in Pre-Biotic Evolution
From a process perspective, even pre-biotic evolution tells a tale of high adventure. In the beginning of our universe, what science rather unpoetically calls the Big Bang, electrons and protons emerged in a fraction of a second.
Over the course of about 300,000 years these two types of entities enjoyed their own careers, their own individualities, if you will, as they flashed along their solitary quantum ways. But then something exciting happened. For these primordial individuals somehow managed to suddenly weave themselves together into new more complex entities called atoms. The simplest, and probably first to emerge, is the hydrogen atom with a nucleus of one proton and its single orbiting electron.
The path leading from electrons and protons to atoms is a creative path, and the ontological principle1 requires that creativity be explained in terms of actual entities, in this case: electrons and protons.
In short, this means that these two were not mere inert particles but throbs of adventurous actuality. It was somehow through their creative interaction, their “decision” for novelty, that a new creature, a new atomic entity, came into being.
This is the first social interplay, a romance if you will, between two opposites who continue to attract each other by one of the strongest forces in the universe.
This is an astonishing achievement. The leap from electrons and protons to atoms is a quantum leap of breathtaking beauty, and these two worthy pioneers may be seen as the first trailblazers.
In The Universe Story, cosmologist Brian Swimme and geologian Thomas Berry describe the adventure story of hydrogen in much the same way:
“The universe bloomed into existence, settled on its fundamental laws, and stabilized itself as baryons and simple nuclei. For several hundred thousand years it expanded and cooled and then, in an instant, at the very end of the fireball, the universe transformed itself into the primordial atoms of hydrogen and helium. Our wandering proton snapped into a new relationship with one of the erstwhile freely interacting electrons. These bonded relationships were impossible during the violent former eras, but now they became the predominant mode of reality.
“The creation of the atoms is as stunning as the creation of the universe. Nothing in the previous several hundred thousand years presaged their emergence. These dynamic twists of being leapt out of the originating mystery and immediately organized the universe in a fresh way. Is it the electron trapping a proton? Or vice versa?
“It is rather an event initiated by the universe, and completed by the mysterious emergent being we call hydrogen, a new identity that has the power to seal a proton and an electron into a seamless community.”2
In a creative explosion, other new atomic entities quickly followed, bringing forth all the basic atoms, the elements that make up the periodic table. And from these arose molecules and macromolecules, one of stunning beauty and complexity we now call DNA.
A hydrogen atom, with its union of one electron and one proton, is perhaps the simplest exemplification of unity and diversity, and shows forth a simple beauty. And thus it can be readily seen that kalogenic3 entities were present, and prolific, at the very birth of the universe.
The scientists of today no longer see atoms as inert bits of matter. For example, here’s how Swimme and Berry describe the simple helium atom:
“In actuality each helium atom roars with activity. In the time it takes a human to sneeze, a single helium atom has had to organize a billion different evanescent events to establish its helium presence in the world. Just one of its accomplishments is to keep its electrons free from interacting with most of the photons rushing at it. To exist as an invisible gas is a major achievement, one requiring instant-by-instant action, an accomplishment that transformed the universe.”4
1. Whitehead’s ontological principle states that only actual individuals can act. All explanation, in metaphysical discussion, is to be in terms of, or referable to, an actual thing or fact.
2. Brian Swimme & Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p. 29.
3. “Kalós” (kaloV) is the Greek word for “beauty” and “genesis” of course refers to “generating” or “bringing into existence.”
And so kalogenesis means the creation or coming to be of beauty. The adjectival form of this word is “kalogenic.”
4. The Universe Story, p. 30.