The easiest wins in spirituality are origin stories. There is something incredibly satisfying about the idea that we were created in “His image.” For an atheist, though, there isn’t an obvious parallel, except in evolution. But can we get something that’s as spiritually uplifting as the notion that we were created in His image?
I want to propose that the way life evolved on Earth is likely how life would evolve on another habitable planet. Life on Earth comes from a handful of templates for life unique to the structure and physical constants of our Universe. In this way, while we weren’t necessarily “made in His image,” we were carved out of a pre-existing mold for life.
Consider all the similarities of creatures just on Earth, despite being separated by hundreds of millions of years of evolution. Anything that moves, for example, has a head. All the nerves accumulate at the tip because that’s where they are most likely to encounter new information. With a head at the front, next is to have a digestive tract that goes from the head and ends at the tail because that’s the direction that food is most likely to flow.
If a creature needs stereoscopic vision, they are likely to evolve it with two eyes parallel to the ground, as opposed to eyes that are vertical, because the objects of interest to that creature are most likely to move on a horizontal plane, as opposed to vertically. The exception to this rule would be bottom-dwelling flounders, but their eyes are still left and right, not front and center.
Likewise, these rules would apply to creatures on any other planet, with heads and digestive systems following the same pattern. This means that there is at least one universal template for living organisms, one that existed within the first few seconds of the Big Bang.
According to Wikipedia, there are 24 known, notable biological rules that determine why creatures are the way they are. J.B.S. Haldane, of Haldane’s Rule, wrote a popular essay in 1926 titled “On Being the Right Size,” which beautifuly applies the square–cube law to biology. For example, daddy longlegs spiders and other insects have thin straws for appendages, whereas elephants and bears have thick lumbering trunks. Likewise, on other planets, large life-forms would obey the same rules, depending on the intensity of their gravity. But even if no life had existed on Earth or anywhere else in the Universe, these laws would still hold. There would always be an outline for life that the Universe would “try” to fill based on the timeless rules of geometry.
So it was in the beginning, so it is now.