Some SETI researchers are looking for intelligent design on Earth – by aliens! Paul Davies has written seriously about the possibility of “alien bioengineering” that could be detected in DNA. NASA’s tax-supported Astrobiology Institute gave the idea good press, apparently unaware that most SETI researchers and astrobiologists vociferously reject the theory of intelligent design.
Astrobiology Magazine describes itself as “a NASA-sponsored online popular science magazine. Our stories profile the latest and most exciting news across the wide and interdisciplinary field of astrobiology – the study of life in the universe.” Usually, its articles avoid SETI (in the past, a politically volatile topic for NASA), preferring the more general topic of how to find simple life on planets of other stars (or here in our own solar system). The episode for Astrobiology Magazine by Jeremy Hsu, though, dives right into SETI. The article summary states:
The search for intelligent alien life goes beyond SETI’s search for intergalactic radio signals. Some scientists are looking for evidence of technological footprints and biological clues embedded in the DNA of life on Earth.
Adorned by pictures from Hollywood’s E.T. character, 2001’s moon monolith, and radically hypothetical Dyson Spheres, the article explores the ideas of Paul Davies that aliens may have left their mark among us by bio-engineering life here on Earth long ago. DNA artifacts would last millions of years, he said, contrary to non-biological artifacts that geological forces would likely destroy in far less time.
To find non-natural DNA in creatures among us would require design detection. This is SETI for the common man. Davies says: “Citizen scientists and school students could pitch in to run genomic versions of SETI programs to find any such traces.” Davies also appeals to scientists. “My proposals aim to spread the burden from a small band of heroic radio astronomers to the entire scientific community,” he said. “Projects like genomic SETI are an attempt to complement radio SETI, not undermine it.” He also “wants scientists to broaden their thinking about how aliens could have left behind their mark.”
Hsu ended his article with a little touch of theological hope: “such a find could give more credibility to the idea that life has a good chance of arising when given the right circumstances, rather than simply being a one-time freak accident, Davies said. And that might make everyone feel a little less alone.”
Don’t you expect better from the federal government? Cartoony articles tossing a nod to Hollywood producers, and saying wacko things. On second thought…
These are the same people who are utterly intolerant of intelligent design, pumping out daily doses of Darwinian evolution in everything from scientific papers to children’s material. But the only way anyone could prove Davies’ wildly radical idea would be to use design detection methods to segregate intentional code from “natural” code (in their thinking, genetic code that miraculously appeared in primordial soup). Hsu wrote: “Scientists have already begun major efforts to find shadow biospheres [life built on biochemistry separate from that of Earth life forms], but of natural rather than artificial origins.”
So in order to find evidence of “alien bioengineering,” the global ID hunters would have to first be able to separate “natural” DNA from a genetic code that “emerged naturally” on another planet that found its way here, and then find a “shadow biosphere” that bears the imprint of intelligent causation. If you have read Signature in the Cell by ID advocate Stephen Meyer, you know that the same inferences are used in intelligent design theory to argue for a non-natural, non-random cause for the genetic code of all life. After weeding out natural law, chance, or any combination of the two, the only cause remaining is intelligence – the only cause which, in our common experience – is capable of ordering matter for function.
It must be lonely to be a secular scientist. Jeremy Hsu’s last line betrays the emotion that motivates SETI researchers and astrobiologists to find comfort in aliens. Everyone stalk for alien code and sing,
When you search through the code
Keep your chin up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the search
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of E.T.
Search on for E.T.,
Search on with I.D.,
Though your dreams take years unknown.
Search on, search on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never stalk alone,
You’ll never stalk alone.