Life "Suddenly" Appears

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mystery of Life's Sudden Appearance 3.85 bn Years Ago

The earliest records of life on earth are as old as the oldest sedimentary rock known to humanity. All of the data from carbon radioisotope signatures in rock, which indicates the presence of life, point to a date of 3.8 billion years when life first emerged. Additional dating efforts across various fields further corroborate this, all pointing to somewhere between 3.7 and 3.9 bn years with the most accurate determination being 3.825±0.006 bn years [1].

What is astonishing about this is that is means that life appeared on Earth during the briefest intervals of time, almost instantaneously on the timescale of the age of the planet. Why? Because the best models of the early evolution of the solar system, the radiometric dating of Apollo lunar samples, and the study of lunar and martian craters, all point to a cataclysmic event which peaked about 3.9 bn years ago. Around that time the inner solar system was pummeled by comets and asteroids  to such an extent that the surface of the earth would have been molten and completely incapable of sustaining life. Just looking at the cratering of the Moon today gives some indication of the violence of this event during which about 1000 tons per square meter of material was deposited on the Earths surface by asteroids and the equivalent of a 1 km deep global water ocean was deposited by comets.

So it appears that life emerged somewhere between 3.9 bn and 3.8 bn years ago, during a 100 m year window ( some studies suggest a tiny 10 m year window). This is an impossibly tiny window for natural evolution to have occurred randomly (in fact even the age of the universe is far too small for this) and it point to a guiding intelligence. This is bad news for atheistic paleontologists planetary scientists and astronomers (or maybe good news ultimately), and they have tried to find wiggle room to explain this away, yet it is the most convincing hypothesis for the formation of the solar system.

The best model of the early solar system which predicts it's current properties, indicates that it was the orbital resonance of Jupiter and Saturn, mentioned in a previous post, which dislodged a band of asteroids, and caused them to migrate to the inner solar system and bombard the inner planets whilst pushing the comets far out past the orbit of Pluto. This event was also pivotal in forming the conditions for life on earth to exist in a safe habitable zone. The danger of life extinguishing impactors was cleared away at the right time to provide a safe zone for the Earth. In addition the comets deposited the water required for life and the asteroids salted the Earth with additional heavy metals and minerals necessary for the emergence of life.

Prayer Reflection

Life emerged spontaneously suddenly and by design. If seems sudden against the backdrop of the age of the Universe. On the other hand it occurred over a vast span of time compared to the age of a human life. To God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day (2 Peter 3:8). To God the  length of your life is not so important, it's the quality of it and what you become through it. The Lord hides the greatest wonders under the most insignificant and humble of disguises. Think of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the God-man, hidden in the womb of the Virgin Mary, a poor teenager, and born into obscurity in Bethlehem, or his presence hidden on the form of bread. Yet that event is the nodal point of all history and creation, which is woven around it like a Cocoon. Then there is the short length of the life of Christ, 33 years in which He accomplished the eternal reconciliation of humankind.

It's what you and I become, how we use the precious gift of time which one day will run out as the last grain of sand passes through the hour glass. What will be the "shape" of eternity we have molded for ourselves. What will be redeemable in us. The last Judgement, as described by the great 20th century theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthazaar, is something akin to an x-ray. As we are searched by the x-ray it reveals in us if there is any love within that can be redeemed. How much did we become like Jesus.

Placing yourself under the gaze of the Father, reflect. Imagine you are at the last judgement. How would you have liked to have lived. What would you have liked to have changed. Do so now. That is the invitation to you of the merciful Lord who desires nothing but your eternal happiness and consolation. With the grace of God you can become what you are created to be. It is, in fact, your deepest desire.


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