Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Cosmological Evolution: Spatial Relativity and the Speed of Life

arroba Email

I found this paper fascinating and well worth reading. Particularly interesting for me was the idea that phages (viruses that infect bacteria) are like a postal delivery system for biotic information. This is something I’ve proposed before except I’ve also included retroviruses that infect higher orders of life. I proposed it as an answer for ID skeptics asking about what mechanism might an intelligent designer use to direct the course of evolution.

The entire paper is available here. One of the authors (Sheldon) is a UD member and if we’re lucky he might be willing answer any questions you might have in the commentary.

Cosmological Evolution: Spatial Relativity and the Speed of Life

Robert B. Sheldon (a) and Richard B. Hoover (b)
(a) USRA/NSSTC, 320 Sparkman Dr., Huntsville, AL, USA;
(b) NASA/MSFC/NSSTC, 320 Sparkman Dr., Huntsville, AL, USA


Three recent discoveries support the existence of an extra-planetary, cometary biosphere that is capable of spanning the galaxy: 1) the discovery of ancient cyanobacterial fossils on carbonaceous chondrites, which are widely believed to be extinct comets, 2) the observations and theory that all short-period comets have irreversibly differentiated by melting and undergo periodic remeltings, and, 3) the observation that comets can accrete inner solar-system material, including spores from other infected comets. While no direct observation of sub-cellular, fossilized viruses exist, their ubiquity and proximity with cyanobacteria suggest that the proposed cometary biosphere also carries a full complement of bacteriophages. Recent work transcribing viral DNA of bacteriophages reveals an active horizontal transfer of genes though a vector that doesn’t itself bene t from the genes. Thus the cometary biosphere is capable of transporting genes throughout the galaxy that are not themselves expressed in space, suggesting that evolution may occur not just in time, but in space as well, making the Earth and its history less signifcant for a cosmological theory of evolution. That is, evolution is driven not by innovation, but by communication, albeit at a slow cometary speed and the transfer of a life ecosystem through a low bitrate channel can be modelled as a bootstrap process. Thus cometary evolution suggests that the history of earth represents the spatial relativity of a bootstrap process at the speed of life.

Keywords: comet, biosphere, cyanobacteria, astrobiology, panspermia, panzooia, microfossil, bootstrap, evolution

Magnan, Michael, Yes, the paper for Astrobiology Journal has been in the works for the past 2 years. However, there have been 11 years of papers in the SPIE proceedings, so there is no shortage of references. They are internet accessible, and can be tracked from the references in my paper, though SPIE charges a fee for downloading. The observation of these fossils in uncontroverted in those 11 years of papers mentioned above. If you read them, look at the photographs, and then try to understand the denial papers, you will be mystified that anyone could reject them who has looked at the data. The controversy stems either from (a) a Scientific American article in 1961 by Klaus and Nagy, or (b) a 1996 announcement of a Martian meteorite. Klaus and Nagy used a different approach to observe the same fossils in exactly the same meteorite, only they didn't use electron microscopes and therefore dissolved the fossils and observed only the keratogenous sheaths around them. The controversy that erupted is fascinating to study sociologically, but basically a fraudulent fraud was used to discredit the discoverers, one of whom left the field. (Indiscretions involving adultery were privately alleged.) Nevertheless, the findings were corroborated and never in dispute. It was a classic case of ad hominem character assassination. There the matter lay until 1996 when a Martian meteorite convinced several scientists at NASA/Johnson that they were observing life-altered rocks. This has also been disputed, though once again, the data are quite compelling. (The only reason Science published this meteorite paper was due again, to a salacious story concerning President Clinton's chief of staff and a hooker.) But it was this rock that began the 1997 SPIE conference on Astrobiology, and those proceedings are really the only forum where there has been free exchange of this data and its consequences. So why haven't Nature or Science published this material? It is a mystery that all of us in the field have tried to plumb. I have blogged extensively on the resistance in NASA to admit life on Mars, http://procrustes.blogtownhall.com/2008/08/22/mars_again.thtml but fossils on comets should have been resolved in 1961. Instead they have become a classic case of "cold fusion", a result known more for its non-existence than for its real data. Since we are all blogging on UD, such willful blindness is not unknown to any of us. So be of good cheer, it isn't just ID that gets the special treatment, its true of a whole class of "controversial" topics where the author's creds are more important than the author's data. Nullasalus, You have understood the paper correctly! You can also look at my blog: http://procrustes.blogtownhall.com/2008/08/20/chaos_despaired.thtml for my take on it. I wish I could direct you to the right passage of Aristotle, but to be honest, my knowledge is from secondary sources and sometimes tertiary. Stanley Jaki is a good philosopher / scientist who has written extensively on these topics. You might also peruse my old blog for posts on the subject. A paper I gave at a Wheaton sccience + theology conference can be found at: http://rbsp.info/rbs/RbS/HTML/Cosmo03/aug_paper.html sheldonr
Magnan, Certainly, definitive evidence of microscopic extraterrestrial life would warrant a front-cover paper in Nature or Science. Perhaps this is in the works. Michael Michael Tuite
Sheldonr, Again, brilliant paper. I'm still pondering a lot of what you say in here, and maybe you can help me out with something. It seems to me that a main claim of your paper is that for various reasons - the rate of change in evolutionary history (which, according to available data, features long periods of modest change spiked by sudden periods of rapid development), the presence and mechanism of horizontal gene transfer, and the potential for the introduction of information from outside earth makes Darwin irrelevant - since it knocks down competition/survival of the fittest, the earth as a closed system, and 'true' gradual development. Is this a fair assessment of one of your arguments? I'm still wrestling with the concept of teleology as you explain it - should I be reading up on aristotle or another source to better grasp what you're saying? I intended to do so anyway. I'm a non-scientist novice, but a lot of what you say here mirrors some inklings and suspicions I've had about evolution for awhile. nullasalus
"1) the discovery of ancient cyanobacterial fossils on carbonaceous chondrites..." This is controversial - there have been a number of alternate nonbiological explanations. They look like organisms to me (though much smaller than any bacteria), but the paper states the hypothesis as if it is an agreed to fact. magnan
Correction: to be published in "Instruments, Missions and Methods for Astrobiology XI" (2008) Proc. of the SPIE, eds. Hoover, R.B. et al. sheldonr
Published in the 2008 SPIE proceedings of conference "Instruments and Methods for Astrobiology X". Accessible at http://rbsp.info/rbs/RbS/PDF/spie08.pdf sheldonr
I liked it! Good read! how did you get to it? where was it published? IrrDan

Leave a Reply