A thought experiment about OOL


In this thought experiment it is some time in the future, after we have learned how to design living bacteria from scratch. We then travel to a distant planet where we discover living bacteria, but nothing else. Do we assume that the origin of this bacteria did not involve direct intelligent intervention? Or do we assume that somebody designed it and placed it on this planet?

I’m editing this to include in the thought experiment that pre-biotic conditions on the planet would be the same as thought to exist on Earth before the first living bacteria appeared on it.


We don’t assume either scenario if our only observation is the presence of bacteria. I don’t see any reason why humans making something precludes natural processes from doing the same. We could use ice crystals and diamonds as other examples of things humans can make in the lab.


True enough. So how would we go about deciding which hypothesis was the most reasonable?


From a scientific point of view, ID would be the least reasonable because it really doesn’t offer any testable model, at least none that I know of. Even if the first evidence of life on a planet was somewhat complicated bacteria there is still the chance of natural processes seeding life on that planet from another planet through meteor impacts or other naturally occurring processes. I would think that archaeology would offer a better chance at evidencing an intelligent designer, such as finding remains of technologically advanced laboratories, and perhaps even some information left over from that civilization describing how they created those bacteria.

Given the finite history of the universe there would be a point where life first emerged in the absence of a designer, soa reasonable scientific pathway for looking at this question would be to figure out how life could emerge through natural processes, even if it dealt with the origin of the first designers which then produced the bacteria you are studying.


Wouldn’t there be other signs that intelligent beings had visited the planet? And I can’t imagine why intelligent beings would want to visit a planet, spread bacteria around, and disappear suddenly, erasing all trace of their existence. It’s even more implausible for just one to visit. But that’s just what I think.

(Stephen Matheson) #6

Neither, at least at the outset. We should probably first look for the meteor/comet/asteroid that brought them there.


Hi T,

I’m having problems copying with my iPad, so I’ll have to try to go by memory of what you said.

Let’s assume that we find no meteors or asteroids that show definite signs that they brought life to this planet (let’s call it Planet X).

You stated that at some point in the past life had to have arisen naturally. But that’s a metaphysical assumption. It also rules out time travelling designers.

Even if we don’t find evidence of labs, there is still Francis Crick’s hypothesis of directed panspermia.


Hi @beaglelady,

Francis Crick had a hypothesis he called directed panspermia, where they sent a rocket to Earth with living microbes on it. Motivation? To propagate life?


Hi @sfmatheson,

And if we don’t find the desired meteors or asteroids?


Who sent the rocket? A designer? God? Wouldn’t we find evidence of the rocket? Wouldn’t the sender of the rocket want to explore the planet first, to see if it can support life? And then he’d have to get back home, right?

There has been serious discussion about “terraforming” Mars. If that happens, you can bet that evidence of our presence would be left behind (pardon the expression).

(Stephen Matheson) #11

If we find living organisms on another planet, with no evidence of precursors of any kind, then we would suspect that the organisms were brought there from somewhere else. And the involvement of intelligence would be a strong explanation in that case.

In your thought experiment, it doesn’t matter that the objects of interest are bacteria. Anything that is anomalous would require similar explanations. So if we found a chuck of obsidian on planet that had no obsidian anywhere else, we would be justified in postulating that the obsidian fell from the sky. And so on.

(Phil) #12

If it were the product of intelligent design, perhaps our experience would enable us to determine if the DNA sequence had any tell-tell markers, such as a lack of non-functional DNA segments, Maybe a binary message or trademark embedded in the sequence. If there were no evidence of those sorts of things, it would lend you to think the bacteria was the result of a natural process, either indigenous to the planet or a contaminant from space. Maybe look to see if Voyager crashed there.


Crick’s hypothesis was inspired by the fact that living organisms seemed so - to use Behe’s terminology - irreducibly complex, that it seemed to require a miracle for them to appear. So instead of adopting that explanation, he toyed with the hypothesis that it evolved through natural processes somewhere else, allowing more time for the process to occur, and then the aliens shot a rocket here with microbes in it. Presumably they sent a rocket, instead of bringing it themselves, because of the prohibitively long distance and time involved. This is all in his book, Life Itself.

But if the aliens designed life, instead of it evolving, they still could have sent microbes in a rocket ship.

If God designed the first bacteria on Planet X, it’s possible he didn’t need to use a rocket ship. :wink:


Darn. Somehow I was able to copy Beaglelady’s comment, but I’m not able to copy yours, Dr. Matheson. So this is from memory:

Are you saying we have evidence of precursors to life on Earth?


Hi Phil,

I once argued that there was evidence embedded in our cells that the designer was God: DNA would be the Father; RNA would be the Son; and Proteins would be the Holy Spirit.


Before I go any further, is there some secret to copying comments that I need to know about?

(Phil) #17

While it sometimes works poorly with my iPad, if you just highlight what you wish to quote, a balloon saying quote will come up, click it and the highlighted text will be put in your reply. You can do that multiple times in the body of your reply with different quotes.

(Stephen Matheson) #18

Oh heavens yes, tons of it. We could talk for a century about what we don’t know, but the analogy of finding bacteria on an otherwise deserted/barren planet is not even close to apt for earth.


Dr. Matheson,

I’m still not having any luck copying comments. So if there were no asteroids, comets, or meteors in Earth’s past, then there would be no way to offer a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life on Earth?


God is the intelligent designer? Who knew?