Of Martian Bacteria

martian bacteriaBy: Bill the Butcher

In the inside pages of the newspaper, recently,  I came across an article about fossilized Martian bacteria  found inside a meteorite, Allen Hills 84001, that was blasted out of Mars and arrived in Antarctica 13,00 years ago. These bacteria made headlines in 1996 after fossils were found in the meteorite. Scientists believed they were bacteria from Earth that contaminated the rock while it lay in the frozen wastes. . Now, it appears, they came from Mars.

This is such a very, very significant bit of news that I wasn’t surprised at all to find that it was buried inside the newspaper instead of plastered across the front page, where it belonged. It’s so very important that I should be astonished that it got reported at all.

This discovery, if those really are Martian bacteria (even if extinct) changes everything.

It challenges, directly, the standard religious stands regarding the centrality of the creation of humanity on this planet for a divine plan. If humans are the highest form of a god’s expression of creative ability, why make bacteria on another planet, especially one which is to all intents and purposes, now dead? If the bacteria and other life on Mars is now extinct, why did that, allegedly benevolent, god allow such life to die?

It asks of the Rapture-ists a further question: if life can exist on another planet, why should one believe in any theology which professes that the world would be ended in some religious Armageddon between good and evil?

It asks a question which I don’t think the Creationist crowd would like to confront: if there is no such thing as evolution, why would bacteria be formed on another planet?

It demands of ethicists a decision. If bacteria or other forms of life still exist on Mars, to whom does the planet belong? Do we, if and when we have the ability to send expeditions there, have any right to do anything to that planet? Can we act as the post-modern equivalent of the conquistadores in South America? Can we justify even the possibility that our intervention might irretrievably damage a fragile ecosystem?

It calls for questions about space exploration. If microorganisms are encountered on other planets or satellites, and these are sufficiently adaptable to be pathogenic to humans or other life-forms on this planet, what should be the procedure to be followed? How can we prevent that possibility? What should we do to prepare for epidemics caused by alien microbes? Can we launch space expeditions blindly, without taking into account what might happen afterwards?

It demands of ordinary people, of all of us, the realization that we are not alone in the cosmos. If bacteria can evolve on Mars, with its thin carbon dioxide atmosphere, its near-waterlessness and its intense cold, then life can evolve just about anywhere. And since the evidence is overwhelming that a far larger number of stars than we ever imagined have planets around them, it’s almost certain that a very large number of them will have life of some form. Given time and a suitable environment, then, other intelligent and civilised races will have evolved on other planets. We might be – in galactic terms, and this is just one galaxy among billions, each containing billions of stars – ants crawling on a pebble and thinking of it as the universe. What price our petty territorial squabbles and Eternal National Frontiers then?

No wonder this news didn’t make the headlines. Uncomfortable truths seldom do.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/6660045/Bacteria-from-Mars-found-inside-ancient-meteorite.html

12 Comments on “Of Martian Bacteria”

  1. Slow down Bill! Time for some fact checking about your science questions and postulations. Your philisophical and religious points are important ones but I think your approach to these are a bit to narrow and confining. Why not bacteria on Mars (our sister planet). Perhaps bacteria on Mars is part of the plan.

  2. Life on Mars has always been a pet subject under my list of “what if”. I can remember a time when the possibility that life could ever have existed on Mars was dismissed, even when telescopic cameras showed evidence that the canals on Mars had most likely been caused by water. There was quite a bit of excitement among the sci fi enthusiasts when the air content was discovered to contain carbon monoxide. All kinds of speculation resulted in stories of a long ago Mars whose civilization was destroyed by its own hand at technology and green house gasses.

    Some institutions of religious belief are challenged by scientific discoveries; some are not. Some religious sects don’t recognize the tools of science for its interpretations of history, measuring age, calculating the composition of the planetary bodies, etc. For them, a theory is a theory. Without concrete evidence; that is a revelation from the past or a visit from a extra-terrestial being, these tools will continue to remain just theories.

    Some take the position that science and religion have no reason to disagree. They see stories in the ancient histories as symbolic or parables. They view the possibility of that much was lost in language structure, in references to technology that disappeared and is only now being recovered.

    There are those who will hold onto their essential god beliefs no matter what the challenge. There are those who shape their gods as carefully as they build their awareness of the world around them. There are also those, like the religious factions who do not believe in science, want a concrete god in front of them before they’ll accept religion.

  3. Come on, Bill the Butcher. Where have you been? Mars? Go to Wikipedia.org and type in Allen Hills Meteorite, look at the History section and you will find “When the discovery was announced, many immediately conjectured that the fossils were the first evidence of extraterrestrial life–making headlines around the world, and even prompting U.S.President Bill Clinton to make a formal televised announcement to mark the event.”

    No subversive act here…just poor research.

  4. Olehippy,

    Yes, the idea that the meteorite contained fossils is pretty old – but now it looks like the idea has gained credence in the scientific community. It’s that new credence to the hypothesis that motivated the author to write this article: if you had read the posted link you would know this.

  5. I’m not sure this is a situation where the revelation “changes everything.” Certainly it doesn’t change everything for everyone. Many people and some of them Christians already believe that we cannot be the only thing out there.
    Can we continue on doing things blindly? You betcha! That’s our M.O.
    Should we? We probably never should have.

  6. OK, Bill, you got me going again 🙂 Thank you.

    “It challenges, directly, the standard religious stands regarding the centrality of the creation of humanity on this planet for a divine plan. If humans are the highest form of a god’s expression of creative ability, why make bacteria on another planet, especially one which is to all intents and purposes, now dead? If the bacteria and other life on Mars is now extinct, why did that, allegedly benevolent, god allow such life to die?”

    Maybe we should take the above in parts. I’d like to start here:

    “It challenges, directly, the standard religious stands regarding the centrality of the creation of humanity on this planet for a divine plan.”

    When most, if not all, of the historic cosomological philosophies of our time were written (from the Upanishads to the Hekiganroku) we were under the impression that Earth was the only place life could exist. It wasn’t until late in the second millennium we started thinking about a solar system and galaxies. Naturally our philosophies tended to ignore those things and sought to explain life on Earth, which was flat at the time.

    Those documents deal with the meaning and purpose of life on Earth. Life on other planets doesn’t invalidate them. It’s possible life on Earth is part of a divine plan. That the plan might extend to India or Mars is open to revision based on new data 🙂

    “If humans are the highest form of a god’s expression of creative ability, why make bacteria on another planet, especially one which is to all intents and purposes, now dead? ”

    How about “God was hedging bets and Mars lost?” When we blow ourselves to hell in a handbasket, we lose and the folks orbiting Alpha Centauri get to put another notch on the bedpost.

    Life on other planets doesn’t rule out the existence of a Supreme Being. It rules out the importance of Earth.

  7. I think you kinda missed the point Scott – at no point did the article suggest that life on other planets = no “god” out there (that would be absurd, as the concept of “god” is so nebulous and poorly-defined that just about anything can be given the label of “god” provided that one adjusts his/her theology to fit the concept). What the author was attempting to express is that the traditional concept of “god” – one which treats the earth as the center of the universe and regards humanity as the pinnical of creation – is obsolete because we now have evidence that life can exist elsewhere, thus it is possible that there may be other life forms out there with similar attribute to our own (hence man is not “special” or “set apart” from all other life).

  8. Although I would’ve preferred if you went into a little bit more detail, I still got the gist of what you meant. I agree with it. It might not be a popular idea, but it makes sense. Will definitely come back for more of this. Great work

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