Monday, February 8, 2016



The study of possible life elsewhere in the solar system (exobiology) or even in more remote reaches of the universe (astrobiology) is of interest to those studying evolution of life on earth as a possible origin of life here, or as perhaps the source of alien beings looking for resources or other things on our planet.

What was once the province of science fiction and comics with rocket ships or Superman has attracted more attention as a possible reality.  The unbelievable idea of space travel became reality to a degree by the space programs of the United States, Russia, and others.  The possibility of life arising on another planet on our solar system is given greater credence by the discovery of water on Mars, the Moon, and probably other bodies in the solar system.  Life's transport to Earth via rocks in space with evidence of some of the compounds of life could happen in a limited way.  However, those rocks with biological molecules could have been blasted into space from Earth billions of years ago, perhaps in association with the moon's origin or another comparable event.


Complex life forms, qualifying as life from outer space, coming to our planet seems impossible, even though there are probably billions of planets with conditions suitable for the evolution of life.  Just as our feeble efforts to send messages or materials demonstrating our life to other worlds, others would have as much of a problem reaching us with messages.  Complex beings with the technology to try to reach us, even if every one from billions of planets tried, would be well mummified, pulverized, or otherwise killed by the time they reached us or we connected in outer space.

The evidence of origin of life on earth by chemical and biological evolutionary processes is so strong it leaves little need or reason for an inoculation of life from space.  In fact, the continuity of life forms from one celled to complex animals and their shared basic biochemical processes makes it extremely unlikely that any organisms we know of had an alien origin.  Even the dead bodies of aliens that died on the way would likely be incinerated by the final step of entering our atmosphere.


Some have suggested a silicon based system might be possible.  But the fact that some polymers and other compounds similar to carbon based ones can be based on silicon may overlook the fact that the carbon based ones are the ones that show up as the building blocks in simulations of the conditions of pre-biotic life.  If a silicon based system exists somewhere it would be subject to the same principles of natural selection directing carbon based systems.


Finding a planet in a remote star system is extremely difficult even though a protoplanetary disk was very likely to be associated with each one's development.  Our life with technology and social sophistication has only existed at a level with space capabilities for less than one millionth of the time earth has existed.  Other planets, of the trillions that may exist, are likely to have a similar slice of their history with such a capability.  So life elsewhere could have vanished somewhere during the several billions of years of another star system's planetary history.  Or it could be yet to happen billions of years in the future.


Yes, there probably is life on many other planets in the universe, maybe even in the Milky Way.  Yes, it is interesting and maybe even fun to think about it.  But learning their secrets or even their learning ours is not likely to happen in our earthbound lifetime.  And the Moon and Mars are unlikely to be of much use as places for us to go if we destroy the habitability of our planet.


Strangely enough, it might have a strong resemblance to us if it developed on a planet with a sweet spot for life similar to Earth's.  Much of the selection bringing about our evolution would be repeated to get a big-brained animal with bipedal locomotion so hands for tool-making could develop.  The social structure favoring selection of communication and cooperative skills for survival and development of technology are partially enabled by our size and upright posture.  Long life is essential for development of our society, written communication to some extent supplements this advantage.  Perhaps somewhere an arthropod-like human shaped animal fills our role.

I have my own view of the spiritual ramifications of the above discussion but still await an answer.  Scripture can sometimes be interpreted on several levels.  Could the words of Jesus in John 14:2, "In my Father's house there are many mansions.", and John 10:16, "Others I have which are not of this fold.", and accompanying verses be construed as referring to other religions, people from other worlds, or both?

Joseph G. Engemann    Kalamazoo, Michigan     February 8, 2015

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