Dialogue on Life and Its Origin

Friday, March 19, 2010

|| By: Staff ||

Professor Werner Arber (right), a Nobel Laureate and Emeritus Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Basel, Switzerland, greets Srila Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Maharaja (Dr. T. D. Singh).

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This is an excerpt of the dialogue between Professor Werner Arber and Srila Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Maharaja (Dr. T. D. Singh) on October 12, 2001 at University of Basel, Switzerland.

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Srila Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Maharaja (Dr. T. D. Singh): While looking into some of the literatures, I find that some of your thoughts regarding life and its origin are very interesting. Your view is different from most of the other molecular biologists and evolutionary chemists. I have been waiting for an opportunity to discuss with you some of the scientific and philosophical questions about life and I feel very happy that we are meeting now.

First of all, molecular evolutionists[1] around the globe are trying very hard to simulate the atmospheric chemical reactions in the hope of generating various chemical steps going from simple to complex biomolecules in the laboratory. They hope that this type of research may lead to the production of a primordial living cell in the laboratory.

However, it seems to me that these studies may not be so necessary because we already have the know-how and techniques to isolate practically all the biomolecules from existing living bodies. Hence, we can start with these ready-made biomolecules instead of starting from simpler molecules at immense expense of time, manpower and finances. Somehow or the other if we can assemble these biomolecules in a reaction flask it could be possible to tell, whether or not life is a product of the combination of these biomolecules. Chemical evolutionists often claim that given a cosmic time scale or a long time span, life could generate spontaneously from the assembly of these molecules. However, if we can find a super-catalyst or a super-enzyme, then the problem of a long time span will be solved. That would be more reasonable than doing research on how small molecules would become big molecules, for example, from amino acids to protein molecules, which in turn might or might not lead to the first primordial living cell. Scientists in this field can design some research work on how to find some special enzymes[2] in order to accelerate these chemical reactions. I would appreciate your opinion in this regard.

Professor Werner Arber: Of course, we can accelerate the chemical reactions by having appropriate enzymes. But the manifestation of life is much deeper than that. For me, I think the mystery of life is still to conceive how these organic molecules, which are already similar or equal to what we know today to represent components of organic life, come together such that some living primordial cell may become functioning. This, I don’t understand. So, that is a difficult problem. In addition, I think that life could be beyond the assembly of biomolecules. For a number of years I had concentrated on exploring molecular evolution, and I had also raised questions on the origin of life which is of wide interest. But, I have given up trying to find answer to these latter questions. I know how difficult it is. However, many scientists still think that the properties of matter, organic molecules, are such that life could be a probable event. I guess the question is: how probable will that be?

“I think that life could be beyond the assembly of biomolecules.”
Professor Werner Arber

Srila Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Maharaja (Dr. T. D. Singh): It seems to me that we cannot all agree even over the definition of life. Molecular evolutionists define life as complex molecular reactions whereas spiritualists describe life as a divine spark.

Professor Werner Arber: Yes. Well, this is not so easy.

Srila Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Maharaja (Dr. T. D. Singh): If we take the religious or spiritual viewpoint, especially the Vedic viewpoint, there are two principles of reality, the material realm and the spiritual realm. Physics and chemistry are within the first category whereas life belongs to the nonphysical spiritual realm and it follows its own spiritual laws.

Professor Werner Arber: Oh, it is not so easily accessible. I don’t know. I work with microorganisms, mainly bacteria. I guess you generally believe in the existence of a spiritual soul. With which organisms does that start? Is it limited to human beings only?

Srila Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Maharaja (Dr. T. D. Singh): Well, to answer your first question, yes, I do believe in the existence of a non-chemical or non-molecular spiritual soul. We all agree that the living bodies are made up of organic matter, molecules. But according to the Vedic science, these bodies are animated by the presence of the soul, just like the analogy of a car and the driver inside. When the driver goes away, the car cannot move. Similarly, when the spirit soul goes away, or what we call death, the body can no longer be animated in spite of the fact that all the molecular machineries that make up the body are still intact.

According to the spiritual paradigm contained in Vedanta, the seed of life, the spiritual soul, has been existing since eternity and life manifests itself from the very moment of conception at least in higher living beings, such as human beings.

“So, according to the spiritual paradigm of Vedic science the presence of the spirit soul is not limited to human beings only. However, we should note that some religious traditions do not accept the existence of the soul and some others proclaim that the soul is present in human beings only. The ancient Vedic science of India does not accept such statements. Rather the Vedic science states very firmly that all living entities have spirit souls.”

Srila Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Maharaja (Dr. T. D. Singh)

In Vedic cosmology, there are periodic cycles known as yuga cycles and creation and annihilation of the material world along with living beings take place continuously like changes of seasons. There are four yugas in each yuga cycle namely, Satya, Treta, Dvapara and Kali and the seeds of life are injected by the Supreme Lord into the womb of material nature. When the appropriate cosmic cycle appears, many different biological forms manifest in that particular yuga cycle. Also according to Vedanta, since all biological forms have already been existing in subtle states, either manifested or unmanifested, embodied life on earth would start, in principle, from any organism –bacteria, plants, birds, animals, human beings, etc., according to the subtle laws of karm.[3] The word karma is a Sanskrit word and it means the action – both psychological and physical – performed by the living entity under the influence of the three modes of material nature (gunas).

Vedic cosmology or Vedantic cosmology supports the simultaneous manifestation of many organisms. This principle is in direct contradiction with the Darwinian paradigm. If the existence of the soul is recognized in Darwinian paradigm then the spiritual paradigm of Vedanta could integrate the Darwinian paradigm. Thus the missing element in neo-Darwinian paradigm or molecular biology is the spiritual soul. However, in vedantic paradigm, consciousness evolves and the biological forms are designed in such a way that each form can accommodate the evolving conscious level of the living entity. This process is also known as the transmigration of the soul.

So, according to the spiritual paradigm of Vedic science the presence of the spirit soul is not limited to human beings only. However, we should note that some religious traditions do not accept the existence of the soul and some others proclaim that the soul is present in human beings only. The ancient Vedic science of India does not accept such statements. Rather the Vedic science states very firmly that all living entities have spirit souls.

Professor Werner Arber: All living entities?

Srila Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Maharaja (Dr. T. D. Singh): Yes, all living entities including microorganisms.

Professor Werner Arber: That sounds quite interesting.

References:


[1] Molecular Evolutionists: Same as ‘chemical evolutionists’.

[2] Enzymes: A class of proteins serving as catalysts in biochemical reactions. Each enzyme is specific to a particular reaction or group of similar reactions.

[3] Law of Karma states that every living entity has a predestined happiness and distress in his/her present body according to the actions performed by the living entity in his/her previous and present life.

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