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Austin Cline

We're All Aliens Now? Extraterrestrial Connections to Life Found

By June 21, 2008

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Many have theorized that the development of life on earth might have been helped along by material from space — either the direct introduction of living organisms (like bacteria) or the introduction of compounds necessary for life. This latter view has received a boost through the verification that two bits of genetic coding found in a meteorite did come from space, not Earth.
Both of the molecules identified, uracil and xanthine, "are present in our DNA and RNA," said lead author Zita Martins, a researcher at Imperial College London. ...These molecules would also have been essential to the still-mysterious alchemy that somehow gave rise, some four billion years ago, to life itself. "We know that meteorites very similar to the Murchison meteorite, which is the one we analysed, were delivering the building blocks of life to Earth 3.8 to 4.5 billion years ago," Martins told AFP in an interview.

Competing theories suggest that nucleobases were synthesised closer to home, but Martins counters that the atmospheric conditions of early Earth would have rendered that process difficult or impossible. ..."We believe early life may have adopted nucleobases from meteoric fragments for use in genetic coding, enabling them to pass on their successful features to subsequent generations," Martins said.

Source: Yahoo!

I don't think that this is proof that there was an extraterrestrial component to the origin of life because I think it's still possible that our own uracil and xanthine developed here on Earth. It is, however, clear evidence that uracil and xanthine could have developed elsewhere and then come here intact. The heavy elements like carbon which make up so much of our bodies were all created in stars, so it's not hard to imagine that important compounds like uracil and xanthine might have originally developed elsewhere as well.

This has a couple of important implications, especially for traditional religion. If indeed life developed on our planet because of elements deposited by meteorites, how might this be reconciled with traditional beliefs in God? Believers could say that their god caused the right meteorites to crash here at the right time and thus allow life develop, but isn't that an awfully convoluted means to achieve an end?

Of course it is — and it's what happens whenever people rely on a "god of the gaps" to preserve theism or traditional religion. The more we understand about how things happen, the less role there is for any gods to cause events by magic; instead, gods are relegated to simply shuffling pieces around on a chess board in increasingly complex ways that can easily (or more easily) be achieved through natural forces. In the end, there is no role for a supernatural being.

Another implication is that the basic elements for life might be quite widespread in the universe — or at least in our galaxy. If the building blocks of life were known only here, it would be possible to imagine that they are unique to here; if some of those building blocks came from space, then it has to be acknowledged that they are being spread around out in space and thus might be deposited on many worlds. If life did evolve naturally elsewhere and independent of life here, once again we have to ask what role there could be for gods. Not only do we lose any need to resort to magic to explain life, but we lose any reason to think that life her is special and thus might have a special relationship with magical beings.

Comments
June 21, 2008 at 11:40 pm
(1) Ryan says:

The question is not whether materials needed for life are present elsewhere in our universe. They almost certainly are. Compounds and materials needed for life are found in numerous places on our planet outside of living organisms. In other words, it is not enough to simply have the “ingredients” of life for life to exist.

Any dead organism can prove this very easily. The “ingredients” in a live organism are exactly the same both immediately before and after death. But in the moments after death, the “ingredients” no longer function as they should.

The real question is how these separate elements could have come together to form the complex systems that we have today. Even water, as necessary as it is for life, is not proof that life could or does exist. That would be like finding green grass somewhere and concluding that cows or goats must exist there since these organisms eat grass.

Finding the molecules uracil and xanthine on a meteorite does not prove or even indicate that the basis of life came from outside our solar system. It simply proves that these molecules are also present elsewhere.

This find neither denies nor supports the existence of God. It simply proves that uracil and xanthine are present outside of our planet. Any deeper conclusion is simply an attempt at exactly the opposite of what the author of this article is trying to prove. It is simply an attempt to fill in gaps in a theory that cannot be proven.

What needs to be proved is not that the “ingredients” of life can exist outside of our planet or solar system, but how these ingredients would have formed many of the complex biochemical systems that we are aware of today. Science continues to discover that life is infinitely more complex that we could have imagined. This forces evolutionary theorists to try to fill in more and more gaps that cannot be proven.

June 27, 2008 at 9:14 pm
(2) Bob says:

If seeds on earth can blow around or be dropped by birds to grow plants in different areas it seems reasonable to me that something similar could have happened in space. Organic molecules could have been generated on earth as well as blowing in from space.

June 28, 2008 at 12:37 am
(3) George says:

Ryan writes; “Science continues to discover that life is infinitely more complex that we could have imagined. This forces evolutionary theorists to try to fill in more and more gaps that cannot be proven.”

Life is certainly complex but it is not beyond our understanding and intellectual organization of much of it. Darwin quite properly filled in many of the “gaps” and science increasingly fills these with knowledge and ever more pungent questions

June 28, 2008 at 8:54 pm
(4) John Halloran says:

Those poor, dumb evolutionists, wasting their time and talents exposing more and more “inexplicable gaps” in our understanding of life’s sublime complexities! Don’t they realize they’re playing right into the hands of creationists, whose “answer” is so much simpler and more satisfying?

Ah, but that’s how science works: doggedly follow the trail of the evidence, even if, for a short while, that may seem to give cover or advantage to your adversaries. And then, as the gaps are methodically filled in, watch to see into which gap/s certain theists will next attempt to plug their “answer.”

But, fear not. These scientists are nothing if not persistent and industrious. I’m quite confident they’ll continue their investigations, even at the cost of providing a never-ending supply of gaps to those who find them necessary and reassuring.

Finally, if the time ever does come that a gap is uncovered into which nothing fits but a creating entity/deity of some sort, who do you think will discover it? I’m thinking maybe some scientist…

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