For Uncommon Descent, by archivist Matthew Cochrane:
Intelligent Design is by definition the idea that intelligence and conscious activity best explain the design we see in the natural world. While there are various opinions as to who or what this designing intelligence is, the modern intelligent design movement does not focus on identifying the intelligence. In recent years, several movies have suggested that life was seeded on the earth by an extraterrestrial intelligence. This theory is called directed panspermia.
This summer’s Ridley Scott film Prometheus posits that life began as the result of intelligence. This creative cause, however, is not God but rather an alien race, the “Engineers.” An alien visitor sacrificed himself so that his DNA could start life on Earth. Later in the movie it is revealed that human DNA is identical to that of the Engineers – a bizarre twist on the idea the human beings were made in the image of God. It’s not a new idea for filmmakers. In Mission to Mars (2000), the first astronauts on Mars learn the startling truth that Martians escaping from their dying planet seeded the first DNA on lifeless Earth, resulting in the Cambrian explosion. Fast forward to human beings.
The idea that extraterrestrials are responsible for life on Earth also made an unexpected appearance in the 2008 documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Towards the end, Richard Dawkins a admits to Ben Stein that nobody knows how life started. He then proceeds to explain that extraterrestrial intervention may have been needed in order to bring about the first living cell from inanimate matter.
In other words, many atheists agree with theists that the origin of life is the result of an intelligent plan, not a series of very lucky unguided chemical reactions and accumulated mistakes over the millennia. They differ in who they attrribute the plan to and why. Francis Crick, who along with James Watson discovered the double helix structure of the DNA molecule, is famous for saying “biologists must constantly remind themselves that what they see was not designed but evolved.” Yet, Crick also believed that life had to have been seeded on planet earth by aliens. Fred Hoyle, one of the greatest cosmologists of the 20th Century also outlined his belief in directed panspermia in his 1983 book The Intelligent Universe.
In other words, the frustrating inability of Darwinian theory to unravel the mystery of how life began has caused many of its sympathizers to look elsewhere. SETI or the Search for Extraterrestrial Life has been searching for 50 years for evidence of technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations. Despite their best efforts, no evidence has been found for life anywhere in the universe except on Earth.
If Darwinian theory cannot explain the origin of life and there is no evidence that there were ever extraterrestrial civilizations, the possibility that life could be the intended result of a designing intelligence beyond nature is likely. Why not suppose that God directly acted at various points in geologic history to produce the vast gaps that we see in the fossil record. If we just take the fossils as face value, it appears that biological forms simply pop into existence without obvious evolutionary precursors. To me this would make more sense than bringing in extraterrestrial genetic engineers to explain life and the big gaps in the fossil record.
The introduction of DNA or the creation of the first cell by aliens is a design friendly concept
and movies like Prometheus and Mission to Mars are movies about intelligent design. Yet they are characteristic of the current cultural trend that is seeking to find explanations for life’s big questions without theism. Directed panspermia relies on an advanced extraterrestrial civilization that has evolved by Darwinian processes with the capability to travel beyond it’s homeworld and to the stars. If that is true then who or what is responsible for the design we see in the universe, and who created the universe? Directed panspermia is a turtles all the way down argument. Despite current hostility to orthodox religious views, scientific findings seem to be leading us back to the idea of a self-existent, intelligent designer beyond nature who is responsible for life.
Memo to NYT reviewer re Prometheus: Creationism for geeks is still creationism
Wired’s Prometheus reviewer way behind the curve on “space aliens created life” theory (She writes as if it is a new idea.)
Prometheus: Maybe critics prefer stupid movies that people over 14 don’t care about?