The Problem of Origin of Life

The Problem of Origin of LifeHow did life start in the beginning and through what means? Does every one
of these innumerable species end in an individual living creature that is the
source of its particular species? If that is the case, how did that first
creature come into existence? Ordinarily, when theistic thinkers want to relate the matter of life to God
and Divine will, they bring up the problem of origin of life on the earth and
the question regarding the cause of the first emergence of life.

The Problem of Origin of LifeOrdinarily, when (theistic) thinkers want to relate the matter of life to God
and Divine will, they bring up the problem of origin of life on the earth and
the question regarding the cause of the first emergence of life. Conclusive
scientific evidence indicates that life had a definite begin­ning on the surface
of the earth, that none of the various types of living creatures, including
animals and plants, have always existed since eternity. This is because the
earth itself has a limited age. Moreover, it was not in its estimated life of
several million years always fit for life. We observe that each individual of a
species is always born from another individual belonging to that species. Wheat
comes from wheat, barley from barley, horse from horse, camel from camel, and
man from man. It is not the practice of nature that an animal or plant, for
instance, should come into existence from a mass of sheer dust. Always, the
origin of a living creature is traceable to another living creature from which
it separates in the form of a seed or sperm and grows in a suitable location.

Now, how did life start in the beginning and through what means? Does every one
of these innumerable species end in an individual living creature that is the
source of its particular species? If that is the case, how did that first
creature come into existence, for nature seems to disallow the emergence of a
living creature without a speed, sperm or something that should have separated
from a living creature? Hence, (they point out), we must admit that an exception
to the rule must have occurred. In other words, a miracle had occurred and the
Divine hand had emerged from the hidden to create that first living creature.

Or is it possible that all these species. have had a single source and root, and
are members of a family of species? On the basis of this hypothesis, too, we
confront the same problem. That is, even if we suppose all the species to have
been derived from a single unicellular organism, the same question emerges as to
how that first living creature came into existence. Isn’t it the case that
science has proved that a living creature cannot come into existence except from
another living creature? Hence, was there an exception to the rule and a
miracle, in that the will of God interfered to create instantaneously a living

It is here that the adherents of the materialist outlook are forced to put
forward certain hypotheses which are incredible to themselves. The theists, on
the contrary, consider it as an evidence for the existence of a creator and
state that a supranatural power did interfere to create the first living
creature, and that it was the will of God that led to its emergence. Such was
the view of Darwin, who was personally a theist. After having solved the problem
of the branching out of species for himself, he arrives at one or several living
creatures who first emerged on the earth’s surface without having been
reproduced by another living creature. He says regarding them: `As for these,
they came to life through the Divine breath.’

Crissy Morrisen, in the book "The Secret of Man’s Creation", says in this

Some say that the corpuscles of life escaped from one of the planets and after
wandering in the atmosphere for ages and consecutive centuries descended on the
earth’s surface. Such a belief is not acceptable, because it is impossible that
they should have survived the space’s absolute cold, and even if, supposedly,
they could survive that danger, the cosmic rays that are scattered in space
would have destroyed them. Even if they could pass through this stage, they must
have come down accidentally in a very favour­able point such as oceanic depths,
where several conditions existed simul­taneously and a suitable environment was
created for them. After all these problems, the question still arises about the
origin of life and as to how it did emerge in other planets. Today it has been
proved for certain that no environment however favourable and conducive to life
can create it. Similarly, no kind of chemical synthesis or combination can
create a life corpuscle. The problem of life still remains one of the unsolved
problems of science.

Some say that a miniscule particle of matter, of a microscopic size, coagulating
with a large number of particles of atomic size, disturbed their equilibrium and
assumed the form of life through their inclusion and exclusion. Nonethe­less, no
one has claimed until now that he has produced life with the means of chemical
action and reaction.

By this discussion Crissy Morrisen intends to prove that the hand of a creator
is involved in the origin and beginning of life, because it cannot be explained
by material or natural causes. Concerning the origins of man and the great
metamorphosis that resulted in the emergence of an intelligent creature with an
extraordinary capacity for discursive thought and a power that could create the
sciences, he says: "The emergence of man as an intelligent and thoughtful
creature is too profound to be considered an effect of material changes in which
a creator’s hand was not involved." This was a sample of the mode of thought and
argument of this group in relation to life and the Divine will. There is no need
to cite more or less similar statements of others that do not differ essentially
from the passage quoted.

As we know, till now man has not been able, despite all his efforts, to produce
with scientific means the substance that makes up the living creatures. For
instance, he has been unable to produce with chemical substances an artificial
wheat grain possessing the properties of a living grain, which may grow into a
plant when sown and develop ears. Nor has he been able to produce artificially
the sperm of an animal or man with the capacity to develop into an animal or
man. Nevertheless, scientists have not ceased in their efforts, and as yet it
has not become conclusively clear for them whether they would be able to do so
in the future or if this matter lies beyond man’s scientific and technical

This topic too, which relates to the future has, like the problem of the origin
of life, created a controversy throughout the world. Inevitably, that group of
theists who, with their above-mentioned approach and logic, say that the
creation of life is in the hands of God, are of the opinion that, in this
question too, man’s efforts in the field are bound to be fruitless. Since man
has no control over life, which is exclusively subject to the Divine will, man
cannot create life anytime at his will with the scientific and technical means
at his disposal. The prophets who raised the dead were able to do so with the
leave of God. It is not possible for anyone to perform such an act without the
permission of God. And should anyone want to do such a thing with the leave of
God, it would mean that such a man has joined the ranks of the prophets and
performed a miracle, and, of course, God does not carry out a miracle except at
the hands of His prophets and awliya.

This group of theists consider man’s present incapacity in this regard as the
proof of their claim. When they observe that man has produced wheat grains that
do not differ in any way in their chemical composition from natural wheat but
are devoid of the characteristics of life, they point out that that is because
life depends exclusively on the will of God and the creation of life requires
God’s permission, which He does not give to anyone except His apostles.

We said that the Noble Qur’an explicitly affirms that life lies in the hands of
God and that it negates the role of anyone else in the creation of life.
However, the Qur’an never refers to the matter of the origin of the human
species or the beginning of life in order to affirm this point. On the contrary,
it points as evidence to the present empirical order and considers the current,
ongoing system of life as the system of creation, becoming and development. But
when it wishes to describe God’s creatorhood in relation to life, it does not
make recourse to the first day. In this respect, it makes no distinction between
the first day and the subsequent days. Rather, it points to the present orderly
changes of life as the changes of creation. For instance, in the blessed Surat
al­Mu’minun it states:

We created man of an extraction of clay, then We set him, a drop, in a
receptacle secure, then We created of the drop a clot, then We created of the
clot a tissue, then We created of the tissue bones, then We garmented the bones
in flesh; thereafter We produced him as another creature. So blessed be God, the
fairest of creators! (23:12-14)

This noble verse mentions the systematic transformation and changes that occur
in the embryo and considers these developments as a developing series of
creations. In the Surat Nuh, it states:

What ails you, that you look not for majesty in God, seeing He created you by
stages? (71:13-14)

In the Surat al-Zumar, it states:

He creates you in your mothers’ wombs creation after creation in threefold
shadows. (39:6)

In the Surat al-Baqarah, it is stated:

How do you disbelieve in God, seeing you were dead and He gave you life, then
He shall make you dead, then He shall give you life, then unto Him you shall be
returned. (2:28)

In the Surat al-Hajj, it states:

It is He Who gave you life, then He shall make you dead, then He shall give
you life. (22:66)

There are many verses on this theme and all of them consider the present current
order as the system of creation. The splitting of the grain and the seed under
the ground, the growth of plants and herbs, the greening of the trees in
spring-time – all of these are mentioned as part of the ever new and perpetual
Divine creativity. In no place does the Qur’an consider the role of Divine
creativity and will in the creation of life as relating exclusively to the first
man or the first living creature that emerged upon the earth’s surface, or
consider only that organism or grain as the creature of God and the product of
the Divine will.

The Noble Qur’an also mentions the creation of Adam, but not for the purpose of
affirming monotheism (tawhid), or for the sake of the argument that since Adam
was the first man, that proves that creation did occur and that `God’s hand
emerged from its sleeve’ to create human life. God’s hand has never been
concealed within a sleeve.

There is a strange point worthy of notice in this regard. The Qur’an makes use
of the story of Adam to convey many teachings of a moral and educative
character, such as: man’s capacity for attaining to the station of God’s
vicegerency; his abundant capacity for knowledge; the angels’ humility in front
of knowledge; man’s capacity for attaining superiority over the angels; the harm
of greed, the harms of pride, the effects of sin in causing man’s decline from
the sublimest of stations; the role of penitence in man’s salvation and his
return to the station of proximity to God; warnings against the danger of
misleading satanic insinuations, and the like. But it never relates the special
and exceptional situation of Adam in his creation to the subject of tawhid and
theology, for the objective behind its mention of Adam’s story was a moral and
educative one. It was not intended as an evidence in favour of tawhid. Moreover,
it confines itself to mentioning Adam, and says nothing about how the life of
the other animal species originated on the earth.

We have mentioned earlier the customary approach of the theists who when
confronted with the absence of an explanation for the beginning of life in the
first living creature say, "It was the Divine breath which brought it into
existence." But the Qur’an considers the life of other human beings also to be
the result of the Divine breath, in the same way as it considers the life of
Adam as being due to the Divine breath.

In one place the Qur’an relates God as saying to angels regarding Adam:

(And when thy Lord said to the angels `See, ‘I am creating a mortal of clay
of mud moulded.) When I have shaped him, and breathed My spirit in him, fall you
down, bowing before him!" (16:28-29)

In another place it says:

We created you, then We shaped you, then We said to the angels: Bow
yourselves to Adam.’ (7:11)

It is clear that, in this verse, creation, the blowing of the Divine breath and
the veneration of angels is ascribed to all human beings in general. The Qur’an
states in the Sura Alif lam sajdah:

…Who has created all things well and He originated the creation of man out
of clay, then He fashioned his progeny of an extraction of mean water, then He
shaped it, and breathed His spirit in it. And He appointed for you hearing and
sight, and heart; little thanks you show. (32:7-9)

As pointed out by the exegetes and as indicated by the context itself, the
pronoun in sawwahu (he shaped it) relates to sulalah (progeny), not to al-‘insan

Qur’an And the Nature Of Life
by Shaheed Murtadha Mutahhari