Thursday, November 15, 2007

Take Me To Your Seeder

NASA made headlines yesterday, when it was reported that the space agency may have uncovered evidence that life on Earth actually originated on Mars. Here's an excerpt from the story:
"It may not be likely," NASA researcher David Morrison told National Geographic News, "but we cannot exclude the possibility that we are, in effect, all Martians."

Panspermia, or the idea that Earth was "seeded" by life from outer space, is centuries old but until lately has not had much scientific evidence to support it.
I have mentioned the concept of panspermia before, but let me offer a quick review. First of all, this idea is anything but "new," as even the author notes. What is new, is the reason that Naturalistic scientists promote it. And that reason is stunning.

Michael Behe points out, in his book, Darwin's Black Box, that peer-reviewed articles and research in the area of the origin of life is almost non-existent.
More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance.
The subject is so lacking any naturalistic explanation, the scientific community has punted it by splitting off origin of life studies from the rest of the Darwinian and neo-Darwinian Evolutionary models.

There are two basic forms of the panspermia in play. The first is labeled Directed Panspermia and basically sees life on Earth as an ongoing zoo experiment in which life was planted here by advanced aliens whose technological abilities go well beyond our ability to imagine or reproduce. Though it sounds goofy on the surface, that one is eerily similar to the Theistic Hypothesis. After all, we theists have no problem with the idea that a super-intellect not only planted us here but -- in the infamous words of atheist astronomer Fred Hoyle (he of Big Bang naming fame) -- that He has also "monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology."

The second form, and the one being championed here by NASA, is labeled Non-directed Panspermia. This is the notion that some primitive life form (bacteria etc.) evolved elsewhere but was transported to Earth by piggy-backing aboard a comet or meteor. This could be explained by the collision of such an entity with a life-inhabited planet, the force of which would expel debris that escaped the planet's gravitational field. Having escaped, the rock on which the bacteria was riding collides with Earth and serves to "seed" it for further evolution.

There are big problems with this theory. Not the least of which is the ability of the life form to survive such a journey. In the study cited we find that:
A team led by John Parnell from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland embedded fossilized microbes into a fake meteorite strapped to the exterior of the Russian Foton M3 scientific-research probe, which went into orbit on Sept. 26 and came back to Earth 12 days later.

"In the bit of rock we got back, some biological compounds have survived," Parnell told National Geographic News.
Please note: The embedded microbes returned 12 days later, while only some survived. Though this data doesn't preclude the possibility of non-directed panspermia, it does highlight the utter improbability that any form of life could survive the thousands, if not millions, of years it would take for such a cosmic hitchhiker to reach the Earth -- even from our closest neighbors outside the solar system.

Though directed panspermia poses an even more unlikely scenario (because the highly intelligent zookeepers would also have to survive for so long), even the undirected variety has to find a way to overcome the intense ultraviolet (and other forms of radiation) that permeates outer space, as well as the lack of a life-sustaining environment aboard its transporter through the interstellar vacuum. There are other reasons to doubt that such a thing could occur, but here's the clincher ...

Saying life "evolved" elsewhere and was then transported here does nothing to solve the origin of life problem! It only pushes the question back another level. One still has to overcome all the barriers that a naturalistic explanation for evolution has not been able to overcome here on Earth. Always remember, the smoke screen of panspermia is a tacit admission that Naturalistic scientists cannot answer the real question of the origin of life. Hiding behind this theory does nothing to remove them from that failure.

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