Chapter 4


If that were all there was to evolution, of course, there would be no one to write the story. Somehow in the course of the evolution of stars and galaxies, something happened to make at least some stars do something strange.

There are two possibilities: Either one star passed close to another, but not close enough to be caught into an orbit, and material from both bodies was pulled out into the space between them, and then fell into orbit around each as they passed away from each other again; or one of a pair of stars orbiting each other was at a different evolutionary stage, and exploded, spreading its cloud of gas around its still existing companion.

In either case, the result was a star with a cloud of gas circling its equator in a kind of ring like the rings around Saturn; and this gas from the other star now was made up of all the elements that had been in the star or stars from which it was formed. We don't know whether our sun is unique in having had something like this happen to it, or whether it is a rare or even fairly common occurrence in the universe, because other stars are so far away that there is no realistic hope of seeing either the gas surrounding them, or the planets (which do not glow, of course, but only reflect light--rather badly, I might add), or even perturbations in the motions of the stars which would indicate the presence of planets. There are now some hints from things like perturbations that there are in fact planets around at least some stars; but the evidence is exceedingly tenuous.

Since it takes light three and a half years at what Einstein's theory says is the ultimate speed to reach us from the nearest star, travel to even this star would take centuries if not millennia; and so, all the science fiction about interstellar travel is just fantasy, and we will never really know if our planetary system is alone in the whole universe.

Not that it matters. We know that the destruction of at least one star, or the destructive encounter of two stars, at least once was such that total destructiveness did not occur, but the ring of complex gas formed around the star we call the sun.

But since this ring doubtless had a good deal of turbulence in it, and since the cloud of gas in the ring was enormous, then the same thing would happen to it that happened with the hydrogen that originally formed the stars: centers of attraction would occur and the gas would collect and form into a number of bodies.

But these bodies did not have enough material to create fusion in their interiors (Jupiter is at the limit; its interior is very hot, and it is all but a star), and so the coagulated gas formed cool, dark bodies, the planets, orbiting the equator of the sun.

Once again, then, we have productive destruction. But there is more. Since the planetary bodies were cool, the nuclei of these complex atoms could then for the first time acquire their electron shells and become true atoms; conditions in the stars were far too hot for this to happen. And of course, once the true atoms (of all sorts, now, not simply hydrogen) interacted with each other, they combined with each other into that vast array of molecules we see.

This of course occurred in different ways on the different planets, depending on their mass and how close or far away they were from their major heat source, the sun, which--interestingly enough--disturbed their tendency toward simply drifting toward their ground state by constantly pumping its own radiant energy into them.

If we now turn our attention to the earth, it originally was a planet of a size and proximity to the sun that trapped its original atmosphere of ammonia and methane and didn't let it escape as the atmospheres of moon and Mercury did; but which also was not as hot as Venus, or as cold and small as Mars, allowing storms to turn much of the hydrogen and oxygen into water as well as carbon dioxide and ozone; and--once again compressing a long, long story--we had, at the beginning of earth's evolution, a planet with a crust whose basins were filled with water and whose atmosphere contained simple compounds of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen.

The carbon atom, like the silicon atom and some others, has the capability of bonding with other atoms in very complex ways; and in the stormy atmosphere of the proto-earth, there must have been many very intricate carbon molecules, the vast majority of which were unstable and ephemeral. Some, of course, would be more stable than others, and so there was a gradual formation of various carbon compounds, including amino acids formed of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen.

These molecules can link themselves together into still more complex (though less stable) chains; but they also have the characteristic of attracting other atoms to their surface in a temporary way; and it would sometimes happen by merest chance that attracted atoms would be close enough together so that they would bond with each other before they fell off the molecule that attracted them to itself. In this way, some molecules became factories, as it were, for the manufacture of other molecules.

All of this is perfectly random, and the probability of finding a molecule that will do this is very small. But once it did happen, the molecule would soon become surrounded with the products of its manufacture. This led to a certain systematization of what was happening on the early earth, because many of the parts of unstable molecules that formed and broke up would have been trapped into these stable molecules that kept forming.

It should be observed that this very complex process can only go on under very special conditions: things must not be too hot so as to break up the delicate molecules before they have a chance to interact with others; nor must they be too cold so as to prevent the motion needed to bring atoms and smaller molecules together. As far as we know at the time I write this, this has only happened in our solar system upon earth, which not only is at the right distance from the sun to have the proper heat, but is also covered with churning seas, which mix molecules together.

To take the final step toward the condition for life, it is possible, with an improbability that is astronomical, that a given carbon chain could attract to its surface the atoms that would produce an exact copy of itself, which would then bond together into a twin of the molecule that produced them. Considering all the possible combinations of what can be attracted to a molecule, only one of which will work, this is like asking the proverbial million monkeys to bang away at typewriters and have one of them produce the complete script of Hamlet.

But it happened. Such a molecule is now called DNA; and as DNA now exists, at least, it not only can copy itself, but sections of it can produce less complex molecules (some of which in turn produce still others); the molecule is not really a factory for other molecules, but a whole industrial complex. Certainly at the beginning, this was not the case; all there was was a molecule which produced some others by chance, with one of its products being a copy of itself.

This was not a living molecule, because it was in equilibrium, and anything that happened to it happened because of the forces it contained and its chance encounter with other molecules and atoms. But it was, as it were, all but alive; and what happened on the early earth was that once such a molecule was formed, its twins also by chance occasionally had twins; and once this progression started, the earth was then filled with copies of the original.

But these molecules, while stable, were very delicate, and they could break apart under the strain of external forces, cosmic radiation, or electrical discharges--or they could also attach new pieces to themselves; and some of the resultant mutants also turned out to be self-reproducing. Thus, as time went on, different varieties of self-reproducing molecules spread over the earth.

This, as far as we can tell, is the end of inanimate evolution. In one sense, inanimate evolution goes in the direction of what is larger and larger, to the stars and the galaxies. These are, however, relatively simple systems, when all is said and done. It is only on the cool earth and any planets like it that inanimate bodies can reach the other goal of their process, which has nothing to do with size, but is the ultimate in the complexity possible without the added assistance of the super-high equilibrium energy of life.

All during this process, which is still going on (except on earth, whose direction has changed because of life), what is less likely to happen has happened; the Second Law of Thermodynamics would have predicted the exact reverse of what I have described, even though, as statistical, it would admit of the possibility of evolution as we know it. But the advances to further stages have never involved a violation of the bodies' natures and the laws of their interaction; it has always been a manipulation of chance by which something possible but extremely unlikely by the laws of interaction occurred; and this occurrence led to another even more unlikely possibility's being realized, and so on down the line.

So there is no cosmic watchmaker at work here; if he simply started things and left them to themselves, the Second Law of Thermodynamics would have taken over, and we would have had nothing but hydrogen spread evenly through a cooling void. You might think that the cosmic watchmaker had only to make the exceedingly complex structure of the universe's material, and that would be enough. By "the structure of the universe's material" I mean the potential of electromagnetic radiation to form itself into particles, which in turn have the potential to form themselves into atoms, which now have the potential to form themselves into molecules, which now have a gravitational attraction to form themselves into stars and then into different kinds of atomic nuclei, which, once a star is destroyed into smaller bodies, have the potential to form themselves into atoms again and into molecules. All this potential had to have been present in the initial structure of the electromagnetic radiation, or none of it could have happened.

But the evolution would not have occurred if these initial conditions were simply given. As the Second Law of Thermodynamics indicates, the tendency of the universe would be toward breaking up and simplification, not greater and greater complexity. Something had to be directing thing so that the potential could be realized; because the likelihood of its being realized was so small as to be practically nonexistent. So there had to have been a director as well as a beginner of the process of evolution. And, of course, given that evolution takes place by means of finite activity, then the one who is responsible for finite existence had to have been creating each stage and each advance. The point is that based on what we have seen so far, he does so, not by wrenching it into a new shape, but by letting it, so to speak, do it by itself, as when a father shows his four-year-old how to fish.

As to what the bodies were doing and are still doing to each other, it seems that at every stage, each body gives up its own identity and merges with the other to form a more complex whole, which is in equilibrium at a lower energy level, and therefore which gives up the excess energy it no longer needs, and while it is doing so traps the components within it and transforms them into itself. Now these components did this to themselves in no explicit sense unselfishly; they were simply doing what was necessary because of their structure and the forces acting on them. But still what they did do was give up their being as what they were to become parts of what was greater than themselves. And this is what one would expect of implicit love. So the hypothesis looks to be verified so far.