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What Is Life? Where Did It Come From? By John Knapp II, PhD

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters….And God said let the water teem with living creatures and let birds fly…across the expanse of the sky.”    —Genesis 1:1, 2, 20  NIV

“What is life?”

Is God responsible?  Or, Nature working all by itself?  Let’s risk starting off simple.

In a sidebar to the article “Life on Earth” in a recent issue of Scientific American¹, physicist Erwin Schrodinger “suggested that a defining property of living systems is that they self assemble [emphasis mine] against nature’s tendency toward disorder, or entropy².”³ (Since God and the Devil are in the details, please don’t ignore the endnotes!)

Also in the sidebar: “Chemist Gerald Joyce’s ‘working definition,’ adopted by NASA, is that life is ‘a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution [emphasis mine].”

These are two statements on the side of Nature working alone.  Key words: “self-assemble” and “self-sustain.”

These careful statements probably deserve more context, but a general question emerges: If Nature on its own tends to go downhill (entropy), how does “prelife” and life on its own struggle against this tendency and make its “entrance”? And just where has science shown how nonliving systems can gather “body parts” and “self-assemble” into living systems that can defend themselves against the hostile forces in nature that lead to disorder?  Where has this means or mechanism been demonstrated?

Nowhere.  At least that I know of.

“But it must have happened!” say some.  This is a “hope,” and while not all hopes are bad, we’re unwise to call hope scientific fact.

Further, risking more political incorrectness, but caring deeply about science, where has “Darwinian evolution”—modification of life of the magnitude of, say, change from reptile scale to bird feather—been demonstrated step-by-step in nature?  It might have happened, yes, but that is different from has to have happened.  Where have the mechanisms been described?  For a description of several enormous modern leaps of scientific faith from gerrymandered evidence to no evidence at all, see biologist (with PhDs from both Yale and Berkeley) Jonathan Wells’, Icons of Evolution.

Obviously, there is controversy here.

Without detailing specific points, let’s admit that many in science, but by no means all, have great faith that Darwin (and his modern Neo-Darwinist modifiers) is right in saying, in effect, that Nature “does it all on its own.”

After all, what alternative could there be?

Well, there’s the possibility of God.  (the God of the Bible—please, no offense intended to other gods wanting equal time).

Here goes:

“God,” who is “outside” and “before” the Big Bang and everything else, created all the things that are—“stuff,” things made of matter and energy.  In other words, God is behind everything, and without him nothing would have happened.  Now we’ve said, or implied, that Darwinists instead assume (without hard proof) that Nature, or matter and energy, on its own put together the person—in a series of accidental steps, of course—writing these words, and also his (even) more primitive ancestors back to very small creatures and the food they ate that “emerged” from nonliving elements and compounds.  All this must be without any purpose, “grand plan,” or “outside tinkering.”

What assumptions then do “God-did-it” people make about life?

First, God—omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and caring—exists.  Of course, many paragraphs about this could follow.  But all that I’ll add here is that we learn much about God’s character from the Bible.

Second, God created life.  Without God, life couldn’t have happened, and developed to where it is today.

To expand this a bit: The overwhelming complexity of even the simplest living creatures just couldn’t be brought into existence by matter and energy acting alone. Too many factors—a caldron of elements and forces existing in just the right amounts and ratios, acting and reacting in just the right sequence—require more than purposeless, randomly acting impersonal Nature can offer.  The number of sequential “forward-moving accidents” necessary for building even simple cells, that in turn will press ahead to make themselves into complex plants, animals, and humans is staggering.

Something other than Nature alone must also be involved.

Third, there may be, useful information besides what science offers.  And yes, the Bible provides this offering a fascinating ancient narrative congruent with many findings of science.  Further, to many this holy book provides fresh and satisfying ways to look at origins with purpose and value that science hasn’t done—and perhaps never can.

For example, the beginning of the Bible provides an order of astronomical events as well as the creation of life:  “In the beginning (“before space-time”God (undefined, but assumed to be there with necessary ability) created the heavens and the earth” (that is, the whole universe. Method? Not told; metaphorically, God “spoke” things into existence¹).   At an undefined time later “the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.”  (Dare we suggest, as others have, that single-celled life was created here, more than three millennia before such creatures were observed and named?)

One can go on and on about the creation “week”¹¹ which surprisingly reflects the sequence of life found in the fossil record.  And in more than two dozen places in the Bible (not just Genesis) there are details and hints of how living things, as well as the universe, came about— and why.¹²  And while much is symbolic—for a world with no language for modern science—things discussed in the Bible don’t contradict science.

No other ancient account, religious or otherwise, comes close to doing this. At least that I’m aware of.

This Bible stuff about creation and life—scientifically provable?  No, probably not¹³ to those hungering for precise detail, but it’s still suggestive and compelling to many, like me, who look closely.

Perhaps it seems suggestive, sort of like the way Naturalists (who dismiss or minimize God) press hard for lock-step acceptance of Darwinism before all the facts are in.

A weak comparison?  Perhaps it’s a bit of an overreach due to my oversimplifying.

But in both cases there’s faith—both for the “God-did-it” people and the “Nature-did-it” people who remain convinced there’s no room for God intervention.

Darwin’s finch beaks speak, but they and their progeny don’t tell everything, and according to Wells¹, they don’t always tell the truth.

At least not yet.

Go full speed ahead in science, I say, but plugging one’s ears to other voices is not required.

And my final “say”:  Those who seriously and systematically read and consider the Bible will never give up, or back away from, science, but they’ll never again look at science in quite in the same way.

And will gain perspective they’ll never regret.

Author: John Knapp II  PhD

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NOTES

¹Alonso Ricardo and Jack W. Szostak, “Life of on Earth,” Scientific American, Sept. 2009, p.54.

  

²Entropy is the state of disorder, uncertainty, and unavailability of energy in a system.  When final entropy has occurred, think of energy present, but stuck in a tar pit.

³Richardo, op. cit.

Richardo, op. cit. A third definition was also given but it didn’t relate to the discussion here.

Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Facts or Myth? (Regenery, 2000).  Wells has a PhD in molecular and cell biology from Berkeley and a PhD in religious studies from Yale.  This is a key book for those interested in studying the creation/evolution controversy.

The vast majority of Christians trained in science, as well as having a conservative or evangelical approach to the Bible, have no problem accepting the Big Bang Theory as commonly taught.  I am among them.

Ratios or fine tuning.  For one of several explanations of this see “A ‘Just Right’ Universe” (pp. 105-121 in The Creator and the Cosmos (Navpress, 1993) by Hugh Ross (PhD in astronomy).  Despite the recent discovery of, now, about 400 exoplanets, evidence is growing for the need for dozens of “requirements”—elements, compounds, forces in precise amounts or ranges—to be present on a planet for any life, let alone human life, to exist.  The odds are great enough to say that it’s impossible for life to self-assemble and exist anywhere within the reach of the billions of stars in our telescopic reach.  The “Just Rightness” of the proper environment is sometimes called “The Goldilocks Effect,” referring to the girl’s finding only Baby Bear’s porridge suitable to eat.

Space-time (often spelled “spacetime”).  This comes from Einstein and relativity theory referring to the “4 dimensions”—the 3 space ones + time.  Watch for new talk about 4 space dimensions, however.

“The whole universe” is implied by “heavens and earth.”  In general, the details of creation are told from the viewpoint of someone (before there was anyone!) observing from earth.  The details, troubling to some, later from Day 4 which describe the making of the sun, moon, and stars can be translated from the Hebrew to mean “made to appear” which would be the case when the vapor canopy surrounding earth “fell away” on that “day” and for the first time objects in the sky could be seen.  The previously hidden (to an observer from earth) sun, moon, and stars were a result of the Big Bang billions of years earlier.

¹”Spoke into existence.” Be aware that metaphor and other figurative language abound in Scripture.  And for several reasons.  (1) Some concepts, such as single-celled life, were unknown to people of the time when the Bible was written.  (2) Along with that, there were no available words to describe real things.  (3) As in modern description, metaphor and symbol often tell it best.  Abraham’s descendants were to be “as many as the sand in the sea.”  That’s hardly a dception or lie, any more than calling God a “rock” or a “shield.”

¹¹“Weeks.”  One of the most frustrating experiences in creation/evolution debates to the “God-did-it” people is the assumption made by many naturalist scientists that people who believe in biblical creation insist on the days of creation being only 24 hours long, and that creation took place no more than 6000 to 10,000 years ago.  Congruent with Note 6 (above), the vast majority of Bible believers who are trained in basic science have no trouble accepting the age of the earth as being as old as 13.7 billion years, including those believing in biblical inerrancy, and many writings support this (Ross, A Matter of Days, Navpress, 2004, for one).  It’s true, though, that a vocal minority who widely travel to many churches insist that the Bible teaches “young earth” creationism.  Listen to and read carefully what they say, consider where their information comes from and when it was collected, and evaluate what experience and training they bring to the discussion.

¹²In Creation as Science (Navpress, 2006, p. 54) Hugh Ross lists 22 “Major Creation Accounts” in the Bible.

¹³In Creation as Science (above) Ross would probably say this a bit differently.  Be aware that Ross maintains that the Bible is such that “predictive tests” can be applied to it as one would in science.  To illustrate this, for 4 different religious views—young-earth creationism, theistic evolution, RTB (Ross’s Reasons To Believe team of scientists), and naturalism—he presents 52 predictions (over 20 pages) that these viewpoints (to be consistent) should make.  The Bible is “testable” he declares, and reasonable belief should be based on how these predictive tests pan out.  Further he invites anyone to discuss, modify, or challenge these tests (www.reasons.org).

¹For Wells, see Note 5.  In Icons on p.159ff, Wells gives a startling account of the Darwin Legend and how Darwin’s data on finches have been drastically misinterpreted and abused, as well as several other widely cited “textbook illustrations” of naturalistic evolution.  Wells’ wisdom has also appeared as a quotation on Starbucks coffee cups!

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