Published: 24 March 2020 (GMT+10)
The mainstream view of Neo-Darwinism has maintained a relative stranglehold on academia for over a century, with little consideration being given to anything outside of that paradigm in the most prestigious centers of academia. But major fundamental cracks are showing in the very foundations of that worldview,1 and some extremely interesting developments are coming about as a result.2
One group of scientific ‘outsiders’ (outside the mainstream evolutionary establishment) is starting to come out of the woodwork—and they aren’t creationists—at least, not in the traditional sense! Renowned English astronomer Sir Frederick Hoyle is best known for formulating the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis—the idea that chemical elements are formed by nuclear fusion reactions in the centres of stars.3,4 He also, however, had some interesting views on the origin of life, and coined the term ‘big bang’ in derision.
Hoyle, though he did indeed advocate a form of creationism, would perhaps best be described as a pantheist, given that he believes “God = universe”, explaining that he thinks God is an ‘idealized limit’ of an infinite string of ever-increasing levels of intelligence that are somehow present in our universe, and of which our universe ultimately consists.5 Is it a coincidence that this sounds so much like Hinduism, considering his co-author Chandra Wickramasinghe is originally from Sri Lanka?
In any case, though Dr Hoyle passed away in 2001, Dr Wickramasinghe is still working to advance their thesis to this day. He, along with 32 other coauthors representing 23 different institutions in 12 countries all across the world, recently published a paper in a peer-reviewed academic journal that advances the idea of panspermia (that life arrived on earth from outer space, rather than evolving here on Earth).6 Not only this, but they appeal specifically to the octopus as an example of something they feel is too complex to have arisen by chance mutations, and thus it must have either arrived via frozen embryos from space, or have evolved from genetic material inserted into terrestrial genomes from extraterrestrial viruses!
This ‘out there’ sounding hypothesis drew a lot of laughter and attention, but the authors (at least 18 of whom possess PhDs according to our own attempts at tracking them down) are very serious. They believe that life not only originated from space but that evolution has been constantly ‘supplemented’ by space arrivals ever since.
Many of their criticisms of chemical evolution (aka abiogenesis), shockingly enough, sound like they could have been taken right out of the works of modern-day biblical creationists (cf. Origin of life):
“Modern ideas of abiogenesis in hydrothermal vents or elsewhere on the primitive Earth have developed into sophisticated conjectures with little or no evidential support.” [cf. Hydrothermal origin of life?]
“The transformation of an ensemble of appropriately chosen biological monomers (e.g. amino acids, nucleotides) into a primitive living cell capable of further evolution appears to require overcoming an information hurdle of superastronomical proportions … an event that could not have happened within the time frame of the Earth except, we believe, as a miracle ….”
“It was argued that copying errors of existing genes could not, on the average, produce new genes with functional utility. By analogy with computer programing, it was pointed out that errors generated in copying a computer code would not lead to enhanced or new capabilities but overwhelmingly to degradation of the original program.”
Through statements like these, let the reader see that the objections we creationists raise to Darwinism are in fact recognized by others in the scientific community beyond ourselves (though rarely admitted to publicly or in print). This is an ideological battle first and foremost. Those in this particular camp (whom we’ll name ‘Hoylites’ after their following of the ideas of Sir Fred Hoyle with respect to panspermia and Cosmic Biology), are, like us biblical creationists, scientific outcasts for the most part. But since they are just as much against biblical creation as the Darwinists are, they are at least tolerated and (occasionally) allowed to openly publish their views in peer-reviewed secular outlets.
How well-respected is this idea, really?
Though this idea is currently still on the fringes of science and has not yet cracked into the mainstream, the authors believe they are on the cusp of full-fledged scientific acceptance:
“In our considered view Mankind is now entering a historic paradigm shifting moment in both our understanding of the evolution of life on Earth and the origins of the many pandemics that have exacted huge tolls on mankind in the recent past …
So with an avalanche of data from diverse fields all pointing to an all pervasive Cosmic Biology implying an origin of life external to Earth, the continuing reluctance of the scientific community to recognise this fact might seem strange. Yet as Tom Gold clearly shows—and we are all aware of this force in our daily lives—‘Group Think’ and the safety of ‘Running with the Herd’ are powerful driving motivating forces both in science and society …. These forces are quite irrational (scientifically speaking) yet very powerful socially and culturally. However, the long-overdue scientific paradigm shift from Earth-centred biology to Cosmic Life will have profound implications that would extend well outside the bounds of Science ….”5 [Emphasis Added]
Their highly optimistic-sounding assessment of the future of their theory may be a bit premature, given how poor many in the scientific community seem to feel this thesis is.7,8,9 While they make good points against Darwinism, we feel they are likely underestimating the resolve and tenacity of this present establishment to avoid embarrassment by having to admit they were (massively) wrong.
Nevertheless, with Neo-Darwinism squarely at a dead-end, scientifically speaking, will the establishment finally relent and search for other alternatives? The idea of panspermia seems to be a viable way for them, as this dovetails nicely with trends in popular culture towards an acceptance of the idea of extraterrestrial life. When Ben Stein cornered atheist professor Dr Richard Dawkins in his interview for the movie Expelled, Dawkins admitted he would be potentially open to the idea of panspermia himself.10 Any possibility other than the truth of God and the Bible will likely be on the table for consideration. With the culture shifting via popular media and the proliferation of UFO sightings, abduction experiences, etc., panspermia (and possibly even of the directed variety11) could be the next step.12 There are some other indicators that things may be trending in that direction. For example, according to one writer for the astrobiology program at NASA,
“One long considered yet generally quickly dismissed answer [to the origin of life on Earth] is getting new attention and a little more respect. It invokes panspermia, the sharing of life via meteorites from one planet to another, or delivery by comet … A team of prominent scientists at MIT and Harvard are sufficiently convinced in the plausibility of panspermia that they have spent a decade, and a fair amount of NASA and other funding, to design and produce an instrument that can be sent to Mars and potentially detect DNA or more primitive RNA.” 13
Caleb A. Scharf, director of astrobiology at Columbia University, put it this way in an article for Scientific American:
“The notion of panspermia—the transferal of viable organisms between planets, and even between star systems, seems to be getting a bit more attention these days … Nature seems very adept at making all the pieces for life, apparently raising the odds of local bio-genesis. But this doesn’t mean that interstellar, galactic panspermia isn’t still relevant. It might be happening.” 14 [emphasis added]
Ultimately, we will just have to wait and see what the future holds for panspermia theory as far as the mainstream community is concerned.
What prompted the idea of panspermia?
In order to evaluate the scientific credibility of panspermia, let’s compare it to other theories of origins, including gradual Darwinism, punctuated equilibrium, and special creation. Let’s see how well they explain genetics, the fossil record, and the sudden appearance of life, which biblical creationists say happened during Creation Week and which evolutionists allege happened during the Cambrian Explosion. Gradual Darwinism entails slowly accumulating genetic mutations, but can explain neither the large gaps in the fossil record, nor the sudden appearance of life on Earth. Punctuated equilibrium can explain the fossil record gaps but does not fit with gradual genetic change. It also cannot explain the sudden appearance of life on Earth. Supernatural creation can explain gradual genetic changes as variation within kinds. It can also explain the gaps in the fossil record as real, unbridgeable gaps between separate kinds. Therefore, it can do what both gradual Darwinism and punctuated equilibrium cannot do. Furthermore, supernatural creation also explains the sudden appearance of life on Earth as God’s miraculous act of bringing everything into existence in six days.
Just like errors in a computer code cannot be expected to enhance the program, neither can mutations lead to the increased functional genetic content of an organism. The Hoylites understand, like biblical creationists do, that Darwinian gradualism cannot explain large-scale increases in genomic complexity or abiogenesis. Their paper puts the probability of the random assemblage of living proteins and nucleic acids to be around 10-40,000. According to creationist calculations, this probability may be even lower, approximately 10-165,500.15
For a comparison of the predictions made by these theories of origins, see table 1 below:
|Gradual Darwinism||Punctuated equilibrium||Panspermia||Supernatural Creation|
|Gradual upwards genetic change||predicted||not predicted||not predicted||not predicted|
|Fossil gaps||not predicted||predicted||predicted||predicted|
|Sudden appearance of life||not predicted||predicted||predicted||predicted|
Table 1. Comparison of predictions of different theories of origins
But does this clear evidence lead the Hoylites to accept the Bible’s authority and repent? Hardly. Even though they may be more intellectually honest about Darwinism than the evolutionists, they still ignore the glory of God, our Creator. This is what one of the authors, Brig Klyce has to say about supernatural creation:
“ …the complexity and sophistication of life cannot originate from (non-biological) matter under any scenario, over any expanse of space and time, however vast. If this were to be so, then, supernatural intervention or intelligence would be required, following the standard big bang …. A strictly scientific way around this dilemma would be to amend or tweak the big bang theory to allow for life from the eternal past. After all, the big bang theory is relatively new and still occasionally amended. Therefore it seems unready to forever overrule the unviolated principle and consistent evidence that life comes from life.”16 [Emphasis Added]
Another of the authors, Edward J. Steele, suggests that life arose via a rolling series of big bangs and contractions.17 But how could life possibly survive the transition between such serial big bangs? Romans 1:21 says that sinners recognize the very clear fact that God exists, yet they deny Him anyway:
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
This leads these people to accept all sorts of scientifically dubious ideas in order to maintain their materialistic view of origins. As CMI has noted elsewhere, the rejection of evolution does not automatically mean that someone will believe in supernatural creation.
What is the evidence for panspermia?
Since the Hoylites know very well that life cannot have evolved on Earth, they have to make the unfounded assumption that life originated elsewhere in the universe. In this way, the scene of biological evolution is expanded from the Earth to the entire Universe at large. In other words, “For religious believers of all stripes, the new synthesis, even more than orthodox Darwinism, demystifies the history of life on Earth and embeds it in a history of cosmic events, that is, the history of the Universe at large.”5 Similar to the alleged mysterious dark matter holding the universe together, the Hoylites assume the existence of a so-called Cosmic Gene Pool, suspected repositories of genetic elements, being transferred from one of the alleged hundreds of billions of Earth-like planets to another, possibly seeding out Earth in the process with life. Where do they think life in this Cosmic Gene Pool ultimately came from? They (or at least some of them like Klyce, as we read above) actually view life as eternal! In this way, they apply one of the attributes of God Himself to His creatures, bringing to life Paul’s warning once more, “ …they worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Rom. 1:25)
There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever for such speculation. As of yet, signs of only water and some simple alcohols and sugars have been inferred from meteorites and the moons of different planets. But nothing has been found coming close to nucleotides, DNA, amino acids, proteins, lipids, or other cellular components. Any lab technician knows very well that biomolecules such as RNA or DNA break down very rapidly under laboratory conditions.. In fact, the 2015 Nobel Prize for chemistry was awarded to the discoverer of DNA’s instability, who realized that life must have repair machines to counter it. In nature, there would be no such machines. And RNA is even less stable than DNA.18
This does not deter the Hoylites in the least from supposing that microbes are entering our stratosphere at levels where “upwelling terrestrial contamination can be plausibly ruled out”. The question comes up: if microbes cannot even escape our own stratosphere, how is it possible for them to find their way onto comets or other interstellar bodies? And how would they survive re-entry? Another interesting question is, if Earth is being seeded with DNA from other planets, why is it that their DNA is exactly the same as terrestrial DNA? One of their co-authors, Kenneth Augustyn, said that their Cosmic Biology thesis could be true at the same time as terrestrial abiogenesis (that they need not be mutually exclusive ideas).15 But the fact that the allegedly alien DNA happens to match up perfectly with our own would argue very strongly against that idea, unless Augustyn is invoking some kind of divine supernatural guidance into the process.
These considerations notwithstanding, the Hoylites go on to posit the idea that different viruses coming from cometary debris are capable of adding new DNA sequences to terrestrial genomes, thereby driving evolution here on earth. This is a term they call ‘virolution’. In the article, they claim that this is what is behind the distribution of endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) in the genomes of human and other animals.19
But the random insertion of DNA into a genome is obviously overwhelmingly more likely to cause damage than it is to help. If we randomly insert a sentence about cooking into a machine operation handbook, we would probably end up causing an accident!
Nevertheless, the authors suggest that the development of the human placenta could have been driven by the integration of DNA from viral elements from outer space. More precisely, the idea is that the embryo secretes a protein called syncytin, which attaches the embryo to the wall of the uterus during implantation. The Hoylites believe that this protein originated from extraterrestrial viruses. CMI has dealt with the alleged viral origin of syncytin, and according to the VIGE-first hypothesis, it is more likely that RNA viruses originated from the combination of different genes and the gag and pol elements within the genomes of organisms.20 The gag and pol proteins are responsible for copying and re-inserting genetic elements into other parts of the genome. This means that the syncytin gene was translocated within the human genome and was activated to be expressed in the embryo during implantation into the uterus wall.
Another rather bizarre example (and the one for which their paper is best known) is the origin of the octopus on Earth.21 The size of the octopus genome is around 2.3 billion base pairs, which is more than twice the size of other mollusk species. Evolutionists suspect that the large octopus genome arose via whole genome duplications from other mollusk species, but for this they have found no evidence.22 Evidence for horizontal gene transfer was also lacking.23 Hoylites posit that new genes and their viral drivers infected a squid, which then evolved into an octopus.
In sum, the evidence for panspermia is very weak, not more than mere speculation and conjecture. It is not science, just as evolution is not science. This is because we do not have a laboratory the size of the entire universe to observe the entire process of the transferal of life seeds from one planet to the other from beginning to end.
As we saw, many in the scientific community still laugh at and mock the idea of panspermia. But, as the old saying goes, people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. It is wise for us, as creationists, to take the ‘divide and conquer’ tactic employed by Paul when he was being interrogated by the Pharisees and Sadducees (Acts 23:6). Both the Darwinists and the Hoylites are blind to the truth because they refuse to acknowledge their Creator, so all that remains for us to do is sit back and let them tear apart one another’s bad theories. Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
References and notes
- For example, Austrian evolutionist Gerd Müller has admitted in a lecture to the Royal Society in London that Neo-Darwinism has major “explanatory deficits” such as its failure to explain abrupt changes in the fossil record, the origin of new forms, and the origins of complexity (all the things that creationists have been saying for years!) See: Why the Royal Society Meeting Mattered, in a Nutshell, evolutionnews.org, 5 Dec 2016. (evolutionnews.org/2016/12/why_the_royal_s/) Return to text.
- Another example is a quote from biologist Dr Lynn Margulis, first wife of the late Dr Carl Sagan, who said, “The critics, including the creationist critics, are right about their criticism. It’s just that they’ve got nothing to offer but intelligent design or ‘God did it.’ They have no alternatives that are scientific.” See: Teresi, D., Discover Interview: Lynn Margulis says she’s not controversial, she’s right, discovermagazine.com, 16 Jun 2011) Return to text.
- Hoyle, F., The synthesis of the elements from hydrogen, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 106(5): 343–383, 1946 | doi:10.1093/mnras/106.5.343. Return to text.
- See also Henry, J., The elements of the universe point to creation: Introduction to a critique of nucleosynthesis theory, J. Creation 20(2):53–60, 2006. Return to text.
- Hoyle, F. and Wickramasinghe, C., Evolution from Space: A Theory of Cosmic Creationism, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1981, p. 143. Return to text.
- Steele, E. et al., Cause of Cambrian Explosion—Terrestrial or Cosmic?, Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology 136:3–23, 2018 | doi.org/10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2018.03.004. Return to text.
- Duggleby, R., Commentary: Numerical analysis of Steele et al.: Cause of Cambrian Explosion—terrestrial or cosmic?, Prog. Biophys. Mol. Biol. 141:72–73, Jan 2019 | doi:10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2018.09.002. Return to text.
- Moelling, K., Commentary to: Cause of Cambrian explosion—Terrestrial or cosmic?, Steele, E.J. et al., Prog. Biophys. Mol. Bio. 136:24, Aug 2018 | doi:10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2018.03.005. Return to text.
- Baverstock, K., Commentary on: Cause of Cambrian explosion—Terrestrial or Cosmic?, Prog. Biophys. Mol. Bio. 136:25–26, Aug 2018 | doi:10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2018.03.006. Return to text.
- See aforementioned documentary, Expelled; or, the interview is available online for free at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlZtEjtlirc. Return to text.
- Directed panspermia refers to the idea that life was purposely seeded onto our planet by intelligent beings, while undirected or ballistic panspermia would entail microorganisms or DNA being blasted to earth on comets, asteroids, or other interstellar objects. Return to text.
- See Bates, G., Alien Intrusion, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, 2010. Also: alienintrusion.com Return to text.
- Kaufman, M., In Search of Panspermia, astrobiology.nasa.gov/news/in-search-of-panspermia/, accessed 4 Dec 2019. Return to text.
- Scharf, C., The Panspermia Paradox, blogs.scientificamerican.com/life-unbounded/the-panspermia-paradox/, 15 Oct 2012. Return to text.
- O’Micks, J., Bacterial genome decay from a baraminological viewpoint, J. Creation 29(2):122–130, 2015. Return to text.
- Ref. 6, p.17. Return to text.
- Ref. 6, p.18. Return to text.
- Hence papers such as Bernhardt, H.S., (Department of Biochemistry, Otago University, New Zealand), The RNA world hypothesis: the worst theory of the early evolution of life (except for all the others), Biology Direct 7:23, 13 Jul 2012 | doi:10.1186/1745-6150-7-23. Return to text.
- An endogenous retrovirus (ERV) is allegedly a remnant of the insertion of DNA into a host organism’s genome by a retrovirus. Return to text.
- Terborg, P., The ‘VIGE-first hypothesis’—how easy it is to swap cause and effect, J Creation 27(3):105–112, 2013. Return to text.
- Compare Catchpoole, D., The octopus: Intelligent, evolution-defying master of camouflage, Creation 41(2):28–31, 2019. Return to text.
- If genome duplication is true, then we should find copies of a given gene interspersed all throughout the genome in locations far from one another. In contrast, single clusters of multiple-copy genes have been found in the octopus genome, which contradicts whole genome duplication. See figure 2. Return to text.
- Albertin, C.B. et al. The octopus genome and the evolution of cephalopod neural and morphological novelties, Nature 524(7564):220–4, 2015 | doi:10.1038/nature14668. Return to text.