The Value of Life

In order to explain the value of life we need to start from the very beginning, which was about 14.7 billion years ago when all the matter and energy in the universe was compacted into an infinitely dense point in space called a singularity.

There’s a lot we don’t yet know about the singularity. We don’t know why it was there or how it got there. We don’t know whether it had existed forever or if it appeared out of nothing in a specific instant in time. For that matter we don’t know if time or space existed back then in the same way we experience it today. There are theories that it probably didn’t. All we’ve been able to reasonably deduce is that the singularity was there, and in an instant an unknown catalyst caused it (and possibly time and space) to expand to cosmic proportions. This event is commonly known as the Big Bang though the word “bang” may be a misnomer. “The Big Expansion” is often said to be more accurate.

During the early phase of the expansion all the matter in the universe was too hot and energized for atoms to hold themselves together much less bond with other atoms to form the 118 elements that make up all the matter we’ve found in the universe today, but the more the singularity expanded the more it thinned out, slowed down and cooled, which it did for 150 million to 1 billion years before the building blocks of the universe had cooled and dissipated enough energy that they were finally stable enough to bond together into elements.

The first celestial bodies to form were massive clouds of hydrogen gas, but within those clouds arose the conditions necessary to give birth to stars, and within those stars arose the conditions necessary to give birth to planets and black holes. As the universe became ever more diverse in composition it created more diverse conditions to produce more diverse elements. The continued expansion, cooling, and pooling of matter and energy in the universe resulted in a never ending redesigning of the physical universe that eventually created the conditions necessary for life to exist.

About 9.6 billion years after the Big Expansion, which would be 5.1 billion years ago, the Milky Way galaxy formed. About 5 billion years ago some of the remnants of a supernova within the Milky Way began to cool off and form into the planet, Earth. About 3.5 billion years ago life appeared on Earth. After that life evolved in complexity for about 2 billion, eight hundred fifty million years before simple, multi celled organisms appeared. Oddly, after that evolution seemed to speed up, because in about the same amount of time it took for life to evolve into multi celled organism those organisms went on to evolve into millions of elaborate species of plants, animals, fungus, bacteria, etc. including dinosaurs that towered up to 43 feet tall. Unfortunately for the dinosaurs, they all died off suddenly…possibly because of a combination of a giant meteor hitting the earth and other forms of natural selection.

About six hundred forty-nine million nine-hundred thousand years after the dinosaurs went extinct a small, furry mammal evolved into the first homo sapien. After that, humans evolved for about 90,000 years before our cultural history began. From there it took us about 10,000 years to go from writing on clay tablets to surfing the internet.

Now, with all of that information in mind, go outside the city on a cloudless night and take some time to stare up at the night sky. Think about everything that’s happened in the past 14.7 billion years that led to you standing there staring back up towards your cosmic birth place.

If one particle had been missing during the first second of the Big Bang it could have shifted galaxies and you wouldn’t be here today. If one more or one less star between the big bang and where Earth is today had or hadn’t exploded or imploded you wouldn’t be here today. If the earth was only a few miles closer or farther away from the sun you wouldn’t be here today. If one more or one less asteroid had hit the earth you wouldn’t be here today. If one more or one less extinction level event hadn’t occurred you wouldn’t be here today. If there had been one more or one less rainfall you wouldn’t be here today. If one animal had or hadn’t eaten one of your countless ancestors you wouldn’t be here today. If one animal hadn’t eaten one of the predators trying to eat one of your countless ancestors you wouldn’t be here today. If any two of your ancestors hadn’t met and copulated on the day they did you wouldn’t be here today. Each of your (homo sapien) female ancestors was born with between 200,000 and 400,000 potential eggs in her uterus though only several hundred of them matured into eggs (assuming she lived an average lifetime). Each of your male (homo sapien) ancestors produced about 5 billion sperm in their lives (again, assuming they had an average lifespan). When you were conceived, there were between 40 to 600 million other sperm that could have gestated the egg your mother provided instead of the one that created you. Only one combination of sperm and eggs in each generation could have led to your creation.

What are the odds that you’d be here today? For all practical purposes there’s a 1 in infinity chance. Imagine all the potential beings who would have gotten the chance to exist had things turned out differently. Imagine how they would scream in the darkness with jealousy that you received this coveted chance and they didn’t. Some people might call that destiny (though there’s no scientific evidence that destiny exists), but even it was a matter of pure chance that you, specifically, should be alive, it’s no accident that the universe or life exists. There was a reason The Big Expansion happened and life emerged on earth. We don’t know what that reason is, but everything happens as a result of cause and effect. If there was a cause there was a reason (even if that reason is purely scientific). If there was a reason there was a purpose. If there was a purpose then there is value in the life of any creature capable of fulfilling that purpose.

Unfortunately, you weren’t born with a price tag on your toe. So you can only deduce how valuable your life is, but there’s evidence of your value in how much work went into creating you. Remember, it didn’t take 9 months to create you. It took 14.7 billion years. The matter in your body today was present at the Big Expansion. It has traveled the length of the universe. Galaxies rose and fell around you in the great cosmic tidal wave that brought about the conditions necessary for you to be born. The matter in your body used to be in a star. It might have been part of a dinosaur. You might have been in the water drunk by your favorite historical figure.

Spending your entire life on this familiar planet it’s easy to take yourself for granted while perceiving the beautiful nebulas and globular clusters in the sky as miraculous celestial bodies, but look at earth from their point of view. You’re a celestial body too. In fact, you’re even more amazing than the most beautiful astronomical phenomenon. The fact that you, a sentient being, aware of your own existence and capable of self-determination, arose from inanimate matter is as miraculous as The Big Expansion its self.

The contradictory nature of your existence raises some more penetrating questions. We don’t know why the universe exists at all, but we know that the physical universe is meticulously, mathematically, and consistently designed and behaves according to fixed, unwavering rules. Why and how is it that these rules exist? How is it that those rules allowed for the sublimation of living creatures whose bodies are meticulously, mathematically, and consistently designed? Why is heredity mathematically predictable? Chance isn’t predictable. So evolution must not be entirely the product of chance. If that’s true then what else could it be the product of?

It’s been theorized that the universe could have been designed by some form of intelligence. There’s no conclusive evidence to back this theory up, but it’s not entirely without precedent. After all, we ourselves are intelligent beings who arose from inanimate matter. And in a universe where you can’t get something from nothing it would explain where our intelligence came from. Granted, that still leaves the issue of where the creator came from, which is no small question. Maybe the creator existed forever. Of course, if He did then maybe the universe existed forever as well, but if that were the case then the universe wouldn’t have needed a creator to create it since it was always there.

You can see where speculating about a creator will get you. So we won’t get any further into that for now other than to point out one implication that arises from the existence of a creator. If there was logical intent behind your creation then your life has an extra source of value. You’re valuable to the one who went through 14.7 billion years of deliberate, calculated work creating you.

Regardless of whether or not your parents were the only intelligent beings responsible for bringing you to life there still aren’t words to fully describe how cosmically epic in scale your existence is. And yet for all the work and purpose that went into bringing you here you’ll only have a handful of decades to be a witness to your self and all of creation. In a universe where time appears to be infinite you’ll take a finite number of breaths. You’ll speak a finite number of words. You’ll see a finite number of blades of grass. You’ll meet a finite number of people. Every moment of your life that ticks by was the only chance in all of eternity for you to experience that moment. That makes every moment of your life (no matter how mundane it may seem) infinitely rare and thus infinitely valuable. That makes every moment of your life the most valuable moment of your life.

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Originally published at on July 4, 2011.