The Origin of Life
The origin of life and the origin of the universe are the two basic and fundamental
questions, which have not been answered by the scientists. Some scientists speculate
that once the answers to these two key questions are found, then the existence of God
can be disproved.
First let us see what the Qur'an says on the origin of life, particularly the origin of
mankind. The Qur'an says:
"O mankind! Reverence Your Guardian-Lord,
Who created you from a single Person (soul or self)
Created, of like nature His (Her) mate, and from them twain Scattered
(like seeds) Countless men and women;
Reverence God, through Whom Ye demand your mutual (rights),
And (reverence) the wombs (That bore you); for God Ever watches
Surah Nisaa (Woman), 4: 1
In this verse the creation of mankind is clearly stated. The Bible says that Eve
(Hawwa) was created from a rib of Adam. This story is not mentioned anywhere in
the Qur'an Majid.
Now let us see what the sciences and the scientists say about the origin of life.
SEEDING EARTH WITH ORGANICS
Between 4.5 and 3.8 billion years ago, it appears that Earth was bombarded with
comets of ice. These comets brought a significant quantity of water to Earth. If
comets made a significant contribution to the oceans of primitive Earth, then they
played a major role in shaping the environment in which life evolved. Comets may
also have contributed to the terrestrial inventory of organic molecules necessary for
the origin of life.
In 1953 Stanley Miller, a University of Chicago graduate student working under the
supervision of the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Harold Urey, showed that amino
acids and other organic molecules would form easily and naturally in what was then
believed to have been the atmosphere of the early Earth. Simulating this primitive
atmosphere with a gas mixture of methane, ammonia and water, Miller introduced an
electrical spark (representing, for example, Lightning) and obtained a high yield of
It has since been shown that in such an atmosphere virtually any energy input (for
example, ultraviolet light from the Sun, or shock energy from meteoritic impacts) will
lead to the creation not only of amino acids but to the precursors of other important
biological molecules. In the traditional view of primitive Earth, these precursor
molecules collected in the oceans, forming a warm, dilute "organic soup," on the
surface or shorelines of which life evolved.
Most recently consensus among the scientists is that the early terrestrial atmosphere
may not have been so biologically accommodating. In this picture, the early
atmosphere consisted not of methane and ammonia but mainly of nitrogen and great
quantities of carbon dioxide. Under these conditions production of organic molecules
is more difficult, and thus environments suitable for the origin of life on primitive
Earth would have been more rare. It is believed that the comets may have provided an
important extraterrestrial link for the origins of terrestrial life.
Giotto, the European spacecraft sent to encounter Haley's Comet in March 1986,
pierced the cloud of gas and dust surrounding the comet's core and flew within 600
kilometers (400 miles) of its frozen nucleus. Vega, the Soviet spacecraft plotted the
position and trajectory of Haley's nucleus. Both Giotto and Vega showed that comets
are full of organic molecules. It now appears that such molecules form inevitably in
comets by a process analogous to the Miller/Urey experiment. Miller and Urey used a
gaseous mixture, but the experiment will also produce organics when methane,
ammonia and water are present in solid form, as ices. Cometary collisions with Earth
would necessarily contribute some of these organics to earth's prebiotic inventory.
However, we don't know what fraction of Cometary organics would survive the high
temperatures and pressures associated with the resulting explosion and crater
excavation. Cometary water (Ice) would evaporate, enter the atmosphere as steam
and eventually rain out, but the Cometary organics might well be destroyed.
The intense bombardment of early Earth may have resulted in an "impact frustration"
of the origins of life. Large impacts would have been catastrophic for local
environments, and the extreme temperatures generated by the violent collisions may
have effectively sterilized vast expanses. Moreover, the huge explosions would have
vaulted enormous quantities of dust into the atmosphere. There may even have been
enough debris to envelop Earth in a dust cloud, blocking sunlight and creating
conditions like those envisioned in the "nuclear winter" hypothesis proposed by David
Grinspoon and Carl Sagan. Such an era of inhospitable conditions would mean that
the time available on the early Earth for the origin of life was even shorter than
Scientists are speculating that if the terrestrial evolution of life did occur very rapidly,
then the possibility increases that life may have arisen on Mars during its apparently
brief, comparatively Earthlike youth. This could be verified by the Soviet and US
missions to Mars in this decade.
THE EVOLUTION OF LIFE
As mentioned before few question are more fundamental than that of how life came to
exist here. How was it possible for a collection of rocks and volcanic gases to give
rise to something as complex as the human brain? Many gaps in our knowledge
The chemical basis for all life on the Earth is the interaction between carbon atoms.
When two carbon atoms approach each other, they begin to share a pair of outer
electrons-one from each atom. This sharing creates a bond that holds the atoms
together. Carbon chains form the basis for all living matter on earth, from the
simplest amino acids to incredibly complex molecules like DNA (deoxy ribonucleic
The simplest carbon chains- the ones that form the basic building blocks for more
complex organic molecules that make up proteins-are called amino acids. All told,
there are more than 100 amino acids to be found in living systems on earth, though
just over 20 are required for adequate human nutrition. The question is whether it is
possible to assemble some of these chemical building blocks of life from ingredients
of the primitive atmosphere.
Since the time of Urey-Miller (1953), amino acids have been produced using
ultraviolet radiation instead of an electrical discharge. Different chemical mixtures
for simulating the early atmosphere have also been tried. In fact, during the last 30
years chemists working on the origins of life have been able to produce quite complex
carbon chains using improved versions of the Urey-Miller experiment. Cyril
Ponnamperuma of Sri Lanka at the University of Maryland has been able to derive the
complex building blocks of DNA in this way. It seems, then, easy to account for the
accumulation of the basic building blocks of life very early in the history of the earth.
The problem comes in the next step- the joining together of these building blocks into
what we call life, a system capable of its own development and reproduction.
In the early part of this century, people used to talk about finding the "missing link" in
evolution, by which they meant the link between ape and man. Now the evolutionary
tree of Homo Sapiens has been worked out in some detail, however, it would be much
more appropriate to apply the term "missing link" to the gap between amino acids and
the first living cell. How did the cell emerge? What physical processes shaped its
creation? How did the laws of chemistry and physics join to produce a biological
These questions touch on the very heart of the problem of life itself. And over the past
few decades, scientists have come to understand some of life's basic requirements. A
cell needs three different chemical constituents: proteins, to carry out the biochemical
functions; nucleic acids (RNA and DNA) to pass on genetic information to the next
generation; and lipids (fats) to form a membrane to protect the interior of the cell from
its environment. The problem of how the simple molecules one might expect to find
in the primordial soup could organize themselves into a functioning cell is the central
question faced today by researchers who probe the origins of life. Scientists have the
parts and are beginning to understand how they fit together into a complex system. At
the moment, however, no one has managed to assemble life in the laboratory.
WHAT THE SCIENTISTS SAY?
Human life cannot exist without a star such as our sun. Cambridge Astrophysicist
Brandon Carter says that the life of a star is a constant struggle between the forces of
gravity which strive to cause the star to collapse in upon itself, and the forces of
electromagnetism which work against gravity and struggle to keep the star from
collapsing. Carter observed that the balance of power between these two forces is so
incredibly fine-tuned that it is quite difficult to conceive of this balance being the
result of coincidence alone. For instance, if as the universe were forming, the strength
of the force of gravitation had varied by as little as a mere one part in 10,000 billion,
billion, billion, billion ( 1 part in 10 to the power of 40 or 1 followed by 40 zeros),
this delicate balance would have been destroyed and stars such as our Sun would
never have formed. Since life as we know it is contingent on the existence of stars
such as the Sun, it follows that the existence of the human race also rests on this
precarious balance. In other words, the existence of life on Earth hangs on a thread
far slender than that, which held the sword of Damocles.
Freeman Dyson ( a Professor of Physics at the Institute for Advanced Study,
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08540)) has pointed out another such
coincidence. In the nucleus of an atom, protons and neutrons are held together by a
powerful cohesive force known as the strong nuclear force. Dyson has noted that if as
the universe were forming this force had been only slightly weaker than what it is,
protons and neutrons would not be able to hold together and atoms as we know them
would never have formed. Conversely, if the force had been minutely stronger, it
would then have been possible for protons to stick together, and long ago all of the
free protons in the universe would have been mopped up like so much glue,
preventing the formation of atoms and stars and people. The list of such coincidences
goes on and on.
The late Sir Fred Hoyle the well known British Astrophysicist, along with California
Institute of Technology astrophysicist William A. Fowler, has pointed out that oxygen
and carbon, two of the most important elements on which life on Earth is based, are
designed almost perfectly so that they will be produced in the interiors of stars in
equal amounts. If this was not the case, and one or the other predominated in the
universe, the development of life would once again have been precluded.
Earlier it was shown that the life began in the primordial soup of Earth's ancient seas
is a questionable hypothesis. Yet currently it is the accepted wisdom in science that
life began in the primordial soup and was the result of a completely random
orchestration of events. The justification for this view is that given enough time and
enough accidental permutations of chemicals in such a primordial broth, it is possible
that any complexity might have arisen. Similarly, like-thinkers pointed out that given
enough time, a large work force of monkeys with an equally large number of
typewriters could sooner or later come up with all the works of Shakespeare. Hoyle
says this view is realistically impractical. Mathematician David Osselton points out
the basic mathematics behind the notion that given enough time a group of monkeys
would eventually manage to type the works of Shakespeare may be simple and sound,
but the sheer enormity of such a task makes it meaningless as an explanatory
principle. According to Osselton's calculations it would take a million million
monkeys roughly a million million years to type out only the name of William
Shakespeare. And to obtain a paltry two lines from one of Shakespeare's plays would
require 10*150 ( 10 to the power of 150 or 1 followed by 150 zeroes) strokes on a
simplified fifty-character typewriter, or billions of billions of time more than the
number of atoms in the whole universe. Osselton concludes, "The Idea that in the
fullness of time random events will ineluctably come up with the right combination is
less potent than has been commonly supposed."
Hoyle invokes the same argument: It is known that a living cell has a chain of amino
acids, of which there are twenty different kinds. The function of these amino acids is
in turn dependent upon 1,000 to 2,000 highly specialized enzymes. Hoyle postulates
that for an enzyme to work by the amino acid chain, assuming its correct
configuration in space, at least twenty to thirty key amino acids must be "right."
According to Hoyle's calculations, the probability of a thousand different enzymes
coming together in just the right way over the course of Earth's several billion years of
history to form one living cell is a staggering 10*40,000 to 1.
Francis Crick, who shared a Nobel Prize for his work on the structure of DNA,
likewise concluded, "An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us
now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to
be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been
satisfied to get it going."
Further, on noting that random processes tend to destroy order, and intelligence shows
itself most effectively in arranging things and producing order out of chaos, Hoyle
concludes that the complexity of life indicates that the universe itself is intelligent,
and that it is this intelligence, or hierarchy of intelligences, that first wrought the order
in matter that resulted in living things.
Currently, it is known that the evolution of life on Earth is not a gradual process
taking place in discrete steps but is most often an abrupt and sudden process, with
new designs and advances in organisms appearing quite suddenly, and this is known
as "punctuated equilibria."
Because of the similarity of processes between the universal intelligence and
biological life on Earth, Hoyle concludes that perhaps there is a connecting chain of
intelligence, extending downward from the intelligence of the universe as a whole to
the intelligence of those hierarchies of software whose activities are indistinguishable
from nature "by a series of further links to humans upon the Earth."