The Meaning of Life On Earth
Chapter Two: A Key Microsecond of Existence
Let’s consider one explanation for life on earth that doesn’t violate any laws of science and therefore is not impossible from a scientific perspective:
What if DNA was sent to earth from some other world some 3.88 billion years ago.
What if the beings that sent this DNA here wanted intelligent life to exist on other worlds but were bound by the laws of inertia and gravity that prohibit extremely rapid travel by large objects. (At any speed higher than a few thousand miles per second—a tiny fraction of the speed of light—a collision of an object any more than a few pounds with an object the size of a speck of dust would generate as much kinetic energy as a nuclear explosion; it would destroy both objects.)
What if they could only send life to other worlds if they reduced the package size to an incredibly tiny size to make it transportable. What if all they could send is a few snippets of DNA and a few of the bio-chemical machines that would make life work? (These critical bio-chemical ‘machines’ are explained below. They might include a machine that reproduces the DNA; a power source, and a machine to turn the most abundant energy source on earth—solar energy—into the required fuel for the power source. As we will see, chlorophyll turns solar energy into sugar, mitochondria are the power cells of all living things on earth, and ribosmes reproduce DNA.) What if they built the DNA in such a way that it would start out being a very simple living thing but would reproduce in a way that caused it to evolve to eventually become extremely complicated thinking beings? What if this package arrived on earth 3.88 billion years ago and everything worked as intended?
The Merriam Webster defines ‘crazy’ as (Link to source.) It is not ordinary to think of this, so it meets the definition of ‘crazy.’ It is crazy—by definition—to think that this might be the origin of life on earth. But extremely competent scientists have considered the idea that it might be true and subjected it to scientific analysis. (We will look at some of this analysis later in this book.) They have determined that it could be done without violating any laws of science. It may be crazy, but it is not impossible from a scientific perspective. Let’s look at how the scientific evidence fits together.
A Key Microsecond of Earthly Existence
Scientists have found evidence for the date that the solar system first came to exist that is so conclusive that they generally agree on this: the solar system came to exist 5.38 billion years ago. The earth began to form at this time. At first, this planet was nothing but an extremely hot mass of iron, oxygen, silicon, aluminum, and other elements that were a very hot mix. They were so hot that none of them were in a solid state: they were either liquid or gas. Gradually, the mass cooled. Eventually, planet cooled enough to allow some solids to appear. The scientific evidence tells us that this occurred 4.4 billion years ago. (Link to source.) In other words, the Earth, as a solid planet, dates back 4.4 billion years ago. This was when the Earth came to exist in a form that we would recognize as a solid planet.
The oldest fossil evidence of living things yet found on
Earth dates back to of 3.58 billion years ago.
These fossils show us that, at this time, living things that have historically been called ‘blue-green algae’ existed. Recently, scientists have started a movement to rename these living things ‘cyanobacteria.’ In this book, blue-green algae and cyanobacteria will refer to the same organisms.
What We Know And What We Don’t Know
When life first formed on this world, the Earth was an extremely hostile place: its land was still condensing into rock from molten lava, which broke through the think part of rock ‘crust’ on many occasions to flow over the land. The Earth’s atmosphere consisted mostly of the very heavy gas (relative to the weight of the gasses that make up our current atmosphere) carbon dioxide. Because of carbon dioxide’s massive weight, our atmosphere was thick and heavy, creating conditions similar to those on Venus today: the atmospheric pressure on the surface was perhaps equivalent to 90 times the atmosphere of the current Earth, roughly the same pressure you would get with a column of water that is 3000 feet thick above us.
Although at least parts of the Earth were solid, the planet was very, very hot. In part this was because it was still in the process of forming. But it was also hot because its atmosphere was 20% carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide traps heat and prevents it from escaping. The sunlight can get through carbon dioxide to warm the planet, but the infrared energy we call ‘heat’ can’t get back out to allow the planet to cool.
This is the reason your car gets hot when in the sun with the windows closed: they sunlight is a frequency that goes right through the glass. The sunlight then warms the car. The car tries to cool itself by reradiating the energy, but it radiates in a different frequency, the infrared frequency, that can’t get out through the glass. Carbon dioxide traps infrared energy in the same way glass traps it. If carbon dioxide levels are high, the world can get very hot. Again, we can get some idea of the temperature of the original earth from an analysis of Venus, which is roughly the same size as Earth but has a carbon dioxide atmosphere: its surface temperature averages about 700 Degrees Fahrenheit. The Earth, which is slightly farther from the sun, would have been somewhat cooler, but not so cool as to allow liquid water to exist anywhere except a few isolated places. (High mountains would stick above the insulating blanket of carbon dioxide and would be about as cool as these peaks are today; the poles would probably have areas that were cool enough for liquid water to form).
This was the condition of the Earth some 3.58 billion years ago, when the first DNA-based life came to exist here.
As soon as this life appeared, it started to do important things that changed the environment of the planet. Blue-green algae (Cyanobacteria) uses photosynthesis to change the content of the atmosphere. Photosynthesis splits carbon dioxide molecules into carbon and oxygen. The carbon is then bound to hydrogen to form ‘hydrocarbons’ (coal, oil, and natural gas are all ‘hydrocarbons.’) The hydrocarbons are heavier than even the very heavy carbon dioxide; they sink to the ground and eventually get buried. The blue-green algae release the oxygen into the atmosphere. Since the oxygen is much lighter than the carbon dioxide, it rises above the carbon dioxide clouds. This allows mountains that are not quite as high to poke through the insulating blanket, creating more places where liquid water can exist and providing more homes for the blue-green algae.
As the atmosphere changes, the rate of change of the atmosphere increases. After about a billion years, large land areas were above the insulating blanket of carbon dioxide and cool enough to support liquid water. The carbon dioxide level of the atmosphere began to fall quite quickly. As this happened, the atmosphere pressure dropped (oxygen and nitrogen are much lighter than carbon dioxide) and the Earth’s average temperature cooled. The carbon that had been in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide was combined with hydrogen to form hydrocarbons (oil, natural gas, and coal.) The hydrocarbons were covered and eventually ended up deep below the Earth’s surface.
After about 3 billion years (580 million years ago), the planet was a changed place. There still was no life except the blue-green algae, but the temperature and atmospheric composition of the planet was entirely different than it had been before. (Venus didn’t have the same events. Although it is about the same size and roughly the same distance from the sun as the Earth, it kept its carbon dioxide atmosphere and remains pretty much as it was formed.) The average temperature had cooled to roughly the same temperature we have now, the perfect temperature for liquid water to cover the great majority of the planet.
Oxygen Breathing Life
At this point, the first oxygen-breathing living things appeared on Earth.
Other living things used oxygen, but they used in a form that was chemically bound to other elements. Their bodies had to use large amounts of energy to release the oxygen from its bonds, and this made these organisms (including blue-green algae) extremely inefficient: Most of their energy was used to get the oxygen they needed, leaving little for reproduction. If free oxygen is available (in the form of oxygen which is not bound to anything else and will be a gas at nearly all temperatures found in the universe), living things can take full advantage of an the incredible efficiency of the energy process explained in the next few chapters, the process used by all complex living things on earth.
These beings somehow changed their form. The earlier beings did not have ‘cells.’ The DNA of the organisms floated along with materials the algae used for energy, with nothing to protect them from the outside world. The new living things that appeared 580 million years ago had two different kinds of barriers to protect them from the elements. They had an outside ‘cell wall’ that held in everything needed for life. Inside of this cell wall was another cell wall that held the most important part of the living thing, the DNA. This ‘cell within a cell’ is called the ‘nucleus.’
These new type of living things could reproduce in a different way than the old living things. Sexual reproduction is a system where some of the DNA of two different cells mixes together to create a new strand of DNA that never existed before.
Before about 580 million years ago, there was no sex. Blue-green algae reproduced entirely different than the new ‘cells’: they basically made identical clones of themselves. The new ‘cells’ reproduced in a way that led to genetic diversity. If diverse living things exist, some will have advantages that make them more likely to survive to sexual maturity: they will then reproduce. Others have disadvantages that cause them to perish before they have sex, preventing these disadvantages from being passed down to their offspring. As a result of this process, the living things can improve in capabilities over time. They can ‘evolve’ into superior life forms.
Over the next 580 million years, the evolution was extremely rapid. About 3.4 million years ago, beings had advanced to the level of very intelligent hominids. We know they could think on an abstract level because they left behind tools that had to be made out of several components and manufactured: it would not be possible to even envision such tools (let alone engineer and build them) without the ability to think in a self-directed way about things that don’t already exist.
What Does This Tell Us About The Origin Of Life?
Francis Crick, one of the scientists who discovered the genetic code that underlies all life on Earth (explained below) claimed that it is highly unlikely that the process described above came about as a result of random chance. Crick wrote several scientific papers and a mass-market book that provided evidence that the mathematical probability of such events happening unintentionally as a matter of chance were so astronomically high that even if the entire universe were created quadrillions of times over, it would not happen—even one time—as a result of chance.
If it did not happen by chance, what did happen?
What other alternatives can explain these events?
Crick proposed that one alternative to ‘it happening by chance’ was ‘it happening by design.’ He proposed a theory called ‘panspermia,’ which speculated that it is possible that, some 3.58 billion years ago—when the Earth was still a new planet and a very inhospitable place—a tiny package arrived here. This package contained the DNA that ultimately evolved into humans. This theory holds that a package could have been sent here intentionally.
In his book ‘Life Itself,’ Francis Crick provides evidence that the panspermia theory is the only truly scientific theory that can explain the realities of the fantastic process we call ‘life’ on Earth. All other theories either start with unscientific premises (for example, that a super-human being called ‘God’ said an incantation and, due to his powers, it appeared) or are in capable of explaining certain realities of the process called ‘life’ that science has discovered or categorized.
Why This Matters
The panspermia theory was so outlandish and contrary to accepted ideas about the origin of life on Earth that it turned Crick into a laughingstock for many years. People wouldn’t take him seriously as long as he remained willing to consider this theory as a real possibility. He eventually turned to other matters, those which weren’t so contrary to standard accepted beliefs. Eventually people seemed to forget and it was as if the theory had never been proposed.
I am bringing the ‘panspermia’ theory up for an important reason:
Without passing judgment on whether or not this theory is correct, we have to accept this: this theory is the result of a mode of organizing thoughts that is highly desirable, if the human race is to overcome the obstacles we now face and prevent our extinction. The mode of thought that is willing to consider such theories puts logic and reason above beliefs, feelings, and traditional ideas that ascribe anything we don’t understand to magical and miraculous forces. This mode of thought shows a lack of fear for things that humans appear to be afraid to think about. By merely proposing that people consider this theory, Crick is showing confidence in the human race, accepting that the human race is at or at least on the verge of having the ability to put primitivism in the past, and use force of will to prevent the beliefs of past generations from coloring analysis of objective reality.
New Information about Panspermia
In the mid 1980s, Crick decided to change the direction of his life and devote his time to other areas, so he effectively abandoned his involvement in the panspermia theory in the mid 1980s. Since he appeared to be the only person with any access to resources that was even willing to accept this theory as a possibility, when he ended his involvement, work on this particular premise for the origin of life on Earth effectively ended.
At least, for a few decades:
The first automated DNA sequencers didn’t come into use until after Crick’s death in 2004. Even as you are reading this, all around the world are using these sequencers to unravel one of the messages that Crick and his colleagues found written in the DNA in 1954. They are finding wonderful things. Many of these things don’t make any sense if we think of DNA as having come to exist through some random processes, but make total sense if we accept the panspermia theory. The people who are willing to accept this possible explanation for the origin of life are still only a tiny minority, and the mainstream doesn’t seem to have any more tolerance for these ideas now than they did in the 1980s, but each day new evidence comes to light that only makes sense if we accept the panspermia theory, or some other theory of non-magical intelligent design.
I now want to go over some of the information that supports the theory of panspermia. This includes the information that Crick provided in his 1984 book, as well as a great deal of very compelling evidence that has been discovered since work on this theory was abandonded.
I am doing this for a very specific reason. I want to make sure you understand this reason:
Whether or not this theory is correct, its acceptance as a possibility indicates the acceptance of a mode of thinking that can help us get out of our current problems and prevent our destruction.
If you take this theory seriously, you will consider the evidence that supports it objectively. If you do this, you will find a way to look at human existence and the realities we see around us that will allow you to see existence in a new light.
You will see that it is highly likely that the human race exists for a very definite reason.
This reason may not be fully apparent to us yet, but if we are able to organize our minds to allow them to accept any theory of non-magical intelligent design, we must accept certain extremely non-conventional things about the reason for humans existing on Earth are extremely likely. (Unconventional: not conforming to standardized belief systems and not a part of popular culture.)
It may very well be that we have a purpose and a destiny.
What is ‘Life?’
The second book in this series, Forensic History, explained Darwin’s premise of a ‘universal common ancestor’ and how recent advances have allowed us to test this premise. It showed that this theory is so probable that, mathematically speaking, it is more certain than any other premise science has ever proposed. If we accept science, we must accept that all beings on Earth share a common ancestor. While we don’t know exactly when this common ancestor came to exist, we do know that it must have occurred more than 3.58 billion years ago, because we have abundant evidence of life existing as of that date. There are only three possible ways that the UCA could have come to exist when it did:
In order to understand exactly why the first two options are not possible, we need to understand a little bit about the way the process we call ‘life’ works, from a mechanical perspective, in all things that are ‘alive’ here on Earth.
I want to warn you in advance that the information that follows is intellectually challenging. I have spent a great deal of time learning it, many years in fact, both in university classes and through independent study in very difficult and challenging fields. I will condense this information a great deal and simplify it as much as I can, so you can see the general ideas needed to understand the essential points of this chapter. If you find this kind of analysis interesting (and I hope that you do; there is a great deal more work that could be done in all of the fields discussed below), the internet provides a treasure trove of information and virtually any university in the world will have classes in the key fields. I have tried to make the discussions as simple as possible, given the topic, and expect that most people should be able to get it if they are willing to go through it slowly.
First a little physics:
Before 1905, scientists only had theories to tell them that the things called ‘molecules’ exist. There was no proof. Scientists had never seen molecules, or done any experiments that allowed them to tell if molecules really existed and, if so, what they did and how they worked. In 1905, Albert Einstein got a paper published called ‘Investigations on the theory of Brownian movement.’ In this paper, Einstein presented mathematical evidence that the movement of pollen grains that were suspended in water, called ‘Brownian motion,’ could be explained by collision with tiny ‘particles’ of water. The math showed that, if water formed itself into ‘particles’ with one atom of oxygen and two of hydrogen, the weight of these ‘particles’ colliding with pollen grains would be exactly enough to account for the observed motion of the pollen grains.
This was seen as proof that molecules existed and were real things.
Over the next few decades, analysis of molecules advanced a great deal. The nest great milestone came in 1939, when Linus Pauling published the book ‘The Nature of the Chemical Bond and the Structure of Molecules and Crystals: An Introduction to Modern Structural Chemistry.’ This book used various different tools to show how nature puts atoms together to form molecules. Pauling’s book explained how to determine the exact distance that the atoms were from each other, and the angles that separated them. It explained how to calculate the bond ‘strength,’ or the amount of force holding the atoms together and the amount of energy needed to separate them. This passage is from the jacket material for this book:
With this information, researchers could begin to make scale models of molecules for the first time. They could and did get tiny balls made of some porous material (styrofoam) and sticks, and physically put them together. Pauling’s book explained how far apart the atoms must be, and the exact angles of the bonds. Scientists could put together even very complex molecules as if assembling a puzzle.
Prior to the 1953, the term ‘deoxyribonucleic acid’ or DNA simply referred to an acidic substance of the nuclei of cells. By the 1950s, researchers were starting to realize that DNA was no ordinary substance. DNA formed itself into shapes that could be seen under microscopes as very complex. It reproduced itself to make exact copies of these shapes in incredible numbers. (there are more than 5 trillion exact copies of your nucleic DNA in your body, one in each cell of that body.) DNA appeared to be a truly enormous molecule, one that clumped together into collections of atoms so large that they can be seen with powerful microscopes (called ‘chromosomes’). DNA appears to have special properties that no other molecule had. Researchers began to try to figure out how DNA could do the seemingly impossible things it did.
In 1953, three researchers at the University of Cambridge in England, Francis Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins, used calculations in Linus Pauling’s book to make physical models of the components of DNA. These components are called ‘amino acid bases:’ they include adenine (abbreviated A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and uracil (U). After they had models of the bases, they worked out ways to fit them together to see if they could make a model of this complex molecule.
They found that they only fit together in a very specific way only, a way that explained the special properties of this molecule.
A could only bond with U and U could only bond with A. G could only bond with C and C could only bond with G. These bondings created something called ‘base pairs.’ The ‘base pairs’ then became something that looks like the rungs of a ladder that takes the shape of a double helix. Qqqq dna model left.
The chemical bonds holding the base pairs together in the middle are very weak. (Technically called ‘hydrogen bonds,’ they are a kind of ‘semi bond,’ which is not nearly as strong as true chemical bonds.) This allows the ‘ladder’ to split in the middle; under the right circumstances, it will ‘unzip’ almost like a zipper, turning the molecule into two ‘half ladders.’
Each rung of the ‘half ladders’ can only bond with the appropriate other ‘base amino acid,’ as described below. Once a molecule has split into two ‘half ladders,’ molecules found in the nuclei of cells can then ‘rebuild’ the two half ladders into two brand new ladders. Human DNA has about 3 billion ‘rungs’ in its ladder. In the new ladders, the rungs are identical to those in the old ladders, with each of the 3 billion ‘base pairs in the exact same sequence in the new ladders as in the original one.
The new molecules (‘ladders’) are exact clones of the original.
You could think of the information in the DNA as like a coded message. If you start with a ‘half ladder,’ each ‘half rung’ will be one of the four ‘amino acid bases,’ either A, C, G, or U. There will be 3 billion ‘half rungs.’ The sequence of the ‘letters’ in the genetic code is used (as we will see shortly) to create the physical molecules needed for the processes we call ‘life’ to take place. This coded message can make exact copies of itself. Under the right circumstances, each of the coded messages can turn into a new independent living thing.
This was an amazing discovery.
But even more amazing discoveries were to come.
The Second Coded Message In DNA
There is also a second, far more complex code within DNA.
This code is responsible for producing the ‘worker molecules’ in living things, called ‘proteins.’ Proteins are very complex molecules that do things in life.
Hemoglobin is one example of a protein. The hemoglobin molecule is red in color; this is what gives blood its distinctive color. Hemoglobin is a complex molecule that has the ability to ‘soak up’ oxygen when it passes through the lungs. The hemoglobin then carries that oxygen to the cells of the body, which all need oxygen for their life functions. When a red blood cell containing oxygen-saturated hemoglobin gets to cells that need oxygen, it releases the oxygen and sends it through the cell wall. The cell then sends carbon dioxide (a waste product of metabolism) back through the wall. The hemoglobin inside the red blood cells then ‘soaks up’ the carbon dioxide. The red blood cells then travel back to the lungs where the hemoglobin releases the carbon dioxide as air (which you will then exhale). The entire process then begins again.
Hemoglobin is one of more than 2 million different known proteins in the human body.
All of them have to be manufactured by the body; none of them can come from food:
The reason for this is that all proteins are far larger than the openings in intestinal walls and can’t get through from food to the bloodstream. It is true that you can eat proteins. But these proteins can’t go directly from your food into your cells. In your intestines, bacteria break down the proteins into amino acids (which all proteins are made of). The amino acids are small enough to get through the intestinal wall. Once they are there in the bloodstream, your body sends them to cellular factories that ‘reassemble’ them, through the process described below, to make the exact mix of new proteins that your body needs.
These new proteins do the ‘work’ needed to keep your life functions going.
The second code in DNA is the code the body uses to reassemble the amino acids as needed into new proteins.
Researchers have found that there are exactly 20 amino acids in all living things on Earth. (You will find them all listed in the table below, marked ‘the genetic code.’) No living thing has more or less than this. The DNA ‘codes’ for these 20 amino acids in a very specific way that Crick, Watkins, and Wilkins discovered and catalogued in 1953.
Here is the short version of how this process works (you can find as detailed of explanations as you want on the internet):
If your body needs a protein, specialized proteins find a DNA molecule and split the ‘ladder’ into two ‘half ladders.’ One of these half ladders then ‘grabs’ the amino acids needed to reproduce itself and turn it back into a full ladder.
Now you have a full DNA molecule and a ‘half ladder.’ The ‘half ladder’ is called ‘messenger RNA.’ It holds the ‘messages’ needed to make the proteins. Each set of 3 rungs on the messenger RNA is a ‘triplet’. For example, if there are three ‘rungs’ that are each made of Uracil, the triplet is UUU. There are 64 possible triplets. (In other words, 64 possible three letter combinations, where each of the letters may be one of four amino acids.) The chart to the right shows all of the possible combinations. Each three-letter combination corresponds to one block in the chart, and each block contains the name of 1 of the 20 amino acids. (Note that there are 64 possible combinations but only 20 amino acids, so each amino acid is coded by more than one triplet; in some cases there are 2 and in some cases 3.) This relationship, between the ‘triplets’ of letters and 20 amino acids, is called ‘the genetic code.’
Qqqq genetic code here.
Crick, Watson, and Wilkins discovered the mechanism living things use to manufacture the worker molecules needed for life processes to take place. Here is how it works:
A specialized protein called a ‘ribosome’ ‘grabs’ onto three of the ‘rungs’ of this half ladder. The ribosome then ‘reads’ that triplet and ‘decodes it,’ figuring out which of the 20 amino acids it represents. For example, if it ‘sees’ UUU, it knows that the required amino acid is Phenylalanine; if it ‘sees’ UUA it knows it needs Leucine. (You may want to refer to the chart to the right to see that these are the corresponding molecules.) Once the ribosome ‘knows’ which amino acid is required, it ‘grabs’ that particular amino acid from its surroundings, where all of the 20 amino acids are available. It ‘attaches’ the required amino acid to the three ‘rungs’ it is ‘holding.’ It then ‘walks’ down another three ‘rungs.’ It ‘reads’ the code to see which amino acid is called for; it ‘grabs’ that amino acid, and it ‘attaches’ it to the three ‘rungs’ it is ‘holding.’ It then walks down the ‘ladder’ again to get to the next three ‘rungs’ and does the same thing.
At a certain point, it will come to a code that tells it that the protein is finished. At this point, the ribosome will work with several other proteins to ‘cut’ the long chain of amino acids loose from the ‘half ladder’ of messenger RNA. After the new protein has been removed, the messenger RNA (the ‘half ladder’ that we started with) is available to make another protein, if another is needed.
This leaves a long chain of amino acids in the right sequence that is floating in the cell. This is not a finished protein yet, because all proteins are 3-dimensional molecules and this is just a long chain. The protein is a worker; it can’t do its job unless it has been ‘folded’ into the proper shape by other worker proteins. Every atom has to be in the exact right position for the molecule to do its job. Specialized proteins come in to ‘fold’ the chain into the required shape. Now the protein is finished and can be sent out to do whatever job it was designed to do.
Here is an example so you can see how this works: Hemoglobin is a protein. It has exactly 137 amino acids. These amino acids are coded in 438 of the 3 billion ‘rungs’ in your DNA. Each 3 ‘rung’ combination (triplet) represents 1 of these 137 amino acids. If your body needs hemoglobin, it signals to the cells to make some. Proteins divide a DNA molecule into two ‘half ladders’ (if there is none already divided) and ribosomes begin making the 137-link chain. Once the chain is complete, other proteins cut this chain loose from the half ladder (allowing the half-ladder to make another hemoglobin molecule, if necessary).
The hemoglobin molecule is not finished yet. It is a 3 dimensional molecule and can’t work as a chain. Other proteins then ‘fold’ this hemoglobin into the required shape.
Now the hemoglobin molecule is finished. Your body needed the hemoglobin to make red blood cells, the only cells in the body that use hemoglobin. Bone marrow is the only place in your body that makes red blood cells, so the hemoglobin and all of the other proteins needed to make red blood cells must be transported to the bone marrow. Once all of the parts needed to make red blood cells are available, the marrow makes them. It then sends the blood cells out into the blood stream to start their working life. Your body replaces all of its red blood cells every 90 days, so the old cells are constantly being removed from the body and replacement blood cells are being made. To supply the needed hemoglobin, your body makes millions of molecules of hemoglobin (by the above process) every minute of every day you are alive.
Hemoglobin is one of roughly 2 million different proteins that your body needs to operate. They are all made the same way. A single strand of DNA contains all the information needed to make every one of these proteins.
So far, we are not talking about a theory.
A theory is a guess about how something might work by people who don’t fully understand the exact mechanism. The genetic code is not a theory, it is a scientific fact. It is known to be the way living things make the ‘worker molecules’ needed to maintain life processes.
Seeding the Universe
There are only three possible ways that the UCA (universal common ancestor) of all humankind could have come to exist on Earth:
1. The living common ancestor could have evolved from some non-living thing.
2. The living common ancestor could come from spontaneous generation: the right combination of atoms may have been in the right place at the right time, and they could have then ‘come to life’ as a result of a natural event like a lighting strike.
3. The living common ancestor could have been created intentionally. It could have been designed to do certain things by its creators. It could have then been sent to Earth, along with many other worlds, to perform the designed functions.
If you understand the genetic code, you can see that the first two options can’t possibly be correct.
First consider evolution of this universal common ancestor from a non-living thing:
Evolution starts with simple things and builds to more complex things. The genetic code is extremely complex. The decoding mechanism, by itself, is more complex than even most complex computer languages in use today (see sidebar for more information):
The genetic code is a 64-character code that the ribosomes translate into a 20-character code. (You can see this by the genetic code table above; there are 64 possible ‘triplets’ or three ‘rung’ combinations of 4 ‘letters’ each; the ribosomes translate this into a 20 ‘letter’ code in accordance with the table.) The real genetic code is a 64-character code.
The first computer languages on Earth were written in an 8-character code. The 16-character operating system was introduced in 1990 and 32 character operating systems came into use for the first time in the early 2000s. Although 32 and 64-character systems exist, they are not true 32 or 64 character languages, they are modified 16 character systems and have no true 32 or 64 character functions. (They are designed for ‘multitasking’ or doing several tasks that requires 8 or 16 character messages at the same time.) Perhaps some military or other government programmers have worked out true 64 character operating systems to try to create military advantages, but if they do exist, they are extremely primitive relative to the coding mechanism for DNA.
If the genetic code had evolved here on Earth, there would have to be simpler versions of it somewhere. The earliest life forms would have simpler versions of the genetic code, and then the code would have gotten more complex over the course of billions of years.
There aren’t any simpler versions of the genetic code in any living thing on this planet. In fact, there aren’t even any other versions of it. The genetic code is identical for all life forms, from the simplest blue-green algae (so far identified as the first living things on the planet) to humans.
When the common ancestor of all living things came to exist on Earth billions of years ago, it used the exact same code and coding mechanism that human DNA uses today.
This allows us to rule out evolution: Evolution requires change and there has been no change. The genetic code is in the exact same form it was in when it first appeared on Earth.
Next, we can rule out spontaneous generation. Some have speculated that a collection of atoms that happened to be in the right configuration and then were somehow hit by a spark that brought them to life.
We can rule this out because of the immense complexity of the coding mechanisms. The code itself (the DNA molecule) has 208 billion atoms. Every single one of them has to be in the exact right place for the molecule to do what it does.
Even having all of the atoms in the exact right place doesn’t give you ‘life.’ The molecule DNA can’t even reproduce without a large collection of existing proteins to ‘unzip’ it and then reassemble the copies. It can’t make proteins without an even larger collection of existing proteins to do the work described above.
While doing all this, the living organism must get energy from some source (plants generally use photosynthesis; animals generally use mitochondria to break down carbohydrates into water, carbon dioxide, and energy).
Even having all of these things together won’t give you life: there has to be a kind of ‘boot sequence’ that gets everything started.
We couldn’t calculate the odds of something like this happening spontaneously, at the same time and same place and in the right sequence, because they are so remote.
But we might compare it to the odds of some other fantastically unlikely event.
Say a nuclear bomb fell on a forested area. It is possible that the fibers in the trees could form themselves into white paper, the molecules in oil and under the ground coal turn themselves into black ink, and the entire collection could then fall to Earth from the sky as bound books, exactly matching the books of the Library of Congress, all with the right fonts, spacing, and margins, and without a single missing or extra mark.
We can’t claim this is ‘impossible’ because coincidences do happen and this remarkable coincidence could possibly happen, if the test were attempted many more times than there are atoms in the universe. Although it is possible, however, it isn’t really credible. The odds against it happening are so far beyond anything that we could calculate that no thinking person would ever really presume that such a thing could actually happen in a real-world situation.
The spontaneous generation of working model of the genetic code (the proper coded message in DNA, accompanied by all of the proteins needed to make it work, all of which had the appropriate ‘boot sequence’ to make it begin and continue operating) would be even more unlikely than the nuclear bomb perfectly reproducing the Library of Congress. A scientist would not try to explain something by a process that is so unlikely that, for practical purposes, it is not possible.
After We Rule Out Evolution And Spontaneous Generation For The Genetic Code, What Else Is Left?
Imagine you were born into a different situation. Imagine that, rather than being born on Earth, you were born on another planet that is far more advanced than Earth is today. When you went to school, you took an interest in the ‘panspermia’ project, a project that had been proposed to create a programmed molecule that contains the codes needed for life and the ‘key’ needed to ‘boot’ this molecule and make it begin operation, and then send this designed molecule to various different newly-formed planets.
Imagine that you have just graduated and have taken a job with the team that will attempt to predict what will happen if everything goes as planned, the coded molecule actually gets to a planet, the key successfully ‘boots’ the process and life begins.
The people who have created this programmed molecule (the universal common ancestor) have told your group that it will take about 3.5 billion years for the evolving life to reach the level of self-aware beings. Your team will call them ‘humans’ so they have a term to refer to them. Your team’s job is to predict what is likely to happen then, after the first humans come to exist.
Humans have an ability that no lower animals have: they can think about their situation, figure out how the structures around them work, and use tools of various kinds to alter the way their situation works and make it better, in accordance with a plan. They will quickly find that they can accomplish more if they work together, so they will organize themselves in some way.
They will form societies.
How will the first societies work?
The idea of a being that evolves on the planet claming to ‘own’ the planet is not intuitive.
You may suspect that this would not occur to the newly-evolved thinking beings.
They would probably not think that the planet belongs to them.
If no one owns the planet, no one owns the food and other good things it produces. They would have to have meetings and make common decisions about what to do with these things. They would share these things in some way that they could agree on among themselves.
They would realize that they got more to share if they treated nature with respect. Their greed (desire to get more) would push them to take care of the planet. They would teach the principles of ‘care of the planet’ to their children, eventually formulating a set of ‘natural laws.’ For example, it is a natural law that if you destroy part of the world, it stops producing value and everyone who depends on it gets less. People would figure out these natural laws and teach them to their children. You would expect the first societies to evolve to be based on the principles of natural law. You would know that, once your evolving creatures got to this stage, they would be safe. They would be at the top of the food chain, with the ability to figure out how to survive almost anywhere.
People would have babies. The population would grow. A reasonable rate of growth (equivalent to about 1.2% per Earth-equivalent year) it would increase to the maximum carrying capacity of the land within a few thousand years. This is a tiny bit of time for your team, because you already realize it will take at least 3.5 billion years for humans to exist.
A few thousand years one way or the other would not be noticeable. You should realize that you would not be working with or analyzing the condition of a few isolated tribes, but a large population, living together in some sort of organized way.
Current Ideas About this Issue
According to the PEW Research Group, slightly more than 4 billion of the world’s 7.5 billion people follow one of the religions classified as ‘Abrahamic Religions.’ These religions include Christianity, Islam and Judaism; they are all built on the belief that a being with super-human and super-scientific powers (called ‘God’ in the Christian part of the world) created the world and then determined and continues to dictate what happens on that world.
Of the remaining 3.5 billion people, the great majority are claimed to accept various other beliefs about various other claimed beings with super-human and super-scientific powers. The belief-systems teach adherents that the being(s) with super powers used these powers to create all of the wonderful things around us, including all of the things that have the wonderful quality we call ‘being alive,’ and all humans, and all of the things humans need to sustain our life processes.
What is wrong with this?
Why should we have to worry about it?
Things that people believe in their own minds can’t possibly harm us, can they?
I claim they can harm us and are harming us. Here is my logic:
If we accept that beings with superpowers created everything, we are accepting that we—the members of the human race are not the masters of our own destinies. We don’t direct what happens on this world, the superbeing(s) do. If we are not in control of our destiny, we are helpless to do anything about our current situation. We can all see that, if current trends continue, it is only a matter of a short period of time (perhaps only a few generations; some say only a few decades) before we have destroyed a vital part of our environment (either unintentionally or intentionally in a nuclear war) and end up extinct.
If we aren’t in charge of our own destiny, there is nothing we can do about this. We just have to accept it. Even trying to do something about it would be a sacrilege of types: to try implies that we don’t really believe that the superbeings are in charge and that we really believe we have the ability to overcome the claimed powers and authorities of the superbeings.
In Possible Societies and Forensic History, we have seen that if we (the members of the human race) were to take certain practical steps, we would definitely be able to change the path we are on. In fact, if we took the right steps, we would have a definite and very high provable mathematical probability of building social organizations that could truly meet the needs of the human race. We can only fail to realize this potential for one reason: If we refuse to try.
This is where the beliefs become dangerous.
If we accept them, we refuse to try. If we refuse to try, we can’t succeed.
The Meaning of Life
Why do we feel such a desperate need to hold these beliefs?
I believe that this is due to a massive hole in our understanding of basic realities of existence. Certain things we see around us appear to be too fantastic to have gotten here by any means other than magic. In other words, certain things we see around us appear to be so incredible they could only have come to exist through miracles: events that supercede the power of humans and the laws of science.
Most important of these ‘incredible events’ appears to be our own existence. The more science tells us about the process we call ‘life,’ the more impossible it seems that it could have come to exist through scientific processes. We see the incredible beauty and simplicity of the molecule called DNA, and follow the way it works to form the foundation of trillions of different life forms, from the simplest viruses to the most intelligent of humans. How could all this have come to be without magic? It seems impossible to imagine.
But what if we try to imagine it?
Is it even possible that life on Earth could have come to exist as a result of understandable, scientific processes? Is it even possible that human life could have come to exist as a result of the operation of non-magical and non-miraculous processes? I’m not talking here about the very simple ‘theory of evolution’ that holds that once life already exists, it will evolve into more complex forms. This only explains a tiny part of the puzzle: it does not explain how ‘life’ itself got started on this planet and it doesn’t explain the various living processes (like sexual reproduction) which appear to be designed to cause evolution to take pace at the fantastic pace needed to cause the simple life forms that lived only a few billion years ago into the amazing beings called ‘humans.’
Is there a way to put all this together without evoking magic or super-scientific beings at any stage?
If there is, the human race would have some hope. We have already seen (in Possible Societies and Forensic History) that, if certain steps were taken, the human race could reorganize its existence in ways that ensure survival, sustainability, and universal prosperity for an indefinite period of time. We definitely can do it if we try. At least until now, however, people have not seen fit to even take the very first steps to make this a reality.
Only one answer makes sense: they have not tried because they did not believe this was the right thing to do. For some reason, they thought it was wrong to take our destiny into our own hands. In fact, they must have thought it was wrong to even accept, on a conscious level, that we had the right to believe that we have control of our destiny. And how could anyone believe this?
Again, only one answer makes sense:
People must have decided, on some level, that we are not in control of events here on Earth. They must have accepted one of the beliefs about super-beings being in charge.
I am not trying to claim that people who accept the beliefs in superbeings are wrong. The superbeings may very well exist. I am only trying to show that, if we reject the premise that superbeings determine earthly events, and accept the things that science, logic, and reason, tell us are correct, we must accept that we will have a very high probability of saving the human race and planet Earth.
You can think of this as a kind of ‘what if?’ book. We don’t know for sure if there are superbeings that created us. However, we can begin our analysis of existence two entirely different ways, starting with two mutually exclusive premises:
I am not claiming that one starting place is wrong and the other is right. I am only asking you to accept that there are two different starting places for analysis of the realities of human existence. We have seen in the other books in this series that, if we accept science, we must also accept that we (the members of the human race) are the dominant species on Earth. This means that no other being on Earth has any ability to keep us from changing the realities of our existence, if we wish to do this. This means that our destiny depends on our wishes: if we wish to survive, we can do so; if we wish to allow the situation we see around us to continue to lead us toward extinction, we also have this option.
If we start with the second of the above assumptions, all this follows.
If we start with the second assumption, there is only one way the human race can go extinct: we have to decide we want to go extinct.
However, if we start with the first assumption, we are led to believe that our intentions don’t matter. This implies that it is not only useless to try, it is immoral to try (or even accept that we have the right to try). Obviously, if we don’t try to change anything, nothing will change, and we will go extinct. If there are superbeings, we can blame this on them and, perhaps, we may at some point come to realize that these superbeings really do exist and, for some reason, want the human race to exterminate itself.
The key to this puzzle is the immense hole in our knowledge. The very idea of life (as we see it on Earth) coming to exist through any kind non-magical process seems too incredible for us to accept, so we want to believe in miracles/magic.
What if this hole could be filled? What if we could put together the things we see around us in a way that makes sense, without any need for magic? If we could do this, perhaps we wouldn’t feel this incredible pressure to believe that we are not the dominant beings on this world and not in charge of our own destiny? We have seen that the only way we can fail to save ourselves is to refuse to try. Perhaps, if we could fill this hole in knowledge, we could get enough strength to try. Perhaps, if we do this, we can extend human existence for thousands or millions of years. Perhaps, if we do this, science will continue to provide new understanding and help us put things together. Perhaps, if this happens, some future generations may look back at the generations that used the idea of beings with super-human and super-scientific abilities to explain things that science will at that time be able to explain as primitive beings. Perhaps they may look at us and the people who came before us as primitive. Perhaps, this is the generation of transition: perhaps we will be the first generation with the ability to control our minds sufficiently to accept the evidence of our own senses (which, again, is the foundation of science) and surmount the horrific problems that people in the past took for granted came from invisible superbeings that lived in the sky.
The discussions that follow may sound bizarre to you. Unless you have lived a very unusual life (as I have) you have probably not encountered any of them before. But I beg of you to do this: Don’t judge them on whether they conform to the belief systems that are common on Earth at this time. Judge them on whether they make sense. I think that, if you can do this, you will find abundant evidence that human existence on this planet really has a purpose, and this purpose is not to destroy ourselves fighting over the locations of imaginary lines, or because of a need to create employment, or for any other of the reasons that currently appear to be pushing us toward this end. We have a purpose, but that purpose is far, far in the future. To get there, we must stop being primitive. We must accept the things that our senses tell us are true, and that science has derived from these observations.
We see an amazing diversity of planets and animals (together with microscopic living things that have not been classified as either plants or animals yet) on the Earth. Where did they come from?
In 1859, Charles Darwin published a book called ‘Origin of Species.’ In this book, Darwin proposed a theory to explain the things we observe. He claimed it was possible (his exact words are ‘not incredible’) that all living things on Earth had a common primordial origin:
On the principle of natural selection with divergence of character, it does not seem incredible that, from some such low and intermediate form, both animals and plants may have been developed; and, if we admit this, we must likewise admit that all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth may be descended from some one primordial form. (Link to source, Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.)
Scientists now call this theory the ‘universal common ancestry’ or ‘UCA.’ Non-scientists generally call it the ‘theory of evolution.’
In the early 2000s, new technology allowed scientists to do real tests to determine the mathematical likelihood of UCA compared to any other possible explanation for life. All life on Earth is based on a molecule called ‘deoxyribonucleic acid’ or ‘DNA.’ The DNA has sequences of ‘codons’ (essentially ‘coding letters’) that contain the information that DNA uses to build the proteins and other complex molecules needed for life.
If different organisms had different origins (in other words, if they weren’t all descended from one primordial form), these complex molecules would be coded in different ways in the DNA of different living things. With the new DNA sequencers, scientists could determine the way that the DNA of different living things code for complex molecules. They could then compare these codes to see how close they were.
If living things had separate origins, we would expect different coding in the DNA.
In other words, if an analysis of the codons showed us that different living things coded for molecules different ways, we would be inclined to reject theories that held that all living things descended from one primordial form. If different living things coded for molecules in similar ways, we could trace the similarities to determine which living things likely had the same origin. For example, if we found that viruses coded one way, bacteria coded a different way, plants coded a third way, lower animals coded a fourth way, primates coded a fifth way, and humans coded a sixth way, we would have evidence for six separate origins for life on earth, with various different beings branching off of that.
If the DNA for different living things coded molecules in almost the same way, this would be powerful evidence to support Darwin’s theory. If all living things from the lowest viruses to the most intelligent human beings coded for the molecules the exact same way, they either would have had to have descended from the same ancient primordial life form, or some massive coincidence must have made them all the same. Qqqq dna sequencing image right
It turns out that the DNA of all living things on Earth code for the same molecules exactly the same way.
This either shows us that Darwin’s theory is correct, or indicates a massive coincidence.
If it could be a coincidence scientists can’t simply guess about the likelihood of it being a coincidence. They have statistical tools that allow them to put precise numbers on probabilities. They can do this by analyzing the likelihood of random events (like the results from tossing of coins or throwing of a pair of dice) leading to coincidences. They can determine how many times a truly random event would have to take place, on average, before certain coincidences would happen. For example: If you throw ten coins, you might get all 10 on ‘heads.’ However, normally, this would not happen. Scientists can show that you have to toss the coins 1024 times, in average, before one of the tosses will give you all 10 heads. (This assumes that the coins are ‘fair’ coins, in that the likelihood of heads and tails is 50:50.) Scientists first calculate the probabilities using mathematical formulas. Then they actually test them, by having people throw coins. In practice, we find that the figures calculated from mathematical formulas are perfect matches for what actually happens, verifying the ability of the formulas to predict actual events.
If the random event would have to take place 1,024 times, on average, before random chance would produce a certain observed level of similarity, and we observe the similarities, the scientists could say that the odds of these similarities being coincidental (happening as a result of random chance) were 1,024 to 1 against. If you had 20 coins, they would all land on heads one out of every 1,048,576 times you toss them, on average. The odds against getting them all on heads with a single toss would therefore be 1,048,576 to 1 against.
In the early 2000s, Douglas Theobald and a team of researchers at the University of Colorado obtained funding to use gene sequencing and statistical analysis to compare the coding of different living things to test the coding sequences of DNA to determine the mathematical likelihood that the observed alignment in DNA might be coincidental. As noted above, all living things on Earth code for all of the molecules needed for life in exactly the same way.
This could be a coincidence.
If we create a random process to rearrange a group of DNA codons in random ways and did this enough times, eventually we will hit every possibility. This would include the option that we see on Earth now, where all of the codes align exactly. But there are a lot of possiblities, so the odds against this particular coincidence occurring as a result of random chance are very, very high.
This is from their published results:
Notably, UCA is the most accurate and the most parsimonious hypothesis. Compared to the multiple-ancestry hypotheses, UCA provides a much better fit to the data (as seen from its higher likelihood), and it is also the least complex (as judged by the number of parameters). UCA is at least 102,860 times more probable than the closest competing hypothesis. (Link to source.)
The ‘closest competing hypothesis’ to Darwin’s theory is that living things came to exist by separate processes. ‘UCA is at least 102,860 times more probable than this ‘closest competing hypothesis.’
What does this mean?
If you were to construct a series of random events that led to DNA-based life, and you repeated this process over and over again until you got a large number of animals whose DNA shows the same similarities as Earth beings, you would have to go through 102,860 trials—on average—before you would get a single trial that produced the similarities we observe. This number (10 with 2860 zeros after it) is so enormous that it is hard to even imagine it. To put it into perspective, there are estimated to be 1082 atoms in the entire universe (link to source.) There have been an estimated 1017 seconds since the big bang (link to source). If you had all the materials to make DNA-based life on each of the atoms of the universe, together with the ‘spark’ needed to turn these materials into living things, and you started trials at the big bang and carried them to today, doing one trial per second for each atom in the universe (making sure that life came to exist in varied forms on each trial), you would have only tried creating life Earth 1099 times. This is only an infinitesimally tiny percentage of the number of times you would have to try this experiment before random chance would produce the similarities we observe between beings on Earth, without the beings having a common origin.
In other words it is impossibly unlikely for living things on Earth to have different origins. To eliminate the double negative, all living things have to have a common origin, with a greater likelihood than the human mind could even conceive. No analyst who made any pretence of being objective and scientific could construct any sequence of historical events on Earth that does not start with the model Charles Darwin gave us.
Books in this series
This book is a part of a series of four books about the important realities of human existence. They are:
1. Forensic History: uses new scientific tools and information sources to reconstruct the series of events that put the human race on the path it is now on. It explains how the realities of human existence came to be as they are. It focuses on the events led to the existence of the power structures that dominate the world today, including the entities called 'nations,' organized religions, and the massive and extremely powerful entities we call 'corporations.' These entities did not appear by magic. They came to exist as a result of decisions people made in the past. If we want to understand the realities of human existence, we have to understand who made these decisions, why they were made, and how the decisions made in the past have led to the realities that we see around us.
2. Possible Societies goes over the capabilities of the human race and the limitations we have for organizing the realities of our existence. It is an attempt to categorize all possible methods of organizing human existence—or all possible societies—in a methodological and organized way. Once we understand the different options we have for organizing societies, we can go over them to determine which of the options are able to meet our needs without constant problems such as war and unnecessary environmental destruction.
3. Reforming Societies: We were born onto a world that was organized in a very dangerous way. It was cut up with imaginary lines into the entities we call 'nations.' Each nation had formed a government which claimed that everything within that nation belonged to the people who were born inside the imaginary lines. Any society built on this foundation necessarily has very serious problems, which include powerful forces these entities surrounded by imaginary lines to engage in activities that are the most horrific destructive within the capability of any physical beings with the power to think on a rational level. The pressure to perform these horrible acts is so powerful that the industries devoted to war and the support of war, combined, make up the largest industries on Earth: More wealth, manpower, effort, skills, talents, capital, and resources are devoted to organized mass murder and destruction than any other activity on the planet. People have gone as far as building weapons that will destroy the planet if used and actually deployed these weapons, making them ready for instant use if certain circumstances arise. Given enough time, these circumstances are certain to arise.
What if we—the current members of the human race—decide we don't like these particular realities of existence? What if we decide we want some other destiny for our race (than extinction)? It is possible to organize the realities of our world in different ways. (Even children should realize this: humans need food, water, air, sleep, and protection from the elements; the imaginary lines that cut the world into 'nations' don't give us any of these things.)
But is it possible to actually build them?
If we know other methods of organizing the realities of human existence are possible, we can work out the exact structural differences between the realities of these other societies and the current realities of human existence.
We can figure out practical steps to take to change the form of ('reform') other societies. It explains the exact practical steps that ordinary people like you and I can take to put the human race on a path to one of these societies, if we should decide we want to do this.
4. The Meaning of Life explains why this matters. The societies we were born into must raise children to think a certain way so they will be willing to sacrifice for and participate in the wars that are an inherent part of societies built on the division of the world into 'nations.' To make them willing to participate, they must raise children to believe that there is a higher purpose behind the wars and behind the existence of the nations: They must make children believe that they were born to and exist to protect their nations, to respect the claimed founding principles, to honor the nation and, through ceremonies that all children are taught in schools, to even worship the nation, in the same way they are taught to worship the higher power that they were told created the nation. To make them do the horrible things that people must do to have wars, they must make children believe that this is the meaning of life and the reason they were born.
New scientific evidence is allowing us to put together messages that are encoded in our DNA and evident from the structures that are necessary for the process we call 'life' to exist in ways that can show us that there are scientifically acceptable and mathematically likely explanations for the existence of life on Earth that totally conflict with the premises taught to keep people willing to fight, kill, maim, cripple, destroy, risk and accept death for the benefits of the entities called 'nations.' If we accept science, logic, and reason, we can put together a picture of the meaning of existence that can help us see that the claimed reasons for existence that have been taught in schools and accepted for thousands of years are basically propaganda, created for the express purpose of allowing rationalization of horrific acts. If they could put together some rational picture of the reason we are here, people would not be willing to do the things that they spend their lives doing today.
What if we find there is a real meaning to our existence and it has nothing whatever to do with worshiping invisible superbeings or protecting nations? The entire rationalization for dividing the world into 'nations' and making war basically disappears. We must accept that the realities of existence on Earth are as they are because people made certain decisions. These people are no longer alive. We are here. We can make our own decisions. We can decide where we want to go from here and begin going there.