The creation of the universe is a gradual evolutionary process spanning a giant staircase of levels which leads from the simplest phenomena to the most complex.
We have been brought up to believe implicitly in the ancient account offered by monotheistic religion: God created the universe once and for all at the beginning of time. But scientific examination of the rocks under our feet and stars that throng the night sky tells a different story: in fact the creation of the universe is ongoing and evolutionary in character. Even today giant stars are synthesising the elements from which future generations of planets will condense; even today new ways to create life are emerging from the laboratories of human geneticists and software engineers. Thus altho it must be more than 10 billion years old, the universe still possesses the ability to pull unpredictable novelties out of the hat.
Creative evolution has so far proceeded on four major levels.
The earliest matter spread thruout space – three-quarters hydrogen and one-quarter helium – organised itself into galaxies of stars in a process of cosmic evolution on the largest scale which science can currently tackle. Some of those stars synthesised heavy elements from light ones and recycled them into the interstellar nebulae from which later generations of stars would condense, thus enabling evolution on an astronomical scale to produce stars with families of planets. On at least one of those planets new molecular processes of metabolism and heredity took root and flowered into biological evolution. Most recently one biological species grew a nervous system large enough to support rational intelligence, from which sprang human social evolution with all the arts, sciences, technologies and cultures of civilisation.
These four levels form a clear hierarchy, like the steps of a giant staircase.
Each later level rests upon all the earlier ones. The activity of earlier levels does not cease, but continues on in parallel with that of later ones. Each earlier level produces the material basis necessary before the next level can start and on which it depends – you need heavy elements before you can build planets, earthlike planets before you can grow life, multicellular life before you can construct civilisation. Each new level introduces new creative principles which process matter in unprecedented ways – gravity and electromagnetism, followed by nuclear synthesis, then chemistry, then biology, then thought. And each new level is successively more localised – the whole cosmos, then the planet-bearing regions within galaxies, then the surface of earthlike planets, then a particular species.
I have described four steps in the creative evolution of the universe. But there are no grounds for believing that the fourth level must necessarily be the last.