By Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh
When being asked by Napoleon why he had made no mention of God in his book about the universe – Mécanique céleste [celestial mechanics], French mathematician and astronomer, Marquis de Laplace (1749- 1827), replied: “ I have no need for that hypothesis.”
As people all over the world, religious or non-religious sang: ding dong diggidy ding dong to celebrate the New Year’s Day. I wrote this article for the year 2012 to bring good news from Nature.
The good news is that science will prevail and there is no need to lose your God(s) to whom you want to snuggle for comforts when you are in a state of suffering and want as a result of physical circumstances or extreme poverty.
Now scientists are almost able to explain the emergence of the first cell from the earth’s “primordial soup” from which all life originated without the need for God.
When I was little, I believed in non-personal Hindu gods from the stories told by my parents, which gave me delight in the colourful vision of heaven, and from the sensual pleasures reflected in the air of religious celebrations.
As I grew up, I saw divinity implicit in the creation all around me, perceived as integral elements in the dynamic of God’s synthesis. God was the fantastical paragon untouched by human morality. The closeness between God and me climaxed during religious functions, and whenever I anticipated a heavenly recompense for my unstinting prayers in my childhood innocence.
All that began to change as I studied physics and biology in school and college. When I became a doctor, I realised that a philosophical rhapsody in all aspects of creation was no substitute for the frail and disease-infested Third World. The question of the truth of the existence of God is one thing, but the question of his usefulness is another.
In Richard Dawkins’ book – The God Hypothesis, he identifies two concepts of God(s): (1) an abstract, impersonal God (such as found in Hinduism) and (2) a personal God (found in monotheistic religions – Christianity, Islam and Hebrew) who is the creator of the universe, interested in human beings and should be worshipped day and night.
The existence of the latter type of God is what Dawkins calls the “God Hypothesis”. He maintains that the existence of such a God, if real, would have effects in the physical universe and like any other hypothesis, can be tested and falsified.
Dawkins argues against the main philosophical argument in favour of God’s existence ie the argument from design for longer consideration. Dawkins concludes that evolution by natural selection can explain apparent design in nature.
He writes that one of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain ‘how the complex, improbable design in the universe arises’, and suggests that there are two competing explanations:
1. A hypothesis involving a designer God, that is, a complex being to account for the complexity that we see.
2. A hypothesis with supporting theories that explains how from simple origins and principles, something more complex can emerge.
To me, God hypothesis is a haze. It is like looking through your eye glasses while standing in heavy rain. For me the haze began to clear up many years ago as a response to a newfound embrace of modern scientific ideas.
The fossilised remains of animals and early humans are eye openers to how they survived and how they perished. We have firm evidence of how the evolutionary process had been continuing for millions of years. We have now enough scientific evidence to convince us that the earth, the nature and the universe had not been static and could not have been static.
Scientists have the combination of available fossils and genetic evidence to show that the split between humans and chimpanzees occurred in less than 4 million years ago, and the gorilla line of split from our ancestral line just before the human-chimp split.
The fossil evidence shows that the split occurred in the African Great Rift Valley region. The region became drier and forests dwindled. About 2 million years ago, during the Ice Age, the first member of humans – Homo erectus with a brain capacity of about 900 cubic centimetres started to spread, evolving into a brain capacity of 1,100 cubic centimetres, and finally to modern human (Homo sapiens) brain of 1,369 cubic centimetres.
The problem of quantifying all of the steps of human evolution and what turned monkeys into humans have so far been unable but we are nearing the upper rung of the ladder, with the beginning of this New Year. It must have been something with the massive changes the earth had undergone over the eons.
In terms of finding intelligent life (Homo sapiens), regardless of God or Nature, Earth is the most suitable planet because of its habitable temperature and existence of water. Varieties of life exploded in the Cambrian period.
The Cambrian period is the beginning of the Palaeozoic era that lasted until 225 million years ago; followed by Mesozoic era (225 -65 million years ago and the Cainozoic era (65 million years ago up to date). Everything before the Cambrian explosion, 3.5 billion years of geological time is called the Precambrian, with no dramatic changes but the oceans swarmed with single-celled life.
The Precambrian fossil record indicates that life appeared soon after the Earth was formed. This would imply that life appeared within several hundred million years when conditions became favourable. Generally accepted scientific estimates of the age of the Earth place its formation (along with the rest of the Solar system) at about 4.55 billion years old.
According to scientists, unicellular life was found 3.8 years ago, from the fossil remains of actual cells that have been recovered from rocks dated at around 3.6 billion years old. These cells are known as prokaryotes, which existed for at least 2.2 billion years.
Between 5 and 4.5 billion years ago, the sun and other planets formed from matter in our solar system because of gravity. It has been estimated by many scientists that about 3.9 billion years ago, the earth cooled down and had an atmosphere that contained the right mixture of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and carbon to allow for the formation of life.
They also believe that energy derived from heat, lightening and radioactive elements caused the synthesis of complex proteins and nucleic acids into strands of replicating genetic code. They were the building blocks of life.
These molecules then organised and evolved to form the first simple forms of life. Around 3.8 billion years ago, conditions became ripe for the fossilisation of the earth’s early cellular life forms. These fossilised cells resemble present day cyanobacteria. Such cells are known as prokaryotes. These simple cells contain few specialised cellular structures and their DNA (nucleus) is not surrounded by a membranous envelope.
About 2.1 billion years ago they evolved into more complex cells of animals and plants known as eukaryotes that have a membrane-bound nucleus and many specialised structures located within their cell boundary.
By 680 million years ago, eukaryotic cells began to organise themselves into multicellular organisms. Starting around 570 million years ago, an enormous diversion of multicellular life made its appearance on earth, different species arriving at different times. The last Hominid line began its evolution 20-15 million years ago.
Most of the information scientists have about the evolution of animal life in the Cambrian period comes from the study of fossils in the Burgess Shale – a geological rock formation in the Canadian Rockies. But scientists do not completely agree on how to interpret the evidence in evolutionary terms. It needs time.
For a long time scientists believed that about 3.85 billion years ago something happened on earth. Somehow or other, tiny clumps of chemicals clumped together and started behaving as if they were alive. That was the beginning of the emergence of the first simple celled organism.
Those cells made more cells just like themselves. Thus began the beginning of life on earth. The human presence on this earth was relatively recent, about 13,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age.
Scientists have now gone further in proving that life indeed did start from chemicals. It is now widely agreed that life arose spontaneously by natural processes on this earth 3.85 billion years ago. It is a theory but not a speculative one. The clues not surprisingly, came from life itself, the earth, outer space and laboratory experiments.
Professor Conway Morris, an English Palaeontologist, who agrees with Darwin, says: “Although it seems at first sight difficult to fit many of the bizarre-looking fossils from the Burgess Shale into known groups, such as phyla, on closure inspection, rather than representing extinct phyla, the weird and wonderful fossils from the early Cambrian actually provide insight into how the present phyla evolved.
He believes in the continuity and interrelatedness of life on earth, including the origin of human beings.
Given my own struggle to believe in the existence of God, I have come to agree with Albert Camus (1913-60), a French philosopher, that God had indeed been used in the past to stunt creativity as a blanket answer to all the problems of humanity.
In the continuing battle between faith and logic I changed from my childhood encounter with a punitive God and broadened the angle on which I view my life. I lost the God that I found as a birthright from my parents and the community.