Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bible and Origins of life

 Cassini-Huygen's probe on Titan 2005

What has the ancient Bible to do with questions of modern astrobiological search for the origins of life in the Universe?

Well, first of all let us beware of the mistakes from the past where people of Church have ridiculed and even persecuted scientists looking for truth about Nature. Galileo and Darwin spoke the truth as they understood it and the zealous defenders of Bible were wrong.

Bible was written by people sharing an early form of geocentric worldview prevalent in Ancient Near East.

Yet, as Word of God the two creation stories at the beginning of the Bible are not exactly products of their time and have an alluring eternal wisdom embedded into them.

Genesis is a slaughterhouse of gods and divinities.

Ancient Egyptians worshiped Sun, Sumerians worshiped Moon, Babylonians worshiped Venus, Ishtar, the Evening Star, and the famed Romans worshiped Sun invictus still in the Byzantine era. Inka's and Maya's give divine respect to the bright Sun and so on....

In total opposition to the learned people in the highest ancient civilizations Bible says that these are not divine beings to be worshiped but practical lamps for day and night, calendars and watches created by the One benevolent God for the good of humanity.

Creation of life

Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so.  God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good.  Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so.

The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, a third day."
Genesis 1:9-13

The earth brought forth vegetation
First Creation story in the beginning of the Bible tells how waters and land were separated and then first living things are produced by earth.

Paleo-sciences teach us today that life flourished first in the oceans and only much later climbed up to the exposed land.

The ancient writer of the Creation story may have looked on the green nature around him, fields and gardens near Iron Age Jerusalem and he tells us what he sees - how earth brings fourth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees.

Bible is not an accurate description of this and places green plants on earth before the creation of the Sun and in our study of biological history of life flowering plants are latecomers on our planet.

Common housefly and "locked evolution of species"

Origins of species
Bible has an intriguing expression, not so different from the challenging "leminehu", created "after its kind" ... what we would call "according to its species".  God created the living things, plants and animals, according to their species (heb. leminehu).

We understand the mechanism of natural selection and put it in good use. We know a bit more about hereditary patterns, we can use it to our good and get our cows to produce more milk, genetically enhance our wheat and make maize bigger.

Nevertheless, one hundred and sixty years after Charles Darwin's revolutionary scientific theory of evolution (Origin of Species 1853) humanity has taken enormous steps in studying life but has very limited understanding about the origins of species.

Nobel price is still waiting the biologists who can explain the locking system of species on the functioning of reproductive cells. Practically the same house fly was bothering Tyrannosaurus Rex as is bothering our summer picnic meal and the species has remained locked as a species for the past 200 million years. Of course, there are many kinds of flies as there are many kinds of monkeys, us included, but nobody really knows the mechanism that keeps the babies of a horse and a donkey barren (mule's do not get kids). There is still work to be done on leminehu.

Planting of the Garden of Eden and man
The second Creation story tells in mythological tones how God made man from earth.  Hebrew word adamah means the reddish fertile soil made from the Eocene limestone. Adam, the first man, carries the name reminding him of his origins in the clay.

"Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."
Genesis 2:7-9

Again this ... out of soil, dust, adamah.

Titan, Canyon country

Gaia, mother Earth!
We all instinctively realize that early Universe was hostile to life and that somehow nevertheless appears in the cosmos at some point.

For example, our own Solar system was created about one third of the total estimated age of the Universe 4.5 billion years ago. Signs of life are said to be found in the rocks on the crust of the planet some 3 billion years ago. Life really exploded some 600 million years ago in the Cambrian era.

Astrobiologists look also at extreme areas on Earth, its molecules, environments, test the impact of electric shocks from flashing, try to recreate a place where they could ignite life out of inorganic elements like we humans know to ignite fire from not burning elements.

One of the more interesting searches for the origin of life in resent years is the Cassini-Huygens exploration of the atmosphere of Titan in 2005, the rocky moon of Saturn. The idea is that the archaic freezing conditions prevailing at Titan might resemble early solar system and Earth and possibly provide clues for the origins of life.

Genesis is written in monotheistic faith and leaves no room for a divine thinking and creating Earth, Gaia.

But the idea that Earth produces life is definitely to be found in the Bible.

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