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April 15, 1999

Life Arrived From Space?

Fred Hoyle's Theory

Readers of earlier posting will be aware that, while I accepted it in the past, I don't buy Darwinian natural selection as the driving force of evolution. The improbabilities working against it are overwhelming, the evidence for it nonexistent, and all that's left is faith in a dogma.

Years ago, I heard of the British astronomer, Fred Hoyle's proposal that the reason no evidence has been turning up for life's originating here on Earth is that it didn't; it arrived here from space. At the time I didn't pay a lot of attention, for it seemed that simply shifting the problem from one place to another didn't do anything toward solving it. It was only a couple of years ago that I actually got around to reading, and then recently rereading, what he said. In brief, he suggests that the genetic subroutines that assemble into programs expressing the life forms selected by terrestrial environments arrive here as microorganisms from space. The evidence offered consists broadly of:

- The astounding resilience of microorganisms such as bacteria to extremes of radiation, temperature, pressure, which makes no sense if they evolved here but adapts them ideally to the rigors of surviving a space environment.

- Refractive index of a great part of interstellar dust matching biological particles more closely than any other possibilities that have been studied.

- Discovery of fossilized structures in meteorites uncannily resembling terrestrial bacteria and viruses (and yes, with possible contamination fairly certainly eliminated).

Further, which I found highly exciting, the proposal of infection as a far faster and more effective mechanism than sexual transmission for spreading new genetic information and creating a compatible initial breeding population.

So where did the microorganisms that seed planets come from? In the company of such working research biologists as Michael Denton (Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, 1986) and Michael Behe (Darwin's Black Box, 1996), Hoyle is forced to the conclusion of a guiding intelligence at work behind it all somewhere. In Hoyle's case, the intelligence resides within the universe rather than being a God outside it, and while pretty impressive is far from perfect.

Recommended for some thought-provoking reading. Fred Hoyle, The Intelligent Universe, 1983. The copy I have is by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1984, ISBN: 0-03-070083-3

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