Challenges to Darwinism: Panspermia and Theories of Guided Evolution

Wickramasinghe on Panspermia

On the eve of the first publication of A Journey with Fred Hoyle: The Search for Cosmic Life (Wickramasinghe 2004, 2007), Prof. Chandra Wickramasinghe summarized his concepts of panspermia in an outstanding interview with Stuart Miller.

We highly recommend reading this interview, if not the book, but for the reader who would prefer a summary of the summary, here are the key points made by Wickramasinghe:

1) Panspermia: Life can be transferred from one part of the Universe to another.

2) Over the period from 1970 to 1979, he and Sir Fred Hoyle discovered that interstellar dust particles are organic with an exceedingly complex organic nature, matching the properties of a freeze-dried bacterium "to an uncanny degree of precision".

3) A third of all carbon in interstellar space is of this form.

4) The common theories that life started on the Earth in fact have no firm evidence to support them.

5) Putting together the most primitive living system, for example combining amino acids into enzymes crucial for life, is an incredibly improbable event. The odds against this having happened on the Earth are "superastronomical".

6) All the resources of a superastronomical cosmic system - all the stars in all the galaxies in a substantial part of the universe - are required.

7) They argued in the mid-1970s that the origins of life had at the very least to involve the importation of complex organic building blocks of life from comets. A great deal of this was published in the most conservative scientific journal, Nature.

8) Opposition to these ideas included a past President of the Royal Astronomical Society who wrote in Nature that all this is not plausible because no organic molecules could survive in space. Carl Sagan and his collaborators also published a letter in Nature saying the same thing.

9) All such criticisms have been proven totally wrong. We now know that vast quantities of organics exist in interstellar dust, in gas, and everywhere.

10) The idea that life is somehow centered on the Earth was, and still is, deeply entrenched in the thinking of many people. It is a pre-Copernican position still being maintained 500 years after Copernicus had dethroned the Earth from its privileged position at the center of the cosmos.

11) Wickramasinghe does not consider all this to be a challenge to evolution, but he sees evolution in the context of a continuing input of genetic material from space.

12) Life emerged on the young Earth almost at the very moment that it could survive.

13) Cometary impacts can not only bring life to Earth but can lift it off again.

14) Life on Earth is connected intimately and inescapably with Life that exists everywhere else in the universe.

15) There is a possibility that the spectrum of living systems in the entire universe is an intelligent artificial construct.

An issue of more extreme suppression of information arose in the interview. Wickramasinghe was on the verge of supporting "Creationists" and their need for a "Creator" at an Arkansas Creation trial. This precipitated frightening death threats to himself and his family that persisted to the time of the interview.

Our own thinking on this is that this scientist was trying to move beyond the "reductionism" of his profession but was not prepared to consider the realm of possibilities that that would open up. For example, a glance at our sister website The Ages of Uraš would suggest a few.

But why would this simple lack of scope have provoked such a dire reaction?

It is because at their core, science and religion, once at war, have for centuries enjoyed a truce beneficial to each side. This is described by Kyle Griffith in his article on this site: The Copernican Compromise: Origin of the Materialistic Bias in Science.

One might easily say that while the religionists have a completely unscientific point of view, and the scientists are unremittingly materialistic, both schools recognize that society can manage this schizophrenic split, and somehow individuals can as well, greatly to their detriment but they are kept from realizing this.

At least they are until a Wickramasinghe wades into the enemy den with full credentials flying, and says in effect, "Let me help you."

Two questions arise for us:

1) Where does SETI stand? SETI, while posing as somehow avant gard, is more conservative than your average scientist. Notice how threatened they are by the panspermia idea. Look how Carl Sagan argued (baselessly) against the possibility of life traveling in space. SETI believes itself to be pushing the envelope by imagining how fantastic might be the life forms out there, that we will never see. One spokesman recently conjured up intelligent pink mushroom trees. But what would be too much for him would be people just like us, or variations on our theme.

2) How do the two sides feel about "Ancient Astronaut" proposals or "UFOs"? Shouldn't each of them be threatened? No, because they are not threatened by what they (and hence the main media) see as loonies and entertainers.

Nowhere in any of this have we described the serious reader of Open SETI.

The Washington, D.C.-based libertarian Cato Institute claims to champion "the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets and peace". But their values did not extend to accepting for one single day the continued affiliation of a member who would publish an article arguing for more disclosure on the subject of extraterrestrial intelligent life.

One day after the Jan. 9 2008 publication in a Palm Beach, FL newspaper of “Intelligent Extraterrestrial life: The Other Inconvenient truth?" by Ph.D. economist Dom Armentano, a Cato Institute adjunct scholar for 20 years and professor emeritus in economics at the University of Hartford, the Institute unceremoniously removed him from his position.

For more information, please read Dom Armentano: UFOs and censorship — why Cato Institute dumped me.

Note: for a one-stop backgrounder on the subject of life and evolution, consider the book Life as We Know It (Seckbach, 2006), presenting a broad spectrum of articles covering "several aspects of Life, ranging from the prebiotic level, origin of life, evolution of prokaryotes to eukaryotes and finally to various affairs of human beings" (from About this book on the publisher's website, which also provides the Table of Contents).

In recent years, the unoccupied intellectual middle ground between evolutionary science and creationism has begun to fill from both directions. Evolutionists have spawned astrobiology and varieties of panspermia, in which organic compounds (mainstream version) or even whole cells (modern or "strong" panspermia per Hoyle and Wickramasinghe) fall to Earth after riding on cosmic detritus. Creationists have found greater academic acceptance by dropping all reference to the "creator" but retaining the function of Intelligent Design. And new theories of evolution are ready to embrace teleological mechanisms embedded in the DNA molecule.

Something had to be done. "Evolution" has failed in two major ways. First, as a scientific discipline, it has been guilty of selecting its very data to support its favored hypothesis. If this seems difficult to believe, take the time to review the massive Forbidden Archaeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race (Cremo and Thompson, 1994). A highly condensed and updated summary of this book is found in Human Devolution (Cremo, 2003), Chapter 2. Whereas, officially, anatomically modern humans appeared on the scene about 100,000 years ago, these books present a great deal of documented evidence of the existence of modern humans on this planet going back hundreds of millions of years. This evidence has been systematically and even ruthlessly blocked and purged from the scientific literature.

Chapter 3 of Human Devolution also treats the evidence for extreme antiquity of nonhuman species, "showing that flowering plants and insects existed on earth far earlier than most Darwinists now believe possible."

These data are quite inconsistent with the standard picture of step-by-step evolution.

And that is the first major failure of evolution: it is a theory designed to explain a body of evidence that does not represent a valid picture of the fossil data.

Evolution's second major failure is that it does not even explain the body of data that it has selected. It is illogical and is riddled with glaring flaws. This has long been pointed out without any resort to religious scriptures or "revealed" knowledge. See, for example, the review by UC Berkeley Law Professor Phillip Johnson (1993), and the cogent arguments of Lloyd Pye in his Essay on Carpenter Genes. As Pye explains, evolution cannot occur through random mutations because a viable mutation would require synchronized changes in genes from BOTH the father and the mother.

"The scientific disciplines that were part of the evolutionary synthesis are all nonmolecular. Yet for the Darwinian theory of evolution to be true, it has to account for the molecular structure of life."

- Prof. of Biochemistry Michael Behe
Lehigh University

Michael Behe (1996) completely undercuts the Darwinists by demonstrating that they have been working on the wrong level ever since Darwin made his scientific observations, and even the neo-Darwinist reorganization of evolution science in the 1950s missed the boat entirely: evolution, if it occurred at all, would have to take place on the molecular levels of biochemistry, not the macroscopic level of organs and other body structures - and biochemistry itself did not exist as a branch of science until after neo-Darwinism had been launched.

Furthermore, neo-Darwinists have never even until now taken much account of the biomolecular foundations of biological life.

For example, the "simple" structures known as cilia and flagella, used by cells in swimming and moving liquids, have been the subject of thousands of scientific papers, but there is hardly one that attempts to explain how they could have evolved. That is because they, like virtually all life forms, have an incredibly complex microbiological structure, and it is in this structure that random mutation and natural selection would have had to take place.

Here Behe introduces his concept of "irreducible complexity", asserting that the molecular structures he describes simply could not work if any part of them were missing or even imperfect in its design.

Today, even evolution's very icon, the "tree of life", has had to be abandoned. The situation is nicely summarized by Graham Lawton in Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life where he notes that genetic sequences were being routinely swapped between species across huge taxonomic distances, in a process called horizontal gene transfer (HGT).

As early as 1993, some biologists were proposing that at least for bacteria and archaea, the tree was more like a web. And that structure has continued to generalize in its application. Sequences are being found in almost all species that appear to have spread not by HGT, but by hybridisation, now seen by some to be a major driving force in animal evolution.

Today, evolutionists must feel concerned about the ground on which many biological and life sciences stand; that this must be defended not only on behalf of their various fields but also to prevent the Bible-thumpers and the promoters of the supernatural from storming in--a fearful prospect indeed.

Michael Behe and his colleagues provide a clearly superior hypothesis: biological systems have been designed. They choose the term Intelligent Design (ID), which is anathema to evolutionists, but in and of itself avoids the aprobation of creationism, though it does hold the threat, as it of course keeps open the question of the identity of the Designer.

Unfortunately for Behe and for his value to the Open SETI development, he does ultimately embrace supernaturalism and... God. As to any possibility of ETI as designer of biological systems on Earth, he correctly points out that this does not answer the ultimate question, as the source of ETI too must be accounted for.

It must, but perhaps this aspect can wait? The target of Open SETI is, after all, ETI itself.

It is distressing to watch Behe find clear evidence of intervention in Earth's living systems, actually laying the groundwork for what can be a department of Open SETI, and then jump straight to old-time religion for an explanation.

As it turns out, not only Michael Behe, but the ID movement itself, uses the eyes-wide-open recognition of the inescapability of intelligent design at work in living systems, to justify their belief in the supernatural. (See, for example, the Nature News Feature Intelligent design: Who has designs on your students' minds?)

So we have two incredibly important issues: 1) Did not biological systems evolve; and 2) If they were designed, which is an act of an intelligence, who did it and how were all the species introduced?

Can it be true that species did not evolve? What about all those depictions of man's descent from hominid ancestors we've seen in our school textbooks since childhood, and the well-researched evolution of the modern horse from eohippus, the development of vertebrates, and all these things that we know our life scientists know?"

It is argued by some in the ID movement that these evolutionary sequences are actually fictions. Berkeley-educated biologist Jonathan Wells (2000), calls these images and depictions Icons of Evolution. His book is devoted to showing that each and every one of them is a deliberate deception.

A useful resource (though dated now) for those interested in learning more about ID would be the anthology Mere Creation, a collection of investigations by nineteen expert academics in wide ranging fields, edited by William Dembski (1998).25

Publications pro and con the concept of ID have continued to appear at a lively rate. The Book Review section of the Journal of Scientific Exploration Spring 2003 issue contained critiques of several new books in the field. A scan of this material leads to the general impression that ID advocates do tend to have a creationist agenda but have dressed up their subject to make a better impression in polite company. On the other hand, some of their critics seem to object on the ground that their own religious ideas are offended by ID.

A more recent addition to the ID literature is J. C. Sanford's Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome (2005). A professor of genetics and 25-year research scientist at Cornell University, Sanford holds 25 patents, the most well-known one for the "gene gun." His book, written after his retirement from Cornell, ably disarms what he calls "the Primary Axiom" -- the Darwinian theory of natural selection. And that is well and good, but unfortunately Sanford is reported to be a born again Christian and a young earth creationist.

Once again we see that since ID does not explicitly identify the designer, the framework is often used to support the cause of the old-style creationists. However, advocates of the notion of Earth colonization by ETI are also within the scope. But - setting aside for the moment the obvious question of who designed ETI - new concepts of intelligence in nature have come onto the scene. In their Gaia Hypothesis, for example, James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis had all the Earth's species, by means of their biological activity, engineering their environment so as to advance "evolution". And they do this according to a sort of vast wisdom intrinsic to the Earth - Gaia - herself and all of her species. The actual locus of the wisdom or intelligence was not given, and in fact was suggested to be distributed.

In his Cosmic Ancestry theory, Brig Klyce combines strong panspermia with the teleological aspects of the Gaia Hypothesis, to propose that evolution on Earth depends on genetic programs that come from space. Quoting from his website's Introduction:

Cosmic Ancestry implies, we find, that life can only descend from ancestors that were at least as highly evolved as itself. And it means, we believe, that there can be no origin of life from nonliving matter in the finite past. Without supernatural intervention, therefore, we conclude that life must have always existed.
Evidence for Cosmic Ancestry, in the form of fossilized microscopic life found in meteorites, is accumulating rapidly.

For those willing to consider it, there is anthropological evidence that native cultures had traditions reflecting the dual-spiral and teleological nature of the DNA molecule.

While conducting what might be called "experiential anthropological studies" with South American native cultures, Jeremy Narby (1998) found that certain plants having physical forms resembling the DNA molecule, when eaten, actually bring the experiencer into direct contact and conversation with intelligent serpent forms who claim to BE DNA, and who tell stories of how they arrived here by journeying through space. Narby received this information without foreknowledge that the native people using those plants had long been given the same information.

Also see "Nobel Prize genius Crick was high on LSD when he discovered the secret of life".

Rhawn Joseph (2001) offers in his Astrobiology, the Origin of Life, and the Death of Darwinism a detailed and breathtaking theory of how DNA achieves its incredible work. His Evolutionary Metamorphosis thesis in a nutshell:

"The genetic seeds of life swarm throughout the cosmos, and some of these genetic "seeds" fell to Earth, as well as on other planets. And these genetic "seeds" contained the instructions for the metamorphosis of all life, including woman and man.

"DNA acts to purposefully modify the environment, which acts on gene selection, so as to fulfill specific genetic goals: the dispersal and activation of silent DNA and the replication of life forms that long ago lived on other planets."

In his model, the "seeds" contain the entire programmed evolutionary sequence that leads to human and beyond.

I take the liberty of listing for you the points of Joseph's thesis given in his Foreward [sic]:

1) The age and origin of the universe is unknown.36

2) Life first originated on other planets, perhaps tens of billions or even trillions upon trillions of years ago.

3) DNA is capable of learning, remembering, and acting intelligently.

4) Cosmic collisions are commonplace, not only between meteors and planets, but between entire galaxies.

5) The seeds of life swarm throughout the cosmos and living creatures contained in planetary debris have been repeatedly hurtled to other worlds.

6) These creatures and their DNA then labored to alter the environment of these worlds so as to engineer their own evolution.

7) Creatures cast upon planets already swarming with life may have swapped DNA thus increasing their genetic storehouse of genetic information.

8) The first creatures on Earth..(and their DNA), came from other planets.

9) DNA acts on and modifies the environment.

10) The modified environment acts on gene selection to activate "silent" genes and "silent" genetic traits which exist a priori.

11) Silent genes can be passed down to subsequent generations and to diverging species.

12) Once the environment is sufficiently engineered, these silent genes and the traits they code for may be expressed in distinct and separate species.

13) Genes can also be transferred laterally and horizontally between species, so that different species can come to possess the same gene and the same trait.

14) As these "silent" genes/ traits are inherited and were passed down from ancestral species, then these genes and traits must have been inherited from creatures that "evolved" on other planets.

15) Genetic evidence indicates that evolution has progressed in a highly predictable "molecular clock-like" fashion.

16) The progressive "evolution" of increasingly complex and intelligent species in a step-wise progressive fashion, and genetic evidence as reported by the human genome project, indicates that "evolution" has unfolded in accordance with specific and highly regulated genetic instructions.

17) Conclusion: DNA acts to modify the environment to engineer its own evolution and the activation of traits and genes which exist a priori; i.e. "evolutionary metamorphosis."41

Joseph's Evolutionary Metamorphosis thesis sounds like an echo from Timothy Leary's prison essay "Neurologic", in which he states:
"Most of the characteristics formerly attributed to the soul now describe the functions of DNA, whose complex messages originate from higher intelligences in other solar systems. The mission of DNA is to evolve nervous systems able to escape from the doomed planet and contact manifestations of the same amino acid seeding that have evolved in other solar systems."

But perhaps there is another way, as suggested in a commentary on The Aquarian Age (part of a review of the book War in Heaven).

Cosmic Ancestry, Evolutionary Metamorphosis, and War in Heaven do not explain the ultimate source of life in the universe. However, they push it back into the indefinitely deep past, and enable life to propagate from a single beginning somewhere in the near-infinite cosmos. In this, these theories provide the time and space for the infinitely improbable to actually happen.

At this point, the Open SETI discussion looks upon metaphysical realms that are definitely beyond its useful scope. Nevertheless, for the reader wishing to move beyond pure reason, Malou Zeitlin and I have prepared an adventure:

The End of Enchantment

That website offers more than one glimpse of the trans-human and eternal, including a link to another of our major sites, The Ages of Uraš, that contains the logical resolution of the questions raised in this Appendix.