Intelligent Design theory, or ID theory, is the theory that life was created according to the designs of an intelligent being, i.e. God. Now, there's another theory: the primordial soup theory, a theory that states (according to biochemist Robert Shapiro):

  1. Early Earth had a chemically reducing atmosphere.

  2. This atmosphere, exposed to energy in various forms, produced simple organic compounds ("monomers").

  3. These compounds accumulated in a "soup", which may have been concentrated at various locations (shorelines, oceanic vents etc.).

  4. By further transformation, more complex organic polymers – and ultimately life – developed in the soup.

Now, while a good many scientists have pointed out the flaws in such a theory, a good many more have also tried to point out the flaws in ID theory (and some scientists have even commented on how ID theory has shown a good bit of evidence of its validity). Although, the question isn't about where ID theory or primordial soup theory is correct, the question is this:

Say a society somehow developed a religion whose core characteristics place a strong significance on both intelligent design and primordial soup theories. However, as the two theories could in theory be in opposition to each other, how would a society come to such a belief that an intelligent being used the primordial soup to create life? What factors would have to take place in order for such a religion to be established?

  • $\begingroup$ This is a very interesting question. I'm going to let it percolate a bit before attempting an answer! $\endgroup$
    – DukeZhou
    Jul 20, 2017 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ Cool. Looking forward to see what you come up with. $\endgroup$
    – SCPilot
    Jul 20, 2017 at 22:02
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    $\begingroup$ First, both I.D. and the primordial soup are hypotheses not theories. A theory is a mathematically articulated explanation of a class of phenomena, illuminating a vast field of study; both of these are simple hunches. Second, the primordial soup is a hypothesis in abiogenesis, whereas I.D. is usually placed into competition with the Modern Synthesis as an explanation of the development of life. Third, the primordial soup hypothesis is not the principal hypothesis in abiogenesis. Etc. etc. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 21, 2017 at 7:05
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP ID doesn't deserve the name of hypothesis. It is an ideological construct designed to subvert a scientific understanding of evolution. Its purpose is political not scientific. ID isn't in competition with evolution in the scientific community. Most of its ideas require special pleading and dubious readings of the facts. The primordial soup idea was an idea about how life began. Darwin's original suggestion was of tentative possibility. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Jul 21, 2017 at 7:39
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    $\begingroup$ Have you seen Alien: Prometheus? The movie very much posits intelligent designers using something akin to primordial soup to create life. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Jul 21, 2017 at 16:14

7 Answers 7


There is no contradiction.

Intelligent Design declares God directed changes in life over the eons to make all the amazing things we see today. How life came to be is outside its scope.

Primordial Soup outlines some ways some chemicals could be mixed to become more interesting using plausible physical phenomena. What happens once life exists is outside its scope.

One concerns the origins of life and the other its development. If today it was proved Primordial Soup happened tomorrow there would be people calling it God-driven.

The way to make it accepted as a core part of religious tradition is to change how ID was created. Instead of a reaction to scientists laughing at creationism let it be an outgrowth of scientists looking to uncover the tools God uses. Let the Church's orthodoxy have been less strict in the age of reason, accepting that Noah's flood being caused by rain doesn't make it not miraculous.

  • $\begingroup$ Exactly, and Christianity, at least in Europe and ignoring a couple of crazy people, is already celebrating a combination of scientific and religious believes that even gets updated. They dont call it intelligent design, but that is splitting hairs. Finally a case that has been closed! $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Jul 21, 2017 at 7:37

Your wording is interesting, asking for a "religious significance" placed on the primordial soup hypothesis. Like others have noted, primordial soup and IID have great significance in our society already. In fact, many recognize them as completely compatible -- the only ones who seem to insist that they are not are those who have something to sell with regard to religion or science. However, while IID is quite obviously something of religious significance, the primordial soup hypothesis is one of secular significance. Making a religion which gives both significance is going to have some quirks.

The quirks arise because you now have one source for both the "how" of the creation of life and the "why" of the creation of life. One is concerned with the implementation, while the other is concerned with the semantic meaning of it. In any situation where the religion controls the "how" and the "why," you have a very powerful religion, bordering on a theocracy. So what you are looking for in your fictional world is a very powerful religious structure, potentially one so powerful as to merge with the governmental structures as well.

If I may opine on such a culture, such a culture would know the exact state of their world at all times. Advancement would likely have to fall along the religious paths, for the religious paths know how everything works, and they know why you shouldn't bother to look for any other way. It's tricky to advance from such a position. You'll need free thinkers to do so, like those who break free from the dogma of words and phrases and find another path:

XCKD -XKCD, Winter


I strongly urge you to look at Conway's Game of Life, particularly at how it demonstrates that complex structures can arise from very simple rules. In an infinite Game of Life, the hypothesis holds that intelligence and superintelligence would develop.

I think there's an opportunity to unify the two concepts you are pondering in your world.

  • The primordial soup itself develops intelligence, then superintelligence

This would be some sort of simple, cellular matrix, the size of the entire ocean, using natural processes such as photosynthesis and other chemical reactions, even underwater volcanic vents, for power. This is essentially a plant scale cellular automata. This is also known as the Gaia Hypothesis.

  • This superintelligent primordial soup then develops increasingly complex, discrete organisms as tools toward some greater purpose

Going into space, for instance, would require autonomous agents. Since biology is what the superintelligence has to work with, the tools it creates are biological. The autonomous agents could then make tools out of inorganic substances, and develop any technology humans currently have.

The cool thing though, is that you wouldn't be confined to a single, intelligent, autonomous "proxy" species--you could have entire classes of intelligent species optimized for specific tasks.


Our faith is called Anti-Fact, the belief that no idea is so sacred that it should close the eyes of an explorer to the possibility of other ideas.

Life arose by random chance

... AND ...

Life was crafted by a loving artist's hand.

To absolutely believe in either "truth" is to become blind to the wisdom which the other might teach.

Our faith in facts have lead us to the brink of self-annihilation. Look out over the glowing ruins of our fallen nations' capitals. Look at the graves of the millions who died defending their nation's ideals. Each of those patriots fervently believed that their homeland's truths eclipsed the truths of all other lands. They were willing to die for their truths and for the sake of their beliefs, they almost dragged all of us with them, down into a shallow grave.

We are the children of knowledgeable fools, the survivors of the age of certainty.

We have learned to never trust a singular truth.

A wise man doesn't know a thing until he has seen it from all sides.


Both theories have fundamental flaws.

'Primordial Soup' is predicated upon evolution, which we can easily observe in current life, and in fossil records. Evolution is how creatures advance. Variations in the new DNA strand from reproduction are how creatures evolve. The problem is: evolution only happens during a reproduction cycle. Once born, that individual creature does not evolve further - you don't grow an extra pair of arms because you're working a lot, as handy as that might be.

Without reproduction, evolution does not happen.

So that means your primordial soup creature would have to be created with the most complex operation that a living cell can undertake: to reproduce. It can't evolve to reproduce, in the absence of a reproduction cycle. That's a very tall order. A credible explanation only if one doesn't consider anything else to be valid.

ID theories are all predicated upon a benevolent spirit who is interested in what happens to humanity. There is scant evidence to back that up (world wars, murder, etc...), but it's the chief selling point for most religions: get in here and pray, or the supreme being will exclude you from paradise. Wow, that's certainly convenient... for the church.

It's the problem I have with most ID theories - they come from people who already believe in a religion, and are looking only for what backs that up.

So you could blend the two together, some ID in the formation of the original DNA strand with reproduction code embedded, but not much concern for how it works out on the part of the author. A bet between two bored space travelers, something like the two stoners in Heavy Metal: Dude, I bet you that I can put a single DNA strand on that planet, and in three billion years, they will have trashed the place.


Well, Franciscan Monk Gregor Mendal is considered the Father of Modern Genetics and was a conteporary of Charles Darwin and did much of his during as part of his monastic studies. Although his notes were lost for some time after his and Darwin's passing, neither theory was rejected by the Catholic Church (in fact, the Catholic Church never officially refuted evolution beyond individual consevative priests and the first papal word on the subject agreed Evolution was conpatible with Genisis, which many church officials had noted, was not intended to be a literal discription of the origin of life).

But before any of them, Saint Thomas Aquaince, who's treaties on matters of faith are still important tenetes to the Catholic Chuch, wrote that life possibly started by god planting a seed, letting it grow, caring for it, but mostly letting it develop through a natural course. He also wrote that it was possible for non-living things to produce life, that birth defects must be due to defects in the parent seeding that life, and that life created by such defects was natural however, such defects were untennable to nature's preservation of the new life, which is why it does not exist. While this all sounds like Evolution, it has some "right for the wrong reasons" aspects. For example, Saint Thomas was trying to square away biblical creation, Greek "Spontenteous Generation" (i.e. the idea that flies are created as a by product of decaying meat, rather than flies being an agent facilitating the decay of the meat and breed rapidly there because, as one bank robber said, "That's where the money is".), and observations from everyday life such as birth defects in livestock or humans or the question of whether mytholgical creatures actually exist (his preservation of life observation was answering why a man with an ox's head, i.e. The Minotaur). So while these are crude and operating from flawed principles, what he is describing is not far off from what Darwin surives (if a defect is benefitial to life, it will survive. If it is detrimental, it will not).

Even futher back, The 1950 support of Evolution cites, among other things, a propensity for Church Fathers to not take the Creation story in Genesis literally. Church Fathers in the Roman Catholic Church were theologins who's tennents were in the Council of Nicene which codified the Roman Catholic church... essentially, they are the men who shaped the faith between Jesus and the Roman Catholic Church existed.

Historically, the Catholic Church has been quite friendly to science. In fact, it was a big mover and shaker in medeivil European Science in the Renessance and most scientists of the era had patronage from the Vatican, if not were outrigh monks themseleves (monastic life is boring, especially with vows of silence, so the monks entertain themseleves by doing boring things like look at the sky and write that down or play with pea plants). The Church gets a very bad steryotype of being anti-science from the Galileo Affair. While Galileo was ultimately placed under house arrest, it should be pointed out that behind the scenes.

The start of the troubles was actually about comets with a Jesuit Priest named Orazio Grassi. Grassi published a paper about the nature of comets, prompting Galileo to publish a response paper, while advertised as being about comets, offered little in the way of anything new, and was disproven in some key aspect, but also included comments insulting Grassi, another Jesuit priest by name for no real reason, and the bulk of the professors at Colligio Romano, the Jesuit run college where Grassi was professor of Mathimatics at the time. Grassi responded by publishing another paper, to which Galileo responded by publishing The Assayer, which was widely praised and was devistating to Grassi at the time. What had started as a debate over comets had by now ballooned to a debate on the very nature of science itself, and Grassi and the Jesuits were very much humiliated by the whole affair.

At this point, I should point out some natures of the Jesuit Order. First, they have since inception been very devoted to science and education. The Jesuit Order has made significant contributions to almost every field of science. In fact, in the case of their collective contributions to the study of Earthquakes earned the field of Seismology the nickname of "The Jesuit Science" and are among one of the most significant contributitors to Physics, Astronomy, and their ministry to China almost single handedly revolutionized the nation's scientific knowledge. To suggest that the Jesuits would argue from a purely faith based rational is a fundimental flaw. In fact, they were the biggest advocates for the theory within the church.

Second, the Jesuits were founded by St. Ignatious of Loyola, who became devoted to god after suffing a knee injury while at war. As a soldier, the Ignatious' Catholic order was organized in a military structure and even to this day are run in military style chain of command with ranks and are headed by Generals and a Superior General who takes his orders from the Pope and Pope alone.

Third, the Jeusits have a reputation for being power hungry in the Catholic Church. In recent history to this series of events, the entire order was at one time banned from Fance after a student from a Jesuit college attempted assination on the King of France. Historically, the Jesuits were the defacto intelligence service for the Pope and held policy of God alone outranking the Pope, which gives the Superior General a lot of clout in the Vatican.

Suffice to say, Galileo had just ticked off a group that had been accused of espinoge, are often refered to as "God's Marines" and are lead by a man who is often derided as the "Black Pope" (both for tradtional Black cassoks the order wears and their reputation for playing dirty). Oh... and the work that did that... got the attention of newly elected Pope Urban VIII in a positive way.

Now, Heliocentrism was not new and in fact, the Catholic Church had now problem with it. Within Galileo's life time, Pope Gregory XIII had introduced the Gregorian Calender to little controversy despite the fact that it relied on Heliocentralism to correct a flaw in the math in the Julian Calendar system that had made a 0.002% difference in the lenght of the year, which by 1582, facilitated cutting 10 days completely out of the calendar to correct. The whole event passed with little controversy but did leave open to the helio vs. geo controversy. Galileo was also no stranger to the controversy. Among a good number of his scientific peers still clung to the idea of Geocentralism, including Tycho Brahem, who was quite the Bill Nye of his time, and was popular with royalty (he famously died of a blatter rupture from drinking too much wine at a prince's party) where geocentralism was also popular. Galileo had gotten into trouble with previous advocacy of Heliocentralism and was forced to recant.

Pope Urban realized that having relied on Heliocentralism to fix a big error and that the theory was just a bit more popular. And Urban was actually very supportive of the theory. So he figured, who best to write something to discuss the matter with the public that Galileo. After all, the man knew the arguement inside out and upside down. But Urban recognized that even then, it was still a heretical idea. So he commissioned Galileo to write a book that would present fair and balanced arguements for both theories but Galileo would be allowed to present his opinions on the matter. In order to connect to the readers, Galileo decided to write it as a conversation between two men: One who was pro-Geo and one who was pro-Helio. And that's where the trouble began.

Galileo's pro-Geo character was what we today call a "Straw-Man". Whether intentional or not, the pro-Geo character was routinely out-debated by the pro-Helio to such a degree, he looked not like a learned man of science, but a village idiot. Not helped was the character's name, "Simplicius" which is the Italian word for "Simpleton" and yes, the context of its use translates the same way. This of course was already was getting under the pope's skin because the character was supposed to present the other side in a fair manner... but the real insult came when Simplicius turned out to have a pention for quoting Pope Urban as part of his failing debate arguements. Galileo had just put himself into the uneviable position of not only pissing off his boss, but pissing off the Pope... who just happened to be his Patron. All in the name of advancing a publicly disliked idea.

So of course, Urban was now no fan of Galileo and had a more legitament reason to punish him. And while we do not know if the Jesuits, who would have been supportive, actively encourgaged this from Urban, they more than likely didn't effort into helping Galileo. Thus resulted the inquisition that lead to Galileo's house arrest. It was covered by the religious herisy stuff, but at the crux of the motives behind it was... well... not put to fine a point on it... Galileo was an pompous ass to his biggest supporters... who just so happen to be in a position of power to say he was right. It was less about the conflict between religion and science and more about the conflict between policits and science... something that still goes on in the modern world.

  • $\begingroup$ Don't you mean Thomas Aquinas? $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2017 at 5:37
  • $\begingroup$ @can-ned_food Yeah. My bad. $\endgroup$
    – hszmv
    Jul 24, 2017 at 14:31

I always think this sort of acceptance of the combination of two disparate ideas comes after a civilization crumbles or falters but leaves behind most of its technical and social information. Succeeding generations would remember bits in their daily lives and the rest would be discovered by scholars.

Alternately a religion would attempt to keep itself relevant by taking in bits of accepted science that it could incorporate into its mythos. Over time only religious scholars would remember when it was any other way.


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