A Sceptic’S View
Two positions that concern the origin of life on earth and the possible existence of extraterrestrial life are compared. In one view, life on earth is considered to have started with the prebiotic synthesis of replicating RNA molecules. Life elsewhere, if it exists, is likely to have a biochemistry much like our own, and is therefore restricted in its origin to earthlike worlds. As such planets may be quite infrequent in their occurrence, life may also be quite rare in the universe. This position is often stated with conviction, but it goes far beyond the skimpy evidence available. It is therefore termed “the believers’ view”. The pessimism inherent in this position has served to quench enthusiasm for planetary exploration and efforts to detect extraterrestrial life.
In an alternative position, “the skeptic’s view,” the above questions are considered to be open. We do not understand how life began here. A variety of environments within our solar system are possible sites for the origin of life. Definite information can be obtained only by observation. A search for signs of life is therefore given the highest priority in future planetary missions.
KeywordsSolar System Planetary Exploration Prebiotic Synthesis Martian Soil Extraterrestrial Life
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