Life: a miracle or a chemical reaction?

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.

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About Terry Sissons

Terry Sissons is the author of The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks, and this blog is a dialogue about the universe and what’s happened in the last 13 billions years.
This entry was posted in how do we know that?, science and religion, something new about something old, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Life: a miracle or a chemical reaction?

  1. Kt says:

    i think that the big bang was an explosion of cheese that god dropped which reacted to make the universe- IT WAS ALL AN ACCIDENT!!!

    I wanted to make the first comment a good one 🙂

    • Kt –
      Last February you made a comment in response to the post “Life: a miracle or a chemical reaction” on TheBigBangToNow.wordpress.com. Several days ago Will commented on your comment, and I commented on his. It would be very interesting if you read it and added a further comment of your own.

      I personally think that your comment was a good one: that we are all made of exploded cheese is a thought worth pondering!
      Best wishes for the New Year.
      Terry

  2. Will says:

    Kt: unfortunately, your comment was stupid, far from good in any rational sense. Anyway, science may some day prove that God is not needed to create the chemical reaction that we call ‘life,’ but it will never be able to answer the question of where the universe came from in the first place. Trying to look beyond the singularity before the big bang leads only to pure speculative philosophy. Since ‘before the big bang’ is the realm of the unknowable, this is where the foundation of transcendental religious belief (the notion of God) resides.

    God is nothing more than a completely irrational fantasy fabricated by the feeble human reptilian limbic system. God is philosophy, and philosophy is god (fortunately, neither actually exist).

    • Will – I have not deleted your comment from the blog because I believe with a passion that no human being possesses complete knowledge and wisdom, and that we all have the responsibility to make up our own minds to the best of our ability. I would, however, respect your comment more fully if you did not feel that it enhanced your own point of view to call other comments “stupid.”

      I myself think the comment you labelled “stupid” was meant with humor.

      I would be interested to know why you think you can make a firm statement that neither god nor philosophy exists. In light of your statement that the notion of God resides in the realm of the unknowable, I would think it is more logical to conclude that we don’t know what is beyond our limited ken. Terry Sissons (author of The Big Bang to Now)

  3. Tersa Buter says:

    I believe that God created science and no amount af arguing can change that.

    Even the fact that people can reason about whether or not there is a God is a gift from God.

    Nobody will convince me that a brain or anything can grow from a rock.I am a potter and there is no way that the clay can form a pot by itself. It needs a hand to form and shape it.

    And besides, my heart tells me that Someone so much bigger than me made me.
    And am I glad !

    • Thank you, Tersa, for your continued comments. I have been pondering this last one because I’m not 100% sure I fully understand what you are saying. If my response is wide of the mark, I hope you will clarify my confusion.

      I’m not sure what you mean by several of your statements, but I would like particularly to address your statement that “nobody will convince me that a brain or anything can grow from a rock.”

      This seems to me to reflect a very anthropomorphic view of God. Just because you or I cannot imagine how something could be done hardly means that God could not do it. Several people have told me that they don’t believe that the universe began with the Big Bang because they believe that God created the universe. Why not? just because you nor I nor any other human being could create a universe with a big bang, why can’t God? by the same token, I can’t see any reason why God could not — in fact, I think he has – made stone much more dynamic than most modern scientists think. I do not think matter is inert. The evidence that it is dynamic, in fact, seems to me to be very strong.

      To create God in our human likeness may often be the best we can do with our limited intelligence. But theologians from all the monotheistic religions have taught for thousands of years that God is inscrutable. It is why the Jews called God “Yahweh” – “He who cannot be known.” They understood that to try to define God in human terms is a form of idolatry – the worship of false gods. To the extent that we define our God in human terms, we too are worshiping a false god, however convinced me may be that this is not so. It locks us into a dark suffocating closet created by our own hubris in believing that we are the measure of all things.

      That God is actually beyond our capacity to comprehend seems obvious. The universe itself is beyond our comprehension.

      Personally, I believe that the only true intimation of the divine that we humans can attain is by looking at the incredible, amazing, stupendous mystery that is the world we live in. The more I look, the more awe-inspiring it seems.

      And so I would disagree most profoundly with you that nothing can grow from a rock. Even science constantly amazes us with its revelations of what is possible. Surely you would not make God lesser than that, simply because we cannot understand how these mysteries might be so.

      Again, thank you. I look forward to hearing more about your thinking.

      Terry

  4. wohoahhhh this is gonna help me in my projct…….. . nd i know i m gonna rock my project

  5. Best of luck on your project! I for one would be most interested if you would share some of it with us – either now or when it is finished. What questions are you asking? what is the project for?

    Hope to hear from you again.
    Terry

  6. I'm God izz being mysterious XD says:

    Obviously just because our scientists cannot create life from scrach,let us believe in fairy tales that were written by people who thought it was A-OKAY to kill,rape,enslave and sacrifice humans so that sun could rise.

    Seriously Ignorance is the worst enemy of humankind,it just perplexes me as to how people can be THIS ignorant of reality.

    No one is saying that big-bang was an “Accident” is just a theory for crying out loud ! who knows maybe flying spaghetti monster after all 😉

  7. Thank you for your comment. You are right that people of old created their gods in very human terms — rather like an all-powerful dictator who must be offered gifts and sacrifices to keep him happy. Actually, the disconcerting thing is how many people in our modern world today still see their god in such human terms.

    I would like to point out though that science is based on theories. The mistake people make is seeming to think that if something is “a theory,” there is no hard and fast evidence to support it. But Newton’s theory of gravity is “just a theory,” every bit as much as Darwin’s theory of evolution. What many people don’t know is that much of Newton’s theory of gravity has been displaced by Einstein’s theory of relativity. Or that there is probably more evidence supporting Darwin’s theory of evolution as there is that Earth revolves around the sun. There is a lot of proof, but some people think that because something is a theory, it isn’t based on evidence and proof.

    The flying spaghetti monster, on the other hand, doesn’t have a lot of evidence to back it up, does it? Except maybe on Halloween…

    Thank you again for your comment. I hope you’ll add some more.

    Terry

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