August 4, 2019
The issue of the origin of life is critical to Sakkāya Diṭṭhi, which is one of the key wrong views to be removed to attain the Sōtapanna stage. I have discussed some background material in the past several posts. It is time to take an in-depth look at each of the three views on the origin of life.
1. As I have already mentioned in the past few posts, there are two wrong views regarding life.
- The materialistic view says life has origins in inert matter. Science says 108 or so atoms make everything in this world. Somehow consciousness with feelings, perceptions, desires, and hopes arise out of inert matter. Many scientists and atheists hold this view.
- Those who are faithful followers of the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) or Hinduism believe that there is a separate “mental component” that makes the inert physical body “alive” with feelings, perceptions, desires, and hopes (four mental aggregates). A Creator God or Mahā Brahma created life according to them.
2. We also need to keep in mind the “endpoints of a life” according to those two views.
- In the materialistic view, one lives only the present life, and it all ends with the death of the physical body. This view was called “uccēda diṭṭhi“ by the Buddha because here the life ends (uccēda means “cut off”) with the death of the physical body.
- In the opposite view, the “mental body” survives even after the physical body dies. In Abrahamic religions, the “soul” either is born in heaven or “hell” forever. In Hinduism, the “ātma” keeps going through the rebirth process until one is born in the Mahā Brahma realm, which is again eternal. In either case, one will eventually live forever (in heaven, hell, or the Brahma realm). This view was called “sassata diṭṭhi” (sassata means “eternal”) by the Buddha.
3. In refuting those two views, the Buddha taught that there is a “mental component” to life, but that is not a “soul” or “a ātma” going from one life to the next.
- That is because everything in this world arises due to causes. Life can take many different forms (human, deva, brahma, animal, peta, hell-beings, etc.). When one such existence ends another arises depending on which causes (kamma vipāka) come into play.
- “Good” or “bad” forms of life arise due to “good” or “bad” actions done in the past, and the net result of existence in the “long term” is suffering (mainly because most kammā lead to “bad births”).
- There is no “soul” or a “ātma” that can be considered to be “me” or “my essence.” As long as one has that perception, the rebirth process will continue with much suffering.
- When one realizes the truth of this reality, one will stop grasping (upādāna) new existences.
The Conception and Birth of a Baby
4. Let us focus on human life. When the fertile mother (i.e., who has ovulated) has sex with the father, that leads to seed for a new life. The following is a summary extracted from “Stages of Development of the Fetus.”
- During each normal menstrual cycle, one of the ovaries release an egg. The release of the egg is called ovulation. The egg enters the funnel-shaped end of one of the fallopian tubes.
- Within 5 minutes of having sex, sperms from the father move from the vagina to the fallopian tube.
- If a sperm penetrates the egg, fertilization results. The fusion of the egg and sperm produces a new cell called a zygote, which is the seed for a brand new baby.
5. Tiny hairlike cilia lining the fallopian tube propel the zygote toward the uterus. The cells of the zygote repeatedly divide as the zygote moves down the fallopian tube. The zygote enters the uterus in 3 to 5 days.
- In the uterus, the cells continue to divide, becoming a hollow ball of cells called a blastocyst. Between five and eight days after fertilization, the blastocyst attaches to the lining of the uterus, usually near the top. This process, called implantation, is completed by day 9 or 10. The inner cells develop into the embryo, and the outer cells develop into the placenta.
- Some of the cells from the placenta develop into an outer layer of membranes (chorion) around the developing blastocyst. Other cells develop into an inner layer of membranes (amnion), which form the amniotic sac. When the sac is formed (by about day 10 to 12), the blastocyst is considered an embryo. The amniotic sac fills with a clear liquid (amniotic fluid) and expands to envelop the developing fetus, which floats within it.
6. Most internal organs and external body structures get built in this stage. Most organs begin to form about three weeks after fertilization, which equals five weeks of pregnancy. (Doctors date pregnancy from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period, which is typically two weeks before fertilization).
- At the end of the 8th week after fertilization (10 weeks of pregnancy), the embryo is considered a fetus. Almost all organs are entirely formed by about ten weeks after fertilization (which equals 12 weeks of pregnancy). The exceptions are the brain and spinal cord, which continue to form and develop throughout pregnancy.
By about 24 weeks: The fetus has a chance of survival outside the uterus. The lungs continue to mature until near the time of delivery. The brain accumulates new cells throughout pregnancy and the first year of life after birth.
7. The above process describes the steps in the formation of the “physical body” of a new human being. It cannot identify the time “when the mental stuff” is activated, i.e., when that inert zygote becomes alive.
- Some say “life of the new baby” starts when the heartbeat starts, and at the other extreme some say when the baby is capable of surviving outside the womb; see, for example, “A Scientific View of When Life Begins“.
- According to Buddha Dhamma, the new life starts when a gandhabba (or patisandhi viññāna) “descends to the womb and takes possession of the zygote.” That happens very early, within a day or two of the formation of the zygote; see, “Buddhist Explanations of Conception, Abortion, and Contraception.”
8. Besides the above hurdle, the materialistic view cannot explain how that single cell or the zygote gives rise to a complex human with many trillions of different types of cells.
- Even though we all start with a single cell, the cells in different parts of our bodies are very different. Liver cells are different from heart cells, and the cells in the brain — called neural cells or neurons — are much more diverse.
- Furthermore, how do these cells know when to start building different cells for liver, heart, brain, arms, legs, etc.?
9. These issues have been studied in detail even since Watson and Crick discovered the double-helix structure of the DNA molecule back in 1953. We have discussed the complexity of a cell, so now we can summarize these findings as follows:
- DNA strand in a cell has the necessary “code” (similar to computer code) to how to build the whole body consisting of trillions of cells.
- This DNA, or the blueprint for the whole body, is in every cell. However, the proteins and body parts generated by each cell are different. How does each cell “know” which part of the “code” to read?
- I am skipping a lot of details. Those who are interested should read two excellent books (References 1 and 2 below). The former is by an evolutionist and the latter by a creationist. However, it is not necessary to study this complex issue in detail; it is enough to “get the basic idea.”
Fundamental Problems with the Materialistic View
10. Two key issues remain unresolved. The first is, how did this complex DNA structure evolve, starting with simple molecules?
- In 1953, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey mixed chemicals in a simulated “early-Earth atmosphere” and produced amino acids — precursors of DNA. It received much publicity as a significant clue to the origin of life. But that is a far cry from making a working cell in a laboratory. No one has even come close to that in the 65 years following that “breakthrough.”
- The videos in my previous posts discuss this problem at length; see, “Origin of Life – There is No Traceable Origin” and “Living Cell – How Did the First Cell Come to Existence?“.
11. There is an even more critical issue: Is it even possible for such a complex “genetic code” to evolve?
- Those of us who have written computer programs know that even a simple program requires “planning” and would not work unless it is free of “bugs.” Even though it is relatively easy to “fix a bug” with KNOWLEDGE of the code, it is unimaginable that a bug in such a sophisticated program can “get fixed” via a random “trial and error” process. In such a random process, it is more likely to “add more errors” to code than fixing an existing error.
- The following review paper summarizes current status: “Koonin and Novozhilov- Origin and Evolution of Universal Genetic Code – 2017“,
- For those who like to find more details, I recommend Ref. 3 below. The author is offering 10 million dollars to anyone illustrating the feasibility of the evolution of genetic code; see, “Evolution 2.0“. I recommend watching the video there. It is not really about the prize; he explains why it is an impossibility.
12. Darwin’s original theory of evolution predicted a “gradual evolution” of SPECIES, i.e., simple lifeforms evolving to complex lifeforms. However, “neo Darwinism” of the present time is trying to tackle the following key issues.
- Recent studies reveal that the GENETIC CODE is virtually the same for many species, ranging from mice to humans (in animals with a few cells, the genome is small). In other words, the DNA in mice essentially has the code to start a human life, but those sections in the program are NOT TRIGGERED for mice; see Ref. 1 for details.
- That is a critical point. The CODE Is virtually the same in many lifeforms, but the “correct sections of the code” must be triggered for each species. It is as if someone had planned for all lifeforms in advance!
- It is just that different parts of the code get activated for different species! That raises another issue. WHO (or WHAT in the code) triggers specific genes to be enabled in different species AND at the right time (e.g., fingers come after the arms)?
- That is possibly why some evolutionist scientists are switching to the creationist side (Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the Human Genome Project is an example). There has not been a third alternative (because most people do not know — or understand — Buddha’s version).
In the next post, I will discuss problems associated with the creationist view (sassata diṭṭhi).
- “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” by Sean B. Carrol (2005).
- “Signature in the Cell” by Stephen C. Meyer (2009).
- “Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design” by Perry Marshall (2017).