LIFE’S TRUE BEGINNINGS
by Lloyd Pye
This was published in England’s Quest Magazine in April 1999.
Framing The Picture
How did life begin on Earth? More intellectual and literal blood has been shed and spilled attempting to answer this question than any other in any aspect of science or religion. Why? Because the answer, if it could be determined beyond doubt, would reveal to us the deepest meanings behind ourselves and all that we see around us. More importantly, it would demolish once and for all the thorny tangle of conscious and unconscious thought and belief that causes most of the bloodshed.
At present there are only two socially acceptable explanations for how life has come to be on Earth. Science insists it has developed by entirely natural means, using only the materials at hand on the early planet, with no help from any outside source, whether that source be divine or extraterrestrial. Religion insists with equal fervor that life was brought into existence whole and complete by a divine Creator called by different names by the world’s various sects. Between these two diametrically opposed viewpoints there is no overlap, no common ground where negotiation might be undertaken. Each considers its own position to be totally correct and the other totally wrong, a certainty bolstered by the fact that each can blow gaping holes in the logic/dogma of the other.
Science is quick to point to the overwhelming technical proofs that life could not, and indeed did not, appear whole and complete within the restricted time frame outlined in the Biblical account. Of course, people of faith are immune to arguments based on fact or logic. Faith requires that they accept the Biblical account no matter how dissonant it might be with reality. Besides, they can show that not a shred of tangible evidence exists to support the notion that any species can transmute itself into another species given enough time and enough positive genetic mutations, which is the bedrock of Charles Darwin’s theory of incremental evolution, or “gradualism.”
In the early 1800’s Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands and noticed certain species had developed distinct adaptations for dealing with various environmental niches found there. Finch beaks were modified for eating fruit, insects, and seeds; tortoise shells were notched and unnotched for high-bush browsing and low-bush browsing. Every variation clearly remained part of the same root stock–finches remained finches, tortoises remained tortoises–but those obvious modifications in isolated body parts led Darwin to the logical assumption that entire bodies could change in the same way over vastly more time. Voila! Gradualism was conceived and, after gestating nearly three decades, was birthed in 1859 with the publication of the landmark On The Origin Of Species. Since then Darwin and his work have been topics of intense, usually acrimonious debate between science and religion.
The irony of a two-party political system whose members spend the majority of their time shooting holes in each other’s policies is that it becomes abundantly clear to everyone beyond the fray that neither side knows what the hell it is talking about. Yet those standing outside the science-religion fray do not grow belligerent and say, “You’re both wrong. An idiot can see that. Find another explanation.” No! In this emotionally charged atmosphere nearly everyone seems compelled to choose one side or the other, as if seeking a more objective middle ground would somehow cause instant annihilation. Such is the psychological toll wrought on all of us by the take-no-prisoners attitude of the two sides battling for our hearts and minds regarding this issue.
Facts Will Be Facts
Because those of faith insist on being immune to arguments based on facts, they remove themselves from serious discussions of how life might have actually come to be on Earth. So if anyone reading this has a world view based on divine revelation, stop here and move on to something else. You will not like (to say the least!) what you are about to read. Nor, for that matter, will those who believe what science postulates is beyond any valid doubt. As it turns out, and as was noted above, neither side in this two-party system knows what the hell it is talking about.
To move ahead, we must assign a name to those who believe life spontaneously sprang into existence from a mass of inorganic chemicals floating about in the early Earth’s prebiotic seas. Let’s call them “Darwinists,” a term often used for that purpose. Darwinists have dealt themselves a difficult hand to play because those prebiotic seas had to exist at a certain degree of coolness for the inorganic chemicals floating in them to bind together into complex molecules. Anyone who has taken high school chemistry knows that one of the best ways to break chemical bonds is to heat them.
Given that well-known reality, Darwinists quickly postulated that the first spark of life would no doubt have ignited itself sometime after the continental threshold was reached around 2.5 billion years ago. At that point land would have existed as land and seas would have existed as seas, though not in nearly the same shapes we know them today. But the water in those seas would have been cool enough to allow the chemical chain reactions required by “spontaneous animation.” So among Darwinists there arose a broad consensus that the spontaneous animation of life had to have occurred (again, because they do not allow for the possibility of outside intervention, divine or extraterrestrial), and it had to have occurred no earlier than the continental threshold of 2.5 billion years ago.
These assumptions were believed and taught worldwide with a fervor that leaves religious fundamentalists green with envy. Furthermore, they were taught as facts because that is what science inevitably does. It reaches a consensus about a set of assumptions in a field it has not fully mastered, then those assumptions are believed as dogma and taught as facts until the real facts become known. Sometimes such consensus “facts” endure for a short time (Isaac Newton’s assumption that the speed of light was a relative measure lasted only 200 years), while others endure like barnacles on the underside of our awareness (the universe doggedly expands beyond every finite measure given for it).
In the same way Newton’s fluctuating speed of light was overturned by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, the continental threshold origin of life was blown out of the water, so to speak, by discoveries in the 1970’s that indicated life’s origins were much older than anticipated. So old, in fact, it went back nearly to the point of coalition, 4.5 billion years ago, when the Sun had ignited and the protoplanets had taken the general shapes and positions they maintain today. Ultimately, 4.0 billion years became the new starting point for life on Earth, based on fossilized stromatolites discovered in Australia that dated to 3.6 billion years old.
For Darwinists that meant going from the frying pan into the fire, literally, because at 4.0 billion years ago the proto-Earth was nothing but a seething cauldron of lava, cooling lava, and steam, about as far from an incubator for incipient life as could be imagined. In short, right out of the gate, at the first crack of the bat, Charles Darwin was, as they say in the south, a blowed-up peckerwood.
Limbo Of The Lost
The fossilized stromatolites discovered in Australia had been produced by the dead bodies of billions of prokaryotic bacteria, the very first life forms known to exist on the planet. They are also by far the simplest, with no nucleus to contain their DNA. Yet in relative terms prokaryotes are not simple at all. They are dozens of times larger than a typical virus, with hundreds of strands of DNA instead of the five to ten of the simplest viruses. So it is clear that prokaryotes are extremely sophisticated creatures relative to what one would assume to be the very first self-animated life form, which can plausibly be imagined as even smaller than the smallest virus.
(By the way, viruses do not figure into this scenario because they are not technically “alive” in the classic sense. To be fully alive means having the ability to take nourishment from the immediate environment, turn that nourishment into energy, expel waste, and reproduce indefinitely. Viruses need a living host to flourish, though they can and do reproduce themselves when ensconced in a suitable host. So it seems safe to assume hosts precede viruses in every case.)
Needless to say, the discovery of fossilized prokaryotes at 3.6 billion years ago left scientists reeling. However, because so many of their pet theories had been overturned in the past, they knew how to react without panic or stridency. They made a collective decision to just whistle in the dark and move on as if nothing had changed. And nothing did. No textbooks were rewritten to accommodate the new discovery. Teachers continued to teach the spontaneous animation theory as they had been doing for decades. The stromatolites were consigned to the eerie limbo where all OOPARTS (out-of-place artifacts) dwell, while scientists edgily anticipated the next bombshell.
They didn’t have to wait long. In the late 1980’s a biologist named Carl Woese discovered that not only did life appear on Earth in the form of prokaryotes at around 4.0 billion years ago, there was more than one kind! Woese found that what had always been considered a single creature was in fact two distinct types he named archaea and true bacteria. This unexpected, astounding discovery made one thing clear beyond any shadow of doubt: Life could not possibly have evolved on Earth. For it to appear as early as it did in the fossil record, and to consist of two distinct and relatively sophisticated types of bacteria, meant spontaneous animation flatly did not occur.
This discovery has been met with the same resounding silence as the stromatolite discovery. No textbooks have been rewritten to accommodate it. No teachers have changed what they are teaching. If you can find a high school biology teacher that religious fundamentalists have not yet terrorized into silence, go to their classroom and you will find them blithely teaching that spontaneous animation is how life came to be on Earth. Mention the words “stromatolite” or “prokaryote” and you will get frowns of confusion from teacher and students alike. For all intents and purposes this is unknown information, withheld from those who most need to know about it because it does not fit the currently accepted paradigm built around Charles Darwin’s besieged theory of gradualism.
The ongoing, relentless assaults on gradualism by religious fundamentalists is the principle reason scientists can’t afford to disseminate these truths through teaching. If fundamentalists would keep their opinions and theories inside churches, where they belong, scientists would be far more able (if not inclined) to acknowledge where reality does not coincide with their own theories. But because fundamentalists stand so closely behind them, loudly banging on the doors of their own bailiwick, schools, scientists have no choice but to keep them at bay by any means possible, which includes propping up an explanation for life’s origins that has been bankrupt for more than two decades.
Another reason scientists resist disseminating the truth is that it would so profoundly change the financial landscape for many of them. Consider the millions and billions of tax dollars and foundation grants that are spent each year trying to answer one question: Does life exist beyond Earth? The reality of two types of prokaryotes appearing suddenly, virtually overnight, at around 4.0 billion years ago provides overwhelming testimony that the answer is “Yes!” Clearly life could not have spontaneously animated from inorganic chemicals in seas comprised of seething lava rather than relatively cool water. So billions of dollars of funding would vanish if scientists ever openly conceded that life must have come to Earth from somewhere else because it obviously could not have originated here.
A third reason scientists avoid disseminating this knowledge is that spontaneous animation is a fundamental tenet of their corollary theory of human evolution. As with life in general, scientists insist that humanity is a product of the same protracted series of gradual genetic mutations that they feel produced every living thing on Earth. And, again, all this has been done by natural processes within the confines of the planet, with no outside intervention of any kind, divine or extraterrestrial. So, if spontaneous animation goes out the window, then the dreaded specter of outside intervention comes slithering in to take its place, and that idea is so anathema to scientists they would rather deal with the myriad embarrassments caused by their blowed-up icon and his clearly bankrupt theory.
So What Is The Answer?
Life came to Earth from somewhere else–period. It came to Earth whole and complete, in large volume, and in two forms that were invulnerable to the most hostile environments imaginable. Given those proven, undeniable realities, it is time to make the frightening mental leap that few if any scientists or theologians have been willing or able to make: Life was seeded here! There … it’s on the table … life was seeded here…. The Earth hasn’t split open. Lightening bolts have not rained down. Time marches on. It seems safe to discuss the idea further.
If life was actually seeded here, how might that have happened? By accident….or (hushed whisper) deliberately? Well, the idea of accidental seeding has been explored in considerable detail by a surprising number of non-mainstream thinkers and even by a few credentialed scientists (British astronomer Fred Hoyle being perhaps the most notable). The “accidental seeding” theory is called panspermia, and the idea behind it is that bacterial life came to Earth on comets or asteroids arriving from planets where it had existed before they exploded and sent pieces hurtling through space to collide some millennia later with our just-forming planet.
A variation of this theory is called directed panspermia, which replaces comets and asteroids with capsules launched by alien civilizations to traverse space for millennia and deliberately home in on our just-forming planet. However, the idea of conscious direction from any source beyond the confines of Earth is as abhorrent to science as ever, so directed panspermia has received little better than polite derision from the establishment. But for as blatantly as undirected panspermia defies the scientific tenet that all of life begins and ends within the confines of Earth, it is marginally acceptable as an alternative possibility. There have even been serious, ongoing attempts to try to determine if the raw materials for life might be found in comets.
The point to note here is that no one wants to step up to the plate and suggest the obvious, which is that some entity or entities from somewhere beyond our solar system came here when it was barely formed and for whatever reason decided to seed it with two kinds of prokaryotes, the hardiest forms of bacteria we are aware of and, for all we know, are creatures purposefully designed to be capable of flourishing in absolutely any environment in the universe. (Understand that prokaryotes exist today just as they did 4.0 billion years ago … unchanged, indestructible, microscopic terminators with the unique ability to turn any hell into a heaven. But more about that in a moment.)
If we take the suggested leap and accept the notion of directed-at-the-scene panspermia, we are then confronted with a plethora of follow-up questions. Were all of the planets seeded, or just Earth? Why Earth? Why when it was a seething cauldron? Why not a couple billion years later, when it was cooled off? Good questions all, and many more like them can be construed. But they all lead away from the fundamental issue of why anyone or (to be fair) anything would want to bring life here in the first place, whether to the proto-Earth or to any other protoplanet? And this brings us to the kicker, a question few of us are comfortable contemplating: Is Earth being deliberately terraformed?
Welcome To The Ant Farm
The concept of terraforming does indeed conjure up images from the recent movie “Antz.” Nevertheless, for all we know that is exactly what we humans–and all other life forms, for that matter–are, players on a stage that seems immense to us, but (visualize the camera pulling back at the end of “Antz”) in reality is just a tiny orb swirling through the vastness of a seemingly infinite universe. An unsettling and even unlikely scenario, but one that has to be addressed. Well, so what? What if we are just bit players in a cosmic movie that has been filming for 4.0 billion years? As long as we are left alone to do our work and live our lives in relative peace, where is the harm in it?
Is this fantastic notion really possible? Is it even remotely plausible? Consider the facts as we know them to be, not what we are misled into believing by those we trust to correctly inform us. The simple truth is that life came to our planet when it (Earth) had no business hosting anything but a galactic-level marshmallow roast. The life forms that were brought, the two prokaryotes, just happen to be the simplest and most durable creatures we are aware of. And, most important of all, they have the unique ability to produce oxygen as a result of their metabolic processes.
Why oxygen? Why is that important? Because without an oxygen-based atmosphere life as we currently know it is impossible. Of course, anaerobic organisms live perfectly well without it, but they would not make good neighbors or dinner companions. No, oxygen is essential for complex life as we know it, and quite possibly is necessary for higher life forms everywhere. If that is the case, if oxygen is the key ingredient for life throughout the universe, then from a terraformer’s perspective bringing a load of prokaryotes to this solar system 4.0 billion years ago begins to make a lot of sense.
Let’s put ourselves in their shoes (or whatever they wear) for a moment. They are a few million or even a few billion years into their life cycle as a species. Space and time mean nothing to them. Traversing the universe is like a drive across Texas to us…a bit long but easily doable. So as they travel around they make it a point to look for likely places to establish life, and 4.0 billion years ago they spot a solar system (in this case ours) forming off their port side. They pull a hard left and take it all in. At that point every protoplanet is as much a seething cauldron as the proto-Earth, so they sprinkle prokaryotes on all of them in the hope that one or more will allow them to flourish.
What the terraformers know is that if the prokaryotes ultimately prevail, then over time trillions of them will produce enough oxygen to, first, turn all of the cooling planet’s free iron into iron-oxide (rust). Once that is done…after, say, a billion years (which, remember, means nothing to the terraformers)…oxygen produced by the prokaryotes will be free to start saturating the waters of the seas and the atmosphere above. When enough of that saturation occurs (say, another billion years), the terraformers can begin to introduce increasingly more complex life forms to the planet.
This might include, for example, eukaryotes, Earth’s second life form, another single-celled bacteria which clearly appeared (rather than evolved) just as suddenly as the prokaryotes at (surprise!) around 2.0 billion years ago. Eukaryotes are distinctive because they are the first life form with a nucleus, which is a hallmark of all Earth life except prokaryotes. We humans are eukaryotic creatures. But those second immigrants (which, like prokaryotes, exist today just as they did when they arrived) were much larger than their predecessors, more fragile, and more efficient at producing oxygen.
After establishing the first portion of their program, the terraformers wait patiently while the protoplanet cools enough for “real” life forms to be introduced. When the time is right, starting at around half a billion years ago, higher life forms are introduced by means of what today is called the “Cambrian Explosion.” Thousands of highly complex forms appear virtually overnight, males and females, predators and prey, looking like nothing alive at present. This is what actually happened.
The terraformers continue to monitor their project. They notice Earth suffers periodic catastrophes that eliminate 50% to 90% of all higher life forms. (Such mass extinction events have in fact occurred five times, the last being the Cretaceous extinction of 65 million years ago, which wiped out the dinosaurs). They wait a few thousand years after each event while the planet regains its biotic equilibrium, then they restock it with new plants and animals that can make their way in the post-catastrophe environment. (This, too, is actually borne out by the fossil record, which scientists try to explain away with a specious addendum to Darwinism called “punctuated equilibrium.”)
For as outrageous as the above scenario might seem at first glance, it does account for the real, true, literal evidence much better than either Darwinism or Creationism ever have…or ever will. This produces the bitterest irony of the entire debate. With pillars of concrete evidence supporting outside intervention as the modus for life’s origins on Earth, the concept is ignored to the point of suppression in both scientific or religious circles. This is, of course, understandable, because to discuss it openly might give it a credibility neither side can afford at present. Both have their hands quite full maintaining the battle against each other, so the last thing either side wants or needs is a third wheel trying to crash their party. However, that third wheel has arrived and is rolling their way.
All Original Material Copyright 2007
© Lloyd Pye