Feature Article - December 2003
by Do-While Jones

Looking For Life on Mars

On August 27, Mars was closer to the Earth than it has ever been in recorded history. Therefore it was an optimal time to launch probes. Four of them will land on Mars within the next few weeks.

This newsletter is being mailed on December 19, just 6 days before the European probe Beagle 2 is scheduled to land on Mars. On January 4 and January 25 the NASA probes Spirit and Opportunity will land. There is also a Japanese probe, launched back in 1998, that is scheduled to arrive sometime in December. These probes are looking for signs of life on Mars.

Some people are upset with all the money that is being spent looking for life on Mars, but we aren’t. Science Against Evolution is pro-science. Space exploration advances science. Therefore, we are in favor of space exploration in general, and exploration of Mars in particular.

Reasonable people may disagree upon how limited funds can best be spent to advance science. We aren’t going to debate every decision that was made regarding what instruments to send into space, or where to send them, etc.; but we do take the position that space is an important scientific frontier that needs to be explored.

Funding

Science Against Evolution also realizes that popular projects will receive public funding, while other-perhaps more important- less glamorous projects won’t.

Lunar exploration is an example. The United States went to the Moon for two reasons. First, to beat the Russians (to prove capitalism is better than communism); and second, to find evidence of life. We won the race, communism fell, and we didn’t find any hint of life on the Moon. So, in many people’s minds, there is no reason to go back there. In fact, there is much more we could learn on the Moon 1, but lunar research isn’t being funded, because it doesn’t have popular support.

The search for the origin of life sells space programs. The space program received a much-needed boost in August, 1996, when NASA announced they found a meteorite from Mars with possible signs of life on it. Most scientists now believe that the supposed microfossils were just normal geologic formations. (See Microfossils Questioned in this month’s Evolution in the News.) But the announcement in 1996 raised hopes, and gave the space program a boost.

If the search for life is what is needed to fund space programs, so be it. Let’s go into space and see what we find.

Signs of Past Life

We don’t expect any of the probes to find life, and neither do the scientists who are sending them. Instead, the probes are looking for signs that life previously existed on Mars. They are looking for water and certain carbon compounds which might be associated with past life. We don’t know what the probes will find on Mars, but we do think that the probes will find some strange and mysterious things that will be worth learning about.

The worst that could happen is that they find absolutely no evidence of life, present or past. That will pretty much kill the Mars exploration program. The Viking missions of the 1970’s failed to find life. The Pathfinder rover mission in 1997 failed to find life. If these four probes come up empty, then enthusiasm for Mars exploration will drop to that of Moon exploration. So, we are really hoping that they find something controversial to keep the Mars exploration program alive.

What Does it Prove?

If the probes actually find past or present life, it just proves that life was or is there. It doesn’t prove how life got there. It could have been created by an intelligent designer, or it could have evolved. If there isn’t life on Mars, it could mean that an intelligent designer chose not to create life there, or it could mean that life didn’t happen to evolve there.

There is another possibility.

After firing bacteria-loaded projectiles into clay, Wayne Nicholson of the University of Arizona in Tucson and his colleagues argue that microbes could survive the extreme acceleration and shock forces experienced when a rock is blown into space by a major impact on a planetary surface. 2

Paul Davies expects to find earth-like life on Mars. He says,

If microbes can travel from Mars to Earth in rocks, they can go the other way, too. … It is therefore inevitable that life from Earth has reached Mars at some stage during its history. 3

Suppose, as I am claiming, that life-harboring material has been regularly exchanged between Earth and Mars; then these planets cannot be considered quarantined. Cross-contamination might have been going on since life first started. 4

Since evolutionists can’t find any plausible way that life began on Earth, they need to find some plausible way that life began on Mars, and traveled to Earth. If life can travel from Earth to Mars, then there is no reason it could not have traveled from Mars to Earth earlier.

Why Look For Life?

If you want to understand the real, driving motivation behind Mars exploration, you really have to read The Fifth Miracle by Paul Davies.

Paul Davies is openly anti-Christian. For example, he says,

When I was a youngster I was occasionally coerced into attending Sunday school, an ordeal which I hated. 5

When I was a teenager, I got mischievous enjoyment from arguing with Jehovah’s Witnesses. 6

If the world was created six thousand years ago, as many Christians once believed (and a few apparently still do), God would have been busy indeed shaping the present form of our planet, building mountains and oceans, scouring valleys, moving glaciers. 7

Statements like these give his book an (Ev+) rating (”contains strong evolutionary content, attacks special creation.”) as opposed to (Ev) (“presents evolution as fact”) or (Ev-) (“makes passing references to evolution or millions of years”).

A Rock and a Hard Spot

Davies defines science in such a way that excludes everything that isn’t naturalistic.

… it is not enough to know how life’s immense structural complexity arose; we must also account for the origin of biological information. As we shall see, scientists are still very far from solving this fundamental conceptual puzzle. Some people rejoice in such ignorance, imagining that it leaves room for a miraculous creation. However, it is the job of science to solve mysteries without recourse to divine intervention. Just because scientists are still uncertain how life began does not mean life cannot have had a natural origin. 8

Science rejects true miracles. Although biogenesis strikes many as virtually miraculous, the starting point of any scientific investigation must be that life emerged naturally, via a sequence of normal physical processes. 9

Given this prejudice, he is between a rock and a hard spot. Life must have begun naturally, but known physical laws don’t permit life to begin naturally. He spends page after page telling why all the naturalistic explanations for the origin of life are invalid. This book is a gold mine for creationists!

However, the current best guess for the Earth’s early atmosphere is that it was neither reducing nor oxidizing; rather it was a neutral mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen. These gases don’t readily yield amino acids. 10

… coupling amino acids together to form peptides is an uphill process. It therefore heads in the wrong direction, thermodynamically. … just throwing energy at the problem is no solution. 11

There is a more fundamental reason why the random self-assembly of proteins is a non-starter. This has to do not with the formation of chemical bonds as such, but with the particular order in which the amino acids link together. … The highly special information content of a protein represented by its specific amino-acid sequence implies a big decrease in entropy when the molecule forms. Again, the mere uncontrolled injection of energy won’t accomplish the ordered result needed. … So making proteins by randomly shaking amino acids runs into double trouble, thermodynamically. 12

But proteins are only a small part of the intricate fabric of life. There are lipids and nucleic acids and ribosomes, and so on. And here we hit yet another snag. … Thus, not only is there a mystery about the self-assembly of large, delicate, and very specifically structured molecules from an incoherent mêlée of bits, there is also the problem of producing, simultaneously, a collection of many different types of molecules. … If everything needs everything else, how did the community of molecules ever arise in the first place? 13

The job of explaining the origin of life goes beyond finding a plausible chemical pathway out of a primordial soup. We need to know, conceptually, how mere hardware can give rise to software. 14

Viewed this way, the problem of the origin of life reduces to one of understanding how encoded software emerged spontaneously from hardware. How did it happen? How did nature “go digital”? We are dealing here not with a simple matter of refinement and adaptation, an amplification of complexity, or even husbanding of information, but a fundamental change of concept. It is like trying to explain how a kite can evolve into a radio-controlled aircraft. Can the laws of nature as we presently comprehend them account for such a transition? I do not believe they can. 15 [italics in original]

Ultimately Davies comes to the conclusion that since there are no known natural laws which could cause life to arise, there must be some unknown natural laws that did it. He thinks that quantum mechanics might have something to do with it.

The second line of inquiry that may or may not have a bearing on biogenesis is rather more speculative. It involves quantum mechanics, the theory that describes the weird behavior of matter at the atomic level. … Could some sort of quantum-organizing process be just what is needed to explain the origin of informational macromolecules? 16

I concede that the ideas I have skimmed over in this section are highly conjectural, but the very fact that the problem of biogenesis prompts such speculation underscores how stubborn a mystery it is. 17

Not on Purpose!

Davies has another problem. He absolutely doesn’t want to admit the possibility that there is any guiding force whatsoever. If there is something that causes life to evolve anywhere the conditions support life, there is a possibility that the “something” in question might be some sort of god. That would mean that there are supernatural forces, and some meaning to life, which destroys his notion that natural forces are all that exist.

The tendency for life to evolve naturally, all by itself, is called “biological determinism.” Here is what he says about that.

Viewed in the light of the theory of computation, the problem of biogenesis appears just as perplexing as it does through the eyes of the physicist or chemist. And the difficulties are not purely technical. Thorny philosophical problems loom, too. Concepts like information and software do not come from the natural sciences at all, but from communication theory (see chapter 2), and involve qualifiers like context and mode of description--notions that are quite alien to the physicist’s description of the world. Yet most scientists accept that informational concepts do legitimately apply to biological systems, and they cheerfully treat semantic information as if it were a natural quantity like energy. Unfortunately, “meaning” sounds perilously close to purpose, an utterly taboo subject in biology. 18

According to the deterministic school of biology, which seems to dictate the prevailing view at NASA and is shared by most media commentators, life will automatically form in any Earth-like environment. … In claiming that water means life, NASA scientists … are saying, in effect, that the laws of the universe are cunningly contrived to coax life into being against the raw odds; that the mathematical principles of physics, in their elegant simplicity, somehow know in advance about life and its vast complexity. 19

If biological determinism is indeed confirmed by the discovery of alternative life beyond Earth, it will dramatically confound the orthodox paradigm, steeped as it is in Darwinian contingency. Orthodoxy insists that nothing in life is preordained, that biological evolution is a long series of meaningless, directionless accidents: there are no final causes. But if life is somehow inevitable, accidents of fate notwithstanding, a particular end is certain to be achieved; it is built into the laws. And “end” sounds suspiciously like “goal” or “purpose”--taboo words in science for the last century, redolent as they are of a bygone religious age.

The ramifications of finding life elsewhere in the cosmos are therefore profound in the extreme. They transcend mere science, and have an impact on such philosophical issues as whether there is a meaning to physical existence, or whether life, the universe, and everything are ultimately pointless and absurd. That is the momentous import of the search for life on Mars and beyond. That is why we should pursue that search as a matter of the highest priority. And that is why the panspermia theory is so crucial. To prove a bio-friendly universe, we have to know for sure that life has happened more than once, which means ruling out planetary cross-contamination as the explanation for any extraterrestrial organisms that may be discovered. Finding Earthlife on Mars would tell us nothing new about the origin of life. But if contamination can be discounted, just a single Martian microbe would transform forever our picture of the cosmos. 20

Others strongly object to biological determinism, too.

It’s All About Philosophy

So, this brings us back to the search for life on Mars. This is why money is spent on space exploration. It isn’t to learn about how things work. It is to answer philosophical questions about the meaning of life.

Sometimes the charge is made that creation scientists are so biased that they can’t be objective. But the insight that Davies gives us shows that evolutionists might have an ax to grind, too.

With hindsight, we can see that uniformitarianism was ideologically driven, a reaction against religious interpretations of nature. As a result, it has proved a remarkably stubborn doctrine. Evidence for sudden geological and biological upheavals was obvious for a long time, yet it was largely ignored. Those who drew attention to it tended to be dismissed as cranks. 21

He admits that geology and biology data are inconsistent with the uniformitarian idea that things change gradually. So, he needs a way to explain catastrophic changes that don’t involve a global flood. He believes it was done by meteors.

If Earth was pounded as fiercely as astronomers believe, and if surface organisms really were well established by 3.8 billion years ago, then life must have burgeoned almost as soon as the effects of the last sterilizing impact were over. This suggests either that life came from space, or that it emerged quickly once conditions were halfway reasonable. 22

Since he doesn’t want to believe that life was created by the God of the Bible, and he doesn’t want to believe that some other supernatural force is biased toward life, he chooses to believe that life evolved only once through some unknown natural process.

The primary purpose of The Fifth Miracle is to establish the idea that meteorites routinely transfer life from one planet to another. That means that even if life is discovered on some other planet, it is merely evidence of biological contamination, unless the discovered life is totally unlike any living thing on Earth.

The secondary purpose of the book is to establish the idea that even though conditions on Earth could not have led to the natural formation of living things, conditions on Mars may have been more favorable. Therefore, life on Earth may have come from Mars in the first place. (We evolved from Martian contamination. )

What Will We Learn?

We don’t know what will be learned from Mars exploration, but we expect the results to be similar to what we learn from science in general. The more we learn about biology, the less plausible the theory of evolution is. The more we learn about geology, the less plausible the theory of evolution is. The more we learn about DNA and all the chemical reactions that go on inside cells, and inside organisms, the less plausible the theory of evolution is.

We expect exploration of Mars to present the theory of evolution with new challenges. That’s why we are keeping the June and July editorial calendar open. This summer we should start seeing preliminary data analysis that argues against the theory of evolution. When we do, we will be sure to pass it along to you.

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Footnotes:

1 Dorminy, Discover, October 2003, “…or, let’s go to the moon (again)”, pages 64 - 65 (Ev-)
2 Science News, Vol 163, June 7, 2003, “Bulletproof bacteria”, page 366 (Ev)
3 Davies, The Fifth Miracle, 1999, page 237 (Ev)
4 ibid. page 238
5 ibid. page 44
6 ibid. page 195
7 ibid. page 153
8 ibid. page 31
9 ibid. pages 81-82
10 ibid. page 87
11 ibid. page 89
12 ibid. page 91
13 ibid. page 92
14 ibid. page 113
15 ibid. page 115
16 ibid. pages 260-261
17 ibid. page 263
18 ibid. page 121
19 ibid. page 246
20 ibid. pages 246-247
21 ibid. page 154
22 ibid. page 160