Did Life Begin?

Did Life Begin? April 12, 2013

The question of how life began (or in more technical terminology, abiogenesis) is one that often comes up in debates between the anti-science young-earth creationists and everyone else.

Ricky Carvel has posted some interesting thoughts on the topic on his blog. He suggests that, if one posits a living God as creator of life on this planet, then that is not the beginning of life. It is simply the creation of life by an entity that already lives.

The debate would, in that case, be between those who say that a form of life (namely God’s) simply always existed, vs. those who say that life came about through natural processes.

I think this is an interesting take on the topic, and it might result in some very different discussions (given that it suggests that many people dive into these discussions with inverted assumptions). What do blog readers think?

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  • I don’t believe God = life as we define it. I take God to be apart from time/progression (similar to Augustine). So, life began when God created it.

    • But does the idea that life could have arisen without intervention from deity in any way impact your faith in that deity? What if God’s purpose is to give the living beings here in the universe a sense of direction, of hope and of love rather than to be the “prime mover”?

      • My view is that without Him there is nothing.

        • But does that necessitate God being the “first cause”? Or can it permit the panentheist view that God was, is and ever will be embedded in the mystery of the universe in which we live and that the question of whether God “caused” the universe implies some sort of separation between Creator and created that doesn’t make sense?

          • If you believe, contrary to reigning scientific theory, that the Universe did not have a beginning, I’m sure you could concoct that possibility I however, believe that everything was create by Jesus, as stated in John 1. Thus, there was nothing that had a beginning that didn’t have it’s beginning from Jesus. 🙂

          • The scientific theory that the observable universe took its present form as the result of an inflationary expansion from a singularity, is a far cry from the theological presumption that the universe had a beginning.

          • I’m with Hawking that Life, Time, and everything came into existence at the “big bang” http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html I’m not a scientist, but I know he is, and more expert than all of us on this topic. Right? So, I take that in concert with statements about Jesus/God’s unchanging nature and how time is 1 day = 1,000 years = 1 day, and Jesus pre-existence “at the beginning” (that is, the beginning of creation, our universe, i.e. life, time, and everything) to show that God is outside of time, or perhaps better: God is not chronological. That’s my take, it’s not illogical and it’s not silly 🙂

          • Well, Hawking uses the term “beginning” so precisely that he feels the need to define it in the very essay that you cite. In fact, if you consider him an authority, I’m surprised that you overlooked the fact that he discounted your very argument:

            “the Big Bang is a beginning that is required by the dynamical laws that govern the universe. It is therefore intrinsic to the universe, and is not imposed on it from outside.”

        • The universe or, more accurately, space-time had a beginning with the event described as the Big Bang. That does not imply that there was nothing “prior” to the Big Bang, only that there’s no “prior” for us to discuss because there was no space-time within which to frame the conversation. So, I don’t need to go contrary to scientific theory for my theology to have God be so deeply intertwined with the stuff of the universe that talking about God as the “cause” is like asking whether it’s the water that makes the ocean wet or the ocean that makes the water wet?

    • Scott F

      I was thinking about this the other day. By what justification can we say that God is outside time/space? Is it because He is credited with creation? A panentheist would have a different take on this. I see the time/space apartness thing as a reasonable conclusion but one that is based on so much mystery and uncertainty that it should not be held too tightly.

      When I think about it, as long as we are spinning out theories of time, space and what it could possibly mean to be outside them, I don’t think “life as we define it” should present an insurmountable obstacle 🙂

      • I take “the beginning” of John 1 to be the same as “the beginning” of Gen 1. God created everything, i.e. caused it to come into being. Taking, then, John 1 as the same “beginning” it states that “the divine Word” was already in existence at the beginning. So, when everything was made, that was made (everything), God already existed.

        • Ian

          Gen 1 is unlikely to refer to the beginning of all things, as I understand it.

          “when God began to create, the earth was formless and void”

          if you render it in the way that tries to make it the first

          “in the beginning, God created…, the earth was formless and void”

          you end up with a very awkward double start. God creates, then creates again. But there are plenty of Christian apologetics that try to argue from NT passages that Gen 1:1 refers to ex nihilo, but none that aren’t highly tendentious. On the other hand, it is the simplest reading, matches better with all other contemporary ANE creation accounts, and is least strained linguistically. Even the Jewish English translations are preserving the continuous sense now.

          Regardless, it is certainly not clear enough that Gen 1:1 is ex nihilo to base any conclusions on. Unless you’re happy to assume your conclusions.

          • Then, specifically regarding John 1, John states that Jesus created everything, anything that was created, was created by Jesus. And this Jesus, the divine Word, existed already in the beginning.

            I take Gen 1 to be similar to the Egyptian creation myth found at Thebes which speaks of Amun “on the first occasion” that is “at the start of everything.” this, I believe, is the common translation of “beginning” not a point in time, per se, but the initial period.

            in other words, speaking of the whole of the creation event, “from the start of everything God created the heavens and the earth” The earth had not yet been assigned boundaries or been given function etc.

            Then again, the Bible is seeking to say something different than all the other ANE myths.

          • Ian

            “Then again, the Bible is seeking to say something different than all the other ANE myths.” – that was the assumption I was talking about. Sure everything is different in some way, but it is tendentious to assume that Gen 1 is intended ex-nihilo, just because other features of Gen are unique.

            “Thebes which speaks of Amun “on the first occasion”

            I’m assuming you mean P Carlsberg 302.III, which does say that, yes. But says that, on that first occassion he rose from the primeval ocean.

            I think that is a good correspondence to what I’m saying about Gen 1. In fact creation from separating and organizing the formless and undifferentiated is a key feature of ANE creation accounts, and one that Gen 1 conforms to nicely.

            The ANE creation accounts don’t deal with ex-nihilo creation: it doesn’t appear to have been a meaningful category to them. So reading it back into them now is anachronistic.

            “The earth had not yet been assigned boundaries or been given function etc.” – exactly. But that is not ex-nihilo, right? That is creation as imposing order onto something already there.

            I’m not a specialist, but from what I’ve read this is consensus stuff (happy to be corrected, as always).

  • Ian

    There’s a similar objection to Cosmological arguments. If everything has a cause, then what caused God.

    This lead to the little verbal two step of the “Kalam Cosmological Argument”: “everything that began to exist has a cause”. Which, of course, just assumes its conclusion.

    Another victim is the “it takes intelligence to design intelligence”, so who designed God?

    Ultimately I think neither the arguments nor the objections feel satisfying though. They all feel a bit too much like wordplay to me. I don’t think many believers would be genuinely stumped by your observation. Which suggests that they are only appearing to base their arguments on that kind of reasoning. I’m sure you’d get a good range of post-hoc rationalizations.