The Origin of Life and Evolution according to Science and Gurbani
There is no general consensus among the scientists about the origin of life in the universe. Various theories have been put forward to explain the origin and evolution of life in the same manner as the origin of universe and our solar system. A group of scientists believes that there is no life in the universe except on our earth. However, the search for extra – terrestrial origin of life is being supported by another group of scientists. It still remains a mystery for the scientists.
Spontaneous Generation Hypothesis: It was the brain child of Greek philosophers and Aristotle believed in it. The formation of living creature from materials that are not alive, is known as the hypothesis of ‘spontaneous generation’. Like other Greek ideas, this hypothesis held its sway in Europe through the middle ages. The seventeenth century biologist observed appearance of maggots in decaying flesh. The biologists also saw earth worms coming out of the soil and frogs emerging from the slime on the surface of a pond. This hypothesis got moral support from the Church as it corroborated the genesis story of the Bible about the origin of life.
Rene Descartes1 suggested that spontaneous generation was an entirely natural process occurring independently of any sort of metaphysical life principle whenever the material conditions were favourable. Naturalist J.T. Needham2 also believed in this hypothesis. He experimented and found that micro-organisms arose spontaneously from putrefying organic substances. F.A. Pouchet3 argued that life must somehow arise from non-living matter, if not how life came about in the first instance. However, this hypothesis was not accepted by most of the scientists in Europe who argued that : “ The earth worms grew out of tiny eggs that had been laid by other worms and frogs grew from jelly like eggs laid by parent frogs on the surface of water.”
Louis Pasteur, the French micro – biologist, rejected the hypothesis of spontaneous generation. He was of the view that organisms that appeared in infusions of Pouchet were derived from spores present in the air. When exposed to air, they had a rich growth of bacteria but if air is prevented to interact with the infusion, no organism appeared. This served as a death blow to the spontaneous generation hypothesis. By the end of nineteenth century, biologists had come to the conclusion that: (a) Life comes from life only, (b) Like produces like, and (c) Life cannot possibly have come from non-life.
Hypothesis of Pure Chance: Many scientists believed in the sudden appearance of living molecules, particles of viruses or genes which were endowed with all the attributes of life from their very formation. T.H. Morgan4 promoted the gene theory of life; according to him, the first organic things which showed signs of life were genes. Genes are physical units located on chromosomes within the nucleus of the cell. They control every step of organism’s development from the first effect in the zygote, through the development of the embryo to the full functioning of the adult. In a way, genetic code determines the inherent characteristics of specie. It may be noted that chance combination of organic molecules for origin of life seems to be a highly improbable event in the field of scientific knowledge.
Other Hypotheses of Origin of Life: Hypothesis of Eternity of life assumes that life always existed in the universe and had no beginning. This concept of eternity of life is incompatible with the generally accepted scientific concept according to which both universe and earth have a beginning; therefore, they are not eternal. Thus, life is a latter product than that of the earth and hence cannot be eternal.
Hypothesis of Transportation of life on Earth gained some measure of popularity after the advent of space age. The study of cosmic dust and meteorites proved that spores of micro-organisms can be carried through interstellar space on to the surface of earth. There are two arguments against this hypothesis: (i) Life probably does not exist on other planets in our solar system and other galaxies, and (ii) it does not solve the problem as to how the life originated in the universe.
Hypothesis of Accidental Mixing of Chemicals became quite popular with biochemists who believe that the atmosphere of the primitive earth was composed of methane, ammonia, water vapour and hydrogen. It is believed that these simple chemicals molecules gradually combined to form complex molecules under the influence of solar radiation. Finally, these complex molecules converted into systems that had the unique feature of replication and self-production leading to origin of life.
Experiments were carried out by Stanley Miller and Harold Urey during 1850s in the laboratory of Chicago University by mixing methane, ammonia and hydrogen gases and water vapour under simulated pre-biotic conditions. They were able to produce twenty different types of amino acids, the basic constituents of proteins, but failed to provide a convincing proof in support of this hypothesis. We may conclude that origin of life in our universe still remains a mystery for the scientific world.
Evolution of Life: Most of scientists believe in ‘cosmic evolution’ leading to formation of galaxies, solar systems and planets, and the ‘organic evolution’, leading to different species of living organisms. Both these processes have been going on in the history of our universe, cosmic evolution leading the organic evolution almost by more than a few billion years.
Charles Darwin’s hypothesis of natural selection5 is the most splendid theory of organic evolution. It is based on the concept of survival of the fittest. Natural selection thus brings about the gradual evolution of new specie of those already in existence. This theory considers that living organisms began with the appearance of ‘protoplasm’ about two billion years ago in sea waters. The plants and animals developed from single cells over the next billion years leading to the final stage of evolution, the man. According to evolutionary theory, man is undoubtedly the highest and the most complex form of life and has reached the highest rung of the evolutionary ladder. Our closet relatives are apes, gorillas, and chimpanzees. Our genetic code is almost identical with them. There are many opponents to evolutionary theory of origin of species but it is the most successful theory till date in biology. The most vehement opposition to this theory came from the Christian church as it demolishes the genesis story of the Bible.
Origin and Evolution of Life in Gurbani: Various theories of origin and evolution of life have been put forward in the holy books of all religions. But one thing is common to all of them: God is the creator of life in this universe. Guru Nanak also accepts this postulate of God as the Creator of the universe and life in all its manifestations. However, Guru Nanak also accepts the theory of evolution in his own characteristic manner without taking recourse to the concept of natural selection in the Darwinian way.
In Japuji6, Guru Nanak refers to the creation of various forms and living beings under the divine law (hukam). But this divine law is incomprehensible.
hukmI hovin Awkwr hukmu n kihAw jweI]
hukmI hovin jIA hukim imlY vifAweI ]
In SGGS7, Guru Arjun poses the question about the origin of life and himself answers it.
Where do we come from? Where do we live?
Where do we go in the end?
All creatures belong to God, Who can place a value on Him?
ikQhu aupjY kh rhY kh mwih smwvY]
jIA jMq siB Ksm ky kauxu kImiq pwvY]
In Siddh-Goshit8-9, Guru Nanak answers the queries of Siddhas regarding creation of life, mind and the universe as follows:
Q.1 When this heart and the body did not exist, where did the mind reside?
jw iehu ihrdw dyh n hoqI qau mnu kYTY rhqw]
A.1 When the heart and the body did not exist, O hermit, then the mind resided with Absolute Lord in the void.
ihrdw dyh n hoqI AauDU qau mnu suMn rhY bYrwgI ]
Q.2 What is the root, the source of life?
What teachings hold for these times?
kvx mUlu kvx miq vylw]
A.2 Pray Sir, it is air that supports life.
And, the true Guru’s message is the creed of the day.
pvn ArMBu siqgur miq vylw]
According to Guru Nanak, all the living things such as plants, birds and animals etc. are made of three elements, namely, material body, soul and prana. These elements owe their origin to the Absolute Lord. The hypothesis10 of Guru Nanak is simple and straight forward:
The True Lord created the air,
From air, water arose.
From water, creation arose.
His Light permeates all creation.
swcy qy pvnw BieAw pvnY qy jlu hoie]
jl qy iqRBvxu swijAw Git Git joiq smoie]
Guru Nanak considers the human body as a vehicle of soul11. Prime importance is given to soul in Sikh metaphysics. Body is also called temple of God. If a man’s soul is not tuned to God, he is as good as dead.
“Having created the body, the Creator put soul into it and made arrangements to protect it.”
jIau pwie qnu swijAw riKAw bxq bxwie]
We find reference to evolution of species in the universe in Gurbani without taking recourse to any scientific theory of evolution. Sikh Gurus generally followed the traditional Hindu view of eight million and four hundred thousand species12 of living organisms in the universe. Man is the summum bonnum of this creation.
lK caurwsIh jMq aupwey]
“God has created eighty four lakh (8.4 million) species of beings”
There is a classification of all living organisms into four categories13-14 on the basis of their origin. They are grouped as under:
(i)Those born from egg (andaj);
(ii)Those born from womb (jevaj);
(iii)Those born from earth (utbhuj), and
(iv)Those born from sweat (setaj).
“Egg born, womb born, earth born and heat born; are all Thine creatures.
Oceans, mountains, and all beings - O Nanak, He alone knows their condition.
O Nanak, having created the living beings, He cherishes them all”.
AMfj jyrj auqBujW KwxI syqjWh]
So imiq jwxY nwnkw srW myrW jMqwh]
nwnk jMq aupwie kY sMmwly sBnwh]
“Egg born, womb born, earth born and heat born; are all created by You.
I have seen one glory of Yours, that You are pervading and permeating in all”.
AMfj jyrj auqBuj syqj qyry kIqy jMqw]
eyk purb mY qyrw dyiKAw qU sBnw mwih rvMqw ]
In SGGS, it is also mentioned by Bhagat Namdev15 that forty two lakh species exist in water and the same number exists on land. Science has failed to confirm this hypothesis.
bieAwlIs lK jI jl mih hoqy bITlu BYlw kwie krau]
The message of Sikh Gurus is enshrined in SGGS. In the final analysis, we can quote a relevant stanza in support of biological evolution of species16:
In so many incarnations, you were a worm and an insect;
In so many incarnations, you were an elephant, a fish and a deer;
In so many incarnations, you were a bird and a snake;
In so many incarnations, you were yoked as an ox and a horse.
Meet the Lord of the Universe – now is the time to meet Him.
After such a long epoch, you are born as a human being.
keI jnm Bey kIt pqMgw]
keI jnm gj mIn kurMgw ]
keI jnm pMKI srp hoieE]
keI jnm hYvr ibRK joieE]
imlu jgdIs imln kI brIAw]
icrMkwl ieh dyh sMjrIAw]
1.Rene Descartes, Dawn of Life, Butler and Tanner, 1958, P.91.
2.J.T. Needham, Origin of Life on Earth, Oliver and Boyd, London, 1957, P.23.
3.F.A. Pouchet, ibid, P.26.
4.T.H. Morgan, Story of Life, Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd., London, 1968, P.95.
5.Charles Darwin, ibid, P.83.
6.SGGS, M.1, P.1.
7.SGGS, M.5, P.1193.
8.SGGS, M.1, P.945
9.SGGS, M.1, P.942-943
11. SGGS, M.1, P.138
12. SGGS, M.1, P.1190
13. SGGS, M.1, P.467
14.SGGS, M.1, P. 596
15. SGGS, Bhagat Namdev, P.485
16. SGGS, M.5, P.176