In most cases, these stories featured something like one or two or six or seven things that happened in order for the world to be the way it is: full and busy, complicated and interconnected.
Stories were told of carefully orchestrated events and occasional accidents, all leading one after the other to the ancient nows when such stories were passed on in meticulous detail. Some of these stories evolved as they were retold, until some other idea or philosophy, faction or fashion took over, and different stories were told.
Poetically at least, these stories had so much water, so many eggs and suns and other ingredients that really were required for this particular recipe. There were also parts that, on further inspection, did not stand up to scrutiny.
We started examining things very carefully: ourselves, each other, the smallest and largest fellow creatures here, the way the stars moved, the ways the days changed over the course of the year, the way we changed over the millennia, the ocean, the volcanoes, the rocks, and the clouds. Our questions got more specific. We figured out how to answer some of them. Sometimes, we were very wrong. We had to ask deeper, more difficult questions. We had to wrestle with new paradoxes. We screamed in frustration. We died without getting our answers. Sometimes, another picked up the threads of our evidence, perhaps hundreds of years later.
In the questioning and deducing, we discovered some very good clues. Yet great mysteries still abound. Often, just as we think we are about to solve one, we find that the stream of clues directs us to a river of unposed questions, which opens up to an immense sea of obscurities.
In this way, we got even grander stories, on a larger scale.
And now, we think there were not just one or two or six or seven steps but too many to count.
It’s hard to imagine the Earth not being here since most of us are always on it. Most, but not all: There are 566 members of our species who have been elsewhere—namely space. The rest of us might take for granted our round, wet, stormy, sunny, buzzing, erupting, life-filled world.
And to answer the questions of how and why life began on our world, we must take into account the whole wide universe.
How does a world come to be?
Likely, the first thing that needed to happen was the creation of the universe. At the very least, it was an important step. And we’ve discovered some real clues about how such a large and finicky thing occurs.