Searching for Life for Personal Glory
Are origin-of-life seekers really trying to understand life, or are they seeking fame and prizes?
Two guys from University College London sure got a lot of recognition when they boasted, “How we discovered the world’s oldest fossils” (The Conversation). Matthew Dodd and Dominic Papineau were scrounging for rocks in northeast Canada and found some stripey ones they thought might have markings that possibly were made by early organisms. Never mind that the markings are made of hematite (iron) and silicon—two unlikely minerals for life—and that the alleged “microfossils” are half a millimeter long and half the width of a human hair; never mind that similar markings might be found in rocks of your back yard of along a road cut in Alabama; if you can find something very old that might have been alive, you win 15 minutes of fame. Look how the world responded:
- 4 billion year-old fossils found in Canadian quartz: These fossilized microorganisms could be the oldest record of life we have (Engadget).
- Traces in rock may be the oldest evidence of life on Earth ever (New Scientist).
- World’s oldest fossils unearthed (Science Daily).
- Earliest evidence of life on Earth ‘found’ (BBC News). Reporter Pallab Ghosh, faithful Darwin disciple at the British news service, got some juicy quotes out of Matt Dodd to make this one of the most significant discoveries in the history of the universe:
“This discovery answers the biggest questions mankind has asked itself – which are: where do we come from and why we are here?
“It is very humbling to have the oldest known lifeforms in your hands and being able to look at them and analyse them,” he told BBC News.
Humility, that is, as in Look at us! We won a world record! And look at all the media hits on their publicity page: “Matthew Dodd and Dr Dominic Papineau (UCL Earth Sciences and the London Centre for Nanotechnology) led a team that discovered remains of microorganisms at least 3,770 million years old, providing direct evidence of one of the oldest life forms on Earth.”
Dodd and Papineau look unassuming in their video clip. They don’t appear outwardly boastful. According to their paper in Nature, they exercised some diligence to falsify their hypothesis about organisms making the patterns. Dodd even allows for the possibility that these one-off markings, if they are fossils, don’t prove life is ubiquitous:
Matthew Dodd concluded, “These discoveries demonstrate life developed on Earth at a time when Mars and Earth had liquid water at their surfaces, posing exciting questions for extra-terrestrial life. Therefore, we expect to find evidence for past life on Mars 4,000 million years ago, or if not, Earth may have been a special exception.”
But other boasts to the press seem over the top. Look what Matt said to Pallab:
He described how he felt when he realised the significance of the material on which he was working: “I thought to myself ‘we’ve got it, we’ve got the oldest fossils on the planet’.
“It relates to our origins. For intelligent life to evolve to a level of consciousness, to a point where it traces back its history to understand its own origin – that’s inspirational.”
Aren’t we the greatest scientists of all? Go, UCL! We just won the superbowl. Time for a victory tour! Maybe a book! Even a TV special!
How long before another team scores with an even earlier date, demoting the UCL team to second place? How long do you suppose before other scientists look at these rocks and claim they have nothing to do with life?
Few are commenting on the problems this early-life idea creates. If believed, it pushes the origin of life very close to the beginning of earth history, when the planet was hot and presumably hostile to life. Colin Barras in New Scientist, who apparently espouses the Popeye Theory of the evolution of life (3/17/09, 5/31/05), points out the ulterior motives behind this ‘science’ of discovery while he rattles off the uncomfortably-early dates:
Explaining the origin of life is one of the biggest unclaimed prizes in biology, and one that many scientists – including Nobel prizewinners – are chasing. The only thing we know for certain is that life must have popped into existence sometime between Earth’s formation 4.5 billion years ago and the appearance of the first undisputed fossils, about 3.4 billion years ago.
But these new ‘fossils’ are said to be 3.77 billion Darwin Years old, pushing the origin closer to the volcanoes and meteors of the so-called Hadean era. Barras continues the squeeze, saying, “The rocks here, on the coast of Hudson Bay, are at least 3.75 billion years old, and some geologists argue they are about 4.29 billion years old, which would mean they are just slightly younger than the planet itself.” So yes, one would have to say that, despite the extreme improbability (see Illustra’s film Origin), life must have “popped into existence” like magic soon after the planet formed.
The UCL team also ties its hypothesis to the controversial hydrothermal-vent scenario for life, which some researchers consider highly implausible (the heat problem, the dilution problem, the genetics problem, more). But if they are not microfossils, they cannot be used as evidence for the hydrothermal vent scenario. Conversely, if the rocks are not from past hydrothermal vents, they cannot be used as evidence that life formed there. If they are neither, they cannot be used as evidence of either. Claims these rocks are hydrothermal in origin seem based on circumstantial evidence alone.
As the Origin film explains, the essential molecules of life (proteins and nucleic acids) could not have formed in water, because water breaks the bonds that holds amino acids and nucleotides together. Ribose, essential for the ‘RNA World’ scenario, is particularly unstable. Nobody has any idea how it would form naturally. Yet so great is the faith of materialists—and so complete the indoctrination of the public—reporter Timothy Seppala ends his article at Engadget with these irrational words: “Where there’s water, there’s a way.”
We keep telling you. They’re not really materialists. They’re pantheists and animists. In their religion, the spirits of emergence imbue matter with wishful fancies. It’s just waiting to “pop into existence” — just add water! The spirits will find a way.
These days, you don’t even have to prove it. Just pick up a rock in Canada, run divination on it, and claim it’s alive (or it was). Instant fame! The priests and prophets of pantheistic materialism will love you, because you have glorified the Force. You have taken the answers to the biggest questions out of the hands of the despised theists, and offered them in homage to the Emperor, Charles the Great, master of the forces of nature, forever worshiped because he leaned over a warm little pond, uttered his incantations, and like a golden calf, out came Popeye.
May the farce be with them, not with you.