“On the Miracle of Life”

[Actual title unknown.]

By Lord Kelvin (Sir William Thomson)

Excerpt from an address at the annual meeting of the Christian Evidence Society, May 23, 1889, as quoted in Heros of the Telegraph by J. Munro.

I have long felt that there was a general impression in the non-scientific world, that the scientific world believes Science has discovered ways of explaining all the facts of Nature without adopting any definite belief in a Creator. I have never doubted that that impression was utterly groundless. It seems to me that when a scientific man says—as it has been said from time to time—that there is no God, he does not express his own ideas clearly. He is, perhaps, struggling with difficulties; but when he says he does not believe in a creative power, I am convinced he does not faithfully express what is in his own mind, He does not fully express his own ideas. He is out of his depth.

We are all out of our depth when we approach the subject of life. The scientific man, in looking at a piece of dead matter, thinking over the results of certain combinations which he can impose upon it, is himself a living miracle, proving that there is something beyond that mass of dead matter of which he is thinking. His very thought is in itself a contradiction to the idea that there is nothing in existence but dead matter. Science can do little positively towards the objects of this society. But it can do something, and that something is vital and fundamental. It is to show that what we see in the world of dead matter and of life around us is not a result of the fortuitous concourse of atoms.

I may refer to that old, but never uninteresting subject of the miracles of geology. Physical science does something for us here. St. Peter speaks of scoffers who said that ‘all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation;’ but the apostle affirms himself that ‘all these things shall be dissolved.’ It seems to me that even physical science absolutely demonstrates the scientific truth of these words. We feel that there is no possibility of things going on for ever as they have done for the last six thousand years. In science, as in morals and politics, there is absolutely no periodicity. One thing we may prophesy of the future for certain—it will be unlike the past. Everything is in a state of evolution and progress. The science of dead matter, which has been the principal subject of my thoughts during my life, is, I may say, strenuous on this point, that the age of the earth is definite. We do not say whether it is twenty million years or more, or less, but we say it is not indefinite. And we can say very definitely that it is not an inconceivably great number of millions of years. Here, then, we are brought face to face with the most wonderful of all miracles, the commencement of life on this earth. This earth, certainly a moderate number of millions of years ago, was a red-hot globe; all scientific men of the present day agree that life came upon this earth somehow. If some form or some part of the life at present existing came to this earth, carried on some moss-grown stone perhaps broken away from mountains in other worlds; even if some part of the life had come in that way—for there is nothing too far-fetched in the idea, and probably some such action as that did take place, since meteors do come every day to the earth from other parts of the universe;—still, that does not in the slightest degree diminish the wonder, the tremendous miracle, we have in the commencement of life in this world.