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We are all Martians now, revisited

Eberswalde Crater

possible ancient water site/NASA

Conditions on Mars were better billions of years ago, so life could have accidentally come from there, a major international conference has been told.

Steven Benner, chemist at the Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology admits that the chances of life accidentally forming on Earth are poor because, according to a BBC News account,

The molecules that combined to form genetic material are far more complex than the primordial “pre-biotic” soup of organic (carbon-based) chemicals thought to have existed on the Earth more than three billion years ago, and RNA (ribonucleic acid) is thought to have been the first of them to appear.

Simply adding energy such as heat or light to the more basic organic molecules in the “soup” does not generate RNA. Instead, it generates tar.

(Remember this for when someone tells you that’s all it took.) He thinks there might have been a better chance on Mars:

The minerals most effective at templating RNA would have dissolved in the oceans of the early Earth, but would have been more abundant on Mars, according to Prof Benner.

He suggests that elements such as boron and molybdenum, “key in assembling atoms into life-forming molecules,” came to Earth via meteorites from Mars:

“The evidence seems to be building that we are actually all Martians; that life started on Mars and came to Earth on a rock,” he commented.

Well, evidence for something is building.

“This isn’t really evidence that life came from Mars, but it is evidence that Steven Benner is very clever,” astrobiologist David Grinspoon told NBC.

Doubtless, Benner is clever.

But how clever do you have to be to sell people a product they very much want to buy? Origin of life researchers are at an impasse and willing to consider any thesis, including pure storytelling.  Benner again:

“It’s lucky that we ended up here, nevertheless – as certainly Earth has been the better of the two planets for sustaining life. If our hypothetical Martian ancestors had remained on Mars, there may not have been a story to tell.”

But there sure are stories now. Grinspoon again:

“I think chemists always think they know more than they know, because nature has a lot of possible pathways it can try,” Grinspoon said.

Okay, who exactly is “nature”? Someone who “can try” to produce life? Is that like “god” in lower case? And “a lot of possible pathways” is hardly what we are looking for. Except insofar as they produce research grant and interesting conferences and news stories. Heck, it’s interesting. But it’s a bit much to call it serious science.

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4 Responses to We are all Martians now, revisited

  1. ‘We are all Martians, now…”

    You’re sure, I take it, that you are not confusing Martians with a fast, German comestible?

  2. I expect they’re going to do the math later.

  3. When your previous claims/beliefs about life are shown to be clearly untenable by our growing body of knowledge about life, then, to protect one’s worldview, one is forced to entertain even more wild and fantastic ideas and to do it with a straight face! At some point you would think that it would just become too humiliating to continue to defend the viability of these wild ideas, but it seems the power of paradigm is still too strong to be overcome. One thing is very clear from all this.

    Even atheists have faith! Their worldview assumes no deity and answers all worldview questions as if there is no god. This cannot be proved, but is simply assumed or believed.

    Taking that as a given, they can now “know” that no matter how complicated, how well designed, how full of information, how interdependent, how improbable life may appear, no matter what the evidence points to, and no matter how illogical it may seem, they feel they can “know” that there is a totally natural answer to the OoL problem.

    But this is not scientific knowledge. It is faith.

    We all have biases and we all have faith as Dr. Benner so wonderfully illustrates for us with his claim that “we are all Martians”.

  4. Professor Norman H. Horowitz, a scientist affiliated with the 1965-76 Mariner and Viking missions to Mars, writing in
    his book To Utopia and Back: The Search for Life in the Solar System, Professor Horowitz noted that the findings from these missions clearly resolved the question of whether there is life on Mars or on any other planet in our solar system. “Mars,” he says, “lacks that extraordinary feature that dominates the environment of our own planet, oceans of liquid water in full view of the sun.” Research confirmed the planet’s lack of water.

    So, first there wasn’t any water on Mars, now there might be and because there might be, we can assume that we all came from Mars. Go on, pull the other one.

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