When Dr Craig Venter’s team announced they had succeeded in transplanting synthetic DNA for a bacterium into a host cell they opened a ‘Pandora’s box’ about the morality of playing God. The simple fact is you can modify and manipulate already existing biological material, but nobody can create life from scratch. However, what if using the same technique mankind could create a complete Earth like planet full of new life forms that could eventually evolve higher than man himself? Does this sound impossible?
The opening chapter of the Bible begins with the words, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth’. We then learn from the text that the earth was a formless, dark, empty, void within which God’s spirit moved upon the surface of the waters as He prepared to perform His creative works. God then brings into existence His creation beginning with the separation of light from darkness. This is completed in six days with the ultimate object of His love, man. There are various accounts in different religions of how God created man including the belief that He created Adam from clay and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and then man became a living soul; the Greek myth that Prometheus shaped man from mud and Athena breathed life into his clay figure; and the Islamic belief that Allah shaped clay into human form and breathed into him a soul. All the accounts involve God making something not living becoming alive. How this can happen is still very much a mystery.
The Fermi Paradox is named after the Italian nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi. It encapsulates the apparent anomaly between the high theoretical estimates of the existence of intelligent life forms on other planets and man’s inability to find observational evidence to support it. The basic arguments are as follows:
There are billions of stars in the galaxy many of which are older than our star, the sun.
It is highly likely that some of these stars will have earth like planets and if the Earth is typical of these planets then they are capable of developing intelligent civilizations.
Some of these civilisations will be technologically advanced and capable of researching and developing interstellar travel. Humans are already investigating this possibility.
Any civilization that masters interstellar travel should be able to spread out and colonize the universe completely in a few tens of millions of years.
This thinking implies that the earth should already have been colonized or at least visited, but there is certainly no convincing evidence of this although there are many enthusiastic believers such as Eric Von Daniken and Graham Hancock. Even more puzzling, despite the fact that humans have been actively searching, no evidence of intelligent civilizations in any of the billions of galaxies in the observable universe has been found which leads to Fermi’s question, ‘Where is everybody’?
Aristotle claimed that human beings are unique in the divine place and therefore other forms of intelligent life do not exist. Religious thinkers, such as Aquinius, also believe in the uniqueness of God and therefore the uniqueness of Earth. However, nowhere does the Bible exclude the possibility of God creating other worlds. Others believe that there are intelligent alien civilizations but humans cannot communicate with them because they are too distant or too alien or we are simply not looking in the right place at the right time. Finally there is the possibility that alien civilizations wish to remain undetected and are using their technology to that end.
One way to solve the paradox would be to find irrefutable evidence of such civilizations. Man has been searching since 1960 without success. No reliable evidence of scientific probes or spaceships from other planets exploring the universe has ever been found despite the age of the universe – unless you believe the conspiracy theories. Astronomers are looking for any phenomena which cannot be explained in any other way. Some scientists are looking for unexplained radio signals, while others are searching for planets suitable for life and in the future it may be possible to detect biotic gases such as oxygen and methane.
It has only been twenty years since the first extra-solar planet was discovered, but the number of confirmed alien planets has now smashed through the 1000 milestone. Rapid technological advances have resulted in a succession of finds. What is amazing about these discoveries is the sheer variation in planetary conditions. According to Huffpost Tech some have atmospheres of plasma water, others ghostly clouds and one even rains deadly hot liquid gases.
Earth’s atmosphere is special in that it is just the right density to support life as we know it. When its crust was still forming masses of volcanoes spewed steam, carbon dioxide and ammonia into its atmosphere. Sunlight split up the ammonia molecules into nitrogen, and hydrogen, which, as the lightest gas rose and drifted off into space. The carbon dioxide dissolved in the early oceans where simple bacteria evolved that could live on the dissolved carbon dioxide and energy from the sun. They produced oxygen as a waste product, which built up in the atmosphere while the carbon dioxide levels continued to drop. When the oxygen concentration reached a certain level it is believed animals evolved and there is now a balance between respiring animals using oxygen and giving out carbon dioxide and photosynthesizing plants taking in carbon dioxide and giving out oxygen. Thus, our current atmosphere, on which life depends, was created and is now maintained by life itself.
If our population continues to expand at the current rate there will eventually be a shortage of resources and colonization of other planets will be essential for the expansion of the species. The alternative appears to be fighting over ever dwindling resources and our eventual annihilation. There are several if not ‘far fetched’ methods proposed for colonizing lifeless worlds:
1) Creating an artificial sun: This celestial body would have to supply the energy to keep the planet warm and supply light for photosynthesis etc. As the sun radiates energy radially it is very wasteful. The artificial sun’s energy could be concentrated and it could orbit the planet as a satellite and be far closer than for example the sun is to the Earth. However, it is still unclear how to transform the fusion process into radiation that is similar to a solar spectrum and the distance away would determine the area of the planet hit with light and the orbital period. Also there is the problem of fuel consumption. If the satellite needed only a ten millionth of that of the sun it would still burn half a ton of helium a second.
2) Pushing a planet into the habitable zone: This would mean a slow deceleration of the planet if it is too far away, or acceleration if it is too close. Theoretically you could strap an enormous rocket engine to the planet which has to point in the correct direction continually while the planet is rotating.
3) Perhaps the best possibility to make a planet habitable would be ‘terraforming’ by changing the atmosphere. In many ways Mars is the most Earth like planet in our solar system. It exists on the edge of the habitable zone, a region of the solar system where greenhouse gases can support liquid water on the surface at sufficient atmospheric pressure. Although it is a cold planet lacking a magnetic field, with surface gravity only 38% of that on Earth, it could still theoretically support a hydrosphere and biosphere. Terraforming of Mars is a hypothetical process by which the Martian climate could be transformed into a biosphere suitable for human habitation. Mars atmosphere consists of mainly carbon dioxide and if the planet were to warm up more frozen carbon dioxide could sublime from the poles furthering the greenhouse effect. Other proposed methods are crashing meteorites containing ammonia into the planet’s surface to release ammonia as a buffer gas and sending rockets with payloads of compressed CFCs. Also, orbital mirrors could be used to direct sunlight onto its surface and increase the planet’s temperature directly. NASA have looked, seriously, at terraforming Mars, but even if they succeeded in creating a breathable atmosphere it is likely that it would, in the long run, lose it’s gas to space due to lack of gravity.
Science fiction writers can be even more creative. In Star trek a Genesis device was developed by a team of scientists, to overcome problems such as overpopulation and limited resources. This technological innovation was designed to terraform previously uninhabitable worlds into planets for colonization. The Genesis device was supposed to be launched like a torpedo into a lifeless planet. On impact a massive explosion would reduce the area to subatomic particles which were then reassembled by a pre-programmed matrix to configure an atmosphere and environment habitable for humans. However, the device was stolen and detonated in an area already containing life and instead its misuse proved it to be a powerful doomsday weapon. What is considered ridiculous today can sometimes be reality in the future, or perhaps in this case the past. Could, in fact, such a Genesis device actually have existed on Earth?
The ancient Ark of the Covenant is probably best known to the modern world as the other worldly artifact central to the plot of Stephen Spielberg’s blockbuster movie ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’ In his quest for the lost ark, Indiana Jones, an adventure seeking Oxford professor, famous for his ability to battle snakes, solve riddles and find miraculous ways out of life threatening situations, has to outsmart the Nazis who are seeking to harness its mysterious power as a weapon of destruction. However, according to biblical records the Ark of the Covenant did indeed possess God’s devastating power and the Bible contains numerous records of its ability to level mountains, crush armies, lay waste to cities and even part a sea.
The Ark contained a tremendous amount of energy being capable of miraculous deeds both creative and destructive. According to the Bible, God who dwelt in the ‘High and Holy Place’ was actually present in the Ark in the middle of the Hebrew people, although this raises the question, ‘why did God choose to live in a wooden trunk?’ It also raises the possibility that if God’s spirit was taken in the Ark to a barren world devoid of life, His spirit could ‘breathe’ life into it in the same way that legends say He created life on Earth. i.e. He could create a nature which would eventually evolve into an intelligent life form.
Templars claim the Ark is a technology controlled by an unknown force which gives it its tremendous power. This technological device contained a key, or code, to the fundamental cosmic forces of nature, and as well as being a powerful weapon can renew or regenerate life or even create it in the first place. (For a computer theory of Creation see A Divine Architect Theory of Evolution).
Some people believe the Flower of Life design at the Temple of Osiris, Abydos, Egypt encodes this ancient knowledge of space and time, representing different aspects of reality from which it is possible to create any molecular or cellular structure that exists in the universe. Thus, if one could unravel the code and gain the knowledge, it would be possible to terraform a planet into a suitable hydrosphere, or biosphere, for human habitation, or even create life itself. All said and done, it is unlikely that the human race, without the help of a divine creator or some seriously advanced civilization, will ever be able to make anything non living become alive. However, it is perfectly feasible that we could travel to another planet, devoid of life, yet capable of harboring it. Microbial life forms could be ‘Venter like’ specially engineered to seed life on its surface. In fact, if you believe in classical evolution any hitch-hiking basic bacteria could colonize the planet and eventually evolve into new life which could one day become even more advanced than mankind. So if you don’t want to start a new race of selfish, warring, naked-apes, make sure you disinfect your boots before stepping off the rocket.
Joe recently helped develop the British Woodlands food webs educational simulation for Newbyte and is donating his share of The Last Tiger (available Amazon kindle) children’s fantasy novel profits to the Animals on the Edge conservation project.