Several news outlets yesterday heralded early reports from NASA that the Curiosity rover on Mars has found evidence that the red planet could have supported primitive life.1, 2, 3
But imagine reading the following in the news instead:
The Mars rover Curiosity once again pushes forward the frontiers of science. The rover has the ability to drill holes in Martian rocks, and to chemically analyze the resulting powder. Such an analysis has recently revealed that Martian rocks contain the following chemicals: sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and carbon. The significance? These are all elements found in washing machines and laundry detergent. Yes, it seems that conditions on ancient Mars were just right for the existence of operational washing machines!
Aside from the concluding sentence, the above paragraph is entirely true. Curiosity did find these elements on Mars (they are fairly common elements in the universe). And indeed, such elements are used whenever someone does a load of laundry. But few scientists would draw the conclusion that washing machines once populated the surface of Mars.
The reason is simple. It is fallacious to assume the existence of a complex structure on the basis of the mere existence of its raw material. In addition, there is no organizing principle on Mars or informational instructions by which such basic elements could be naturally organized into something as complicated as a washing machine.
Living organisms also are comprised of many of these same elements. Like a washing machine, the elements are organized in an intricate and organized way according to the information in a blueprint. There is no known mechanism by which such a structure can come about without a blueprint and creative information.
So why do we see news articles concluding that Mars possibly had life on the basis that it has some of the same elements? If we wouldn't conclude that there were probably washing machines on Mars, then why would we infer the existence of something far more complex and intricate?
- Landau, E. NASA: Yes, Mars could have hosted life. CNN. Posted on lightyears.blogs.cnn.com March 12, 2013, accessed March 12, 2013.
- Klotz, I. Mars had the right stuff for life, scientists find. Reuters via Yahoo!, March 12, 2013.
- Wall, M. Wow! Ancient Mars Could Have Supported Primitive Life, NASA Says. Space.com. Posted on www.space.com March 12, 2013, accessed March 12, 2013.
Image credit: NASA
* Dr. Lisle is Director of Physical Sciences at the Institute for Creation Research and received his Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Colorado.
Article posted on March 13, 2013.