Friday, 29 May 2009

Creating Life is Easy

There's a short miniseries on TV these days, Impact, suggesting that the moon is hit by a Brown Dwarf, causing the moon to hit the Earth and destroy it, unless someone saves the day. The finale plays next Sunday, and I'm really hoping they don't repeat the tired last ditch save, and actually destroy the Earth this time. Because, really, there is no way that we could remove a Brown Dwarf from the moon and reverse the moon's trajectory enough to save the planet, assuming the Brown Dwarf had hit the moon and forced the moon towards us, and I'd like there to be some semblance of science in this movie. Because if the moon is headed for a collision with us, that's it- just like when the Mars-size body ran into us 4.5 bya (billion years ago), creating the Earth-Moon system. We have no idea what the Earth was like before that point, if there was life, or there was an Earth, because a Mars-size object hitting a Venus-size objects just completely remakes everything.

But it may be that a major bombardment of our planet by giant asteroids wouldn't liquefy the planet, or destroy all of life. I recently contemplated how the extermination of our species is not necessarily a bad thing, that life will find a way, and this study appears to be further thinking along those lines. The Earth was hit by many huge asteroids between 4.4 and 3.9 bya, and it has been assumed that they sterilized the planet. But numerous simulations were run in this recent study, and researchers increased the magnitude of the bombardment by ten times the level that is thought to have occurred, and still all of life wasn't sterilized. In fact, it may well be that this sterilization allowed life to develop- again, death and tragedy being the pathway to life.

More intriguing is that this Heavy Bombardment of the Archean Period may have actually helped life first evolve, providing a haven for creation. This is because of the massive heat energy being put into the open system of Earth, and energy provides what is needed to build the earliest cells. It was previously believed that the asteroids would have destroyed everything, so this energy wouldn't have helped, and the earliest life could have formed was only 3.9 bya. (Our earliest fossils, stromatolites, go back to 3.5 bya.) This string of studies indicates life could have formed 4.4 bya, a mere 100 million years after the final formation of our planet and satellite!

Literal Creationists love to focus on the origin of life, as the holy grail that evolution can't surmount, because it is just too difficult. (Though of course, the origin of life is not a matter of evolution or biology, but rather chemistry.) As I mentioned in an earlier post, we are increasingly finding with studies like this that making life is really not that hard. It has long been though that it took a mere billion years to first form life; now it may be a tenth of that, only 100 million years. Rather, the amazing feat is the formation of multicellular life, waiting some 2.5 to 3.5 billion years, and if Literal Creationists are looking for a deus ex machina of God's intervention, this is really where they should be looking- at the hard stuff! (Though of course, there are good hypothesis for explaining the delay, such as the need for collagen in multicellular life, and collagen requiring a lot of oxygen, and therefore we needed to wait billions of years for cyanobacteria to add that particular poison to the Earth's atmosphere.)

Life is cool, but that is not the amazing part. God's greatest creation is evolution, and I worship at his feet not only penultimately for the creation of life. The far more impressive feat is finding a way to link those cells together.

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