An analysis of soil on Mars showed recently that it is composed of 90% silica. What is so remarkable about this is that silica would have required water to form in the first place, which means that Mars was probably much warmer and wetter than it is today. That greatly increases the possibility that the planet once was a host to living organisms.
In the June issue of Scientific American, an equally astonishing possibility that life may have developed without the mediation of RNA is put forward. This is a far step from breaking code by which a chain of chemical reactions might leap the barrier to become something living. Nonetheless, scientists studying mud on Mars or reactions in Earth’s laboratories keep nibbling away at how life came to exist in the universe.
Some people believe for religious reasons that even to ask such a question is blasphemous, and should some allegedly evil scientist ever manage to create even so much as a single living cell from an inert mix of oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon, I suspect the repercussions will make the response to Galileo look mild.
Yet I myself cannot see why it has to be so catastrophic a problem for those who fear that science might some day prove that there is no need for a God at all. Believers always seem to decree that there must be a God because only God could do something or other, and when some human figures out how to do it, he or she is consigned to the edges of hell. But the universe has great enough mystery to last whatever insights our human intellect and ingenuity can throw at it. The concept of God should be robust enough to survive the small steps mankind can take – however momentous they may seem.