When Worlds Collide: The Origin of Life

It has likely been a long time since you first began driving or had driving lessons. You may recall the instructor (or your father) urging you to not only watch the car ahead of you but to scan the entire highway and always have the “big picture” in mind. This would enable you to foresee and prepare for anything that might occur on the highway. The intention was to arm you and to help you avoid surprises and cope with potential hazards.

In a similar manner, it is vital for us to always keep the “big picture” of life before us. Philosophers refer to having a “metanarrative,” which they define as an overarching account or interpretation of events and circumstances that provides a pattern or structure for people’s beliefs, giving meaning to and explaining their experiences. It is the “big story” into which we place the smaller events of life. This enables us to maintain a mental balance amidst the tsunamis and storms of life.

Despite claims to the contrary, everyone has a metanarrative, a way of looking at life, that enables them to understand and interpret the events of life. Every culture has a metanarrative. For many in past centuries, it was some form of religion, whether heathen or Christian. For some in our world today, that “big story” is best articulated by the brilliant scientist, Richard Dawkins. His view of life was expressed when he said, “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has exactly the properties we would expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”

Now this may express the reality of many today in our world, but it is a rather fatalistic (and depressing) view of life. Quentin Smith’s contribution only adds to the frustration: “The fact of the matter is that the most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing and for nothing …. We should … acknowledge our foundation in nothingness and feel awe at the marvelous fact that we have a chance to participate briefly in this incredible sunburst that interrupts without reason the reign of non-being.” Feeling awe that I am participating in nothing is difficult for me to experience. Are we merely the product of mindless, purposeless forces working on some primordial soup?

But we should not reject something because it fills us with a sense of despair. Truth must stand on its own regardless of how it makes us feel. I am sure, however, that we all have an intuitive sense that the claim that we came from nothing somehow does not really ring true. One does not need a PHD to determine that something does not come from nothing.

In contrast to a humanistic viewpoint, our metanarrative derives from the ultimate story-teller, the God of revelation. The purpose of this brief article is not to substantiate the validity of the Bible’s claims but to highlight the collision between the world of humanism and the world as seen through the lens of Scripture.

One of the most important verses dealing with the source of life is found in John 1:4: “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (KJV). It is vital in understanding the importance of this verse to see it in its context. It is not referring to the Lord Jesus, the Word, in His incarnation. This foundational statement is directly linked with His role in creation. The preceding verse says, “All things were made by him and without him was not one thing made that was made” (v3 Newberry). As Creator, He is the source of life wherever it is found. He infused life into the plant creation; He gave life to the animal creation. He gave life in a unique manner to humanity when He breathed into Adam the breath of life and Adam became a living soul (Gen 2:7). Thus all life came from Him. It devolved rather than evolved. Life devolved from Him; it did not evolve from nothing.

This significance cannot be stressed too strongly. The infusion of life, the very existence of life, was meant to be “the light of men.” Thus, God’s intention in creation was for life itself to be a witness to His existence and character. Life, whether in the animal kingdom or the plant kingdom, with its beauty, variety, creativity and vitality, was a revelation of the existence of God and an expression of the wisdom and care of God for His creatures. All was meant to reveal to humanity the Word, the Source of all life. It would seem axiomatic that life cannot spring out of death or out of nothing. Life must be from some source, some reservoir of life. All life owes its existence to Him.

Tragically, the Light in creation was rejected by men. God, in His marvelous grace, sent a man, John the Baptizer, to bear witness to the Light. And then, in infinite grace, He sent the Light Himself into our world. God has revealed Himself to us to help us understand the “big story.”

All values derive from whichever metanarrative you hold. The very value you place on human life will depend on whether you believe we are the result of blind, ignorant, evolutionary forces or the result of a Creator’s unique and wonderful work. Add to that: the meaning of life, the direction of life, and its purpose will all be defined by your understanding of the source. Are we merely “dancing to our DNA”? Are we to celebrate our brief moment in this vast nothingness? The crash you hear is the colliding of two worldviews, two diametrically opposed understandings of the source of life. They cannot be reconciled. Everything else you value hinges upon your view of the source of life.

In the articles that follow in this brief series, we will examine some of the issues that derive from the worldview that is held. The world of humanistic thinking and the world of revelation collide on every issue. Ethics, our sense of right and wrong, our values, and what we deem as important all flow from the crucial choice of which narrative we follow.