Probably, and probably not.
Though I do often wonder.
It’s a really tricky thing to speculate about. It appears to be pure serendipity that’s led our particular rock to be just the right distance from just the right size of sun. It seems unlikely for there to be just the right cocktail of chemicals present, bubbling away for aeons, eventually accidentally stumbling upon a combination that allowed replication and accidental modification.
And that was enough. Just a little bit of imperfect copying, and some kind of selection takes over.
Ironically, I’d almost imagine that noting this string of coincidences at the roots evolution would push people further towards belief in some kind of divine creator. Charles Darwin even ended his world upending ‘Origin of the species’ with a note to that effect:
There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.
It IS a beautiful notion, and if you’re that way inclined you should be happy with that, and acknowledge the absurdity of creationism in the face of the evidence.
But of course, what it misses out is something that any scientist will have learnt and observed at that point. (Including Charlie Darwin, I suspect he was covering his own back with the last paragraph).
The law of averages. And the immensity of the universe.
Part of the beauty of evolution as that it appears to build these intricate, complex, delicate structures out of nothing. How can random changes yield an eyeball, or an ecosystem?
Easily. The world is big. The phase space of possibility is even bigger. Complexity makes sense. It makes MORE sense for complexity to spring out of randomness, because every change demands a reaction, a counterbalancing force, and once that’s found, other changes will have been made in between.
And across the universe, coincidences will have been happening. Billions upon billions of stars. Even if only a small percentage have planets around them, that’s still a lot of planets. And the odd one or two is going to be a reasonable distance.
And probably millions will be able to support life. Of some sort.
We cannot possibly predict what.
I know it ain’t going to be Star Trek, but there’s got to be something out there for Riker to have sex with, right?
And there will be. But they probably won’t have the right shaped holes. And certainly won’t understand his words (though I’m sure his eyes and beard will communicate enough searing intensity to make it work).
Life on other planets may well be utterly incomprehensible.
I just hope we learn to treat ourselves right long enough to see them.
And have the sense to treat them right once we get there.
Illustration by Winnie.