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Uncommon Descent Contest Question 15: Can Darwinism – or any evolution theory – help us predict life on other planets? – Winner announced


This one is for people interested in theories about life on other planets.

At Britain’s Telegraph (November 04, 2009), Tom Chivers advises that “Darwinian evolutionary theory will help find alien life, says Nasa scientist.”

We learn two competing views:

And so the limits of Darwinian evolution will define the range of planets that can support life – at least Earth-like life.”


… alien life may not be entirely Earth-like. Dr Baross said: “I’d like to point out there are many different ways for non-Earth-like life to not use light or chemical energy but use some other form like radiation energy, wave energy, or ultraviolet energy.”

And then how can we know that they proceed by Darwinian evolution?

More “here.

So, for a free copy of the Privileged Planet DVD, about the uniqueness of Earth, provide the clearest and most useful answer to this question: Would any theory about the evolution of life on Earth predict the course of life on other planets, and if so which one and why? More re contest here.

Before I announce the winner, I would like to thank Access Research Network for kindly offering a shelf of books by mathematician David Berlinski – a self-confessed Darwin skeptic and widely enjoyed wit – as prizes for future contests. You can view their catalogue here.

The winner is

GFrancis for this post at 24:

Pure science predicts; forensic science reconstructs. If we are to use earthly evolution theory as a predictive tool we will need to break down the findings of evolutionary biology into its constituent parts.

The modern evolutionary synthesis is based upon three distinct disciplines and these can be informally described as: the study of life, its common features and relationships; the study of changes, principally changes within the DNA; and the study of the development of complex information systems that is the earthly code of life. While relationships between life forms on earth have been clearly established and DNA manipulations are now common place, the development of complex information is a subject that has so far totally eluded the understanding of pure science.

The failure of SETI to cast any light on the subject has forced science to predict life on other plants by the presence of necessary components: water and a usable energy source such as a suitable star. This deductive method, of course, fails as it does not include the other necessary component of life: the development of complex information – assuming other life in the universe will be at least that much similar to life on earth. So the problem of life throughout the universe
is the same as that on earth – complex information and how it can be generated.

It is here that entropy comes into the question – this degradative feature of the natural world where mathematics and observation concur – how can random events produce a coherent, broad-ranging, multi-level, interdependent, flexible, life system. The given answer, based upon a 150 year-old theory – that randomness is refined as a result of a step-by-step process and small feature differences selected on the basis of a positive outcome – is not supported by mathematics, logic or indeed laboratory observations.

Over a hundred thousand experiments on life forms ranging from fruit flies to micro-organisms have failed to support evolution’s main theses.

Perhaps this fascination with other life in the universe is the fault of theists. They frequently highlight the marvel and uniqueness of planet earth and its resulting life. Extraterrestrial life has therefore become a battle cry for atheists – if life can be shown to be ubiquitous within the universe then the final nail can be hammered into the concept of God (pun intended). But there is no religious imperative or Biblical requirement for life on earth to be unique.

What I liked was GFrancis’s recognition that it is the origin of the high level of information in life that needs explaining. The recent discovery of the extremophiles shows that life forms can exist in a wide variety of circumstances – too hot, too cold, to acidic, too alkaline, too dry – but they all have lots of complex specified information. Thus, the mere fact that other planets might differ from ours is not an – in principle – objection to life forms occurring there. The key question is, what factors truly create high levels of complex, specified information? When we know that, we will have something to work with.

Darwinists adhere to an occult, and never really demonstrated, belief that high levels of information really do arise by small accretions without guidance or intelligence. It obviously can’t be true, for the same reason as Ponzi schemes can’t indefinitely work. But Darwinists get a salary for believing it, and for suppressing criticism.

GFrancis needs to provide me with a valid postal address at oleary@sympatico.ca, in order to receive the prize.

As always so far, this is a most interesting discussion, and thanks to all posters. Time pressures forbid me to comment on all posts. Some comments on other posts:

Cannuckian Yankee at 4 points out,

Since Darwinism suggests that life evolves without a plan or goal, it would be difficult for Darwinism to predict any condition that would precede its processes. If I don’t know where Darwinian evolution is going, I really cannot know where Darwinian evolution has been apart from a presumption of the fact of Darwinian evolution. Furthermore, If I can’t predict how Darwinian evolution got started in the first place, then it would be difficult to even attempt a prediction of what Darwinism might be able to do on a planet where it currently has not occurred.

Well, Cannuckian, Darwinian evolution is obviously a conservative force in nature. To the extent that it is active, it trims off life forms that cannot survive in a given ecology. That could be true on Earth or on a planet orbiting the Alpha Centauri system. Thus, if life forms on a given planet must cope with a high level of arsenic and bdellium, we can predict that, where Darwinian evolution is a factor, those that cannot cope will die. In other words, the fittest survive. What this doesn’t explain is how all the information got to be there in the life forms – successes or failures – in the first place.

Note: Conceivably, in a given environment, Darwinian evolution might be a very minimal factor in evolution. As the old proverb states, “a rising tide floats all boats.” Where food is abundant and predators few, it may be ineffectual – until that circumstance gives way to privation and predation, at which point it kicks in big time. But these circumstances vary over time and place.

Adrian Bejan at 11 offers a Constructal Law, which I will leave to those better able to evaluate it. I am not sure it is wises to assume that it applies to extremophiles. If they demonstrate anything, it is this: One must be cautious about posting laws that all life forms must follow.

Thanks to Collin at 19 for referencing Star Trek Next Generation’s Data:

Data, as his name suggests, is full of information and functionally equivalent to a life form. It is interesting to consider whether such a creature could ever be constructed, and whether that would be a good idea. It reminds me of Canadian science fiction writer Rob Sawyer’s admonition that bringing back a pre-human, if possible, would be cruel. It would have no clear status, and thus no way of benefitting from human society, either as a human or a domestic animal.

If you would like to enter future contests, periodically announced, here are the contest rules, not many. Winners receive a certificate verifying their win as well as the prize. Winners must provide me with a valid postal address, though it need not be theirs. Names are never added to a mailing list. Have fun!


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