‘Life. Loathe it or hate it, you can’t ignore it.’ One of Marvin’s best lines in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
One day, if I can ever make a logical and credible narrative out of all this, and after all my mistakes are corrected, perhaps it can be made into a book. With a suitable binding.
Here goes with another fragment.
Life. It’s a funny thing, life. Nobody seems to enjoy it very much but nobody wants to leave. Why is that? Why is it that the most sour-faced life-haters are the ones who want to live forever? The religious don’t want to live forever because they have faith in some form of better life after this one. Most atheists don’t want to live forever, but have accepted that the knowledge they have built up over their lives will simply blink out of existence at the end.
The ones who want immortality are, for the most part, those who would actually hate every breath they drew for the rest of eternity. They would despise those who can still escape their self-imposed living Hell just by clutching their chests, going ‘urk’ and falling over. I really hope the immortalists never succeed. Their first act would be to ban further reproduction – no more need for it, you see? They will want the world’s resources for themselves and they are going to need them for a very long time. They will not want to share with we ‘temporaries’.
The only conclusion to be drawn of those who want to place their brains in robots, eventually to download the organic mind onto a hard disk (the only ‘death’ would come as a blue screen then) must be that they fear death more than they hate life.
Before we can consider ‘what is death?’, we have to consider ‘what is life?’
What is it, actually, and what is so great about it anyway? Personally I’m looking forward to trying out as a poltergeist and moonlighting as a library banshee, but before I take the entrance exam I have to be sure there is something after this life. Not yet, not quite yet.
On the development of forms of life, science has a pretty good grasp. On the mechanics of it all – the DNA, the biochemistry, the structure and metabolism and so on, science has amassed vast amounts of data and can now dabble with those processes. Science is close to being able to construct a living cell from a shelf of lab supplies and might indeed already have done so. Bacterial cells aren’t all that complex in biological terms but even so, putting one together from a kit of parts would still not be easy to do. Even if you have all the parts.
Creating something as complex as a human, or even a mouse, cannot currently even be dreamed of by science. Maybe it can never be done. Oh, we can clone things – Dolly the sheep being the most famous one – but that’s just taking a cell from an already living animal and conning it into thinking it’s a fertilised egg. It still has to be grown in a ‘mother’ and we are nowhere near taking a row of bottled chemicals and building all the cells of a complex animal out of them.
We can meddle with metabolism and diddle with DNA but we cannot build a creature from scratch. We cannot breathe life into our creations, Frankenstein-style. We can only take existing life and tamper with it.
So yes, the mechanics of living things are well understood by science. But why are they alive? What is this vital spark that turns a bag of wet protein into a living cell?
The religious response – God did it – cuts no ice with science but it’s pretty much all there is, as answers go. Science has tried several approaches, including ‘life came to Earth as comet-borne bacteria’ but that just moves the problem one step back. If it didn’t arise on Earth but arose elsewhere, then how did it arise elsewhere?
Life is a real smack in the eye for entropy. ‘Everything tends to disorder’ works pretty well in physics but then along comes a bacterium and says ‘Sod you, I’m taking these broken-down bits of simple chemicals and making another one of me out of them’. All of Newton’s long-considered thoughts dashed to pieces by a methanogen, one of the most primitive forms of life in existence.
Whether viruses count as ‘alive’ is a whole separate argument. They are more like DNA/RNA bombs. They do nothing at all when they are a complete virus and are only active when inside another cell – where they are not a complete virus! Even then they have no metabolism, they just hijack the cell to make more of themselves. I’m not getting into that one just yet. For now, I’ll leave viruses out of it since I do not consider them to be alive.
Where life came from, where and how it started, are questions that can drive a scientist mad. We can theorise about spontaneous RNA and then DNA formation in a primordial soup but even if we manage to make it happen in a lab, we can never, never prove that it happened that way outside a carefully controlled lab experiment. And even if we did it in the lab, what have we created? Real life, or just organic robots? We would have to let it loose to make its own way in the world to prove it was real life and that is never going to be allowed to happen. If science ever creates life, Health and Safety will not let it out of its Eden. No matter how many talking snakes it claims to have spoken with.
Time and again we come back to that one question about life. How did it begin? Occam’s razor has come up in comments already. Occam’s razor demands that the simplest explanation is always the most likely (it’s not always true) and the simplest explanation of the origin of life – to the horror of science – is that God did it.
That cannot be an acceptable answer to science because science cannot progress to studying God. Science does not accept God, not because science is heretical but because it is logical. Science can only work with data and there is no data for God. There is no way known to science to generate any data for God. God is unknowable according to the Gnostics (yes, I have been reading odd books again, that’s why the demons in my stories are real) and science cannot study that which is immune to study. So science cannot accept ‘God did it’ as an answer unless science finds a way to find God.
Then science can say ‘Oh, so it was you,’ and then declare the entire universe to be a fabrication invented by a living being.
But what if it is?
Going back to the beginning of time (it’s a long way so no shouting ‘Are we there yet?’ from the back seat please) we have the Big Bang or the Creation. Either it was just ‘Foom!’ or it was ‘Let there be light’. Both are equally plausible at this point but science cannot accept creation because science cannot detect, nor even find a way to look for, a Creator. Science has to dismiss God as unreal because science only works on data and there is none.
It still leaves us with many billions upon billions of tons of matter that all came from nowhere, either way. Even if God made it all… what did he make it out of? There he was, moving across the void, thinking ‘Oh, Me, I’m bored with this’ and decides to make a universe. But there is nothing in the void other than himself.
How big is God? Well, even religion doesn’t know the answer to that one and since science has no way to detect God at all it cannot even hazard a guess. Let’s play thought games again.
Suppose the void before the universe was all dark matter and that the dark matter was sentient. Suppose it was able to concentrate itself into one spot. Suppose that, after a very long ‘time’ (since our perception of time is a function of the current universe, God-time is a whole different ball game) this sentient dark matter learns how to make other sentient beings… out of little parts of itself.
First he makes some angels but these are just telling the Creator how great he is for making them, and that can be satisfying at first but would soon get tedious. Then he decides to make some creatures that are a bit more defiant. Something more interesting.
They’d have to live somewhere where they could not easily find their maker. They’d have to believe they were alone. They would have to ‘believe’ rather than ‘know’ of their maker’s existence. The angels already ‘know’ so they are no fun any more. No, it has to be faith.
It’s a sort of self-set challenge. Can God make a whole load of creatures that will choose to worship him rather than just make another set of creatures who have to worship him because they know, absolutely, that he made them? Will they choose to say he cannot exist? If it’s all set up just right, that option will be available to them.
Maybe I’m anthropomorphising God because that kind of wicked trickery is exactly what I would do in his place – and there could be a reason for that.
In this scenario, the only matter God has available to make anything out of is himself. There is nothing else.
All of the universe. Every rock and blade of grass. Every person and every pig. Every star and all the planets. Even that thing dreamed up in a drunken haze, the duck-billed playtpus. All of it is a fragment of God.
If the remains of God is in dark matter then he was pretty damn huge to start with because he’s used less than 20% of himself to make all this stuff. Then again, we don’t really know how big ‘space’ (even the universe we are in) really is.
The Gnostics believe that God is in everyone. A little bit in every soul.
But if the answer science cannot accept is true then the hippies are right. God is is absolutely everything, down to every subatomic particle. We are all made of God.
If that is true then so is everything else. I am not talking about becoming vegetarian because of the life of animals – in this model, there is no difference between plant and animal life. The sculptor doies not hear the screams of the rock he carves, the herbalist hears not the groans from his mortar and pestle. But they are all parts of God.
I just had one of those ungodly thoughts, you know. There are those who would take a twist on this information and starve themselves to death over it. If they are antismokers, I’ll do it.
If everything is a part of God then who are the religious worshipping? That would be like your fingernail worshipping your hand
Then again, maybe that is what God wants Not unquestioned worship like the cherubim and seraphim (which must be like listening to a millenium of the Floral Dance) but chosen worship.
Still it seems like being worshipped by your own kidneys or gall bladder, but then if you were the only living thing in the void you might think differently. I cannot conceive of how such a being might think or what it would desire. Can you? Maybe he has had enough and wants his bits back, reassimilated into himself, but has a moral issue with just erasing it all. Maybe.
Science does not do well with ‘maybe’.
Next time – maybe there is no God at all.
(I have Auchentoshan again – excuse typos and general madness)