Many questions pertaining to our life are still unanswered and one of the fundamental questions about life is the most perplexing: Why are we here? Are we here just by chance? Or is there a more profound reason for our existence which we are yet to discover? At Search of Life, we continue to seek answers in this direction. Let us look at some of the views of prominent scientists.
What do we know about the origin of life? Might it have been a bizarre fluke, a one-off accident making Earth unique in the observable universe? Many distinguished scientists have thought so. Francis Crick, co- discoverer of the structure of DNA, once wrote, “The origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.”
The universe is not pregnant with life nor the biosphere with man..
Jacques Monod, the French biochemist who won a Nobel Prize for his work unravelling the details of the genetic code, similarly proclaimed, “The universe is not pregnant with life nor the biosphere with man… Man, at last, knows that he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he emerged only by chance.”
At that time, belief in any form of extraterrestrial life, let alone intelligent alien beings, was seen as pure science fiction, the stuff of bad Hollywood movies, with no scientific basis whatsoever. One might as well have expressed a belief in fairies. SETI, in particular, wasn’t taken seriously.
..life will arise on Earth-like planets throughout the universe..
The distinguished Harvard biologist George Simpson described the search for intelligent aliens as “a gamble at the most adverse odds with history.” Today the pendulum has swung the other way. The biologist Christian de Duve – like Monod, a Nobel prizewinner – is so convinced that life will arise on Earth-like planets throughout the universe, he calls it ‘a cosmic imperative.’
Both scientists and journalists now often declare that the universe is chock-a-block with life. Every little discovery concerning planets is presented by the media as one step closer to finding extraterrestrial life, even intelligent life. The 2009 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held in a snow-covered Chicago just before the launch of the Kepler mission to search for Earth-like extra-solar planets, typified the new mood.
If you have a habitable world and let it evolve for a few billion years then inevitably some sort of life will form on it..
Several sessions were devoted to astrobiology – a subject that includes the study of life beyond Earth. In one of them, Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, DC, declared in ebullient fashion: “If you have a habitable world and let it evolve for a few billion years then inevitably some sort of life will form on it… It would be impossible to stop life growing on these habitable planets.”
Boss went on to deliver an arresting statistic: “There could be one hundred billion trillion Earth-like planets in space, making it inevitable that extraterrestrial life exists.” The science journalist Richard Alleyne reported this event for the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper: “Life on Earth used to be thought of as a freak accident that only happened once. But scientists are now coming to the conclusion that the universe is teeming with living organisms.”
So which point of view is right? Is life a freak accident, confined to our planet, or a ‘cosmic imperative’, and hence spread throughout the universe? The answer hinges on just how likely it is for life to emerge from non-life, so it makes sense to look for clues in the way that life on Earth began.