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Friday, July 04, 2008

Sci-fi writer reminds us that life from outer space is not life from Roswell

In "Gods, Earthlings, and Intelligent Design," sci-fi writer Jerry Pournelle reminds us that the idea that life might have begun in outer space has always been a respectable hypothesis. It did not originate among alien conspiracy theorists at Roswell but among serious scientists who recognized how difficult the origin of life problem really is:

This was in fact an hypothesis put forth by the late Sir Fred Hoyle in his book Evolution from Space ; and let me assure you that far from being a fundamentalist creationist, Sir Fred had a pretty sophisticated theory of how evolution might be influenced by extra terrestrials who were neither gods nor superbeings. Sir Fred’s theories would and did horrify fundamentalists.

They were also theories. By theory I mean statements sufficiently precise to generate falsifiable hypotheses. Sir Fred’s book gives a number of assertions about Darwinism and natural selection, and gives his reasons for believing in the high improbability to impossibility that certain known conditions were the result of random factors. His arguments are complex and I don’t intend to reproduce them here; but they are available in his book. Whether or not Sir Fred makes his case I leave to others; but I at least have not seen a definitive refutation of what he said. Mostly Sir Fred has been ignored.
Hoyle was ignored because most people preferred to believe in the Shazzam! origin of life in a warm little test tube somewhere. Most people believe in miracles.

And they are still looking for that warm little tube.

Pournelle adds,

The panspermia hypothesis, which asserts that life originated on a planet other than Earth and was brought here by either natural or intelligently directed actions, is hardly ludicrous, has at least some unexplained evidence in its favor, and holding it as an hypothesis is hardly evidence of buffoonery. The late Robert Bussard was well known to believe in panspermia. Several of my science fiction novels make use of this hypothesis, and I have yet to see any definitive refutation.
Pournelle is sympathetic to the intelligent design theorists, noting that computer simulations that claim to "prove" Darwinian evolution require favourable assumptions and other tinkering ("adjustments") to make them work.

In other words, they require intelligent design.

Hat tip: Dave Scot at Uncommon Descent.

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