It is a common misconception that Origin-of-life (OOL) theories must entail the planet Earth. But there are many theories not on your waterfront that suggest that OOL did not occur on Earth somewhere between 3.85-3.65 billion years ago. After all, if it occurred somewhere else in the galaxy, it would have had more time, more space, more weird chemistry, more probabilistic resources, basically more of everything. Not that I believe more is better, we certainly could use less OOL discovery announcements, but there is a not-insignificant thread of scientists who have held this view, including Arrhenius, Crick, Hoyle, Wickramasinghe and now supported by the observations of Hoover. In the world of OOL research, I think Hoover’s observations are head-and-shoulders above all the competing observations, and are by far the best guide as to where future research should go.
And as an aside. The arsenic research was done by a friend of a friend, and I would like to defend Felisa’s reputation. It was not a scandal–no one was accused of fraud, manipulating data, lying, or misrepresentation. The “scandal” was that NASA got a breathless press release out of preliminary data that seemed to imply that Darwinism was false! By those standards, the entire multiverse field and this recent BICEP paper are far worse scandals.
No, what this whole accusation of “scandal” is about, is NASA bypassing the gatekeepers at Nature! That was the scandal, and hearing friends repeat it, friends who themselves have been libelled by the gatekeepers, hurts my sense of justice. Let’s reserve the word “scandal” for illegal and immoral behavior, and not allow ourselves to repeat the trash-talk of the gatekeepers.
Richard B. Hoover is an astrobiologist with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, associated with the idea that early life developed elsewhere than on Earth.
The attraction of the extraterrestrial origin idea (panspermia) is pragmatic: It addresses the serious problem of lack of time for supposedly random interactions on Earth to just happen to produce life within the window available. Many respected figures including Fred Hoyle and Francis Crick have taken it seriously.*
Unfortunately, the idea gets confused with the hunt for space aliens (I tell ye, Seamus, they’re OUT there!!), and the people who camp out on the White House lawn, convinced that the U.S. government is hiding same. Ironically, it actually belongs to pretty nearly the opposite approach—an attempt to inject a bit of researchableness into discussions that often end up on the fringes of science otherwise.
My own view (O’Leary for News) is that, instead of fooling around any longer with zinc world, pink world, and stink world, the researchers should try producing life in the lab. They’ll soon discover think world, where information matters, not just some plausible story.
But, of course success may be more evident when extraterretrial conditions are simulated, which would count as stronger support for panspermia than the simple lack of plausibility of Earth-based arguments. Thoughts?
(*It’s not a problem for Darwin’s more serious followers today because they will believe no matter what. If you told them the available window for origin of life was ten minutes, they would insist that natural selection could do it back in those days—back when hits counted but misses didn’t.)
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