Life in the Universe III   13 comments

Isn't it natural to believe that our Creator is from on high?

Isn’t it natural to believe that our Creator is from on high?

At one time I thought God created everything, but I can’t remember ever truly believing it was during 6 very busy days.  I do remember giving serious consideration to whether or not Purgatory would be an interesting place to stop before going to Heaven, even if there was a small chance I could be sent instead to Hell by mistake.  Then soon after I seriously began studying science, I put my inner religious beliefs into a little box and went on, unencumbered, to feed my curiosity.  I didn’t throw my beliefs away.  I believe that as you go through life, you should try not to throw things away unless you really need to.  We already lose too much as we grow older.

Buddhists create a spiritual atmosphere with these: Laos.

Buddhists create a spiritual atmosphere with these: Laos.

I learned that it’s likely life emerged from non-life by a trick of chemistry, and that was that.  I had bigger fish to fry – how the Earth and other planets formed.  I knew scientists didn’t really know exactly how life began, but I figured they would find out soon enough.  It wasn’t for me an important question for a long time.

(An aside: I sometimes wonder whether I would have become obsessed with life’s origins, had I went further in the direction I explored my senior year in college.  I was good at chemistry in college, and I took a class called Thermodynamic Geochemistry, which sounds a lot tougher than it actually was – but it would have gotten very tough if I had pursued it.)

Probably the world's oldest religion.

Probably the world’s oldest religion: Judaism.

Meanwhile, for the scientists who work on it, the origin of life has been an unusually thorny problem.  There have been many side-tracks along the way, from primordial soup to deep sea vents to extra-terrestrial origins (panspermia).

Earth was a barren place before life, and water only appeared in mirages (if anyone were there to see them).

Earth was a barren place before life, and water only appeared in mirages (if anyone were there to see them).

One of the first environments thought to be the cradle for life: shallows of the sea.

One of the first environments thought to be the cradle of life: shallows of the sea.

 

The State of Our Knowledge of Life’s Origin

We don’t really know what kind of environment hosted the first life.  It could have been in a thermal area, or in ice, or even in solid rock.  It could have been on Mars.  But wherever it was, water very likely was the dominant substance surrounding the primitive beings.

The clear pools at Semuc Champey in the Guatemalan highlands invite a cooling swim.

The clear pools at Semuc Champey in the Guatemalan highlands invite a cooling swim.

Perhaps a non-living compound underwent some chemical transformation into RNA.  RNA can do the work of forming proteins (as it’s doing right now inside you) but it can also reproduce, like DNA.   Then it’s just a matter of finding itself in the right place at the right time (pre-cells), to be put to work in an entirely novel way in something we would now call alive.

Clay is thought to be a likely place for pre-living chemistry to have taken place.

Clay is thought to be a likely place for pre-living chemistry to have taken place.

Or perhaps non-living structures similar to our body’s cells first started to form in high-energy environments (like deep sea vents) and they began to process energy (it’s thermodynamically favorable).  Then they began to reproduce (via RNA).  Most scientists believe that RNA is an important key.

Life was born because chemical compounds were formed at great odds.  Here salt crystals form naturally when pools evaporate in the desert.

Life was born because chemical compounds formed at great odds. Salt crystals form naturally when pools evaporate in the desert.

Perhaps you know of Craig Venter.  He’s the guy who led the team who first decoded the human genome.  He’s at work now on trying to create a living organism with no biological parents (actually a computer takes the parents’ place).  Many believe that creating life ourselves is necessary before we can understand how it arose.  As Richard Feynman once said, “What I cannot create, I do not understand”.

Active volcanoes (this one in Indonesia) could have easily provided a spark for the origin of life.

Active volcanoes (this one in Indonesia) could have easily provided a spark for the origin of life.

You can see there is some uncertainty here, and every good chemist knows these transformations are not at all easy.  But it happened.  Stuff happens after all, and given a lot of time and the right environment, perhaps life has been emerging  everywhere, throughout the history of the universe.  So what if we can’t explain the moment of life’s creation.  Does it matter?

Did life come from another planet to seed Earth's lifeless oceans?

Did life come from another planet to seed Earth’s lifeless oceans?

I tend to think that life in this solar system evolved on Earth first, but I wouldn’t bee too surprised if it started on Mars first and was transported to Earth riding on a meteor.  I also believe that this question: how did life start, is an important one.  I think it will take us a big step forward in figuring out how life emerged in the universe.  How we got here is one thing, but it will take much more insight to discover why we are here.

This story will continue, so stay tuned…

However it started, our Earth is incredibly, fully alive.

However it started, our Earth is incredibly, fully alive.

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13 responses to “Life in the Universe III

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  1. Pingback: Life in the Universe V: The Influence of Carl Sagan | MJF Images

  2. Pingback: Life in the Universe IV |

  3. Excellent post, again. I have to take issue though with your assumption Judaism is (probably) the oldest religion on Earth. Far, far, far from it. Zoroastrianism pre-dates it by a long way and the Sumerian pantheon (starting with An and Ki) was conjured up 2,500 years before the Hebrews even first tickled their own religion which was, incidentally, a polytheistic religion with gods taken from the Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian pantheons. Before the first pantheons ancestor cults were probably in existence for anywhere between 100,000 to 200,000 years as evidenced with the first ritualistic burials with grave goods.

    • I stand corrected John. I was thinking first monotheistic religion when I wrote that, but it seems that I have more to learn about the earliest religions. I haven’t read enough about it. No excuse though, since I’ve actually visited sites in Turkey that show evidence of religious beliefs before Judaism arose.

      • No worries. If its monotheism you’re thinking of then the Egyptians had toyed with the notion of a single God, Aten, in the Middle Bronze Age, but even before them Proto-Indo-Iranians had been messing around with the concept of an uncreated creator, Ahura Mazda, for 30 generations before proto-Judaic priests caught wind of the idea. The eventually monotheist Hebrew god was in fact a composite god, named alternatively Elohim, El, Shaddai, Elyon, Adonai, and Tseboath throughout the five books of the Torah. El, for instance, was the head of the Canaanite pantheon, Tseboath the Canaanite god of armies, and Shaddai (the Destroyer) originates from the Sumerian pantheon and would have influenced the Hebrew elite greatly after the Babylonians routed Judah and relocated many from the educated classes back east for a few hundred years until freed by the Zoroastrian, Cyrus II. The name Yhwh was actually stolen from a Bedouin tribe, the Shashu, who Amenhotep III made a note of in Temple of Soleb. This was 500 years before the plagiarised version of this god (YHWH) was first mentioned on the Mesha Stele.

      • Yeah I read a book once that traced some of the origins of religion in the Middle East to a time before agriculture, so before Egyptians, Hittites, etc. Once I was shown by an archaeologist, in one early site some 9000 years old, evidence of religious beliefs. Obviously these earliest beliefs could have led to any or all of the separate religions that arose later on. Also, they had to come from somewhere, so the story goes back further. I would even say that, if we are to define religion more broadly, then it’s not even limited to humans. Neantherthals might have believed in something we would call gods, though as far as I know the only evidence we have of that is their burials containing symbolic items. As far as monotheism goes, I’m under the impression that it first arose in the Middle East and spread from there. But were the Jews the first to believe in only one god? Don’t know about that but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true.

  4. Hello,

    I found you at the atheists John Zandes’ blog. I’m Gravatar VIDASDECRISTO. I read this post I’m commenting on and you offer several good questions and possibilities. Check out youtube.com/watch?v=1dhPCjAplTM This is a Egyptian/ancient monolithic video production. There are many past civilizations that seem to be related in a global way. Seems they want to tell us something.

    I firmly believe we have to know where we come from to really understand where we are going. Those atheists on John’s blog believe we have no purpose, life is indifferent and we have no soul. To me that seems like the future and our evolution to a higher awareness is not a worthwhile pursuit. I’m curious what you think about that.

    Roy

    • Thanks for commenting Roy. As you can see from my comment on John’s blog, I am skeptical (to say the least) about extraterrestrial influences on human development. Although I’m not an atheist, I am a scientist who agrees with evolution, Big Bang cosmology, and many other principles. To put it plainly, I just haven’t seen any evidence for visitation of Earth. Not only that, but I do not think it’s logical to suppose a civilization would invest directly this way. The distances are too great and the payoff too small. I do, however, have an open mind about the ultimate creation of this universe, including all its life. Of course this also includes an ultimate Creator in the form of God, but I do have my doubts about that as well, given what I know about the origin of religion. I’ll admit that I could learn more about this, but it’s something I prefer to do on a first-hand basis, by traveling to the key locations and seeing for myself. Again, thanks for the comments.
      Mike

    • Roy, would be doing yourself a great favour if you didn’t try to assume to know what I believed in. Thank you.

      • Where did I assume anything you believe? Your About page is blank and I didn’t even know your name. I was going to address you as Mr Flaherty, but then I though that assumption might be wrong. I asked what you thought and you shared that, thank you Mike.

        Are we not motivated to explore, to reach the highest and lowest places on Earth, plant flags on the poles, visit the Moon, land a rover on Mars, spend a large amount of money to build and launch a telescope into orbit, build complex space listening devices, and propel probes into outer space? Would it not be likely, due to the vastness of space, that we are not alone and others share out deep need to explore?.

        It’s a shame we can’t control our Government, who spends money they do not have, They have piled up so much debt that every year it just gets bigger. Now they cannot fund NASA and take care of everything else they are committed to do.

        Because of the age of the Universe would it not seem likely that if others exist they would be many thousands of years more advanced than us? There is documented proof of alien craft flying at speeds and making maneuvers our jets could never do. Why would explorers come here, if they indeed exist? For the same reason we would, if we could: to explore the unknown.

        Your photography skills are amazing. Beautiful stuff.

        • “Those atheists on John’s blog believe we have no purpose, life is indifferent and we have no soul.”

          That sounds to me like a pretty broad assumption.

          Anyway, i do agree with you regarding the funding of NASA. In 2010 it’s total budget for everything from missions to R&D and school programs was $17billion. In that same year the Pentagon sucked up $900billion, and that figure doesn’t include black projects. The priorities are just all wrong.

      • My bad, I replied under your comment and thought your “don’t assume” remark was Mike.

        I would never assume your thoughts John, just stating what are some general things Atheists believe.

        1. Life is simply a biological finality to a universal accident that brought all the right ingredients together. And one classic answer I got once was, “the purpose of my life is to live it as best I can because I know that you only live once and when it’s over, it’s over”. Pretty much saying life has no purpose.

        2. “The Universe we observe has… Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” -Richard Dwakins
        Yet we are a part of the universe so if we aren’t blind, pitiless and indifferent neither is the universe.

        Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed, and those who need our love and do not get it.

        • “the purpose of my life is to live it as best I can because I know that you only live once and when it’s over, it’s over”.

          Don’t be too fast to crticise that sentiment, Roy. It is based in reality and it’s as such a noble and honest admission. Flighty dreams of the supernatural certainly sound nice, but as there is not a scrap of evidence as to anything supernatural going on I do believe this person has nailed it, 100% correct answer. To live in such a way that on your deathbed you can say “I made this world better,” is the best a human being can do with any sense of certainty.

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