Five years ago, I started pondering this question and people have clicked on this essay nearly a thousand times, making it the single most-viewed thing I’ve ever posted. I’d like to continue thinking out loud on the issue now that I’m older and the world has changed a bit...
Whether you are a far right Creationist or a far left Evolutionist, one thing is perfectly clear: complex life forms came before Humans and after planetary formation.
To be more specific, in Creation and Evolution, plant life came first:
“Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, a third day.” Genesis 1:11-13
“3.4 billion years of stromatolites demonstrating photosynthesis.” Timeline of Evolutionary History (Wikipedia)
Once photosynthesizing plant life was present, the atmosphere of Earth burgeoned and according to both Creation and Evolution, complex life forms developed in the oceans:
“Then God said, ‘Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures...’” Genesis 1: 20a (the Hebrews inserted the creation of the Moon in there just before plants and included birds along with aquatic life –but Genesis is a summary, and a poetic one at that. We grant great authors poetic license, what about God and Moses? The basic idea was right.)
“It was...during the Proterozoic that the first symbiotic relationships between mitochondria (for nearly all eukaryotes) and chloroplasts (for plants and some protists only) and their hosts evolved. The blossoming of eukaryotes such as acritarchs did not preclude the expansion of cyanobacteria; in fact, stromatolites reached their greatest abundance and diversity during the Proterozoic, peaking roughly 1200 million years ago. Classically, the boundary between the Proterozoic and the Phanerozoic eons...the first fossils of animals including trilobites and archeocyathids appeared. In the second half of the 20th century, a number of fossil forms have been found in Proterozoic rocks, but the upper boundary of the Proterozoic has remained fixed at the base of the Cambrian, which is currently placed at 542 Ma.” (Wikipedia, Proterozoic)
The same comparison of the Torah and evolutionary history can be performed for animal life.
I might also point out that the Hebrews had a strong foundation for the concept of DNA that was, while based on purely observational evidence, an idea they then applied to all life whether they’d seen it or not: “...plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind...” (Genesis 1:9); “...every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind...” (Genesis 1:21); and “Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1: 24-25) (If I may be permitted a bit of editorial license, I will add that God seemed to LIKE creating – once He was done, he pronounced each development good. Given that He had eternity to work with, I have little trouble imagining that He did this planetary seeding more than once. What are the arguments AGAINST such a belief?)
So – if I grant a bit of poetic license to Moses – and the evolutionary timeline is pretty well established in the mind of the scientific community, then I have to grant that given similar conditions (accidental for evolution, purposeful for God), there is good reason to BELIEVE that complex life exists elsewhere in the wide Universe.