Any scientific model is just an approximation of the truth, and as it stands, the theory that life evolved from a melange of its most basic components, out of a so-called “primordial soup”, is a pretty good one. For starters, it is a logical introduction to the story we have seen in the fossil record, with more complex organisms arising out of simpler ones until we reach the level of sophistication we see in plants, animals, and microbes today.
If this whole idea is discomforting to creationists, it need not be. While the primordial soup theory may contradict the exact wording of the Bible as it exists today, it could just as easily be the case that it took a little while for God to create man in his image, with several drafts along the way. After all, knowing what we came from doesn’t answer the question of how the ball got rolling in the first place.
There are competing theories besides creationism in the traditional sense. It has also been posited that we, humans at least, are creations of an extraterrestrial race. Alternately, and perhaps more in line with the evidence we have before us, it has been suggested that life caught a ride to Earth on a meteorite or other piece of debris. This idea is supported by evidence of what appear to be some of the building blocks of life found on a meteorite discovered near the town of Murchison, Australia in 1969. Over the years, a variety of scientific teams analysing data from the rock have claimed to have found evidence of sugars, amino acids, and even the ingredients for DNA (1). Still others have suggested that something like seeds exist somewhere “up there” and when they make contact with the right environment, they give rise to life.
While these theories may be interesting food for thought, they do not constitute a basis for actual belief. Even a whole life form found on a meteorite wouldn’t prove that all life on Earth came from space. Maybe is not definitely, and while we can never know definitively what are the true origins of life, anything other than the primordial soup theory begs the question. Surely there had to be a bowl of soup somewhere. Maybe on another planet or on a piece of spaceborne debris, maybe even in the House of the Lord, but somewhere, somehow, life had to begin.
The term “primordial soup” is a metaphor, a simplification of a much more complex idea for the purpose of illustration. Of course life didn’t evolve from an actual bowl of soup, and the process didn’t involve a bunch of ingredients suddenly giving rise to an animal or some other “higher” entity. The idea is that life is a process that occurs in the presence of certain materials under favourable conditions, and it is supported by evidence. There is nothing preventing us from contemplating far-out ideas, but when it comes to what we absolutely believe to be true, it should be based on facts. And while some clue may come to light which sends us in a new direction in our search for answers as to where, ultimately, we came from, for now the primordial soup theory is a good fit, humbling though it may be, and who knows? Maybe this soup was mixed by a nurturing hand, or some cosmic gastronomist in the throws of a culinary muse.
(1.) Online edition of The Independent, 18 June 2008, Science section.