”. Life is here for a reason. In other words, there is purpose in our universe. Now if there is purpose, then there must be an architect of that purpose…a higher power that has hopes for life.
And if there is purpose it is reasonable to suppose that evolution is part of that purpose…which means that evolution should be pointing in the direction where, far in the future, that purpose lies. In our little laboratory (Earth) it is clear that evolution prefers intelligence as a life trait. If you think of the evidence for purpose as a “cosmic arrow” then, at least on Earth, we are the tip of that arrow.
There is a higher power… Some today call it God. And, on Earth, we are honored and burdened to be at the tip of the Cosmic Arrow. Let us humbly accept this as a responsibility to grow up…and behave like people who have a grave responsibility for the future that the higher power is hoping for. Amen.