Life Emerging from Eternal Matter
17 August 2007 (updated 24 August 2021)
When I think about the origins of life in our time and space, I tend toward a materialistic animism. Matter has all the properties necessary to become life, if only it is organized appropriately.
Indeed, from this perspective, there is no line between life and non-life. But rather there’s a spectrum of intelligence from the sublime to the mundane. It could be said, then, that not only do humans have souls. But so do animals, plants, and even rocks have souls, to some magnitude, however small that magnitude might be.
These ideas do not, of course, originate with me. They are ancient ideas that predate modern understandings of immaterial and human-only souls. They are also ideas that have been held by Mormons since our beginnings.
Joseph Smith taught that all spirit is matter. Spirit and matter are eternal. They cannot be created from nothing. And they can be organized toward greater glory and intelligence (see D&C 93 and D&C 131).
Joseph also taught that animals have spirits (D&C 77). He alluded to an animistic perspective on the Earth, personifying it as groaning under the strain of our abuses (Moses 7). Perhaps most interesting, Joseph claimed in his King Follet sermon that “God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself.” This suggests that God emerged and evolves, like you and me.
Given a predisposition to such ideas, I was interested to see that Science Daily, today, tells us that physicists have discovered inorganic dust with lifelike qualities. Apparently this was done in a computer simulation of molecular dynamics. Charged particles of plasma self-organized, formed copies of themselves, and competed with their neighbors until only the most fit structures survived. The article goes on to explain that environments like the one simulated are common in outer space, and may occur on Earth under conditions such as a lightning strike.