I had a little discussion today about panspermia (the idea that life may have originated on other planets) and lo and behold, Daniel Dennett mentions it in 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea':
It is not (yet) disprovable that primitive life forms (something as "simple" as a macro or as complex as a bacterium) arrived by asteroid or comet from some other region of the universe and colonized our planet. Crick and Orgel go a step further: it is even possible that panspermia was directed, that life began on Earth as a result of our planet's being deliberately "infected" or colonized by life forms from somewhere else in the universe that got a head start on us, and indirectly produced us. If we can now send a spacecraft loaded with life forms to another planet - and we can, but should not - then, by parity of reasoning, others could have done it. Since Hoyle - unlike Crick and Orgel - has voiced the suspicion (1964, p. 43) that, unless panspermia is true, "life has little meaning, but must be judged a mere cosmic fluke," it is not surprising that many, including Hoyle himself, have supposed that panspermia, if confirmed, would shatter Darwinism, that dreaded threat to the meaning of life. And since panspermia is often treated with derision by biologists - "Hoyles' Howler" - the illusion is fostered that here is a grave threat indeed, one that strikes at the very core of Darwinism.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Darwin himself surmised that life began on Earth in some warm little pond, but it might equally have started in some hot, sulfurous underground pressure cooker or, for that matter, on some other planet, whence it traveled her after some astronomical collision pulverized its birthplace.
You can read Crick & Orgel's paper here. Funny that one of the most important biologists of the twentieth century (and one of the discoverers of the structure of DNA) considered the possibility of deliberate alien panspermia, so seriously. Inspired by the mention of Fred Hoyle, I decided to find out some more about the famous astronomer. Here are a couple of Hoyle quotes that I discovered:
It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on Earth, some other species will take over the running. ...this is not correct. We have, or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only.
...It is probably inevitable that the poor countries will out populate the rich countries and that all hope of stabilizing the world population will be gone. And if the world population is not stabilized, if it rises as far as it possibly can, consistent with the best technology, nothing but pain and grief will follow. The future will then indeed be based on our cries of agony. .... It used to be a common theme of movie makers ... to show how the youth who insists on always having a good time goes from bad to worse, eventually ending up among criminals. I suspect the same thing for our whole species: if we insist on always following the easy path we could end up as a criminal species.
So, it's certainly a grim picture of the universe and human existence. Finally, I found a book review at AmericanScientist.org which mentioned Hoyle:
There are aspects of the laws of physics themselves that seem puzzling when the origin of life is considered. A good example is Fred Hoyle's discovery that stars very nearly fail to make carbon and that only a peculiar coincidence in excited energy levels permits this process to happen.
Which is certainly interesting, but I found the conclusion of the review the most enlightening:
A comment made by Steven Weinberg in his 1977 book The First Three Minutes sums things up well: "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless." Pointless to look for meaning in our existence in the universe, and also...pointless to look for meaning in physics. To a physicist, this is a pretty depressing conclusion, but there is some consolation: The beauty we perceive in the laws of physics perhaps tells us as much about the human aesthetic response as it does about any fundamental design of the universe. In short, physics is a human creative art on the same level as painting and music, and that is reason enough to be proud of what the subject has achieved. concerned.”
Doesn't reducing physics to art somehow debase it though? So, from panspermia to pointless in not very many moves: easy because everything is pointless! Francis Crick died in 2004. Fred Hoyle in 2001.Go Top