Thursday, June 7, 2018

Octopi from Outer Space!

A serious, foolish, helpful scientific article arguing that octopi may have come here as aliens from outer space recently appeared in the scientific journal, Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology. This is not a joke. The article is a joint effort by over thirty authors from scientific organizations around the world. What does the article actually say? Why would they believe something like this? How does it help Christians who believe that God created the octopus? Keep reading to find out!

Panspermia: A New Article about an Old Theory

The article proposes that the origin of octopi might not be normal neo darwinian evolution. Instead it suggests that the tiny eggs of octopi (or octopus-like creatures which then experienced relatively small amounts of evolution) were frozen in ice particles on a comet which splashed into an ocean on the primitive earth. After explaining the extreme difficulty of evolution accounting for octopi, the authors write:

One plausible explanation, in our view, is that the new genes are likely new extraterrestrial imports to Earth - most plausibly as an already coherent group of functioning genes within (say) cryopreserved and matrix protected fertilized Octopus eggs.

Thus the possibility that cryopreserved Squid and/or Octopus eggs, arrived in icy bolides several hundred million years ago should not be discounted . . .

The article is not just about octopi, although they use them as an example. The article proposes that both the bacterial cells and “pretty much all major life forms” may have arrived here from space. They are not arguing that in all cases eggs or baby creatures arrived on comets, but rather that somehow the information needed to produce new organisms arrived on comets. One possibility they mention is that viruses carried on the comets carried the genetic information which produced evolution. They explain that retroviruses may have carried genetic information needed to produce new types of animals, eventually including you and me. According to the authors, retroviruses from space “now appear to be important viral-drivers of major evolutionary genetic change on Earth over the past few hundred million years.”

In other words, we’re all literally descended from aliens!

The theory that life on earth came from cells or genetic material from outer space is called panspermia. It’s actually not a new theory.  In fact, various panspermia theories trace back well into the 19th century (see the Wikipedia article on Panspermia for details). Perhaps the most famous proponent of panspermia was Francis Crick, who together with James Watson discovered the structure of the DNA molecule. In Crick’s case, he proposed directed panspermia could account for life on earth. The word “directed” means that rather than believing the needed material arrived by chance on comets or space dust, he believes it may have been intentionally sent to earth by intelligent aliens.

The Problems with Evolutionary Theory that Prompt Belief in Panspermia

Why would serious scientists suggest such nonsense? Well, they’re desperate. Many scientists are committed to a completely materialistic explanation of everything in our world, including all the fish and birds and you and me. “Completely materialistic” basically means they believe God had nothing to do with it. How do they explain butterflies and dolphins without God? Well, the main story has been that molecules somehow joined up to make living cells which then evolved into more and more complex life all the way up to giraffes and people. But even the materialistic scientists are seeing more and more reasons why it is simply impossible that this could have happened on earth.

With regard to the first step of chemicals turning into living cells (called abiogenesis), the authors explain that this idea . . .

. . . was developed at a time when the earliest living cells were considered to be exceedingly simple structures that could subsequently evolve in a Darwinian way. These ideas should of course have been critically examined and rejected after the discovery of the exceedingly complex molecular structures involved in proteins and in DNA. But this did not happen.

Skepticism that life could have arisen on earth unaided is not new. In 1981, Francis Crick wrote:

An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.

Thirty-seven years later, the authors of the article in Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology appear to agree with Crick’s assessment. They wrote:

The transformation of an ensemble of appropriately chosen biological monomers (e.g. amino acids, nucleotides) into a primitive living cell capable of further evolution appears to require overcoming an information hurdle of superastronomical proportions (Appendix A), an event that could not have happened within the time frame of the Earth except, we believe, as a miracle.

It’s not just the initial appearance of life which the scientists who wrote the article find problematic. They also feel that evolution as normally explained just isn’t capable of producing the vast variety of life we see both in the fossil record and living today. And one example which they focused in on happened to the octopus.

Since they believe evolution could not have produced life on earth, they have seriously proposed that life came to earth from outer space. But could panspermia really work?

Problems with Panspermia

It turns out there are many reasons to doubt that panspermia could work. Here are just ten of the enormous difficulties this strange theory faces. I’m saving the biggest and most obvious problem for last.

1.  Ejection is brutal. The poor little octopus eggs (or bacteria) would have to survive being blasted off their home planet in some type of huge explosion.

2.  No air in space.  They then have to survive in the vacuum of outer space.

3.  No liquid water. While the rock they began on could in theory include some water, there would be no liquid water available during the whole journey to earth.

4.  Super cold. Space is really, really cold.

5.  Radiation is a killer.  The earth’s magnetic field and, to some extent, our atmosphere shield us from the harmful effects of radiation. Radiation would likely do a lot of damage to any DNA flying through space for long periods of time.

6.  The journey is really long. There are no planets in our solar system where life is more likely to have arisen than on our own earth. Travelling from a distant star would take a really, really long time. It’s true that some objects in the galaxy travel at near light speed. However, the processes that accelerate them to such speeds (such as ejection from a solar system being swallowed by a black hole or possibly being blasted to incredible speeds by a supernova) are not exactly friendly to life. The alternative is a trip that could easily take many millions of years. That’s a long time for the little octopi eggs to survive!

7.  Reentry is tough. A couple of years ago my wife and daughter talked me into driving out into a farm field around 2 am to watch a meteor shower. I admit, it was worth it. We saw quite a few meteors. Do you know how many of those impacted the earth? None. They were all vaporized by the extreme heat produced by super-fast moving meteors impacting the atmosphere. Even if a meteor makes it to earth, it is heated to extreme temperatures on the way down. Poor baby octopi!

8.  It has to land in the right place at the right time. What if the octopi eggs survived ejection from their home planet, persevered through the long, frigid, irradiated journey through deep space, and were buried deep enough in the rock to not be burned up on reentry, only to end up landing in a field in Kansas? Or, what if they arrived at the wrong time in earth’s history? According to evolutionary theory, the types of creatures that octopi eat have only been around the last 500 million years or so. If the poor baby octopi arrived anytime during the first 3.5 billion years they would have been very hungry!

9.  No alien life has been found. It should be pointed out that panspermia is a theory based on wild speculation. No actual octopi eggs (or even bacterial cells) have been found in outer space!

10.  The first nine problems are easy compared to the final one we will list. You probably already thought of it. If evolution can’t work on earth, then why should we think it should work elsewhere? How did the alien octopi (and other life forms) arise somewhere else? The scientists who promote panspermia honestly have no clue how to answer this question. They just basically say that maybe something we haven’t thought of was different and somehow it happened.

Why not just believe in God?

The scientist are absolutely correct to reject the possibility of abiogenesis and evolution producing life on earth (see some arguments for why this is true here). But why do they choose to believe in aliens as the explanation for life on earth? Why not believe in God?

I don’t know the hearts and motives of the scientists that wrote the particular article I’ve been discussing. But I do know a little about human nature, both because I am one, and because God’s Word teaches us about ourselves. Most of the human race are living in rebellion against their maker.

John 3:19 This is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.
 20 For everyone who does evil hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed.

Aliens don’t tell us what we should think, how we should treat our enemies, what our priorities should be, or who we can sleep with. God does. So if you’re a human being wanting to live outside God’s will, it’s a lot more convenient to believe in octopi from outer space than it is to believe in a God who not only created us, but who has a revealed will for how we should live.

Of course, those of us who have come to know God through our Lord Jesus Christ feel very differently. We want to know and obey God’s will. We believe His will is best for us and we have learned that we can trust Him more than we trust ourselves. We know both that He is wise, and also that He loves us.
We often struggle to obey him, but at least we want to obey Him.

And so we rejoice to see evidence of our great Creator whenever we look at a flower, deer, or even an octopus!

To learn more . . .

I did not find the article about panspermia directly myself. I don’t generally read Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology. I wouldn’t understand most of it if I did. But scientific evidence for the existence of God is an intellectual hobby of mine and so I do often look at articles on the excellent Evolution News website. It was there that I found two articles about alien octopi which reference the article I discussed above. You may find those articles here and here.

How countless are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the sea, vast and wide,
 teeming with creatures beyond number-- living things both large and small.
(Ps. 104:24-25 CSB17)

  Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

Thursday, May 24, 2018

“May you succeed in building the house of the Lord your God”

“. . .may the Lord be with you, and may you succeed in building the house of the Lord your God, as he said about you”
(1 Chr. 22:11 CSB17).

The words above were originally spoken by King David to his son Solomon. But as I read them this morning, I realized that they apply to each and everyone of us who, by God’s grace, has become a follower of Jesus Christ.

David was speaking to Solomon about the magnificent temple it would be his job to build. We are called by God to work together to build an even more glorious temple. The temple is where people experience God. Today, because of the new covenant established by the blood of Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in each of us. You are a temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16)! While the Bible speaks of each of us being a temple of God, a place where God dwells in a special way, it also speaks of all of us together being God’s holy temple:

19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God's household,
 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
 21 In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
 22 In him you are also being built together for God's dwelling in the Spirit.
(Eph. 2:19-22 CSB17)

In other words, when we work to build up the church, we are doing the same job Solomon did: we are building a glorious temple, a place to experience God.

Solomon was chosen to be in charge of building the temple. Who is in charge of building the temple we are working on? None other than the King of Kings and Lord or Lords, our Savior Jesus Christ:

I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. (Matt. 16:18b CSB17)

So, our Lord is in charge, and each of us is called to serve Him in this work.  What do we need to succeed in this task? The same things Solomon needed. Back in 1 Chronicles 22, after praying for Solomon’s success, David continues to pray and speak about five things Solomon would need:

1. Insight

Solomon is famous for his wisdom. We need wisdom as we work together with others to reach people for Christ and to help each other grow in Christ. Praise God, He has promised to give us wisdom when we ask for it (James 1:5).

2. Obedience

The temple is God’s temple and it must be built God’s way. Therefore, obeying all that Jesus commands  is essential for building up His church (Matthew 28:20).

3. Strength

The workers in Solomon’s day needed physical strength as they worked with stone, bronze, and lumber to build the great temple. How much more we need spiritual strength to do the work Christ leads us in. Our strength comes from our relationship with God (Psalm 28:7, Ephesians 6:10).

4. Courage

David encouraged his son to be courageous. We all need courage for the work of building God’s spiritual temple, His church. Our work is opposed by fierce and ruthless enemies: the world, the devil, and our own flesh. Praise God, he gives us the courage we need to press with the task in this dark and evil world (John 16:33, 1 Corinthians 16:13).

5. God’s Provision

David gathered great provisions for the work Solomon would do. In the same way, God provides all we need as we work to build His church. One of the resources He prepares for us is other Christians. He provides all the people with all the right gifts and experiences to work together to build His glorious temple (Ephesians 4:11, 1 Corinthians 12:28).

Be Encouraged!

Like Solomon, God has called you to help build something glorious. The temple Solomon built would eventually be utterly destroyed. But the Church will last forever, shining in the kingdom of our God. As you think about this, hopefully the words David spoke to Solomon three thousand years ago will suddenly feel fresh and relevant to your life today:

11 "Now, my son, may the Lord be with you, and may you succeed in building the house of the Lord your God, as he said about you.
 12 Above all, may the Lord give you insight and understanding when he puts you in charge of Israel so that you may keep the law of the Lord your God.
 13 Then you will succeed if you carefully follow the statutes and ordinances the Lord commanded Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Don't be afraid or discouraged.
 14 "Notice I have taken great pains to provide for the house of the Lord-- 3,775 tons of gold, 37,750 tons of silver, and bronze and iron that can't be weighed because there is so much of it. I have also provided timber and stone, but you will need to add more to them.
 15 You also have many workers: stonecutters, masons, carpenters, and people skilled in every kind of work
 16 in gold, silver, bronze, and iron-- beyond number. Now begin the work, and may the Lord be with you."
 (1 Chr. 22:11-16 CSB17)

  Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .