Scientific Biogenesis and Some Religious Reaction
From the perspective of traditional religions, life-forms were invariably created very soon after the creation of the physical world. Here is another context in which science differs radically in its view of biogenesis.
For, per current science, it was only billions of years after cosmogenesis that biogenesis occurred. In the remote past, more than three billion years ago, and barely a billion years after the formation of our planet, there were lands barren and waste, volcanoes steaming and puffing sulfuric fumes, and oceans of salt-free waters. The earth’s atmosphere consisted then largely of hydrogen, ammonia, methane, and a few other gases. Gigantic clouds and torrential rains rose and fell, seeping salts from land to pristine sea. In the mammoth laboratories of the earth’s oceans and airs, kindled by heat and lightning, by radiations from the sun and other excitants, the turbulent chemistry of the early molecules churned out the first organic structures. Carbohydrates and amino acids were thus concocted. These increased in complexity as further reactions took place. The waters of the period constituted what has been described as a primordial soup in which mutual interactions of the components gave rise to molecules of ever increasing size and intricacy. Energy trapping mechanisms came into play. After myriad patterns and permutations, mysterious entities with the property of self-replication emerged. These again grew in numbers and variety, until at last nucleic acids and proteins were formed. The wonder of life had begun.
All we can say is that such seem to been some of the natural consequences of the physicochemical context in which the earth found itself at that time. Whatever the ultimate cause of it all, the end result, the first palpitations of life were truly magnificent. But this was only an inkling of grander glories yet to come.
Once the spark of life was lit, the self-replicating systems began to multiply in number and variety. The nucleic acids embodying the subtle coding that preserves life patterns slipped now and then. These changes in structures were the mutations which may be looked upon either as responses to unceasing turmoil in the earth’s physicochemical features, or as alterations resulting from changing conditions.
The first embers of life began to evolve along countless directions. As ages rolled by, and grand upheavals shook the planet’s crust, ever newer kinds of plants and creatures shaped themselves. Both land and sea became homes for innumerable life forms. Amphibians, insects, reptiles, and mammals, all evolved along with a picturesque plethora of plants and trees. After well over a billion years of such experimentation, the evolving principles brought forth the product we call the human race. Homo sapiens emerged from apes, and began roaming the wilds of Africa. Then there was thought and language and agriculture and culture, and thinkers arguing about how it all began.
This picture of the origin of life was not painted overnight. It did not arise from the meditation of a serene sage, or the proclamation of the elder of a clan, or from revelations from archangels to a selected personage. Rather, it developed from the search and struggle of countless people doing experiments, gathering data, formulating and weighing possibilities, mutually critiquing, revising, reviewing, verifying, rejecting, and finally accepting those ideas that seem most plausible. What matters in science is not the correctness of the picture painted, nor the sanctity in the source, but the reasons and routes by which one arrives at conclusions.
Some people find this account to be at least as interesting as what our distant ancestors came up with. They also find it persuasive because it is fortified by charts and data and mathematical theories to boot. It is more conjectural conclusion than solemn proclamation or intelligent speculation. Those who are inclined to scientific cosmology grant that there is, as there always will be, something tentative in the scientific vision, but its reasonable coherence makes it more appealing. After all, if explain you must, then you better pay attention to detail and to the deductive mode.
On the other hand, to those who are conditioned to scriptural authority and revealed truths, scientific cosmology is one drab and dismal story in which human beings are mere byproducts, accidents or worse, like inconsequential mushrooms that sprout in the wilderness and perish. All the grandeur of a magnificent universe with splendid stars in the firmament is reduced in this picture to tenuous hydrogen gas pervading all over and concentrating here and there, to dying stars with nuclear fire at the core, galaxies running amuck every which way like swarms of frightened fowl, sea salts cooking into animalcules. More seriously, the scientific picture seems to gives the cold shoulder to God Almighty, it leaves no room for reverence or thankfulness.
From the perspective of traditional religions, al this is not so much poverty of thought, as mischievous materialism, haughty in its cocksureness, lacking in humility, ignorant of the divine, and pale when compared to the power and poetry of a glorious God-engendered Creation sanctified by meaning, morality and purpose. Cosmologists, like Laplace, may not need a God-hypothesis, but many find it to be beautiful, soothing, and worth having.