Life from space?

Unlikely … Let’s wait and see

by and Jonathan Sarfati

The world’s media is abuzz with the claim that life forms have been found coming in on the Earth from outer space. This is said to reinforce the belief that life has evolved in space and ‘seeded’ the Earth.

This preliminary response was prepared prior to our being able to access original papers, but what we have been able to gather so far is as follows.

Did life really arise from a ‘primordial soup’?

What was actually found? The Scotsman (31 July 2001) reported:

‘A fluorescent dye which is only taken up by the membranes of living cells was used to detect the presence of the organisms. Electron microscope images revealed coral-like clumps of material measuring between five and 15 micrometres across. … “…we have detected between one and 10 clumps of these bacteria per litre of ambient air.”’

However, note the following:

  • Presuming that the test with the membrane-sensitive dye is proof that they are bacteria, we are not told how they allegedly differ from Earth-bound ones. Evidently their membranes aren’t too different! If their biochemistry or genetic machinery had been carefully compared, no doubt that would have featured prominently in the reports.

  • There are many non-living things that have a ‘ball-park’ resemblance to bacteria. Recall the various false ‘Mars rock (fossil) bacteria’ claims. Shape and size are not enough.

  • If the objects are indeed living organisms, it is true that living creatures have not been verified at that altitude before. But other scientists are saying there is no reason that the right weather conditions might not waft bacteria that far away from the Earth. In fact, it has been suggested in the past that Earth-bound bacteria may well get up high enough for radiation pressure to carry them off to other planets (see Planets can swap rocks).

  • There is something intrinsically strange about a claim which essentially says: ‘They’re 40 km from Earth, so they can’t have come from Earth, that’s too far, so they have come from another place trillions of km away.’

  • There is serious doubt whether bacteria, unprotected by e.g. being inside a rock, could survive the harsh conditions of outer space.

  • Finally, it may be very significant to note that one of the scientists apparently involved in the claim, Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, has long written about his theory (shared with Sir Fred Hoyle) that the Earth is being ‘seeded’ with living things from outer space. They developed this theory after they calculated how mathematically impossible it would be for life to evolve here on Earth. (Of course, their theory only shifts the impossibility to another part of the universe. And later they realised that the chance origin of life would defy the laws of probability even if the whole universe were filled with primordial soup!) Without wishing to be uncharitable, we are not the only ones pointing out that it may be no coincidence that the evidence is being interpreted to conform to that viewpoint.


In one sense we don’t have enough information to even warrant responding yet, but with all that media attention, Christians will be asking us about it sooner rather than later.

If these are bacteria, and it seems a big ‘if’ at present, it remains to be seen whether they indeed originated from outer space. If so, then knowing the incredible complexity of even the simplest living thing, they must also be the product of creation. Nevertheless, in the ‘big picture’ of the Bible, it would be an exceedingly strange thing to expect life forms in outer space. Our deep skepticism on this claim has both a scientific and a Biblical basis.

As our subtitle said, though, ‘let’s wait and see’. Meanwhile, check out the articles on Q&A: Alien Life/UFOs.

Published: 6 February 2006