Did the first life originate through natural processes? Did life begin in the primordial goo without direct involvement of God? To frame it as a theological question, did God create life directly and immediately, or did God set in motion the mechanical processes by which life would eventuate?
If science ever demonstrates how life could be generated by a recipe of energy and inorganic compounds, it would then be called upon to explain how life did originate that way. And if scientists succeeded at that, they still would have shown only that the chain of causation back to the fingertip of God is deeper than we imagined.
The Bible doesn’t say how God created life in biological terms. It does teach that He has the power to speak it into existence. The creation story of the first two chapters of Genesis refers to various creatures being created by God, followed by the phrase “after their kind.” This hints at speciation right at inception. On the other hand, the creation story is obviously literary, stylized, and un-scientific. The list of plants and animals is by no means intended as a complete catalog. It makes no mention at all of microbes, insects, or dinosaurs, for example. The emphasis is on God causing life to be because He willed it so, not on the intermediate mechanics He might have employed.
Where does this leave us for purposes of understanding the secular orthodoxy that life developed from non-life with no supernatural intervention? Well in the first place, it is possible for God to be true, but the Bible not. God should not be counted out because many people believe Him to be revealed in the Bible. But in the second place, even if the Bible is true (which it is) it does not relate a means of life’s origination that is inconsistent with what we observe through science. There is no reason to believe God is irrelevant to the origin of life just because the Bible doesn’t read like a science textbook.
God is excluded on grounds of prejudice, not evidence. Secularist dogma is that life originated from non-life; that we just don’t yet know how. The hypothesis that God created life, by whatever mechanism, is excluded a priori, not as a rational conclusion from evidence. The rationality of regarding God as the creator of life is not questioned because the evidence demands it, but rather because belief in God is itself considered irrational, therefore any hypothesis of origins which includes God is rejected without a hearing.
But if one were to consider the mere possibility of there being a God who creates, then the suggestion that He created life seems more likely than the purely materialist hypothesis. Man has not created life. It would seem that the very simplest forms of life might be create-able by man, but it hasn’t happened. No theory advanced thus far about early conditions of earth is convincing for non-life becoming life. No such theory would explain the startling variety of life, either, unless we adopt as true the proliferation of species through Evolution, a theory which has some problems of its own.
The Life Force, and Time
Perhaps the most glaring omission from all materialist life-origin theories, however, is explanation of the elements of self-replication and survival. This is not to say that there are no biological explanations for how existing organisms survive and reproduce. There are. But what’s missing is what we might call here the “life-force;” the impelling drives to stay alive, and to reproduce.
Life at its simplest consists of material with a metabolism and ability to reproduce. This is the difference between inanimate and living material. No explanation is needed for why a rock remains identifiably a rock. It just does. We can safely say that rocks don’t suffer existential angst over possible annihilation. But living things must act, to survive and thus exist.
Survival is a concept that applies only to living things precisely because living things do not remain living. They die. Living things exist within the constraints of time, unlike non-living things. In fact, it is the signal feature of all living things, as opposed to inanimate things, that existence is temporary. From dust we were created, and to dust we return. The material that remains when life is gone from the body is again inorganic material. The formerly living thing does not exist.
So when we imagine the point at which non-living material crosses over to become first life, we have to imagine it also taking on this dimension of living inside of time, and with a survival motivation that does not exist for non-living things. This is not to say that simple bacteria sit around waving their cilia in anxiety about how to stay alive. In fact, there is no reasoning process, as such, in the simplest life forms. And yet, they act so as to continue living, and even to reproduce. What causes cells to replicate, to replace dying cells? Why is there an expenditure of energy to remain alive? Why is there an expenditure of energy to reproduce, sometimes at the expense of the individual’s own life?
Again, the question is not how this is done. The question is why? This question should not be confused with philosophical questions of purpose and will. This is not a philosophical question, but a biological one. And it’s not a biological “how,” question, but a biological “why” question. Non-life does not act in order to survive. It doesn’t act at all. But life not only acts in order to survive, but is impelled to do so. This motivation distinction, tied to the element of temporariness, is surely the most profound difference between non-living and living material. Motivation is not a material thing, nor explainable in purely material terms. In the earliest formation of life from non-life, regardless of how one conceives it occurring, why is there a motivation to live and reproduce? This teleological impulse is not explained in purely material terms.