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Did Life Originate on Earth or in the Cosmos? Part 2


Astrophysicist Hugh Ross writes:

In last week’s post, “Did Life Originate on Earth or in the Cosmos? Part 1,” I described how an international, interdisciplinary team of 33 scientists exposed the shortcomings of an Earth-based naturalistic model for the origin and 3.8-billion-year history of life on Earth. In this week’s sequel, I will describe the strengths and shortcomings of what the team proposes to be the only naturalistic alternative to an Earth-based origin and history of life.

Cometary (Cosmic) Biology
Much of the team’s 21-page paper is an update on the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe (H-W) panspermia model. Astronomer Fred Hoyle (1915–2001) was the founder of the modern theory of panspermia. Mathematician and astronomer Chandra Wickramasinghe joined Hoyle in the 1970s and produced spectra demonstrating that interstellar dust is richly endowed with carbonaceous molecules.

The thesis of the H-W panspermia model holds that life was seeded on Earth by life-bearing comets as soon as conditions on Earth permitted life to survive. The model further states that comets have—both continuously and in sporadic bursts—delivered genes, viruses, bacteria, eukaryotic cells, and even fertilized ova and seeds to Earth throughout the past four billion years. Therefore, according to the model, such continuous delivery explains the evolution of life on Earth, including the emergence of human beings, pandemics, epidemics, and new diseases.

The team noted that the Cambrian explosion was “a sudden emergence of essentially all the genes that subsequently came to be rearranged into an exceedingly wide range of multi-celled life forms.”6 They argued that copying errors (mutations) of existing genes cannot produce new genes with functional utility in the same manner that errors generated in copying a computer code will not lead to new software capabilities but rather to serious degradation in the computer code.7

They conclude, therefore, that the new genes that appeared in the Cambrian explosion “must logically be supplied by the ingress of extraterrestrial virions [viruses] and other microorganisms.”8 Specifically, the researchers claim that at the time of the Cambrian explosion, comets brought an intense rain of retroviruses upon Earth’s surface. These retroviruses, in combination with horizontal gene transfer, they aver, were responsible for the sudden, simultaneous appearance of new phyla and classes of life that mark the Cambrian explosion.

Case against Panspermia
The panspermia hypothesis is founded on the assumption that life exists throughout our galaxy and likely throughout the entire universe. The assertion as “modern fact” by the researchers that “hundreds of billions of habitable planets exist in the galaxy alone” is based on two assumptions: (1) the only requirement for habitability is that a planet could conceivably possess liquid water on part of its surface for part of its history, and (2) all red dwarf stars, which comprise at least 75% of the stars in our galaxy, are candidates to host habitable planets.

I have written several articles explaining why red dwarf stars cannot possibly host habitable planets,9 and I provide a more thorough demonstration in my next book, Designed to the Core.10 Furthermore, the 33 researchers are incorrect in assuming that temporal liquid water on a planet is the only habitability requirement. For a planet or moon to be truly habitable it must simultaneously reside in all 13 known planetary habitable zones.11 The planet or moon also must simultaneously reside in the known galactic and supergalactic habitable zones.12 For just the habitable zones discovered so far, the probability of a planet or moon residing in all of them, without invoking miraculous divine intervention, is indistinguishable from zero. Furthermore, habitability requires a planet-moon system nearly identical to the Earth-Moon system, both in its origin and its physical characteristics.13

As proof for their cometary (cosmic) biology model, the researchers claim that spectra of interstellar dust match the spectra of a mixture of semi-bituminous coals and desiccated E. coli bacteria. This “match,” the team concluded, stands as evidence that life is ubiquitous throughout our galaxy and likely other galaxies as well. But the team failed to acknowledge that astronomers are unable to distinguish the spectra of dozens of simple carbonaceous molecules found in many interstellar molecular clouds from the laboratory spectra of desiccated bacteria or a mixture of coals and bacteria. Spectra of interstellar molecular clouds only show that about 135 different carbonaceous molecules are present in these clouds at low abundance levels (a few parts per million per molecule or less). Even at abundance levels below 1 part per billion, astronomers have yet to detect any amino acids, nucleobases, or 5- or 6-carbon sugars. That is, not even the “building blocks of the building blocks” of life molecules are present in interstellar space at anything close to the needed abundance levels.19

What’s Left?
The most important scientific contribution the researchers made was to show—beyond any reasonable doubt—the impossibility of a naturalistic origin of life on Earth. They also demonstrated that a naturalistic, Earth-based progression of life from bacteria to large-bodied animals to humans is not possible. They correctly discern that the only naturalistic alternative to the origin and development of life on Earth is their panspermia model of cometary (cosmic) biology. However, their naturalistic model is no more viable than the naturalistic models they proved intractable.

Reading the 21-page paper reminded me of what I witnessed toward the end of the last day of the 1999 International Conference on the Origin of Life/International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life Conference. A scientist came to the Q&A/comment microphone to tell the assembled origin-of-life researchers that during the conference various speakers had ruled out Earth, Mars, the other solar system bodies, and panspermia as possible explanations for the origin of life. The only possible explanation that remained, the scientist asserted, was directed panspermia—aliens must have come in spaceships and deposited life on Earth. This scientist’s conclusion was met with dead silence.

Read the rest of the article and find the references at Reasons to Believe.

Dr. Ross concludes that the “alien” who delivered life to Earth is consistent with the God of the Bible.

CD @11: Not sure what you are getting at, but not all "fine tunings" are the same. While some may be projections as I stated, but others clearly are not. The initial conditions and the physical constants in the Universe are the hard-core fine tunings that everyone agrees are impressive and unexplained naturalistically. For the Universe to be flat and thereby remain stable for billions of years, the initial conditions have to be very finely tuned. Any tiny shift one way or other and the Universe would either rapidly implode back on itself, or expand so rapidly that nothing but isolated particles could exist. It is hard (impossible?) to think how any form of life could exist under either of those results. If any of perhaps a dozen physical constants were different, then the Universe would be very different indeed; e.g. no elements beyond hydrogen, or no stars/planets/galaxies, or everything is black holes, or other drastic differences. There too it is difficult to conceive of life existing. Those fine tunings are fundamental, while others such as the size of the moon, the amount of oxygen in the air, the open skies around our solar system, and various other secondary "tunings" are less important (or less obviously so) to the possibility of life - although I'm sure Hugh Ross and others would disagree. Fasteddious
Fasteddious/10 It's all "anthropomorphic projection." After all, God knows when even the tiniest sparrow falls to earth... chuckdarwin
While I generally like Hugh Ross and agree with his overall theme, "methinks the [man] doth protest too much". While the ID argument based on fine tuning is valid, I have a suspicion that Ross is finding "fine tuning" under every rock and branch he looks at (almost literally). One can't help feel that many of his later "fine tunings" are mere anthropomorphic projection, and that some of them could be denied or omitted with only minor effects on life as we know it. I confess I have no specific examples, but the shear number of his supposed fine tunings raises doubts in my mind. Sort of like the scientist who keeps pushing research just to get more funding, even when it lost its usefulness a few papers ago. Not to deflate any balloons, but I think Hugh Ross would do better to select a couple dozen of his fine tunings to focus on, to show how fine and how essential they truly are. Oh wait, I do have an example: one of Ross' reports was about how the Earth is special because it has lots of Zinc; an essential nutrient for life. One has the suspicion that if the Earth had not had lots of Zinc then life (or the designer) would have found a way forward without Zinc. Fasteddious
Seversky/1 Dave, please, Dave. I'm sorry, Dave, but I'm afraid I can't do that. This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.... --HAL 9000 Love it... chuckdarwin
Jerry at 7, I know the caricature of the Creationist. Uneducated, with a just as it reads in the Bible interpretation of events. Basically, God created the world in six literal days and rested on the seventh. There is no reason to believe God could not do that. On the other hand, there are those who go to great lengths to 'prove' billions of years on unsubstantiated evidence. If scientists saw thousands of loaves and fishes being distributed they would have no scientific explanation. Or raising the dead or cleansing the lepers. Science has built an impenetrable wall around itself and only regards things it can take into the lab and study. At best, religion and religious belief has been downgraded to a Darwinian survival mechanism 'invention' only. At worst, believers are irrational people who believe in nothing. Meanwhile, I am sick and tired of ID being presented as a movement as if ID people carry protest signs. Design is the correct answer, not everything happened by accident, including human beings. Those who are against ID think it's a religious idea as opposed to the kind of observations scientists do. It rests upon the statement by Richard Dawkins that tells people that living things only look designed, they are not actually designed - because that would imply a Designer - an Intelligence. The fear is that people accept actual design and name God as the designer. Can't have that. relatd
according to the creationists
Please define “creationist.” I consider myself a creationist and believe the universe was created roughly 13.8 billion years ago. Whoever, created our universe was an extremely powerful and intelligent entity and certainly had the capability of creating all the genomic information needed. And while Noah may have been a real person and a catastrophic flood an actual event he and his immediate family were extremely unlikely to be the only survivors. I believe people were living in the high Andes at the likely time. I love this cartoon: https://gath.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/noahs-ark-and-the-dinosaurs.jpg Aside: it’s interesting to see how anti ID people mix their arguments. They acknowledge/accept for the sake of argument their opponents postulates on an all powerful creator, then say this all powerful creator doesn’t exist because of the natural processes created limits what can be done. Does one have to constantly espouse non-sequiturs in order to be anti ID? If our small sample of them is representative then the entire anti ID movement is based on faulty logic. So what else is new? jerry
Seversky at 5, You were created Seversky, along with every other human being. You will meet the one who made you. relatd
I thought this was interesting on the question of new genetic information.
See, according to the creationists, all humans alive today are descended from 8 people who got off a Really Big Boat. Anyone who understands junior high genetics will know that 8 people have between them a maximum possible of 16 different alleles for each genetic locus (in reality, the 8 people on the Big Boat would have had even FEWER, since some of them were descended from others and thus shared alleles, but for the sake of argument we will give the creationists every possible benefit of the doubt and assume that they were ALL heterozygous and shared no alleles at all in common). That means, if the creationists are correct that "most mutations are deleterious" and that "no new genetic information can appear through mutation", there can not be any human genetic locus anywhere today with more than 16 alleles, since that is the MAXIMUM that could have gotten off the Big Boat. But wait ---------- today we find human genetic loci (such as hemoglobin or the HLA complex) that have well over *400* different alleles (indeed some have over *700* different alleles). Hmmmm. Since there could have only been 16 possible on the Big Boat, and since there are over 400 now, and since 400 is more than 16, that means that somehow the GENETIC INFORMATION INCREASED from the time they got off the Big Boat until now. That raises a few questions ----- if genetic mutations always produce a LOSS in information, like the creationists keep telling us, then how did we go from 16 alleles to over 400 alleles (perhaps in creationist mathematics, 400 is not larger than 16)? if these new alleles did not appear through mutations, then how DID they get here? But wait -- there's more: Not only, according to creationists, must these new alleles have appeared after the Big Boat, but, according to their, uh, "theory", all of these mutations must have appeared in the space of just *4,000 years* -- the period of time since the Big Flood. That gives a rate of BENEFICIAL MUTATIONS, which add NEW GENETIC INFORMATION, of one every 10 years, or roughly two every generation ------- a much higher rate of beneficial mutation than has ever been recorded anywhere in nature. Nowhere today do we see such a rate anywhere near so high. So not only would I like to know what produced this extraordinarily high rate of non-deleterious mutations, but what stopped it (indeed, what stopped it conveniently right before the very time when we first developed the technological means to study it)? But wait --- we're not done YET . . . . . . Since less than 1% of observed mutations are beneficial (the vast majority of mutations are indeed deleterious or neutral and have no effect), that means for every beneficial mutation which added a new allele, there should have been roughly 99 others which did not. So to give us roughly 400 beneficial mutations would require somewhere around 40,000 total mutations, a rate of approximately 100 mutations in each locus EVERY YEAR, or 2,000 mutations per locus for EACH GENERATION. Do you know what we call people who experience mutation rates that high? We call them "cancer victims". But wait, we're STILL not finished . . . . . . In order for any of those mutations to be passed on to the next generation to produce new alleles, they MUST occur in the germ cells -- sperm or egg. And since any such high rate of mutation in a somatic cell (non-sperm or egg) would have quickly produced a fatal case of cancer, if the creationists are right this mutation rate could ONLY have occurred in the germ cells and could NOT have occurred in any of the somatic cells. If one of our resident creationists can propose a mechanism for me which produces a hugely high rate of mutation in the germ cells while excluding it from any other cells, a Nobel Prize in medicine surely awaits --- such information would be critically valuable to cancer researchers. But alas, no such mechanism exists. The rate of mutations made necessary by creationist "arguments" would certainly have killed all of Noah's children before they even had time to have any kids of their own. In order to produce 400 beneficial alleles in just 4,000 years, humanity would have been beset with cancers at a rate that would have wiped them all out millenia ago. Explain, please . . . .
Sounds like Noah's Ark is even less seaworthy than was thought. Seversky
Life originated in New Jersey
In a month our family will be going to the South Jersey shore for our annual summer vacation. Life is indeed good there. Aside: I used to live on the Monopoly board in Marven Gardens. It’s one of the yellow properties. jerry
Life originated in New Jersey :) relatd
It makes no difference where life originated. Denton has shown that there are specific conditions for complex life to thrive. The Earth is a perfect place for that to happen. The origen of proteins issue.
They argued that copying errors (mutations) of existing genes cannot produce new genes with functional utility in the same manner that errors generated in copying a computer code will not lead to new software capabilities but rather to serious degradation in the computer code
Well, there goes Darwin. jerry
Actually, I lean towards a large black monolith. It makes about as much sense as any other story and has a much better soundtrack. Seversky

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