Water, Water Everywhere

  Astronomers are excited -- again! This time it's Italian researchers who think they may have found signs of water in space. Even more exciting for them, this is reportedly the first such sign detected from an "extrasolar planet," a planet outside our solar system. Cristiano Cosmovici, team leader of the Institute for Cosmic and Planetary Sciences in Rome, reported the research at a scientific conference in Austria. His presentation was reported in an issue of New Scientist last month. Why would water on another planet excite the experts? Dr. Hugh Jones of Liverpool John Moores University answers, "Water's at the top of the shopping list of ingredients for life." Water is an indispensable ingredient for life as we know it, and evolutionary theorists believe it could evolve into life if it combines with the right other substances under the right conditions. Some astronomers have motivations far beyond scientific curiosity. For example, the late Carl Sagan said that if life exists only on Earth, people may continue to consider it a unique creation of God. But if, as he fervently hoped, living organisms are discovered elsewhere in the universe, it would, from his point of view, prove that life was a natural phenomenon, produced by natural processes with no need for a supernatural creator. That worldview motivated Sagan to spend much of his life on the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence -- and propagating his message in fictional form through the novel and film CONTACT. How sure are scientists that this signal from an extrasolar planet indicates that water is really present there? New Scientist magazine says that Cosmovici has merely discovered "telltale microwaves that might come from water . . . " and that his discovery needs to be confirmed by other researchers. It adds that "these particular planets are unlikely to host life" because "these [are] gas giants [that] presumably have no solid or liquid surface . . . and at least some of them are far too hot to give life a chance." If we do discover water elsewhere in space, how close is the mere presence of water to life -- even bacterial life? Several years ago, NASA thought it had discovered indications of possible water on Mars. A reporter put this question to biochemist Dr. Michael Behe: "Some journalists," he said, "keep commenting that if there is liquid water, there probably are primitive life forms. They automatically assume that the two go together . . . [I]s that pushing it?" Professor Behe answered, "It's more than pushing it. It's saying if we find iron on Mars, we should be looking for an automobile, because automobiles contain iron. There's water in every origin-of-life experiment that's ever been done on Earth since Stanley Miller did his experiment [in the 1950s which proved bogus]. And yet nobody has the foggiest idea of how we could get from simple chemicals, with or without water, to that first cell . . . [T]hat's just another example of the [it-must-have-happened-that-way] thinking . . . that we find in the textbooks. But that's just poor science." If we discover that water exists in space, that's only item one on the shopping list of ingredients in the recipe of life. Just as a Rolls Royce is not mere iron ore, the molecules of life have a formula much more complex than mere H2O. For further reading: Jimmy Davis and Harry Poe, Designer Universe: Intelligent Design and the Existence of God (Broadman and Holman, 2002). The video "Icons of Evolution" features professional and engaging interviews with scientific experts, focusing on the incorrect assumptions and data used by Darwin and the scientific facts that refute them. "Signs of water found on distant planets," New Scientist, 19 September 2002. "Cold Clouds and Water in Space," from a European Space Agency press release, Astrobiology Magazine, 4 June 2001. Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe (Copernicus Books, 1999). Hugh Ross, "Fine-Tuning for Life in the Universe," Reasons to Believe, June 2002 (a Christian astronomer lists 47 characteristics that have to be met for a planet to be habitable). Hugh Ross, "Probability for a Life Support Body," Reasons to Believe, June 2002 (calculating the mathematical probability for attaining the parameters a planet needs in order to support life). Carl Sagan, Cosmos (Random House, 1983). Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (Touchstone, 1998). Visit the NASA Website.


Chuck Colson


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