Did life originate on Mars? During a keynote address at the 2013 Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference in Florence, Italy, Steven Benner postulated that it did. Benner, from The Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology in Gainesville, Florida, works in the field of "applied molecular evolution" where he attempts to reconstruct conditions that may have led to the spontaneous generation of life's biochemicals from inorganic compounds. In his address, he suggested life began on Mars then somehow migrated the more than 30 million miles to Earth.1 Could any realistic set of factors make this proposal feasible?
Benner's presentation abstract listed the following four paradoxes as challenges to the naturalistic origin of life he defends:
- The "Tar Paradox" shows that adding energy to simple organic molecules—energy required to convert them into molecules of life—always converts them into black goo "better suited for paving roads than supporting Darwinian evolution."1
- The "Water Paradox" describes the fact that on the one hand, water facilitates vital chemical reactions inside a cell, but on the other hand, water destroys raw biomolecules. Actual living cells use several tactics to control water's potentially harmful impact on their vital biochemistry.
- The "Single Biopolymer Paradox" notes that the hypothetical conditions that might build one required type of biopolymer, like DNA, are not the same as those envisioned to build another type, like protein. The problem is that all of life's biopolymers need to form at the same time and place if they are going to move toward becoming the first functioning cell.
- The "Probability Paradox" explains that RNA molecules tend to accelerate harmful chemical reactions despite their theoretical usefulness in accelerating reactions needed for biological life.1
Why would Benner list paradoxes that challenge his own perspective? It's because he believes that solutions are out there. For example, highly oxidized molybdenum atoms can catalyze reactions that produce compounds resembling real-life biochemicals. BBC News said that Benner's presentation suggested that in the distant past Mars had abundant oxygen and molybdenum—and just the right amount of water and radiation at just the right time—to generate life.2
However, the difference between merely resembling a biochemical and actually being that biochemical is as critical as the difference between aspirin and cyanide. Both are white and come in small pill form, but one is deadly and the other is not. In any case, no experiment under any condition yet tested has demonstrated how the existence of molybdenum could have actually solved any of the four listed paradoxes to life's origin.
So, the paradoxes remain paradoxical. But it gets worse.
Benner skipped over other paradoxes, any of which render nature-only origin of life scenarios—whether on Mars or any place imaginable—impossible. The paradox of chirality, for example, notes that biological life requires that certain of its biochemicals maintain a particular "handedness"—either right or left.3 However, the enzymes that maintain the correct handedness in other molecules require properly "handed" biochemicals in their own construction. So, in order to get the proper handedness into life-giving biochemicals, handedness must already exist in other biochemicals—a fact that weakens any argument for naturalistic origin.
An energy paradox exists, as well. The biochemicals that provide cellular fuel actually require a form of fuel that other biochemicals manufacture.4 Additionally, prior research highlighted radiation and diffusion as lethal origin of life problems.5, 6 The hardest hit to Benner's theory, however, is that he has omitted perhaps the most critical paradox that naturalistic life-origins scenarios face: Cellular life requires vast amounts of intricately coded information, and nature never supplies information.4
Space.com quotes Benner as saying, "Evidence is building that Earth life originated on Mars and was brought to this planet aboard a meteorite."7 Evidence is building no such case for Mars—unless by "evidence" Benner means "wild, wild speculation." Ancient, imaginary Martian conditions do not solve biochemical problems that vex modern, intelligent experimenters.
- Benner, S.A. 2013. Keynote: Planets, Minerals and Life's Origin. Mineralogical Magazine. 77 (5): 686.
- Redfern, S. Earth life 'may have come from Mars.' BBC News. Posted on Bbc.co.uk August 28, 2013, accessed August 29, 2013.
- McCombs, C. 2004. Evolution Hopes You Don't Know Chemistry: The Problem with Chirality. Acts & Facts. 33 (5).
- Thomas, B. ATP synthase: majestic molecular machine made by a mastermind. Creation. 31(4): 21-23.
- Thomas, B. Is Life Forming on Titan? Creation Science Update. Posted on icr.org October 20, 2010, accessed August 29, 2013.
- Thomas, B. Critique of 'Primordial Soup' Vindicates Creation Research. Creation Science Update. Posted on icr.org February 11, 2010, accessed August 29, 2013.
- Wall, M. Earth Life Likely Came from Mars, Study Suggests. Space.com. Posted on Space.com August 28, 2013, accessed August 30, 2013.
* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.
Article posted on September 9, 2013.