International Conference - Life & its Origin

Second International Congress on Life and Its Origin

Exploration from Science and Spiritual/Religious Traditions - Rome, Italy 

Introduction: The Bhaktivedanta Institute at Rome and Kolkata organized the Second International Congress on Life and Its Origin — Exploration from Science and Spiritual/Religious Traditions in Rome from November 11 to 14, 2004. It was an interdisciplinary project and scholars from various fields of science and spiritual disciplines of the world participated in this Congress.

Statement of Purpose: Most scientific studies and conferences on Life and its Origin are focussed on examining whether life, a living cell, could be a product of complex molecular reactions of proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids, water, etc. through chemical evolution. However, the present knowledge of molecular paradigm of life alone is unable to fully describe and understand life and its origin. Although scientists can synthesize some basic chemicals in the laboratory which are important components for living beings, the answer to the fundamental question, ‘what is life?’ is still quite far away. The purpose of the present conference is to examine seriously the deeper insights of life and its origin through the inter-disciplinary approach of science and spirituality/theology incorporating the religious principle that life is a spiritual particle. This will be done by drawing inspirations from major religious/spiritual traditions of the world, especially from the ancient Vedantic tradition of India. Also a part of the purpose is to carefully examine the scientific data from the religious viewpoint and to generate some new research projects for the scientific study of life, its meaning and purpose, consciousness, and God.

Need for this Conference: The existing molecular paradigms for explaining life and its origin, such as Oparin’s model of coacervates, Fox’s model of protenoid microspheres, Cairns-Smith’s model of clay as our grandfather, Christian de Duve’s thioester model, Miller’s electrical discharge reactions to stimulate lightening in a so-called primordial gaseous mixture of H2, H2O, NH3, CH4, etc., of the presumed primordial or early earth, the RNA world, etc., seem to be quite insufficient for understanding life and its origin.

The incredible improbability of the evolution of a living cell from a cosmic molecular soup against many odds of known laboratory chemical reaction conditions, for example, maintaining an optimum pH, reaction time, proper concentration of reacting molecules, reaction medium(solid or liquid phase), overcoming the thermodynamic barrier, isolation of reaction products, and so on, forces us to consider with utmost seriousness a deeper and broader study of life beyond the molecular paradigm. According to the major spiritual traditions of the world, especially the ancient Vedantic tradition of India, there is a spiritual dimension to life which accounts for the purpose and meaning in life. The indication is that there is a fundamental spiritual particle of life called atman (in Sanskrit). According to Vedantic literatures, the seed of life atman or **spiriton** or the soul is injected by the Supreme Lord in the womb of mother nature and by the interaction of **spiriton** with the material particles, various life forms develop on earth. This paradigm will also form the scientific argument about the existence of God and His creation.

Thus we have two models:

  1. First, the pure material scientific model, which proclaims that molecules will lead to life — called molecular evolution or molecules to life (MÞL) paradigm.
  2. Second, life as we know on earth is a combination of 1. molecules, 2. atman (‘spiriton’ or life particle or soul) or matter + spiriton will lead to life and can be represented as (M+SÞL) paradigm. Here, consciousness is a quality of atman(life).

We can find support of the second model from the following statement of Niels Bohr,

We can admittedly find nothing in physics or chemistry that has even a remote bearing on consciousness. Yet all of us know that there is such a thing as consciousness, simply because we have it ourselves. Hence, consciousness must be part of nature, or more generally, or reality, which means that, quite apart from the laws of physics and chemistry, as laid down in quantum theory, we must also consider laws of quite a different nature.

In the Vedantic worldview consciousness is a spiritual quality of life. John Eccles, the Nobel Laureate neuro-psychologist further echoed,

There is a fundamental mystery in my personal existence, transcending the biological account of the development of my body and my brain. That belief, of course, is in keeping with the religious concept of the soul and with its special creation by God.

This, in the present conference it would be very fruitful to make a serious attempt to examine and incorporate the viewpoints of spiritual traditions in the scientific study of life and its origin. Through this conference we would attempt to answer the questions such as:

  • Can the state of the art scientific knowledge satisfactorily explain phenomena like consciousness, bio-diversity, cloning, and the origin of life?
  • Or how could current scientific studies help in explaining consciousness which is the primary quality of life? How could we interpret the experimental findings related to life and its origin from the religious/spiritual wisdom?
  • What kind of new spiritual meaning and knowledge might we obtain through an integrated, interdisciplinary study of life and its origin? Can a focus on life’s origin from various spiritual traditions of the world help us to better understand evolution?
  • What are the possible means to introduce some of the wisdoms from religious/spiritual traditions of the world into the scientific mainstream?

Unlike most of the conferences on life and its origin, which mainly comprise of either scientists or religionists, the present conference will provide a very fertile and open platform to both scientists and religionists to come together and exchange their views to explore together the most important knowledge - the knowledge of life and God. By exploring these questions or those posed by the conference participants and through the dialogues, presentation of invited papers, interaction of the participants, and by taking a broadly interdisciplinary perspective, this conference will provide a vital strategic step in broadening our understanding of life and its origin and scientific understanding of God’s plan for the universe and to generate some possible future research areas for the study of life and its origin.