Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


Chapter 7.  The Origin of Life


"Who knows for certain? Who shall declare it?
Whence was it born, whence came creation?
The gods are later than this world’s formation;
Who then can know the origins of the world?

None knows whence creation arose;
And whether he has or has not made it;
He who surveys it from the lofty skies,
Only he knows -- or perhaps he knows not."
          -- Rig Veda, ca. 1000 B.C.

"If a dirty undergarment is squeezed into the mouth of a vessel containing wheat within a few days (say 21) a ferment drained from the garments and transformed by the smell of the grain, encrusts the wheat itself with its skin and turns it into mice. And what is more remarkable, the mice from corn and undergarments are neither weanlings nor sucklings nor premature, but they jump out fully formed."
          -- Jan Baptista van Helmont (1577-1644)2481

"It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are now present, which could have been present. But if (and oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., present, that a proteine compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed."
          -- Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882)1017

"Ultimately, such a scientist is saying that man’s mind was created by a batch of dancing chemicals. He is saying that Shakespeare and St. Francis of Assisi were manufactured by something like Alka-Seltzer fizzing in a glass."
          -- in The Sign, a Catholic monthly (1956)114

"The molecules that could not copy themselves did not. Those that could, did. The number of copying molecules greatly increased..."
          -- Carl Sagan, in The Cosmic Connection (1973)15



Scientists today will still admit that they really don’t know how life began on our planet. Laboratory work is tricky, and nobody was present to witness events at first hand on the primitive Earth. Researchers in abiogenesis can only invent some reasonable story about how life arose, and then maximize its plausibility by theoretical and experimental investigations.20

There are two central themes that run as undercurrents throughout the whole of xenobiology. First, what is the probability that life of our kind will evolve on other worlds? By illuminating the abiogenic processes of this planet in ancient times, scientists hope to get a handle on the exact combination of conditions and events necessary for the origin of carbon-based Earthlike life anywhere in the Galaxy.

The second central theme of xenobiology, to which we shall return in later chapters, is the likelihood that life, once having emerged in a planetary environment, will constitute a form of biota more or less similar to that found on Earth. The laws of biochemistry demand that molecules combine only in certain specific ways, and usually only in a very few most probable ways. In other words, what are the physical and biochemical limits of the possible?


Last updated on 6 December 2008