The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
But if (and Oh! What a big If!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes. – Charles Darwin
Life, as we know it, requires the composition of disparate elements into living, functioning organisms—but how does that actually happen? What makes the process occur?
Science has unsuccessfully tried to answer these seemingly simple, basic questions for centuries. But despite their efforts, scientists still don’t know how living organisms first formed, how the inorganic became the organic, how life emerged from the primordial soup—or even if it did. Theories abound, but proof has never appeared.
Charles Darwin, the founder of the science of evolution and natural selection, theorized that life first emerged from “some warm little pond.” By that description, he meant that life likely arose from non-living matter in a hypothetical process now known as abiogenesis. Simply, the theory of abiogenesis suggests that self-replicating molecules and organic compounds could lead to the growth of the amino acids and the RNA needed for the creation of living things.
This kind of scientifically-understandable concept of life formation (even though it is only a theory at this point, and has never been demonstrated or proven) could be the key to the beginnings of life.
From a Baha’i perspective, however, one more important element would need to play its part in those beginnings—the will of a Creator. Because accidental and involuntary composition both violate the natural law of cause and effect, Abdu’l-Baha taught, only a voluntary composition of those primal elements could possibly create life:
Then what have we left as a form of composition? It is the voluntary form of composition, which means that composition is effected through a superior will, that there is will expressed in this motive or action. It is thus proved that the existence of phenomena is effected through the eternal Will, the Will of the Living, Eternal and Self-subsistent, and this is a rational proof concerning composition whereof there is no doubt or uncertainty. Furthermore, it is quite evident that our kind of life, our form of existence, is limited and that the reality of all accidental phenomena is, likewise, limited. The very fact that the reality of phenomena is limited well indicates that there must needs be an unlimited reality, for were there no unlimited, or infinite, reality in life, the finite being of objects would be inconceivable. To make it plainer for you, if there were no wealth in the world, you would not have poverty. If there were no light in the world, you could not conceive of darkness, for we know things philosophically by their antitheses. We know, for example, that poverty is the lack of wealth. Where there is no knowledge, there is no ignorance. What is ignorance? It is the absence of knowledge. Therefore, our limited existence is a conclusive proof that there is an unlimited reality, and this is a shining proof and evident argument. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 424-425.
This concept of voluntary composition, complete with the involvement of a divine Composer, has several advocates in the scientific community. Called “orthogenesis” or “theistic evolution,” it recognizes the reality of evolution and believes that the process was set in motion by a Creator.
In 2009, at the conclusion of the 100th anniversary year of Charles Darwin’s birth, the Reuters News Agency interviewed Michael Denton, one of the world’s leading developmental biologists and genetics researchers, and asked him how life emerged:
Q: So how did life come about?
In the Darwinian idea, you’d first have chemistry and then a bit-by-bit accumulation of fortuitous changes. But before you get to a system that can replicate securely and yet accommodate a bit of change, you can’t really have Darwinian evolution. So how do you get to the first cell? My hunch is that there is probably a unique path to the cell that exploits some unknown self-organizing properties of matter. If there were many routes and they were easy to take, we would have found some by now. I think we have to postulate that the origin of life involves some as yet unknown self-organizing properties of matter. That’s my hunch, and if that’s not true, then I think you’re going to have special creation [that all life originated by divine decree]. You can quote me on that. It’s either some unknown special self-organizing process or it’s creation.
Q: What do you think of “intelligent design” now?
I have some sympathy with the intelligent design movement. I can see their point. But in the end, I think natural self-organizing matter plus natural selection can probably explain it. I don’t like the attitude of the Darwinian establishment towards intelligent designers because one thing the Darwinist establishment certainly can’t explain is the origin of life. That’s for sure. Probably special creation is better than what they’ve got. That’s almost like confessing a murder, I know, but I don’t mind being quoted on that. Because I personally see so much fitness in the cosmos for the ends of life, then that it is at least compatible with a design hypothesis like Aristotle or Aquinas. I’m quite irritated by the way the Darwinists claim they have all the answers. I don’t think they can explain the fitness of the universe for life. They can’t explain the origin of life. So I think they should be a little bit more humble.
In the questions that human beings have asked for millennia about the origins of life, a little humility would probably do everyone a great deal of good:
Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world. It is a dispensation of Providence ordained by the Ordainer, the All-Wise. Were anyone to affirm that it is the Will of God as manifested in the world of being, no one should question this assertion. It is endowed with a power whose reality men of learning fail to grasp. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 141.
And now consider this infinite universe. Is it possible that it could have been created without a Creator? Or that the Creator and cause of this infinite congeries of worlds should be without intelligence? Is the idea tenable that the Creator has no comprehension of what is manifested in creation? Man, the creature, has volition and certain virtues. Is it possible that his Creator is deprived of these? A child could not accept this belief and statement. It is perfectly evident that man did not create himself and that he cannot do so. How could man of his own weakness create such a mighty being? Therefore, the Creator of man must be more perfect and powerful than man. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 82.