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Why Would A Rock Become A Bacterium?
Gerald Schroeder

Following evening prayers at the Kotel (the Western Wall), a friend wondered aloud why he could feel the warmth of the Kotel stones even from a distance. As I explained the nuances of how radiant energy is absorbed and later re-emitted, I hoped that his spiritual moment wasn't diminished by all that science. For me the "hows" behind the phenomena of the universe add to my own appreciation of the creation.

Unfortunately, not all questions have such accessible answers as those related to radiant energy. There's a category of puzzles relating to the inherent nature of nature - such as why is there a universe? - that cry out for philosophical as well as scientific scrutiny. For me, those are the really intriguing areas of science.

So while I'm at the Kotel I'm not wondering about heat from the stones, or how ancient King Herod managed to stack those massive rocks so neatly. I want to know why we have stones in the first place, and - looking at the plants growing between the stones, the doves that perch in the crevices and the human beings rocking in prayer - how stones gave birth to life. All scientific data imply that the universe first appeared as a mass of extraordinarily condensed, exquisitely hot energy - in essence, super-powerful light rays. That energy then metamorphosed into matter, and the matter somehow became alive. Yet when I try to figure out how seemingly inert matter acquired the intricately ordered symphony found in every form of life, I get stuck. The standard model of evolution, taught as dogma, is that random mutations and natural selection were the driving forces behind life's climb to ever greater complexity. The more it evolved, according to this theory, the better each organism could survive.

But let's take a step back to a time before life - when all the earth offered was rocks, some simple molecules and water. What advantage for survival or aspect of natural selection would drive a rock to become a bacterium? All forms of life are less stable, less durable, than a rock.

And yet life was parented by these seemingly inert substrates.

To explain life's genesis, Nobel laureate and organic chemist Christian de Duve envisions some undefined auto-catalytic processes forced upon matter by some undefined natural properties inherent in matter.

As a scientist, I too struggle to see all events as having natural (i.e., scientifically explainable) causes. The problem with a natural version for life's origins is the awesome rapidity with which life appeared on the earth. Most people are unaware of the fact that no sooner had the once molten earth cooled than life flourished. Yet even the simplest bacteria contain an encyclopedia of information and operating instructions. From where did all this information arise, and in a geological flash?

We scientists always defer to "the laws of nature" as if those laws were out there in some abstract way, pushing the pieces of nature around.

Recent discoveries reveal that those so-called laws of nature appear as an inherent wisdom, a form of information present in every particle and every ray of light. Physicist Freeman Dyson of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study put it this way: "Atoms are weird stuff, behaving as active agents rather than inert substances.... It appears that a mind is to some extent present in every atom." In Torah talk, we say "I am Wisdom.... God made me [Wisdom] first of all His works." (Proverbs 8:12, 22)

Life could arise from matter and matter from energy because every aspect of existence carries within it the imprint of a Divine wisdom that is creation. As de Duve wrote: "Faced with the enormous sum of lucky draws behind the success [of life]... one may legitimately wonder to what extent this success is actually written into the fabric of the universe."

But even as I accept that Wisdom is couched in all existence, my powers of imagination are too limited to conjure up how the scent of wild thyme on a Jerusalem hillside, the chatter of the doves, the wiggling toes of a baby under his father's prayer shawl, and life itself, were all written into the creation at that moment just before the Big Bang, when all that existed was the wisdom of the Divine.


Gerald Schroeder earned his B.Sc., M.Sc. and Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is the author of Genesis and The Big Bang (Bantam Doubleday), The Science of God (Free Press of Simon & Schuster) and The Hidden Face of God (Free Press). He served in the IDF and lives in Jerusalem with his wife, the author Barbara Sofer, and their five children.


 
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