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Physicist Rob Sheldon thinks extraterrestrial origin of life is unfairly dismissed

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Rob Sheldon:

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.)

See also: Science-Fictions-square.gif The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (cosmology) and The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (origin of life)

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10 Replies to “Physicist Rob Sheldon thinks extraterrestrial origin of life is unfairly dismissed

  1. 1
    Joe says:

    In a designed universe ETs make sense. For example in “The Privileged Planet” we get the following from Chapter 16:

    14) You haven’t shown that ETs don’t exist.

    “This is true, but we did not intend to. In fact, ironically, design might even improve the possibility of ETs.”

  2. 2
    Andre says:

    This is my view and only mine. If materialism is true then sure the universe is possibly teeming with life everywhere. But if the bible is true and Jesus died on the cross for our salvation then there can only be life on this pale blue dot. I can’t see a God giving himself up a million times to save a million planets. The idea life everywhere conflicts with the once in a universe event of the resurrection. I believe the resurrection to be true purely because nobody has been able to refute it.

  3. 3
    Joe says:

    Andre, You said it- Jesus died for our, this planet’s humans, salvation, not any of the ET’s salvation. Perhaps not all of them needed saving.

    But this whole universe, just for us? Really? So I take it you disagree with all the UFO references in the Bible?

  4. 4
    drc466 says:

    The origin of life as an exterrestial event is the dark matter/energy of OOL. There isn’t any positive evidence for e.t. life, just the negative evidence that there isn’t enough time on earth, lack of workable terrestial hypotheses, etc.
    Also, e.t. origin would require the abiogenesis not just of cellular life, it would have to be a form of life that can survive vacuum, extreme solar radiation, lack of biochemical resources to “live” on, and also survive entry to and adaptation to our atmosphere. So, it has all the OOL Problems+. Also, it is inherently unreproduceable. So, unless they are saying that some form of intelligent E.T. carefully seeded earth with life (even bigger bag of worms), it makes the OOL problem worse, not better.

    For now, ET OOL goes on the shelf next to multiverses.

  5. 5
    Andre says:


    They could very well be references to UFO’s but they could very well also not be. I have never seen a UFO have you?

    I have a finite mind but I just can not see why there would be millions of resurrections… it makes it trivial.

    Crazy as this maybe to you,I think the universe is just big enough for one planet who has moral free agents. To be able to operate freely. Call me crazy and of course I could be dead wrong and I’m willing to admit that.

    The resurrection was a once in the universe event.

  6. 6
    Andre says:

    I mean does anybody know what the total cost is to have creatures with free will? What do we require for 1 moral free agent to be able to use his free will? Then how much would we need for 7 billion? I suspect you require an entire universe just for 1.

  7. 7
    fossil says:

    I suppose it is alright if this nonscientist puts his two mites in. Since I am a creationist who supports the arguments of ID my view will be more biblical than scientific.

    In the Bible there are two things to consider, the creation account found in Genesis which speaks of life as we know it on earth and angels which are not mentioned in that story. Besides that observation there is this speaking about earth, “To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone,
    7 When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:6-7 NKJV). Then there is the discussion between God and Satan, “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan1 also came among them” (Job 1:6 NKJV) where others were present. Such a meeting is never mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. Because of these things, as a Christian, I have to assume that life outside of earth exists and that it existed before the story of creation of life on earth in Genesis.

    To be honest about it I don’t think a controversy over extraterrestrials is beneficial to ID. What is important is the very highly specified information found in life which science has to account for which materialists are presently choking on. The only viable answer I see is purposeful design. To me it doesn’t matter how much time materialists say it took, the kind of information ID talks about is so unlikely under any circumstance that materialists are trying to scale up a vertical infinitely high wall. That I think is where we need to be even thought ET is interesting to consider.

  8. 8
    Eric Anderson says:

    The additional time is a rounding error. The additional resources in space come with their own set of unique problems.

    No, the primary benefit of suggesting life originated elsewhere and then came to Earth is that you can talk in vague terms, in broad generalities, in what-if’s and could-have’s, without needing to be very specific or get into too many details. In other words, it looks good on paper as long as we don’t ask too many questions.

    One Earth we’ve got relatively concrete conditions, so you have to start dealing with real issues and facts. With panspermia and other extraterrestrial ideas it is much more of a “Gee, who knows? Maybe it could have happened somewhere out there in the great unknown.”

    Logically, it could turn out to be the case that life in fact originated elsewhere and then came to Earth. But moving the origin of life into space doesn’t address any of the real fundamental problems, including the origin of information in biology.

    To imply, as so many do, that moving the problem off the Earth into the vastness of space somehow makes the wildly improbable into something probable demonstrates a naievete and a lack of understanding of the real issues involved.

  9. 9
    Robert Byers says:

    It is FAIRLY dismissed. its a waste of thought to speculate on things entirely based on guessing unless one believes the bible.
    God breathed upon the earth and this alone brought life. further the fall would affect life out there and that would be unfair by Gods standards.
    Nope . We are alone in this reality. The outer space is just undeveloped real estate for a original plane of mankind liveing eternally in this universe and breeding eternally.
    By this time we should of had 60 billion people alive and headed for a trillion.
    also talking to each other from close solar systems and not merely from around this globe.
    Truly paradise lost.

  10. 10
    Bob Enyart says:

    Hmm. Aliens didn’t create man, man created aliens. 🙂 It seems that the entire panspermia argument is one of punting. Rob Sheldon wrote that, “if it occurred somewhere else in the galaxy, it would have had more time…” More time? The same evidence precluding life from forming here applies elsewhere, and while BB cosmology alleges that some other planet might have existed at most *three times* longer than Earth (that’s it), the mere statistical hurdles presented by a “simple” biological organism assembling through chance chemical interactions is an orders-of-magnitude problem, with trillions and trillions of universes enduring trillions of times longer than ours still vastly insufficient for the task. Further, because life is information based, no merely material entity can create information. (Computers manipulate physical representations of information and are tools of sentient beings.)

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