On the Origin of Life: A Scientific Perspective

Christopher Shingledecker

Benedictine College

Developments in the field of biology in the early 20th century began to reveal that cells, and by extension the bodies of all organisms, are comprised of what are, essentially, molecules – undoubtedly complex ones, though molecules nonetheless. This realization led to a resurgence of the idea that abiogenesis – the origin of life – could occur spontaneously if the right combination of simpler molecular precursors were brought together in the right order and under the right conditions. Studies such as the well-known Miller-Urey experiment sought to achieve abiogenesis in the lab by recreating potential early-Earth conditions, and indeed there now exists a large body of scientific work on the topic. In this talk, a broad overview of this work up to the current state of the art will be given, covering topics such as the role of surface waters, hydrothermal vents, and even how molecules formed in the depths of interstellar space may have played a role. Moving beyond Earth, the possibility of life, both on another planetary body in our Solar System and beyond, will be discussed, as well as some of the means by which such hypothetical life could be detected.

Christopher Shingledecker is Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Benedictine College in Atchison, KS. Previously, he was an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation postdoctoral research fellow in Germany, where he worked at both the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Munich and the University of Stuttgart. His research is in theoretical computational astrochemistry, with a focus on prebiotic molecule formation on interstellar dust and ice. From the University of Virginia, he received both a B.Sc. in chemistry, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa (2013) and later a Ph.D. (2018) in astrochemistry. He is one of the recipients of the 2017 Rao Prize and has numerous publications in journals including Science, Nature Astronomy, and the Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences.

This talk is part of the conference “The Origin of Life and Nature Before Sin: Scientific and Theological Perspectives”, which took place at the Angelicum on 1-2 April 2022. Click here to download the conference brochure.