(Facts & Faith, Third Quarter 1996)
We have been deluged with this question since the NASA press release on the 6th of August. Here is Hugh Ross' preliminary response to the NASA study that gives possible evidence for life on Mars. As more data is available for analysis we will provide a more thorough article.
While my family and I vacationed at Lake Powell, NASA announced the discovery of what "might be" the remains of ancient life on Mars. If you have read The Creator and the Cosmos (either edition) or back issues of Facts & Faith, 1-2 you were prepared for this announcement and for the sensation it stirred in the news media. RTB’s office and hotline received a deluge of calls, including some from major television networks. Because I was away, I missed the chance to give an immediate public response, but my staff passed along the word that this discovery--if it really was that--had been anticipated for years and in no way enhanced the credibility of life's spontaneous origin, nor did it dent the case for divine creation.
A team of NASA and Stanford University planetary scientists announced a set of "possible" evidences for the remains of life in a meteorite (discovered recently in Antarctica) from Mars. Headlined as "signs of ancient life on Mars,"3 the findings stirred UCLA astronomer David Paige to declare them among "the most spectacular scientific discoveries since humans first gazed skyward."3
Not all scientists shared his exuberant but premature conclusion. Even science fiction writer Ray Bradbury commented, "It’s ridiculous. They don’t have any proof."4
At the time I write, the peer-reviewed report in Science is still on the presses. August 16 is the anticipated release date. I will respond more fully after I have studied that report, but for now I can offer a few preliminary comments.
First, the evidences seem highly speculative. Microscopic spheres and cylinders comprise the "fossil-like structures" found in the meteorite. They roughly resemble the shape and size of some bacteria existing on Earth, but several non-organic processes also produce such structures in rocks. Further, the chemicals touted as "organic molecules"5 found in the vicinity of these structures may not be organic at all. The list appears impressive--"carbonate globules, magnetite, iron sulphide, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons"6--but the carbonate globules are merely calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate which, along with magnetite and iron sulphide, are generated in large quantities on Earth by both inorganic and organic processes. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons most often result from inorganic processes, such as contact between carbon (even tiny amounts) and a heat source (no hotter than a barbeque or campfire). These hydrocarbons exist in virtually every gas cloud in our galaxy.
Second, and contrary to Fuller Seminary professor Nancey Murphy’s expressed opinion on television, the discovery of life's remains either on or from Mars would not disturb a literal interpretation of the Bible. For more than a decade scientists have known that large quantities of Earth-life, some even with the potential to germinate, are transported to Mars by the solar wind and meteorites.7 These transports have been moving life or life’s remains from Earth to Mars for at least the past four billion years (a time frame that encompasses the 3.6- to 4.0-billion-year age estimate for the Martian meteorite8). As I’ve stated before, we can reasonably expect scientists to find life or life remains either on Mars or on material from Mars. Such a discovery would not prove that life spontaneously generates under natural conditions. Rather, it would testify to how well God designed life to survive environmental rigors. And, since conditions on Mars some 3 to 4 billion years ago were more favorable for life and for the formation and preservation of fossils, we should expect that the best chance to find life remains will lie in Mars’ most ancient rocks.
My third observation has less to do with the discovery than with the timing of its announcement. NASA’s budget has again come up for congressional consideration, and as NASA officials admit, this "discovery" has sparked more public support for NASA than anything since our astronauts’ first moon walk. One of the newspaper headlines read, "NASA Vows All-Out Study of Mars Findings."9 Such a study would of course mean multi-billion dollar explorations of Mars’ surface. While I see much to be gained from greater understanding of Martian geology, for instance, I see the potential for waste if attention is riveted on this life-origin issue. A safer and much more cost-effective way to search for life-s remains on Mars would be to look for additional Martian meteorites in Antarctica and elsewhere on Earth. Well established solar system models suggests that several in addition to the dozen already identified should be here for the finding.
- Hugh Ross, "Life on Mars as Proof of Evolution?" Facts & Faith, 2:3 (1988), pp.1-2.
- Hugh Ross, "Life on Mars Revisited," Facts & Faith, 3:2 (1989), p.2.
- K.C. Cole, "Could There Be Life There? Rock May Bear Signs of Ancient Life on Mars." Los Angeles Times, Aug. 7, 1996. A1.
- David Ferrell and Paul Feldman, "An Otherworldly Debate," Los Angeles Times, Aug. 8, 1996, p.B1.
- Robert Nemiroff and Jerry Bonnell, "An Ancient Martian?" Astronomy Picture of the Day, World Wide Web, Aug. 8, 1996, p.1.
- Thomas Maugh II, "Martian Meteorite Offers Scientists a Chemical Puzzle," Los Angeles Times, August 8, 1996, p.B2.
- Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, second edition (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1995), pp. 154-155.
- James Hartsfield and David Salsbury, "Meteorite Yields Evidence of Primitive Life on Early Mars," NASA News, World Wide Web, Aug. 7, 1996, p.1.
- K.C. Cole, "Signs of Life: NASA Vows All-Out Study of Mars Findings," Los Angeles Times, Aug. 8, 1996, p.A1.