By Steve Wolfgang
Footnote. Cyril Ponnamperunis, review of Francis Crick, Life Itself. Its Origin and Nature, in New Scientist, 13 May 1982, p. 435.
We have been, considering some of the alternatives proposed to replace the concept that the universe was created by a Divine being. Modem hypotheses which attempt to do so usually postulate some chemical broth and/or make unprovable assumptions about the supposed nature of the early atmosphere – and still aren’t able to explain how the early atmosphere or chemicals came to be to begin with, thus begging the question. Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick, attempting to calculate the likelihood of such events occurring came to the conclusion that “an honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now . . . cannot decide” such chemical origins are probable or impossible; indeed, “the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle. . . ” (Life Itself, p. 88).
In truth, Crick’s “profound insight into the processes of molecular biology and his awareness of the difficulties” are, in the words of Cyril Ponnamperuma, a tacit admission that “it is not a problem that can be solved by scientific methods in terrestrial laboratories” (New Scientist, 13 May 1982, p. 435). Such difficulties lead Crick to postulate the doctrine of “panspermia” (i.e., that the seed of life are everywhere in the universe), which Crick thinks may have “traveled in the head of an unmanned spaceship sent to earth by a higher civilization which had developed elsewhere” (Life Itself, pp. 15-16).
Ponnamperuma (director of the Laboratory of Chemical Evolution at the University of Maryland, noted for work done with the Murchison meteorite) notes that “with great frankness, Francis Crick tells us that his wife described his book as science fiction.” Adds Ponnamperuma, “I cannot help but agree with her.” Others, this author included, will add a hearty “Amen.”
One can begin to appreciate the difficulty of accepting ideas postulated by those who reject faith in a Creator as an explanation for the origins of life when one recognizes the improbability (or even impossibility) of demonstrating by the canons of science as we know it how life began in a naturalistic manner. Especially is this true of Crick’s “panspermia” – the concept that life began elsewhere and was transported to earth in space ships. Leaving aside the question of how one could ever test such a hypothesis in any conclusive way, we wonder: If some “creationist” were to postulate something as ludicrous and unsupported by any reasonable interpretation of scientific data, wouldn’t he be laughed off the stage?
But whether you think panspermia is science fiction highly likely, it ought to be obvious that it only makes the problem of human knowledge of the origins of life even greater. If we cannot determine through scientific discovery what happened on this planet, how on earth (pardon the pun) can we discern how it arose elsewhere? Such concepts remove any knowledge based on the principles of scientific discovery.
Of course, one could accept the concept (also unprovable by scientific methodology) that God created the heaven and the earth. Why is that more difficult to believe than panspermia, or chemical evolution, each of which require large doses of pure faith to accept? Ponnamperuma’s review of Life Itself (13 May 1982 New Scientist, p. 435) summarizes it nicely: “If life did not begin on earth by natural processes, unless of course we subscribe to the concept of special creation, life must have originated somewhere else and colonized the earth.”
Why should two of these views, which derive as much from metaphysics as physics, and require as much credulity to accept as the idea of Divine creation “in the beginning,” be any more acceptable to modern minds than theism? We are reminded of a statement attributed to the British scientist, Sir Arthur Keith. Speaking of what may be called the “general theory” of evolution (the moleculesto-man theory), Keith is reported to have said, “Evolution is unproved and unprovable; the reason it is acceptable is because the alternative is special creation, which is unthinkable.”
It is certainly not out of order for anyone to hold a view of origins which may correspond to some aspects of current scientific theory but which also relies greatly on faith. But don’t call that “science” – or look down your nose at someone else’s view of origins as less “scientific.” You might get a “Crick” in your neck.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 24, p. 748
December 21, 1989