A friend of mine told me about a news story he heard on NPR. He said that NASA had some “really exciting” results from the Mars rover named Curiosity, but they were not ready to release the results to the public yet because they wanted to confirm the data. My friend wondered if perhaps NASA had finally found the remains of life on Mars. I found the story on NPR’s website, and it sounds like my friend’s expectation could be right.
According to the story, the principle investigator, Dr. John Grotzinger, says:
This data is gonna be one for the history books. It’s looking really good.
Dr. Grotzinger is waiting to release the results, however, because NASA has been burned a couple of times before. Back in 1996, NASA scientists published a paper that claimed a meteorite from Mars (named ALH84001) held tell-tale signs of bacteria, indicating that there was once life on Mars. As more scientists studied the meteorite, however, several problems with that interpretation were found. As a result, even though some NASA scientists are still saying that the meteorite holds evidence of life on Mars, the data are inconclusive at best.
In addition, NASA scientists published a paper in 2010 claiming to have found a bacterium that could incorporate arsenic into its biochemistry. NASA said that this finding would change the way we think about bacteria and would help us better understand the possibilities for life on other worlds. However, in just a couple of years, two very detailed studies showed that the original NASA claim was incorrect. It’s understandable, then, that NASA scientists are being careful when it comes to the release of any surprising data from the Curiosity rover.
Even though there is no mention of life on Mars in the NPR story, it is clear that one of the main goals of the Mars rover missions has been to find evidence that Mars once held (or still holds) living organisms. As a result, my friend immediately thought that this is what the news story was all about: NASA has finally found evidence of life on Mars. All they have to do is confirm it, and they will trumpet their results. He wondered how this would affect creationists.
I have always found that an odd question. As I have stated previously, I would think that anyone who believes in a completely naturalistic mechanism for the origin of life should be incredibly shocked to find life anywhere else in the universe. After all, the chance of life forming as a result of random interactions between nonliving molecules is incredibly improbable. Indeed, even in carefully-controlled, guided interactions, origin-of-life researchers have not come close to producing anything that even remotely resembles a living system. In the end, then, a naturalistic mechanism seems so improbable that we should be amazed that life originated that way even once. To think that it could happen more than once really stretches the bounds of the imagination, at least in my opinion.
However, a creationist shouldn’t have any problem with the existence of life on other planets. After all, if God created once, why couldn’t He have created again and again and again? So if real evidence of life on Mars is found, I think it would create more problems for the proponents of naturalistic evolution than it would for the proponents of any creationist scenario.
In addition, old-earth creationist Dr. Hugh Ross made an important point more than eight years ago:
It is not a matter of if, but a matter of when, the remains of life will be discovered on Mars.
What he means is the same process that brings Martian meteorites to earth will also bring earth materials to Mars. As a result, if scientists scour the entire planet, they ought to find some remains of life – life from earth. Thus, if the Curiosity rover has found evidence for life, that doesn’t necessarily mean the life is of Martian origin. It could very well be from earth. Of course, if the rover has collected enough data, NASA ought to be able to analyze the evidence to see whether or not earth contamination is a reasonable explanation for the findings.
I look forward to finding out what these “historical data” are. I just hope NASA does a better job of confirming the data than they did with their supposed “arsenic-based bacterium.” Of course, only time will tell.