A second article proposes life began on Mars, prompting some observers to point out the failures of naturalistic origin-of-life theories.
After Steven Benner proposed Mars for the origin of ribose last month (“You Are Not a Martian,” 8/28/13), Christopher Adcock (U of Nevada) pointed out another problem with Earth-based life: phosphate doesn’t dissolve readily in water here (see New Scientist and Space.com). Since Martian phosphates dissolve more readily, maybe life originated on Mars. New Scientist was quick to point out a contradiction:
Both studies have brought renewed attention to the idea that life on Earth was seeded from space, a theory known as panspermia. However, they can’t both be right. One idea requires Mars to be covered in liquid water, while the other needs it to be as dry as a desert.
The two articles revealed a little-known difficulty with origin-of-life research: the “phosphate problem.” Adcock had nothing but the possibility that phosphate, an essential ingredient in life as we know it, dissolves much more readily on Mars than on Earth because of its chemical form. Space.com quotes him,
“I don’t think our results have any direct bearing on the theory that terrestrial life may have begun first on Mars, other than that our results suggest phosphate for potential biologic reactions may have been more available on Mars — that the ‘phosphate problem’ may not have been as significant there,” Adcock said.…
“We haven’t discovered life on Mars, nor have we presented evidence that it existed there,” Adcock cautioned. “However, we have shown that one potential roadblock for life to arise on Mars may not be such a roadblock after all.”
New Scientist pointed out the contradiction in Martian environments favored by Benner and Adcock, then caught Benner admitting that the phosphate problem and the ribose problem both rule out the origin of life on Earth, despite his warm feelings:
Benner is more sanguine about the situation. He says that Adcock’s team is looking at Martian chemistry for the same reason he is: to solve a chemical problem that geologists tell us could not have been solved on early Earth.
“Just like RNA requires ribose, it also requires phosphate. Just as geologists tell us that we cannot get conditions on early Earth where ribose could have accumulated, they tell us that we cannot get conditions on early Earth where phosphate is soluble. So our two papers go in the same direction,” he says.
National Geographic weighed in on this dilemma on Sept. 5. Writer Mark Kaufman noted Benner’s contention that ribose (essential for the proposed “RNA world”) falls apart in water, and can only be found in dry environments with boron—yet boron was too scarce on Earth. Then he notes the “phosphate problem” raised by Adcock. He put two and two together to raise “the big cosmic question” – where did life come from?
The reemergence of the theory of panspermia is intertwined with progress (or lack of progress) in a long-term scientific quest to find out how life began on Earth, a question that synthetic biology experts such as Benner have been working on for decades. Despite some advances, the field has come up against chemical walls that are proving impossible to climb.
For instance, Benner said, the organic—meaning carbon-based—compounds understood to have come together to form life in a “prebiotic soup” do not behave in the lab in a way that would indicate they led to the formation of life on early Earth.
When these compounds are energized by heat or light, instead of producing early RNA they create tar—hardly the stuff from which we would all evolve.
Origin-of-life research, stuck on the tar baby, is at a crossroads. Kaufman was not quite ready to swallow Benner’s optimism:
Benner says that “it’s yet another piece of evidence which makes it more likely life came to Earth on a Martian meteorite.” But it’s more of a changing of probabilities than it is scientific proof.
“A panspermia solution, after all, produces another panspermia problem,” he said. “If a Martian microbe did make it from Mars to Earth, maybe it would be as if it landed in Eden. But just as likely, it would quickly die.”
He left off with that quote, leaving the reader pondering insurmountable problems, bereft of answers.
The gig is up. Secular origin of life research (OOL) is dead. To seriously consider displacing the problem of life’s origin (by natural processes) to another planet is tantamount to saying that it is impossible. If they cannot get it to form here, where “Eden” existed (in terms of perfect conditions for its “emergence”), then displacing it to an exterior hell is not going to help.
Consider the number of problems revealed just in these articles (a subset of all the problems). Ribose needs boron in a dry desert, but even if it formed, it needs water. But the moment you put it in water, where the phosphate is for making RNA, it dissolves or turns into tar. Even if you get a stable RNA (which is going to be extremely rare), it is not alive; dozens more high hurdles must be jumped in the right order by chance: getting one-handed molecules, getting them to be enzymatically active for useful purposes; getting them isolated into protocells surrounded by membranes (we could go on and on). Then, the Martian life has to get incorporated into a meteorite. Even if that happens, it has to survive in space for eons, and arrive at Earth. After all these miraculous improbabilities occur, if it doesn’t land in “Eden” it will quickly die, Benner said.
Yet many articles about these origin of life theories make everything sound so simple. The “RNA world” (now shown to be so improbable it is impossible), has been for decades the cornerstone of most secularists’ optimism that life originated without design. It’s sickening to watch that empty-headed “Newsy” reporter in the Space.com video barfing out Benner & Adcock’s absurdity with uninformed confidence: “Life on Mars? You better believe it. NASA announced that it discovered elements that support ancient life on the red planet.” Such gullible toadies. Blah.
We seem to be catching the first hints, though, of a few reporters becoming exasperated with the storytelling of the OOL crowd, like Marc Kaufman and Lisa Grossman. They have a long way to go, but when the day comes when they feel enough courage to start really peppering the Benners and Adcocks with hard questions like reporters do with politicians, it will get interesting. “If we cannot believe what they’ve been telling us about life forming on Earth all these years, why should we believe you when you say it happened on Mars?” “Hasn’t the origin of life been falsified by these discoveries?” “Are you really asking the public to believe this incredibly improbable sequence of events?” “Are you implying that your brain, telling us these arguments, is the product of a series of cosmic accidents? Then how can we trust anything you say?” That will be a new day for “scientists” accustomed to the lapdog media regurgitating everything they say uncritically.
We call on Steven Benner to renounce his naturalism. Steve, you’re a smart guy, but you know you have been telling fables out of desperation. You know enough philosophy of science to know that science does not require naturalism; it requires following the evidence where it leads. For decades now, the evidence has been trending against naturalism. You yourself said that the problems are hard enough to almost make you want to become a creationist. Well, why not? Don’t codes and systems bear the hallmarks of intelligent design? Leave the dork side of the farce and come over to the light.
If you leave the farce, you will make a lot of enemies. You will suffer the persecution of the Expelled. But you will make a lot of new and better friends, and you will enjoy the good feeling of a character trait sadly lacking in your old crowd: integrity.