Age of the Earth Aliens astronomy Creation/evolution Meaning of life

Why search for life in outer space?

Figure 1: A gamma ray and neutron detector on board Dawn was used to determine the elements in the subsurface of the dwarf planet. It found water on the dwarf planet Ceres, located in the asteroid belt between Earth and Mars. Ceres. Credit: LA Times

In a recent LA Times news item it was reported that NASA’s Dawn spacecraft mission found life’s building blocks on the dwarf planet Ceres.1  However, the reality is that all that was found are possibly some biochemical molecules, molecules that are pre-cursor molecules to form the more complex chemistry in living cells.

Organic molecules are carbon based molecules and the chemistry of life is a special subset of those but from the spacecraft data no biochemical molecules were identified.  Those would be molecules like carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids.

The news item reports that this new spacecraft

… using its Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer instrument, … has spotted organics lying on the surface.1

That is the only real fact in the report, that organic molecules of some sort have been found on Ceres.

While the scientists aren’t sure exactly what the compounds are, the fingerprint is characteristic of material containing carbon-hydrogen bonds, and may include components like methyl and methylene.(emphasis added)

But they don’t even know what the molecules are, and the research is hyped up in hope that scientists may find life–even just microbes–living on worlds other than our own.

We can now add this dwarf planet Ceres to other ‘space rocks’ that have been so hyped in the past few years in the quest to find life out there in the solar system. Examples are Mars,2 Enceladus (the sixth-largest moon of Saturn),3 Titan (the largest moon of Saturn),4,5 Europa (one of the 4 Galilean moons of Jupiter),6 and the asteroids.7

A $1 billion Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft was launched last year for the purpose of gathering dust from the asteroid Bennu in a 3- to 5-second “touch and go” encounter.7 The search for life in outer space costs plenty.

Figure 2: Quote from the lead scientist, Thomas Prettyman, of the GRaND instrument that flew on the Dawn mission. Credit: LA Times

The Dawn spacecraft, which was significantly cheaper–$450 million at launch in 2007–has another instrument, the Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector (GRaND), which is used to look about a meter below the surface of an asteroid by studying energy and neutrons that emanate from it. The GRaND instrument is used to look for pre-life chemistry like water molecules (Fig. 2), which are considered among the most important, though methane based life forms are being considered for Titan.5 It found that a significant amount of water ice is present in the surface layers of Ceres. The GRaND instrument, however, is not capable of measuring the different isotopes that scientists say could distinguish where Ceres formed in the solar system. So another space craft needs financing for a future expedition.

Why spend all the money on very expensive spacecraft and why send them out into space to investigate planets, moons, asteroids and dwarf planets, like Ceres, for signs of life or past life?

Is it because the underlying philosophy of the scientific community today is that life is nothing special? It is believed to be just the result of the right chemicals in the right place at the same time and a lot of time is needed to improve the chances of that happening. Many believers seem to assume that life will even spontaneously arise in environments that do not even have much water. That is, that “life will find a way” — in some sort of pagan belief that the Universe will create life everywhere it can. This is Gaianism for the Universe.8

Figure 3: Martian meteorite ALH84001 Credit: NASA

But as I have written before it has now come to be acknowledged that life is not common–very rare in fact– outside of planet Earth. It is so rare that there are no other known instances of life elsewhere. All past claims, the now infamous Martian meteorite ALH84001 included (Fig. 3),9,10 have proved false. And even if NASA, or someone else, discovered microbial life on some ‘space rock’ in the solar system it would not prove it was primordial to Earth. But that is their hope, that they will find ‘evidence’ of life older than any found on Earth.

Of course that then opens up a whole new line of argumentation about dating techniques of fossils in general and the sheer impossibility of verification of those ages.11,12 And note that planet Earth is alleged to have condensed out of a solar nebular about 4.56 billion years ago.13

Figure 4: Caption from The Telegraph article (ref. 2) “The world’s oldest fossils prove tiny microorganisms lived up to 4.2 billion years ago.” The top right slide is an image of the claimed fossil organism that was blasted off Mars 4.2 billion years ago. The use of the word ‘prove’ here is completely unscientific, besides the lack of credibility is the age dating techniques. This type of word use shows that the agenda is not about science but about a message to the uneducated public. CREDIT: Dominic Papineau

A few days ago, see Fig. 4, the claim was made of fossil evidence on Earth for the oldest life ever found,2 pushing back the alleged first life on Earth to only 300 million years after the planet allegedly formed. 

It’s life, but not as we know it. The oldest fossil ever discovered on Earth shows that organisms were thriving 4.2 billion years ago, hundreds of millions of years earlier than previously thought.

The microscopic bacteria, which were smaller than the width of a human hair, were found in rock formations in Quebec, Canada, but would have lived in hot vents in the 140F (60C) oceans which covered the early planet.

The discovery is the strongest evidence yet that similar organisms could also have evolved on Mars, which at the time still had oceans and an atmosphere, and was being bombarded by comets which probably brought the building blocks of life to Earth.2 (emphasis added)

So let’s summarise here. The strongest evidence scientists have for the origin of life on Earth are microfossils of bacteria found in some Canadian rocks that originally allegedly came from Mars. Mars, which has no liquid surface water now, is believed to once have harboured oceans and an atmosphere, and because it was bombarded by comets, microbial life was carried from there to Earth at least 4.2 billion years ago on a comet or meteor. Then of course it must be alleged that Darwinian evolution took over and built all living things from this original microbial life from Mars.

That is what we are being asked to believe, and reject what the Creator said in the Genesis account. So the reason scientists ultimately look for life elsewhere is to avoid the alternative–that God created life here, and that He made mankind, male and female, as a special creation, in His own image, with a conscience and morality. Thus man is to acknowledge his Creator and obey His rules.

Just like when men once rebelled against God, by building a high tower (at Babel) to ostensibly reach the stars, mankind has taken a much greater leap by sending out space-probes into a solar system devoid of life (other than here) with the goal of finding ‘life’, so that he can deny he is a created being. Even if microbial life is eventually found, at enormous cost, such a find does not validate the spontaneous life and evolution story. Nor does it disprove or invalidate the biblical account of origins. When will they realise that?

References and Notes

  1. A. Khan, NASA’s Dawn mission finds life’s building blocks on dwarf planet Ceres, LA Times, March 4, 2017.
  2. S. Knapton, Oldest fossil ever found on Earth shows organisms thrived 4.2bn years ago – and provides strongest evidence yet for similar life on Mars, The Telegraph, March 2, 2017.
  3. A. Sneed, Excitement Builds for the Possibility of Life on Enceladus, Scientific American, June 28, 2016.
  4. C.Q. Choi, Chemistry on Titan Could Lay the Groundwork for Life,, July 5, 2016.
  5. L. Grush, Here’s What Methane-Based Life On Titan Could Look Like, What if water isn’t essential for life to exist?, Popular Science, March 3, 2015.
  6. J. Bennett, Why Europa Is the Best Bet for Alien Life in the Solar System,, September 30, 2016.
  7. P. Voosen, NASA to sample asteroid for clues to life on Earth, Science, August 31, 2016.
  8. J.G. Hartnett, Religion in science, June 17, 2015.
  9. The ALH 84001 Meteorite, Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
  10. “The meteorite is best known for gaining intense media attention in 1996 when a group of scientists claimed to have found evidence for microscopic fossils of Martian bacteria in it, culminating in then U.S. president Bill Clinton giving a speech about the potential discovery. These claims were controversial from the beginning, and the wider scientific community ultimately rejected the hypothesis once all the unusual features in the meteorite had been explained without requiring life to be present. Despite there being no convincing evidence of Martian life, the initial paper and scientific and public attention caused by it are considered to be turning points in the history of the developing science of astrobiology.” The latter is excerpted from Wikipedia on this ALH84001 meteorite. The truth of the matter is that astrobiology is a fact-free science. There are no evidences for life outside Earth, so how can you study astro-life, including its structures and habitats?
  11. J.G. Hartnett, 8 Reasons Why Evolution is Foolish, December 17, 2013.
  12. J. Mason, Doesn’t radiometric dating prove that the Earth is billions of years old?, May 2, 2016.
  13. J.G. Hartnett, Development of an “old” universe in science, July 30, 2015.

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By John Gideon Hartnett

Dr John G. Hartnett is an Australian physicist and cosmologist, and a Christian with a biblical creationist worldview. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) and Ph.D. (with distinction) in Physics from The University of Western Australia, W.A., Australia. He was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) fellow at the University of Adelaide, with rank of Associate Professor. Now he is retired. He has published more than 200 papers in scientific journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.