The LA Times recently ran the headline, “NASA: We’ll find alien life in 10 to 20 years.” Ellen Stofan, NASA’s chief scientist, was quick to clarify what they meant: “We are not talking about little green men. We are talking about little microbes.” And why is NASA so optimistic? Because Mars once had water, and they think water is the key to life:
For example, Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA, cited a study that analyzed the atmosphere above Mars’ polar ice caps and suggests that 50% of the planet’s northern hemisphere once had oceans up to a mile deep, and that it had that water for a long period of time — up to 1.2 billion years.
“We think that long period of time is necessary for life to get more complex,” Stofan said.
I’m skeptical. I don’t automatically dismiss the idea that we might one day find life (or evidence of past life) on Mars. However, simply having an ocean for 1.2 billion years is not a good enough reason to expect that. Why? It’s not sufficient time to for life to arise or “get more complex” via unguided evolutionary mechanisms.
A materialist may initially find it difficult to grasp what I’m saying here. “Life on Earth appeared within just a few hundred million years of the end of the late heavy bombardment period,” he may reason, “so surely it would not take 1.2 billion years for complex life to evolve on Mars.” And that’s the mistake in materialists’ thinking: They assume that anywhere life exists — Earth, Mars, wherever — that it exists there because of unguided chemical evolution. It’s sort of an unofficial but unchangeable premise of the entire field of astrobiology that life exists only because it evolves. In reality, though, life on Earth is irreducibly complex in such a spectacular manner that even 1.2 billion years represents a dramatically inadequate time frame for life to arise and reach its presently complex state via unguided chemical and biological processes. As I explained here, liquid water alone is not remotely enough to expect the existence of life.
So are there any good reasons to hope for life on Mars? There might be — but guess what, they were developed (in part) by a proponent of intelligent design. Guillermo Gonzalez advocates the concept that nearby bodies like Mars or the Moon might be “earth’s attic.” In that scenario, rocks and even organic material ejected from Earth might eventually find their way to Mars. A 2002 news story from Nature, “ Rummaging through Earth’s attic for remains of ancient life,” explained how this theory applies to the Moon:
The origins of life on Earth are hotly debated, partly because there are no rocks older than about 3.8 billion years. Erosion and continental drift have wiped the slate clean over and over.
But the Moon has remained largely untouched — except by asteroids — since it formed. Pieces of the Earth littering its surface would be of all ages, although most would date from the Late Heavy Bombardment, says Armstrong. They could reveal the chemical signatures of life, and possibly fossilized bacteria.
We already know that pieces of Mars have landed on Earth. So it’s entirely possible that material from Earth has landed on Mars. We know that there is life on Earth. This, therefore, suggests a potential vehicle for transporting bacteria-like life from Earth to Mars.
And if there was once an ocean of water on Mars, perhaps Earth’s life could have found a friendly environment there and thrived. This is far more plausible than life evolving on Mars and “getting more complex” via unguided chemical and biological processes.
I’m not sure if there was life on Mars, but I’m open to the possibility. But if there was life on Mars, I would strongly expect it would be nothing more than unicellular life like bacteria.
So is it worth looking for life on Mars? Absolutely. In humanity’s search for truth, scientific research and the exploration of space are extremely important and I wish we had more funding to go to these efforts.
However, if we’re going to search for life on Mars, let’s allow plausible science and not dubious evolutionary assumptions to guide our efforts and financial investments. Intelligent design is certainly compatible with finding life on Mars, and perhaps ID thinking could help guide this sort of research.