chapter Four: Panspermia
In 1961, Watson, Crick, and Wilkins won the Nobel Prize for the work that led to the discovery of the genetic code. The prize included a large amount of money. The three people went their separate ways. Crick had come to some conclusions that made him very interested in questions related to the genetic code that no one seemed willing to pay him to answer. Some of the things he considered went against the grain of conventional thinking. When he discussed these things, his colleagues not only didn’t seem interested in helping him, they acted as if Crick was doing something that was somehow immoral, wrong, or even crazy.
He had money. He didn’t have to do what other people told him to do. He decided to do the work that interested him.
One of the things he had discovered led him to believe that the accepted theories for the way life came to exist on Earth had to be wrong. This discovery involved the genetic code. The code relates each triplet of DNA to one of 20 amino acids. The code is ‘interpreted’ by the ribosome, an incredibly complex protein. The DNA makes the ribosome and it is an enormous molecule. It is so large, that a full 6% of the code of the DNA is used to create this one molecule.
Crick had found that the genetic code is the same for all beings on Earth, from the simplest algae to humans. The ribosome is just as complex and has the same sequences in all living things. The method that the ribosome uses to make proteins is identical in all living things. Crick proposed that this was a powerful argument against the idea of evolution having created the ribosome and the genetic code.
If evolution had caused these things to exist, we would expect them to have started out in a simpler form and then gotten more complex, eventually reaching the level of complexity we observe in modern living things. If this had happened, we would find remnants of the earlier code somewhere. We would expect some very simple living things to still carry the simpler forms of ribosomes and the genetic code. We don’t find any evidence of a simpler form of ribosomes or any variation whatever in the genetic code. It is identical for all living things. This leads to the conclusion that the ribosome and genetic code did not start with a simpler form. The very first living things that existed on Earth operated the exact same way as living things now.
How do we explain this?
First, there is something we can rule out: The ribosome and genetic code could not have come to spontaneously exist by chance. The reason for this is its complexity and synergy. Inside of your DNA is a code which tells the body exactly how to make each of the several millions proteins your body needs to operate. These proteins include the ribosome itself and thousands of other proteins that help the ribosome do its job. Some of these proteins contain billions of atoms. Each individual atom has to be in the exact right place for the protein to do its job. A process that starts with the simplest elements there are, including hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, somehow creates machines (mechanical molecules; all of the proteins act by doing something that physically alters other molecules) that rearrange all of these atoms. For this to happen, each of billions upon billions of atoms has to be aligned in one specific way.
This alignment could have possibly happened by chance. But the odds against it happening are so high that, in a practical situation, they wouldn’t happen even if we could try aligning atoms at random over and over again, making more attempts than there are atoms on the universe.
To see why this is unlikely to have simply materialized, imagine the complexity of a living human baby. We know that the baby is made up of molecules; molecules are made of elements (mostly hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, with small amounts of other elements.) Imagine that there is a pond made of water (hydrogen and oxygen) with some oil floating on it (oil has lots of carbon) and all of the other elements needed to make the baby. Say that a nuclear bomb was to go off in that pond and send the elements into the stratosphere. Most of the molecules would be destroyed and the elements would recombine in various ways.
It is possible that, if dropped enough nuclear bombs on enough ponds, the elements would recombine to the exact configuration of the human baby, and somehow whatever spark that makes a baby ‘alive’ would come out of the explosion, causing a living human baby to be the result of this process.
But it isn’t likely. The baby is simply too complex. The odds against this happening are so high that if you started dropping nuclear bombs now, and dropped billions of bombs per second each second, you wouldn’t end up with living baby in any time frame that would make sense to the human brain.
This is the basic problem with accepting that the first DNA-based life coming to exist as a result of some spontaneous event: the processes that take place in DNA-based life are simply too complex. I will go over a few of these processes below; it is easy to see, when you understand how they work, that they couldn’t have simply started doing these things as a result of random events.
If they couldn’t have evolved on Earth, and couldn’t have come to exist as a result of random events, how did they come to exist on this planet? Francis Crick concluded there was only one option left: They came from some other world.
Design or Chance?
If DNA came from some other word, there are two possibilities:
1. It was sent here intentionally.
2. It came as a result of an unintentional event.
It is fairly easy to rule out the second option. Let’s consider why it is impossible. There are several reasons that it couldn’t have happened unintentionally:
The first involves the idea of life. Sending DNA, by itself, would not lead to DNA-based life. The reason is that DNA, by itself, is not alive. You can take DNA out of cells. If it doesn’t have the millions of proteins needed for reproduction, all acting in concert (as described below), it is nothing but a glob of acidic organic residue. It is not ‘alive.’
For it to be ‘alive,’ it must have more than just the DNA. It must also have all of the proteins needed for the DNA to operate. It must also have a power source, or something that will give it the energy it needs for the proteins to do the things they have to do. It must also have an ‘operating system.’ The operating system is the set of rules that the DNA ‘understands’ that tell it how to operate.
The easiest way to understand the need for an operating system is by analogy to a personal computer. The raw materials for personal computers are built of silicon. The silicon is basically sand. If you were to crush a computer chip (silicon chip) with a hammer, it would turn back into sand. A pile of sand obviously can’t do the things a personal computer can do.
In order to make them do the things a computer does, you have to do several things.
First, you have to properly process the sand into the correct silicon mixture, and turn it into a ‘wafer.’ Then you have to ‘etch’ the wafer, or divide it into all of the different transistors that process information. Once you have done this, you still don’t have a computer: You need to install an operating system that tells it what to do. This operating system is not a real physical thing; it is information. (This information is held on a physical thing, but the information itself is not physical.) In order to get the chip to take the information, you have to plug it in to a power source and turn it on. Then, the information will set the transistors to the state they have to be in to do what they do. Only after you have done all of these things will you have a computer that actually does the things computers do.
The same is basically true for DNA. If you send a dead animal into space, and part of it’s DNA falls to Earth (without burning up in the atmosphere), this DNA will not come back to life. If DNA came to Earth from another world, then came to life, it would have had to have come to the world with at least two things: a power source and an operating system. Then, once it was here, it had to have something computer programmers call a ‘bootstrap,’ which is set of instructions that tell the computer to load the operating system. This bootstrap has to be self-contained and have its own power source, because without being ‘booted,’ the computer itself doesn’t even know how to use the energy that comes from your wall outlet.
If DNA arrived, it would have to have all four elements, at a minimum. It would need to be intact DNA; it would need the operating system, the energy source, and the bootstrap.
The odds of all of these things being in the same place and having arrived from another solar system by random chance are immensely high. Even if they were in the same place, the odds against them surviving the fall through the Earth’s atmosphere, even once, are astronomical. In order for DNA to arrive on Earth by accident and then come to life by accident, a great many things must happen, all together. The odds of such things happening together by accident even in perfect conditions too high for the human mind to comprehend. The conditions on Earth when the first life was on this world were far from perfect. The majority of the surface of the planet was still molten lava, with rocks floating like icebergs in it. The clouds were almost certainly as thick as the clouds of Venus, so thick that only tiny amounts of sunlight made it to the surface to provide the power needed for photosynthesis and to operate the life processes of the early living things.
We can’t say that it is impossible for this to have happened, but we can say that is so improbable that we can rule it out as a practical explanation for the way life came to Earth.
The Power Source
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, slightly more than 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, the operating system, the power source, and the bootstrap. It made the DNA ‘alive.’ Crick believed that a package could have been sent here. It could have been intended to live. It could have been intended to make the changes needed to make the Earth capable of supporting life that operated in ways that generated immense variety, lead to very rapid evolution. Sexual reproduction provides this advantage. It could have been intended to create us.
Crick proposed a theory called ‘Panspermia Theory.’ This theory holds that it is possible for intelligent life forms on other worlds to create the essentials needed for DNA to be sent to Earth and, once the DNA arrived, bring it to ‘life.’ The theory of Panspermia holds that the UCA (the ancestor of all life on Earth) arrived this way, came to life, and then began to reproduce. At some point, certain pre-set thresholds were set for this being to start acting differently and it began to reproduce in ways that led to great diversity. Evolution began to take place. After some 518 million years of evolution (3 million years ago), the first humans evolved. Over the last 3 million years ago the capabilities of humans have increased, as a result of evolution. And here we are.
Crick proposes that the Panspermia theory is the only 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. If we want to analyze the factors that led to life existing on Earth logically and scientifically, we would start by laying out a list of scientific theories that were consistent with the things we observe. Crick proposed that the first theory we would have to put on the list is the theory of Panspermia. Perhaps, at some time in the future, others will come up with other theories. But so far, this is the only theory on the list.
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 that 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
Crick abandoned his work on the Panspermia theory in the mid 1980s. Since then, we have discovered a great deal of additional information about the nature of DNA and the processes of life.
A great deal of this new information leads to ideas that support the idea of Panspermia. The first automated DNA sequencers didn’t come into use until after Crick’s death in 2004. 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.
In this book, I want to go over some of this new information, along with the information that Crick provided in the 1980s.
I am NOT doing this because I have come to accept Panspermia as a kind of religious belief and want to ‘convert’ you to this ‘religion.’
I am doing it for an entirely different 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 totally clear or readable to us now, but if this theory is correct it definitely exists. We are here for a reason, and this reason is not to find new and better nuclear bombs so we can destroy ourselves fighting each other over the locations of imaginary lines. Our destiny, whatever it is, lies in the distant future, when we know more and have greater intellectual capabilities.
We will only reach it if we can overcome our primitiveness and look at existence objectively.
We clearly have incredible intellectual skills and talents. As a witness to this, consider that we can now split atoms (something far too small for us to even see) to make nuclear bombs, and send these bombs into outer space on missiles which will then split into multiple warheads and are capable of destroying more in a single microsecond than the entire human race created for the first 3 million years of its existence. This feat would never have been accomplished if we didn’t have incredible intellectual skills.
The problem is that we are afraid to use them in certain areas. The next discussions will be a kind of test. If you can take them seriously, you will have provided proof that it is possible for at least one human mind to think in the ways necessary to prevent our extinction.
What percentages of the people of the world are capable of this? That is the question…