Rational Faith

Proteins, Panspermia, Predictions and Pavlov's Scientists





Pavlov and his Scientists
"In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love" Alfred, Lord Tennyson famously wrote.[1] Likewise the hearts of scientists involved in origin of life studies turn to hopes of finding life somewhere in the universe other than earth. But theirs is not a "lightly turning" - it's more like a conditioned response - the type of response you get from Pavlov's dogs.

In his famous experiment:

"During the 1890s, Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov was looking at salivation in dogs in response to being fed when he noticed that his dogs would begin to salivate whenever he entered the room, even when he was not bringing them food."[2]

This resulted in the discovery of "classical" or Pavlovian conditioning, the association of a stimulus with an unconditioned response would bring about the unconditioned response by the mere introduction of the associated item.  In the case of Pavlov's dogs, the unconditioned response was to salivate at the prospect of eating food. The dogs soon learned that the lab assistant - for which they initially showed no response - regularly brought food. And so the lab assistant became associated with food, and the dogs would salivate when the lab assistant merely entered the room.

In the case of scientists the stimulus is the discovery of an "exoplanet" (a planet outside our solar system) or an  exomoon (a moon orbiting an exoplanet - or some other non-stellar body) that has a feature or two similar to earth.  Such features would include water (preferably liquid water - since that is exceedingly rare in the frozen vastness of space), organic compounds, or other necessary features such as orbiting in the habitable zone around a star, having a magnetic field, having a large moon, etc. The unconditioned response is the increased hope - to nearly tangible levels - of finding life on such an exobody. That hope is typically based merely on that one or two items, despite the fact that it's been estimated a planet needs 200 such conditions just to make it habitable.[3]  The unconditioned response - the greatly raised hope of finding what I'll call "exolife" or extraterrestrial life is evidenced by the increased number of articles and references in science journals, magazines and documentaries. For example, a few evidences of the raised hopes:

From Magazine Articles

"Saturn moon a step closer to hosting life"[4]
In case you didn't catch it from the title:

"'The next logical step,' says Dr Postberg, 'is to go back to Enceladus soon with a dedicated payload and see if there is extraterrestrial life.'"

"NASA Funds Rutgers Scientists’ Pursuit of the Origins of Life"[5]

"What are the origins of life on Earth and possibly elsewhere? Did 'protein nanomachines' evolve here before life began to catalyze and support the development of living things? Could the same thing have happened on Mars, the moons of Jupiter and Neptune, and elsewhere in the universe?"

The raised hope is apparent there. This next one seems a bit far fetched but I present it to show how high the hopes are, regardless of how meager the possibility of a particular method actually finding exolife:

"We Could Find Aliens by Spotting Their Satellites"[6]
For this method to work, the aliens would have to have launched a lot of geostationary satellites in "a dense, ring-like structure visible from Earth." We humans aren't close to having anything this dense, so you see how high the hopes are - the aliens would have to be much more advanced than us.

From Documentaries:

Science documentaries tend to be even more hopeful, expressing the hope for the most part as a  foregone conclusion that one day exolife will be found on an exoplanet:

"The Chances are - life is everywhere throughout the universe."[7]
Hakeem Oluseyi, Astrophysicist

Notice how finding life on exoplanets really is a foregone conclusion for these next scientists. Upon the contemplation of "...literally an uncountable number of planets where life could have started up"[8] as the ever hopeful Seth Shostak, director of SETI puts it, Natalie Batalha, Research Astrophysicist opines:

"The discovery of life beyond the earth will destroy our cosmic
loneliness. ... The knowledge of other living things in the galaxy is going to have a major impact on how I view my own self and my relationship to other humans on this planet."[9]

Perhaps the clearest statement of the deeply held belief that life evolved on exoplanets is made by NASA's former chief scientist Ellen Stofan:

"You know back around 3 and half 4 billions years ago, Mars wouldn't have looked that different from the early earth. Large parts of the surface covered in water, volcanoes on the land. Mars' atmosphere would have been denser than it is today. Same conditions to the early earth so we believe it is very likely that life would have evolved on Mars. Now at some point, Mars lost its protective magnetic field, the solar wind, the stream of particles coming from the sun started stripping Mars' atmosphere away. At that point water was no longer stable on the surface. Mars became colder and colder. That water retreated underground, largely as ice. Now did life go extinct, or did life retreat under ground? We don't know - we'd like to go find out."[10]

Notice for NASA's former chief scientist, the question is not whether they will find life on Mars or not, the assumption is, life evolved there and the only question is, is it extinct or alive and under ground?

Origin of life scientists are clearly conditioned to do the equivalent of salivating over the prospect of finding exolife on an exoplanet. But do they have any chance of having those hopes fulfilled?

Proteins and Panspermia

The conditioned response has come about in scientists in part due to their desperation  to find life elsewhere in the universe. They're desperate because they need to find exolife like a drug addict needs a fix. Since they have discovered so many exoplanets, many which likely fill at least some requirements for a habitable planet, it is simply untenable to believe that evolutionary processes worked here on earth but nowhere else in the universe. Thus for evolution to be true, they have no option: they must find life elsewhere in the universe. But so far they've come up totally empty. But as I've pointed out, their hope for finding it springs eternal.

In trying to find exolife, they've gotten creative. Consider the question posed in the NASA Funds Rutger article: "Did 'protein nanomachines' evolve here before life began to catalyze and support the development of living things?"  To make sure we fully appreciate how foolish the question of proteins evolving is, let's do a quick review of  proteins:

"Proteins are large, complex molecules that play many critical roles in the body. They do most of the work in cells and are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs.

Proteins are made up of hundreds or thousands of smaller units called amino acids, which are attached to one another in long chains. There are 20 different types of amino acids that can be combined to make a protein. The sequence of amino acids determines each protein’s unique 3-dimensional structure and its specific function."

To put it succinctly, proteins are necessary for all life. And what are proteins? They're specially sequenced Amino acids, which once completely sequenced, are folded into special 3 dimensional shapes to perform various cellular processes or act as catalysts to speed up chemical reactions. So how do you make a protein? Where does the sequence come from? The sequence comes from the information library of the cell - the DNA molecule. DNA is a long molecule that stores and replicates coded information. One problem with proteins evolving is that it's impossible to evolve the DNA molecule itself. Furthermore the problem is more complex than just the origin of DNA. As I point out in "Lies My Evolutionist Me"

"...you need DNA to make proteins, you need DNA to make RNA, and you need RNA to make proteins. So it’s worse than what came first – the chicken or the egg?”[12]

So it's a three-fold problem. DNA contains the needed information; RNA transcribes that information out of DNA by messenger RNA (mRNA). Messenger RNA is then translated or converted to a protein. So to get a living cell you need proteins, but to get proteins, you need the information in DNA. But to get the information out of DNA, you need RNA. You also need RNA to actually synthesize the protein. So which came first? As cell biologist Nathaneil Jeanson put it, "...that’s an unsolvable problem as far as I’m concerned in the evolutionary model."[13]

The sheer complexity of DNA alone which contains not merely information, but highly structured coded information caused co-discoverer Francis Crick to realize that DNA could not have evolved. So he proposed a solution to the origin of DNA that evolution can't provide: that DNA originated elsewhere in the universe and was brought here from a distant planet - an exoplanet. That theory is called Panspermia. Many have observed that Panspermia merely moves the problem of the origin of DNA from the earth to a distant exoplanet. But we'll set that problem aside for now so we can consider the hopes of the highly conditioned Pavlovian scientists who believe Panspermia is the answer to the origin of life problem. (Which of course is only a problem for evolution. Creationists know the origin of life - Gen 1:1.)

One big proponent of Panspermia, for example, is astrobiologist Chris McKay.  Mckay is on a quest to find methanogens. Methanogens are "microorganisms that produce methane as a metabolic byproduct in anoxic conditions."[14] As Mckay explains them:

"They don't like oxygen, they eat hydrogen, they don't have any use of sunlight at all, they live in the deep subsurface. They are my favorite candidates for micro-astronauts on another world."[15]

"Micro-astronauts on another world" is a dead give away that Mckay is all in on the Panspermia theory. To be more specific, he's hoping to find methanogens floating in the icy plumes of Saturn's moon Enceladus. As the narrator explains:

"These icy eruptions send debris from this alien world into orbit around it's parent planet Saturn. The water spraying out of the tiger stripe freezes instantly and shoots hundreds of miles into the skies over Enceladus. Some of the ice particles escape the moon's low gravity and drift away to form the icy outer ring of Saturn. If there's life on Enceladus, could it escape and from Saturn spread through the galaxy?"[16]

In passing, notice the plug for panspermia. So Mckay is planning a mission to Saturn to fly through the plumes, collect some of the free floating debris and bring it back to earth in hopes of finding methanogens from  space.

Or consider Canadian scientist Barbara Sherwood Lollar from the University of Toronto. She studies rock eating microbes that perform chemosynthesis. Whereas photosynthesis creates energy out of light, chemosynthesis creates energy out of chemicals - like the rocks on Earth. It's expected the Martian rocks are similar. Such microbes exist on earth and she posits they may also exist on Mars, and thus her hopes are hanging on what we can learn from the Martian rocks. Similarly NASA scientist Abigail Allwood, a geoscientist is looking for stromatolite on Mars. Stromatolite are layered mounds of rock and is significant because it is formed by bacteria. Thus its mere existence is proof there was once life. Allwood is hoping the Curiosity robot rover now roving the surface of Mars will find something like stromatolite on Mars. As Allwood puts it,

"If we saw something like this on Mars with the rover, that would be a pretty amazing thing. That would be the Holy Smokes! moment."[17]

Clearly, there are many Pavlovian conditioned scientists salivating over the prospect of the discovery of exolife on an exobody. Unfortunately, such scientists are not being very scientific. They may have interesting data from the rover on Mars, but they're refusing to follow the evidence to where it leads.


And so we come to my totally predictable predictions. But they're only predictable because unlike the scientists, I'm following the evidence, not wishful dreaming. I'm drawing my conclusions from the following:

  • The evidence of the law of biogenesis - that life only comes from life.
  • The evidence of specified complexity-the evidence of design.[18] The process to build a protein - from DNA to RNA to protein is obviously one that involves specified complexity. And in this case each individual item (DNA, RNA, proteins) is itself an example of specified complexity. So it's complexity upon complexity. And they're all needed simultaneously. Neither the individual components, nor the entire system as a whole can evolve.
  • Evolution goes against the laws of Chemistry and Entropy
    “Everything  I’ve learned about real chemistry shows that reactions go in the opposite way from what’s required for life to come from non living chemicals – breaking up large molecules to small molecules.” [19]
    Jonathan Sarfarti, Physical Chemist

    Entropy also causes things to wind down, to lose order and information. All higher level genomes are degenerating - suffering from genetic entropy. This is contrary to what evolution needs or predicts and means things are winding down, not up - going in the exact opposite direction that evolution requires.[20]
  • The evidence of the law of the origin of information - random processes do not create information. Mutations do not create information. The passage of time, however vast, does not allow these processes to create information.  Yet DNA is a storehouse packed with information. It is also an information storage and retrieval system more complex and efficient than our best computers.  Where did the information in DNA come from? Where did the 4 digit code come from? Where did the design of the storage and retrieval mechanism come from? All those are types of specified, complex, information - evidence of design. There is only one known source of information, and that is an intelligent creator. 

These evidences are conclusive and allow me to confidently conclude that life cannot evolve in the neo-Darwinian sense of chance, mutation, natural selection and vast amounts of time. Thus I can also confidently predict that:

  • Chris Mckay will not find methanogens in the icy plumes of Enceladus
  • Barbara Sherwood Lollar will not learn of microbes performing chemosynthesis in the rocks of Mars and
  • Abigail Allwood will not find stromatolite on Mars or any other exoplanet

Who said creationists don't make predictions?

Duane Caldwell | June 30,  2018



1. A line from the poem "Locksley Hall" by Alfred Lord Tennyson, published in his 1842 collection of poems titled "Poems"

2. Saul McLeod, "Pavlov's Dogs", Simple Psychology, https://www.simplypsychology.org/pavlov.html, 2007, updated 2013

3. Re: 200 factors or parameters - see: Eric Metaxas, Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God,
The Wall Street Journal, 12/25/2014



4. Mary Halton, "Saturn moon a step closer to hosting life" BBC World, June 27, 2018,


5."NASA Funds Rutgers Scientists’ Pursuit of the Origins of Life" Astrobiology Magazine, June 5, 2018

6. Nola Taylor Redd, "We Could Find Aliens by Spotting Their Satellites", Space.com, April 30, 2018 https://www.space.com/40436-search-alien-life-et-satellites.html

7 Hakeem Oluseyi ref from"Space's deepest Secrets: Hunt for Alien Worlds",  Science channel documentary 2014, Original air date 6/18/18

8. Seth Shostak, ref. from "Space's deepest Secrets: Hunt for Alien Worlds"

9. Natalie Batalha, ref from "Space's deepest Secrets: Hunt for Alien Worlds"

10. Ellen Stofan, ref. from  "Space's Deepest Secrets Mars: The Next Frontier", Science Channel documentary, 2016, Original air date 6/26/2018

11. "What are proteins and what do they do?" Genetics Home Reference, accessed 6/29/18, https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/howgeneswork/protein


12. Jeffrey Tomkins, ref. from Unlocking the mysteries of Genesis episode – “What is life?”, ICR DVD documentary series, 2014

13. Nathaneil Jeanson, ref. from Unlocking the mysteries of Genesis episode – “What is life?”, ICR DVD documentary series, 2014

14. Methanogens, Wikipedia, accessed 6/27/18, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methanogen

15. Chris Mckay, ref. from: Space's Deepest Secrets episode "Journey to Alien Earths", Science Channel documentary 2014, original air date: 6/5/2018

16. Space's Deepest Secrets episode "Journey to Alien Earths"

17. Abigail Allwood, ref from Space's Deepest Secrets episode "Mars: The Next Frontier", Science Channel documentary 2016, original air date: 6/26/2018

18. Specified Complexity - a criteria for recognizing design that involves Contingency, Complexity and Specification. For more, see "Everyone should have one - The Watchmaker Analogy"

19. Jonathan Sarfati, Evolution’s Achilles Heel, Creation Ministries International Documentary DVD, 2014

20. For more on genetic entropy, see:
John Sanford, Plant geneticist: ‘Darwinian evolution is impossible’, Creation 30(4):45–47
September 2008, https://creation.com/geneticist-evolution-impossible




All images used by permission

Complex Organics Bubble up from Ocean-world Enceladus
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute - used by permission