May 24, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

How to Liven Up Dead Geology

A new study shows some carbon compounds from Mars arose from geological processes.  What does life have to do with it?  Ask some science reporters.

The facts:  According to a new study by the Carnegie Institution, some carbon compounds in Martian meteorites arose by chemical processes on the red planet, probably volcanism.  The compounds in the famous Martian ALH 84001 meteorite that sparked the birth of the new science of Astrobiology in the 1990s were also found to be non-biological in origin.  This means the compounds have nothing whatsoever to do with life.

One might suspect this would be tragic news for those who have devoted their careers to finding life on Mars, but here’s how popular news reports treated the story:

Live Science began by saying that organic compounds (by definition, those containing carbon, including cyanide and tailpipe soot) are “linked with life” and used the popular phrase, “building blocks of life” twice.  It quoted a scientist saying, “We now find that Mars has organic chemistry, and on Earth, organic chemistry led to life.”  The article was more “lively” than the dead geology facts indicated.  It even turned the bad news (astrobiologically speaking) into good news: “Now that scientists have a better picture of the foundations of Martian chemistry, they can better look for anomalies that might be signs of life,” reporter Charles Q. Choi said.

Science Daily also used the suggestive phrase “building blocks of life” and accentuated how the new knowledge of dead rock “will help aid future quests for evidence of ancient or modern Martian life“.

New Scientist called the finding that “Tiny carbon nuggets in meteorites from Mars were formed by cooling magma, not left by ancient alien microbes” to be “good news and bad news for astrobiologists.”  MacGregor Campbell’s headline read, quizzically, “Bottled carbon from Mars bodes well for ancient aliens.”  Campbell quoted a researcher who brought the lava, like Lazarus, from the dead with a word: “The presence of organic carbon at or near the Martian surface provides a potential nutrient source for putative life.”    The ending paragraph, which mentions St. Paul, would probably make the creationist saint roll over in his tomb:

“Perhaps the formation of prebiotic chemistry on Mars was as simple as cooling of Martian lavas,” says Marc Hirschmann, a planetary scientist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and St. Paul, who was not involved in the research. “It reinforces the idea that early Mars may have been ripe for the development of life.

National Geographic topped off the lava-lamp theory of life (9/17/2003) by suggesting that Earth life came from volcanoes, too.  “Magma Rise Sparked Life as We Know It?” Reporter Ken Croswell  began.  “Shift in planet’s volcanoes flooded Earth with oxygen, study says.”  He even deduced the middle ages: “First, though, the rise of oxygen subjected our planet to a mid-life crisis: Oxygen readily reacts with methane, a greenhouse gas that had been warming the world before the oxidation event,”  he ended.  “With a drop in atmospheric methane, Earth and its inhabitants suffered the planet’s first major ice age.”  Nevertheless, like Campbell agreed, just having the potential molecules, whether carbon or oxygen, makes a planet ripe for putative life.

While we’re at the Game of Life, why not just define volcanoes as alive already?  Charles Lineweaver, in an interview for New Scientist, lamented the typical woes of defining life, so he “moved the bar” a little with a provocative definition of his own.  Asked how he would define life, he answered, “To the extent that the question makes sense, as a ‘far-from-equilibrium dissipative system’.”  When confronted with the fact that this makes hurricanes and stars (and presumably volcanoes) alive, he responded, “I’m moving the bar in what I consider to be a reasonable way. People should be disappointed, not at my moving the bar, but in the unrealistic expectation that there should be a bar where we have traditionally placed it.

Unexpectedly, Lineweaver scoffed at the idea that life can be defined as something that undergoes Darwinian evolution.  “We pretend that makes sense, but if you look it makes no sense at all,” he remarked.  “What is the unit of Darwinian evolution? Is it the gene? Is it the cell? Is it a multicellular organism? Is a city evolving? How about Gaia? Is that a life form?”  Perhaps allowing a star, hurricane or volcano to qualify as life forms has the advantage of legitimizing Astrobiology and making the search for life on Mars a lot easier.  Just don’t ask Lineweaver what the unit of a far-from-equilibrium dissipative system is.

This is more evidence that evolutionists are really animists and pantheists.  They turn lava lakes into gardens of Eden.  Just add water; just add lava; just add oxygen — all dead things –  and what happens?  Emergence. “Some two billion years later, Earth’s oxygen-rich air allowed animals—including humans—to emerge and thrive,” Croswell wrote.  The universe is brimming with a life force, a potentiality that permeates space and time, filling volcanoes and meteorites with putative possibilities, accumulating building blocks of life so that the Unseen Hand of Evolution, the Tinkerer, Gaia, or whatever (doesn’t need to make any sense at all), can work behind the scenes in some mysterious, unguided way.  But the Unseen Hand is not allowed to act until the Spirit of Charlie, hovering over the surface of the lavas, shouts: “Come forth!  Emerge!  Arise!  Be fruitful and multiply!”

Maybe these reporters think the facts would be pretty boring without the L-word tossed in.  Maybe they want to protect funding for Astrobiology (the science in search of a subject) in spite of bad news like this.  Maybe they’re blind to their own biases.  Whatever it is, they’re funny.



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