International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Fitness of the Cosmos for Life: Biochemistry and Fine-Tuning

edited by John D. Barrow , Simon Conway Morris , Stephen J. Freeland , Charles L. Harper

Introductory Essay by Ludovico Galleni

This book is the second volume of the Series Cambridge Astrobiology and it is dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the publication of the book of Lawrence J. Henderson The fitness of the Environment. The central theme in the book is that the Earth’s environment was essential to allowing the process of organic evolution. The presence of water, carbon dioxide, and other carbon compounds on this very Earth provided, as a necessary result, the origin of life. The idea was to introduce the concept of necessity side by side with an acknowledgement of the presence of stochastic events. After ninety years of research into the origin of life, the chemistry of living things, phenomena of auto-organization, and the great trends of plants and animal evolution, this book returns to these essential themes.

Of course in writing an up-to-date review comprising the work of many authors, the first task is to give a definition of life and a description of its components and to see if it is possible to make hypotheses on different life components and environments. Is water necessary? Are the components of life necessarily carbon-based compounds? Or, on the contrary, did the peculiar environment on the third planet of Sol direct life in one direction among many possibilities? These questions lead again to the discussion between chance and necessity, with a clear preference for necessity.

The evolution of life poses the same questions. Is moving towards complexity and, in animals, towards cerebralization, the lucky result of a roulette game or, on the contrary, is it the necessary result of evolutionary mechanisms?

Are fine tuning and the anthropic cosmological principle superimposed inferences or are they the obvious conclusions deduced from the present-day knowledge of the fine structure of our Universe? Is matter moving towards complexity and life, and is life moving towards cerebral increase and consciousness? Or is this a conclusion reached only as a result of our strong anthropocentric feelings? This is the question posed by Teilhard de Chardin who worked on the philosophical and theological meaning of evolution and this question is at the very basis of the book. (Unlucky Teilhard de Chardin is completely forgotten apart from a short quotation in the chapter written by Ernan McMullin, a quotation not even registered in the Index!)

Another question is that posed by Julian Chela Flores about exobiology and astrobiology. The possibility of studying planetary systems similar to ours, where Earth-like planets will be present, could allow an experimental approach to the question of chance or necessity in the near future. Only a biosphere characterized by stability allows enough evolving time for life to reach more complex stages and perhaps to develop a noosphere. The proposal is that of a geo-biology whose general laws could be tested elsewhere in the Universe. Along with the many interesting insights of the contributors and the technical details of their research, the work of such original thinkers as Teilhard de Chardin is present in every page of this beautiful and instructive, book!