Reasons to Believe

Mars: Evidence for E.T. or Confirmation of Design?

A review of the data by Dr. Hugh Ross

Interest in the highly publicized Martian meteorite, ALH84001, still runs high. Ordinarily I would be thrilled to see science news make headlines for months on end. But in this case, I see a serious distortion of science and tabloid-like treatment in reputable news media; signs of the times, perhaps. The impression created and widely disseminated is that the finding of so-called "life remains" on this meteorite spells victory for atheistic evolution and doom for the Christian (certainly, the evangelical) doctrine of creation.1 I encountered this impression in Hong Kong and Japan. I meet it daily wherever I go despite growing recognition and public acknowledgment by the science community that claims for ALH84001 have been overrated and overstated.

Nevertheless, a great blessing has emerged from this debacle: it has led to discovery of additional evidence for Earth's fine-tuning (i.e., divine design) for life.

Questionable Identity

As I mentioned in my preliminary report last issue, the supposed "fossil" structures in the meteorite are simple enough (just spheres and cylinders) to be generated by inorganic processes.2 They also prove a hundred times smaller than the smallest fossils found on Earth. As mathematical biologist Harold Morowitz points out, the tiny structures can contain no more than a hundred million atoms.3 That number may seem large to a layman, but from a biologist's perspective it is not. A new analysis of the minimum genetic material required for a bacterium to survive, indicates that a hundred million atoms, even if perfectly structured for life, cannot carry out self-sustaining, self-reproducing cell functions.

The chemical evidence for life in ALH84001, as I explained, could all be duplicated by non-organic reactions, and the list of such reactions grows. Two MIT geophysicists, John Grotzinger and Daniel Rothman have just discovered four additional abiotic ways that the "life" chemicals in ALH84001 could have been generated. Specifically, they demonstrated that what was once termed indisputable evidence for life, namely the presence of stromatolites, can result from any one of four (or more) different inorganic processes.4, 5

Four additional strikes against an organic explanation for the chemicals include these:6, 7

  • The carbonates in AlH84001 most likely formed at temperatures above the 225o F upper limit for biologically-produced carbonates. A newly announced analysis of AlH84001 by atmospheric chemists fixes its carbonate formation temperature somewhere between 105o and 480o F, with the mean temperature thus above 225o F. Typically, meteorite impact generates temperatures between 250o F and 550o F; again, the probability goes against biological production.8
  • The possibility that ALH84001 was "contaminated" by organic compounds after impact still exists.
  • Carbonates were found in the igneous part of the rock, not in sedimentary material.
  • Magnetic grains in ALH84001 are much smaller than those found in Earth's microfossils.

Questionable Source

Scientists have acknowledged - at long last - that just as material can be transported from Mars to Earth, so can it be transported from Earth to Mars.9 Because Earth is nine times more massive than Mars, the transport from here to there via meteorites occurs about thirty times less efficiently, but it can occur.10 This acknowledgement prompted Cornell astronomer Joseph Burns to conclude that "if you want to believe life originated on just one planet and transferred elsewhere, the transfer would have to be from Mars to Earth."10

To date, none of the comments or papers on ALH84001 mentions the existence of a transport mechanism more efficient than meteorites. But we know it exists: the solar wind. The light energy flow from the sun can easily push microbes from the earth's upper atmosphere to Mars and to the other outer planets and satellites, as well.11 Ironically, stellar wind has been invoked to explain how life got to Mars from some superior site outside our solar system.12 Because Mars falls far short of ideal as a life-origin site, scientists are dragging up -and dressing up - Fred Hoyle's bizarre "panspermia" proposition (from the late 1970's) that life originated "out there" somewhere in the cosmos and came to our solar system, more particularly (in the new scenario), to Mars, carried on star-generated "wind."

What is the appeal of this panspermia hypothesis? It cannot be scientific plausibility. Here are just a few of its difficulties: Such interstellar space travel would require more intense light than the sun's to push the microbes, but such light's ultraviolet rays would kill bare organisms in just a few days. If the microbes were encased in dust grains, their survival could be assured; however, the extra mass of this dust grain shield would necessitate stars as bright as red supergiants to propel them through space. And yet, as I explain in The Creator and the Cosmos, life cannot possibly have ever survived on planets orbiting supergiant stars.13

For these reasons alone, without even addressing the virtually impossible odds of finding a planet anywhere in the observable universe with precise features for life support, 14, 15 panspermia should (in the scientific sense of "should") be a dead hypothesis. My hunch as to why scientists resist pulling the plug on it finds support in Christopher McKay's profound "confession." McKay, co-author of the ALH84001 study,16 aware that life arose on Earth in a geologic instant (less than five million years),17 admits we face a narrow choice, "Either life on Earth began whole ... or it began somewhere else."18 Though both options demand a miracle, one of the two apparently seems preferable to him. I find the other more reasonable, by far.

Fresh Design Evidences

We are just beginning to see apologetics windfalls from this Mars-life hoopla. Attempts to explain how Mars may have possessed, at one time, sufficient liquid water for life sustenance (not to mention spontaneous generation) point to one of Earth's wonders: the delicacy of our carbon dioxide balance. Only with a huge carbon-dioxide (CO2) mantle could Mars ever have trapped sufficient solar heat for liquid water to have a chance at forming and precipitating in its atmosphere, even for a brief period. However, liquid water readily reacts with CO2 to form carbonic acid (which would fall upon Mars's surface rocks and react again to produce carbonates). Formation of carbonates would so rapidly gobble up the CO2 as to transform Mars into a frozen, dry wasteland - which it is today.

Earth, on the other hand, retains CO2 in its atmosphere because of a delicate balance between plate tectonics and volcanic activity. Unlike Mars, Earth experiences considerable surface movement. As our tectonic plates collide, carbonate deposits are pushed deep into the crust. As the carbonates decompose there, they release CO2. Volcanic activity, then, sends the CO2 up to the surface, replenishing the atmosphere. Both tectonic motions and volcanism must operate in balance to maintain this steady cycling of CO2 and carbonates. Earth's current levels are just high enough - and low enough (we humans can't handle too many earthquakes and eruptions) - to provide for the needs of advanced life.

In the past, the levels of such activity were significantly higher. Heat release from the decay of long-lived radioisotopes such as potassium-40, unranium-234, and uranium-238 was five times higher at the time of Earth's beginning 4.6 billion years ago, and heat release is the primary driving force behind tectonic and volcanic action.19 This knowledge helps us understand (in part) why life forms remained relatively simple and small for so long. The larger and more advanced a life form, the more vulnerable it will be to the CO2 balancing forces. And yet without earthquakes and volcanoes, CO2 levels would be inadequate to support life. Humans appear on the scene at the ideal moment for atmospheric and ground level survival conditions. Primitive life appears as soon as it could possibly survive, thus maximizing humans' organic resources such as top soil, coal, oil, gas, and diverse plant and animal species. This timing and balancing reflect either a probability defying matrix of coincidences or the careful plan of an involved Creator.20 You already know my choice of interpretations.


  1. Larry B. Stammer, "Riddle in a Rock: How Special Are We?" Los Angeles Times, September 21, 1996, pp. B6-B7.
  2. Hugh Ross, "Mars-Life Speculations Run Wild," Facts & Faith, volume 10, number 3 (1996), p. 10.
  3. Harold J. Morowitz, "Past Life on Mars?" Science, volume 273 (1996), pp. 1639-1641 .
  4. Malcom Walter, "Old Fossils Could Be Fractal Frauds," Nature, volume 383 (1996), pp. 385-386.
  5. John P. Grotzinger and Daniel H. Rothman, "An Abiotic Model for Stromatolite Morphogenesis," Nature, volume 383 (1996), pp. 423-425.
  6. Christopher F. Chyba, "Life Beyond Mars," Nature, volume 382 (1996), pp. 576-577.
  7. Monica Grady, Ian Wright, and Colin Pillinger, "Opening a Martian Can of Worms?" Nature, volume 382 (1996), pp. 575-576.
  8. Ann Schrader, "CU Team Casts Doubt on Life-On-Mars Theory," Denver Post, October 23, 1996, p. A6.
  9. Ron Cowen, "Interplanetary Odyssey: Can a Rock Journeying from Mars to Earth Carry Life?" Science News, volume 150 (1996), pp. 204-205.
  10. Ron Cowen, p. 205.
  11. Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, second edition (Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress, 1995), pp. 154-155.
  12. Paul Parsons, "Dusting Off Panspermia," Nature, volume 383 (1996), pp. 221-222.
  13. Hugh Ross, pp. 134-135, 139-140.
  14. Hugh Ross, pp. 131-145.
  15. Hugh Ross, Design Evidences in the Cosmos (Pasadena, Calif.: Reasons To Believe, 1996), pp. 1-6.
  16. David S. McKay, et al, "Search for Past Life on Mars: Possible Relic Biogenic Activity in Martian Meteorite ALH84001," Science, volume 273 (1996), pp. 924-930.
  17. Hugh Ross, pp. 147-148. See also the Let Us Reason column by Hubert Yockey in this issue.
  18. Ron Cowen, p. 205.
  19. P. Jonathan Patchett, "Scum of the Earth After All," Nature, volume 382 (1996), p. 758.
  20. Hugh Ross, pp. 131-145.

Subjects: Life on Other Planets, Mars, Prebiotic Chemistry

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. Read more about Dr. Hugh Ross.