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No. 18: Nov-Dec 1981

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Or did it drift in from without?

Hoyle and Wickramasinghe conceive the cosmos as a seething retort of energy, gases, dust, and, most significantly, organic molecules and microbes. The space between the stars is more important than the stars themselves, for this thin soup is, in their view, the real "swamp" where life originated! The main evidence supporting their radical hypothesis consists of spectrograms, particularly in the infrared, which are difficult to account for on an inorganic basis, but which are fitted nicely by some organic materials, especially microbes. Hole and Wickramasinghe devote most of the present article to making a spectroscopic case for their theory, but near the end they shake the Temple of Science a bit:

"Precious little in the way of biochemical evolution could have happened on the earth. It is easy to show that the two thousand or so enzymes that span the whole of life could not have evolved on the Earth. If one counts the number of trial assemblies of amino acids that are needed to give rise to the enzymes, the probability of their discovery by random shufflings turns out to be less than 1 in 1040000."

They conclude that the genes that control the development of terrestrial life must have evolved on a cosmic scale, where there has been more time and much more room for shufflings.

(Hoyle, Fred, and Wickramasinghe, Chandra; "Where Microbes Boldly Went," New Scientist, 91:412, 1981.)

Comment. Could not the "new" bacteria that appeared in the Mt. St. Helens area, as described in LIFE'S ORIGIN WITHIN THE EARTH?, have drifted down through the atmosphere into the lakes and ponds -- a sort of modern, ever-continuing panspermia? It is interesting to note here that even Hoyle, who has espoused the Steady State theory of the cosmos, seems to require the creation of life followed by evolution. This need for an origin of life is a human philosophical weakness. In principle, matter and life, too, could have always existed.

From Science Frontiers #18, NOV-DEC 1981. 1981-2000 William R. Corliss