So then, here's how life originated
[N.B.: Here and now I admit that I have a direct line with God]
The question to be considered here is not how living bodies originate now. With respect to the present everyone admits biogenesis as a law, i.e., not a single instance is known of a living body which did not come into existence through a process of generation from another living body. The experiments of Pasteur and others have conclusively shown that in all instances where life seemed to originate from inanimate matter, microscopically small organisms gave rise to the new living bodies.
Our problem is concerned with the possibility of living bodies originating from inanimate matter. To a certain extent this problem refers to the future, but its main interest lies still in the past. It refers to the future insofar as the question can be raised whether or not laboratory experiments will ever succeed in producing a living organism, no matter how primitive, from inanimate matter. It refers to the past insofar as all available evidence points to the fact that once life on earth was physically impossible, so that at some time in the distant past living bodies must have made their first appearance on earth. Because observation of this first appearance is evidently impossible, the question how this life originated may be studied philosophically by an investigation of the various possibilities and the elimination of any position that is not in accordance with reason. In this way it will perhaps be possible to arrive at the conclusion that only one position is in agreement with the demands of reason, or that one position offers a great degree of probability than others.
Possible Positions Concerning the Origin of Life
Omitting pantheistic and occasionalistic hypotheses with respect to the origin of life, the following may be formulated:
Examination of the Various Positions with Respect to the Origin of Life
Direct Creation. There cannot be any doubt concerning the possibility that living bodies were directly created by God, for anything which is not a contradiction in terms can be done by God. The point, however, is that it would be unreasonable to suppose that God created new bodies when plenty of matter was available for the formation of these bodies. It does not seem in accordance with wisdom to make new material where an abundance of suitable material is available. But inanimate matter contains all the necessary material for the physical organization required by a living body.
Divine Intervention as the Sole Organizing Cause of Matter. Again, there cannot be any doubt that God has the power directly to organize matter in such a way that it is immediately disposed for actuation by a soul. However, it would seem unreasonable to attribute directly to God what can be brought about through the activity of the natural forces of inanimate matter acting in accordance with the laws of nature. If the Author of nature has endowed matter with forces that can naturally lead to the emergence of living bodies, it would seem unreasonable to suppose that He positively intervened in the process of natural development by suspending the activity of these forces and directly organizing inanimate matter. We say if, for it remains to be seen whether or not living bodies can have originated from inanimate matter acting in accordance with the laws of nature. Should the answer to this question be negative, then it would seem to be more consonant with divine wisdom to give rise to living bodies by organizing existing matter than by the creation of new matter.
Emergence of Life from Matter Alone. Can the physical forces of inanimate matter alone serve as an adequate explanation for the emergence of life? At first sight it would seem that the forces of inanimate matter can never give rise to a living body, because any material cause acts in accordance with its nature and therefore its effect cannot be greater than itself. But a living body is essentially more perfect than a nonliving body; hence it would seem that no forces of inanimate matter can give rise to a living body.
However, this answer fails to take into consideration the possibility of many material causes combining to produce an effect. Admittedly, if it is possible to introduce into a body the material dispositions making it proximately disposed for actuation by a soul, the cause or causes introducing these dispositions are the cause of a living body. The question, therefore, is whether or not it would be impossible for a combination of material forces to cause these dispositions in nonliving matter. The enormous complexity of the necessary dispositions excludes the possibility that a single line of material causality would ever produce these dispositions. But it is a well-known fact that physical causality, as it occurs in nature, is a very complex process in which many different lines of causality constantly interfere with one another.
Now the interference of different lines of causality may result in an effect which is proportioned to none of the interfering causes taken separately. Conceivably such an effect could be even more perfect than any of the producing causes, precisely because the combination of these causes could happen to be equal to the material causality normally exercised by one cause of a higher nature. If the material forces operating in a living body, which the soul combines into a single unit, are able to cause the necessary dispositions for life and thus produce a new living body, why would it be impossible for these forces to be united "by chance" into an operational unit and thus give rise to a living body? If such a thing did happen a living body would have been produced from inanimate matter. Thus it would not be impossible for a combination of inanimate forces to give rise to a living body.
Granted that such a combination is a possibility, does it provide an adequate explanation for the origin of life? An adequate explanation is one which takes into consideration all the causes that are at work in the production of an effect. No one admits that in the present state of science it is possible to indicate even all the physical forces that are necessary for the production of the dispositions of matter required for actuation by a soul. But supposing that a time will come when man will know all the material causes whose combination results in the production of a living body, will he have an adequate explanation for the origin of living bodies? The answer is in the negative, because he has failed to indicate the cause which led to the combination of these causes by unifying their activity.
But could not this unification be brought about by chance, as was suggested above? We must answer that an appeal to chance is not an explanation. Chance refers to the unpredictability of an effect produced by causes whose combined action cannot be foreseen, because the cause of their combination is not known. To deny that their combination has a cause is tantamount to a denial of the principle of causality. Therefore, an appeal to chance is an admission that the known physical forces of inanimate matter cannot explain the origin of life.
But, perhaps, at a future date science will discover the cause or causes which combine the forces of inanimate matter and make them produce in a nonliving body the necessary dispositions for actuation by a soul. Then, at least, science will have given an adequate explanation for the emergence of life by the sole forces of inanimate matter. Again, however, our answer has to be in the negative. Granted that perhaps a material agent causing the unification of these forces will be discovered, there still remains the principle of finality, i.e., the metaphysical law that every agent acts for a definite purpose. An agent can act for a purpose either because it is made to act for this purpose by an intelligent being, or because the agent himself is an intelligent being and directs his activity to a definite end.
If the cause of the unification is purely material, it cannot be an intelligent agent; therefore it acts towards a purpose merely because it is made to act in this way by an intelligent being. This intelligent being, qua intelligent, is extraneous to matter, for any intellect is immaterial. If, on the other hand, the agent is immaterial, it is of course extraneous to matter. Our final conclusion, therefore, is that the physical forces of inanimate matter alone cannot give an adequate explanation for the origin of living bodies.
Emergence of Life from Matter Under the Directing Influence of God. This position combines certain aspects of the two preceding hypotheses and discards others. It agrees with the theory of divine intervention insofar as it demands God's influence upon matter in the production of living bodies; it differs from it in that it does not require a suspension of the deterministic laws of nature (a miraculous intervention), but merely that God act through causes which are intrinsic to matter.
It agrees with the theory that life originates from matter alone insofar as it admits that the physical forces of inanimate matter can produce life, but differs from it because it requires that these causes be directed by the Primary Cause. Does this new position offer a satisfactory explanation for the origin of living bodies?
There is no reason to suppose that God cannot exercise influence upon the forces of inanimate matter without suspending the deterministic laws of nature. All that is necessary is that God make use of the intrinsic forces of matter, which act in accordance with these laws, by directing their activity to the purpose He intends, viz., the production of the necessary conditions for the actuation of matter by a soul. The question, however, is whether God can give such a direction to the forces of matter without producing in existing matter a tendency previously nonexistent in it, for such a production would be a positive intervention in the existing order of nature.
To this question, we answer that the existence of such a tendency in matter allows a double explanation -- either God created it in matter which previously did not have it, or He concreated it in matter when matter itself was created. In the first case there would have been a positive intervention, and the whole explanation would be identical with the position that the divine Cause organizes matter by suspending the existing laws of nature. In the second alternative, however, this tendency would belong to the very essence of the material world, as planned and created by God.
Therefore, the directing influence of this tendency would not be an intervention in the established order of nature, but merely the execution of the order of nature established by divine providence. In this theory inanimate matter from its very beginning would have possessed all the forces necessary for the emergence of life, because God Himself planned the whole course of nature in such a way that life followed of necessity when the planned combination of inanimate forces occurred.
If this position were true the human observer of nature would be faced with effects emerging "by chance" from a concurrence of causes, because he does not see this concurrence takes place according to plan. Consequently, upon his level of explanation, he would be justified in speaking about life as emerging from a chance meeting of inanimate causes. He would be mistaken, however, if from his observations he would conclude that his explanation gives an adequate account for the origin of life.
It would seem that this theory does not violate any physical or metaphysical principles. Although it does not postulate a special intervention of God in the origin of life, it does not deny that life could originate only as a result of God's planning and providence. It certainly would be a more splendid manifestation of God's power if life were produced in this way rather than by a miraculous intervention in the established order of nature.
Emergence of Life from Matter Under the Directing Influence of a Secondary Cause. If the preceding theory offers an explanation for the emergence of life, there seems to be no reason why it should be impossible for an intelligent secondary cause to direct the forces of matter in the production of the material conditions required for actuation by a soul. Of course, such a cause would need to have a far greater knowledge of matter than is possessed by man at this time. It would not seem impossible, however, that ultimately man will succeed in acquiring this knowledge and be able to utilize it to obtain the desired effect. In that case man would be able to produce living bodies artificially. Nevertheless, it would not be a case of life being produced by the sole forces of matter, because these forces would be under the direction of man, who is an intelligent being. Moreover, even in this case God's action would not be excluded, because man's activity does not escape the directing influence of God.
A similar theory for the emergence of life from inanimate matter was offered by ancient and medieval philosophers, including St Thomas, as an explanation of the supposedly spontaneous generation of maggots in decaying flesh. They though that in this case the forces of inanimate matter, as acted upon by the sun or other celestial bodies under the direction of spiritual substances, made matter proximately disposed for actuation of a soul.
Of the seven positions formulated above with respect to the first origin of life only the third, fourth, sixth, and seventh offer reasonable possibilities. However, the third (direct creation of the whole living body) is less probable, although it cannot be called impossible. The seventh (directing influence of a secondary cause) does not apply to the first origin of living bodies, if man is supposed to be this cause. Hence, the choice seems to be mainly between the fourth position (God as the sole organizing cause of matter) and the sixth (emergence of life under the influence of God acting through causes that are intrinsic to matter). Of course, it is impossible to say what actually did happen, unless there is a reliable report of a witness. But if there is such a report, its contents escape from the domain of philosophy and physical science.
Do YOU have the report?
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The eternal existence of living bodies was defended by Arrhenius (1859-1927), Preyer (1831-1897), and a few others. Keyserling (born 1880), Lord Kelvin (1827-1907), and Helmholtz (1821-1894) held that the first germs of life on earth had come from outer space. Most authors who defend the eternal existence of living bodies combine the second position with the first.
The origin of "imperfect animals" from inanimate matter under the influence of celestial bodies, as directed by spiritual substances, was commonly admitted before the experiments of Pasteur (1822-1895). Avicenna admitted the possibility of such an origin even with respect to "perfect animals."
Direct creation of the first living bodies with respect to both body and soul was favored by Remer, while others (Gredt) were more inclined to admit divine intervention as the sole organizing cause of matter.
The possibility of life emerging from causes intrinsic to matter under God's directive influence is regarded with favor by many contemporary Thomists, such as Sertillanges, Messenger, Brennan, and Klubertanz.
The emergence of life from matter alone is the view taken by many materialistic evolutionists, such as Haeckel and Huxley.