Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Earliest Microbes

There's a report in the Washington Post that researchers have discovered possible micro fossils of possible organisms that date from 3.77 billion years old to 4.28 billion years ago. This makes them hundreds of millions of years older than previous microfossil discoveries were believed to be.

If the claims in the report are born out, if these really are fossils of biological microorganisms and if they really are as old as they appear to be, the discovery would be extremely interesting for several reasons:

1. The earth is believed to be about 4.5 billion years old. If life arose within a few hundred million years after the earth was formed then it arose extremely rapidly, not at all in accord with the long slow process posited by Darwinism. Abiogenesis (the origin of life from non-life) is a mystery to scientists as it is. There's no plausible explanation of how the constituents of a self-replicating system like a cell could have organized themselves to form such a phenomenon. It's not unlike trying to imagine how the code for Windows 10 could have organized itself by chance to produce a coherent operating system. Now evidence has been presented which indicates that the process not only occurred, but occurred relatively rapidly which deepens the mystery of how it could have happened. This excerpt from the video Unlocking the Mystery of Life gives an idea of just some of the difficulties involved in trying to come up with a theory of how abiogenesis could have happened:

2. During the first billion years of its existence the earth would have been extremely hostile to life. Atmospheric conditions, meteor bombardments, volcanism, geologic disasters of every type would have made earth a very unstable incubator for nascent life. If nevertheless, self-replicating life managed to arise and survive by sheer chance during this epoch it's emergence and survival are incredibly astonishing.

3. The lead author of the paper that describes these fossils, biogeochemist Matthew Dodd, noted that when the fossils were believed to have formed Mars was warm and had oceans on its surface. If life can arise relatively easily, Dodd states, “It means we could expect to find evidence of life on Mars [dating from] this time.” In other words, if living things can arise easily and quickly even in hostile environments it should have arisen on Mars as well as the earth. If we don't ever discover similar fossils on Mars, he goes on to say, “that suggests that life is a result of some fluke or phenomenon on Earth.”

4. Finally, if it turns out that biological organisms did arise quickly against all odds, that would seem to count against naturalistic explanations of abiogenesis and in favor of intelligent design. After all, it's far more probable that the information needed to produce living things, like the information needed to produce computer code, is the product of a mind than that it's the product solely of random chance and physical processes. That it happened rapidly in a hostile environment increases the probability of intelligent agency and decreases the likelihood of any purely naturalistic explanation.

Presumably, time will tell.