Stour Astro


An Interesting Theory ?

... By Andy Young

A while ago I talked about one of my heroes, Fred Hoyle. He was always an "unconventional figure" (awkward so-and-so) who finally upset just about everyone in the scientific community with his pet theory about the origin of life, no less.

This theory is called "panspermia". It has been around a long time, but had been totally rejected, certainly since the 19th century, as being too far-fetched. There were other reasons too, not all of them scientific, which will become apparent.

The following has been mostly transcribed from a website about Cosmic Ancestry; I found it pretty readable, I hope you do too.

Recently, panspermia has been incorporated into a wider theory known as Cosmic Ancestry, which is a new theory pertaining to evolution and the origin of life on Earth. It holds that life on Earth was seeded from space, and that life's evolution to higher forms depends on genetic programs that come from space. (It accepts the Darwinian account of evolution that does not require new genetic programs.) It is a wholly scientific, testable theory for which evidence is accumulating.

First, a bit of history. Panspermia — literally, "seeds everywhere" was originally advocated by the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras, who influenced Socrates. However, Aristotle's theory of spontaneous generation, e.g mice appearing from dirt, came to be preferred by science for more than two thousand years. Then on April 9, 1864, French chemist Louis Pasteur announced his great experiment disproving spontaneous generation as it was then held to occur. In the 1870s, British physicist Lord Kelvin and German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz reinforced Pasteur and argued that life could come from space. And in the first decade of the 1900s, Swedish chemist and Nobel laureate Svante Arrhenius theorized that bacterial spores propelled through space by light pressure were the seeds of life on Earth.

But in the 1920s, Russian biochemist Alexander Oparin and English geneticist J.B.S. Haldane, writing independently, revived the doctrine of spontaneous generation in a more sophisticated form. In the new version, the spontaneous generation of life no longer happens on Earth, takes too long to observe in a laboratory, and has left no clues about its occurrence. Supporting this theory, in 1953, American chemists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey showed that some amino acids can be chemically produced from ammonia and methane. That experiment is now famous, and the Oparin - Haldane theory still prevails today.

Starting in the 1970s, Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe rekindled interest in panspermia. By careful spectroscopic observation and analysis of light from distant stars they found new evidence, traces of life, in the intervening dust. They also proposed that comets, which are largely made of water-ice, carry bacterial life across galaxies and protect it from radiation damage along the way. One aspect of this research program, that interstellar dust and comets contain organic compounds, has been pursued by others as well. It is now universally accepted that space contains the "ingredients" of life. This development could be the first hint of a huge change in ideas. But mainstream science has not accepted the hard core of modern panspermia, that whole cells seeded life on Earth.

Hoyle and Wickramasinghe also broadened or generalized panspermia to include a new understanding of evolution. While accepting the fact that life on Earth evolved over the course of about four billion years, they say that the genetic programs for higher evolution cannot be explained by random mutation and recombination among genes for single-celled organisms, even in that long a time: the programs must come from somewhere beyond Earth. In a nutshell, their theory holds that all of life comes from space. It incorporates the original panspermia in the same way that General Relativity incorporates Special Relativity.

Meanwhile on a different track, in the early 1970s, British chemist and inventor James Lovelock proposed a theory, called Gaia, that life controls Earth's environment to make it suitable for life. However, seen from a Darwinian perspective, the Gaia theory looks teleological - somebody made it happen. It is hard to imagine how purposeful Gaian processes that take millions of years could be discovered by trial and error. In response to such criticism, Lovelock has retreated slightly from some of his earlier bold claims for Gaia. Here we endorse Lovelock's theory at its original strength. We propose that Gaian processes are not blindly found and peculiar to Earth, but are pre-existent and universal — life from space brings Gaian processes with it. It may be that Gaian processes are necessary for higher forms of life to emerge and succeed on any planet.

The union of Lovelock's Gaia with Hoyle and Wickramasinghe's expanded theory of panspermia is known as Cosmic Ancestry. This account of evolution and the origin of life on Earth is profoundly different from the prevailing scientific idea — the theory challenges not merely the answers but the questions that are popular today. Cosmic Ancestry implies, we find, that life can only descend from ancestors that were at least as highly evolved as itself. And it means that there can be no origin of life from nonliving matter in the finite past. Without supernatural intervention, therefore, it is concluded that life must have always existed. Although these conclusions cut across the boundaries between science, philosophy, and religion, there is much good evidence in their support. In fact, new data that support many aspects of Cosmic Ancestry are coming in rapidly. These since 1995 :-

Bacteria can survive without any metabolism for at least 25 million years; probably they are immortal. Bacteria found that can survive radiation much stronger than any that Earth has ever experienced.

Fossilized evidence of ancient life in meteorites from Mars & elsewhere. Geneticists showed evidence that many genes are much older than the fossil record would indicate.

NASA officially recognized the possibility that life on Earth comes from space. Stardust mission announced the detection of very large organic molecules in space.

Geneticists reported evidence that the evolutionary step from chimps to humans was assisted by viruses.

Cosmic ancestry Would also explain one or two other things; evolution seems to have occurred in a very "lumpy" way - sudden changes, not the smooth development from species to species as predicted by Darwinism. Also, the maths. of random selection doesn’t make sense, particularly when you try to produce DNA from it’s raw materials. Incidentally, lentils have the basic gene sequence for haemoglobin locked up in their DNA - why would that be? Blood’s no use to a lentil! (Blood out of a stone, maybe …)

The case for Cosmic Ancestry is not yet proven, of course. At this point the best reason to notice it is that sustained evolutionary progress and the origin of life on Earth are not satisfactorily accounted for by Darwinism.


Panspermia web site

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