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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Includes a blistering critique of the rare earth hypothesis
Two things have happened in recent years to persuade most scientists that life beyond earth is not just possible, but likely. Indeed some people, including myself, believe there is, as the title of David Darling's book has it, "Life Everywhere."
Well, not in the center of the sun or on the surface of a neutron star--at least not life as we know it.
"Life...
Published on 11 Jan 2006 by Dennis Littrell

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A point of view
The previous reviewer totally misunderstands what thesis Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe is presenting; the clue is in the title - "complex" life. Ward and Brownlee are not arguing that life is uncommon in the universe; on the contrary they believe that microbial life (like prokaryotes - bacteria and archaea) may well be common. What they are...
Published on 9 Oct 2008 by E. L. Wisty


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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Includes a blistering critique of the rare earth hypothesis, 11 Jan 2006
By 
Dennis Littrell (SoCal/NorCal/Maui) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Life Everywhere: The Maverick Science of Astrobiology (Paperback)
Two things have happened in recent years to persuade most scientists that life beyond earth is not just possible, but likely. Indeed some people, including myself, believe there is, as the title of David Darling's book has it, "Life Everywhere."
Well, not in the center of the sun or on the surface of a neutron star--at least not life as we know it.
"Life as we know it." This is an important phrase that comes up again and again in discussions about astrobiology. "Life as we know it" means life with a carbon base and liquid water. David Darling considers silicone-based life and even life forms so bizarre that we wouldn't recognize them if we saw them, but basically he sticks with life as we know it in this very interesting answer to those who think that life in the universe is rare.
The two things:
(1) The discovery of extremophiles, bacteria that live in sulfurous hot springs, deep inside the earth, and at the bottom of deep oceans. Instead of deriving their energy from the sun, they are able to use heat coming from within the earth to metabolize.
(2) The discovery of scores of planets (albeit not earth-sized planets--yet) revolving around other stars.
What the first discovery means is that life doesn't have to exist or begin in conditions such as there are or have been on the surface of the earth, but can thrive in places previous thought hostile to life. That opens up a whole lot of the universe to life including parts of our solar system previously thought inimical to life, such as in an ocean under the icy crust of Europa or beneath the inhospitable surface of Mars. And the fact that planets are now clearly plentiful means that there are numerous places for life to develop.
Darling, who is an unusually lucid writer and a man who gets to the bottom of things, begins with the nitty-gritty problem of just how to define life. If you haven't been introduced to this strangely knotty problem, this book may open your eyes. Do we consider reproduction, metabolism, growth, etc. in our definition? And which of these elements are essential and which are not? The postmodern definition now preferred by most people I have read is "undergoes Darwinian evolution." Is that adequate? Is that the essence? Darling puts all the cards on the table and lets you decide.
Next Darling recapitulates ideas about how life began. The main new idea is that life may be an inevitable consequence of the nature of matter and energy. It appears that matter is self-organizing. Darling reviews the ideas of how lifeless matter might replicate and how cells might develop from various molecules and water. These "leaky membranes" could be the precursors of the first biological cells. (p. 40)
He goes on to make the case for a universe with abundant life. But along the way he presents a blistering critique of Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe (2000) by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, in which it is argued that the circumstances that allow life are rare and that those circumstances as seen on earth are unlikely to be replicated anywhere else. Darling not only utterly destroys their argument, point by point, but even shows that part of the reason that it was advanced was because they were under the influence of one Guillermo Gonzalez, professor of astronomy at the University of Washington, who is also a creationist with the usual supernatural agenda.
This was bombshell to me. But Darling shows that nearly every argument that Gonzalez makes is designed (pun intended) to discredit the idea that there is life anywhere but on earth. On page 112, Darling refers to an article entitled "Live Here or Nowhere" co-authored by Gonzalez for a publication called "Connections" published by Reasons to Believe, Inc. of Pasadena, California, whose mission is "to communicate the uniquely factual basis for belief in the Bible." The article concludes, "The fact that the sun's location is fine-tuned to permit the possibility of life--and even more precisely fine-tuned to keep the location fixed in that unique spot where life is possible--powerfully suggests divine design."
A couple more points:
First, Darling argues that life forms on other worlds, however dissimilar their chemistry, are likely to be familiar to us in the sense that if there is an atmosphere, some will have wings, and if there is an ocean, some with have fins, if there is a solid ground to walk upon, some will walk and run, and if there is light to see, some with have eyes. This idea of "convergence" is dictated by the laws of physics which requires evolutionary adaptations to take forms that work efficiently within certain environments. Of course if the life forms we eventually discover exist in great dust clouds, their adaptations may be very dissimilar and surprising. Even on solid ground here on earth some run and some hop, some crawl and some slither.
Second, since it is now known that bacteria spores can exist more or less indefinitely (some have been revitalized after hundreds of millions of years of dormancy: see page 150), the once discredited idea of panspermia, namely that life originated elsewhere in the universe and arrived here as spores, has been rejuvenated. Personally, I've always liked this idea championed by Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe; however this book has convinced me that life could arrive from without or develop from within. Either way (or both) seem likely to me.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A point of view, 9 Oct 2008
By 
E. L. Wisty "World Domination League" (Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Life Everywhere: The Maverick Science of Astrobiology (Paperback)
The previous reviewer totally misunderstands what thesis Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe is presenting; the clue is in the title - "complex" life. Ward and Brownlee are not arguing that life is uncommon in the universe; on the contrary they believe that microbial life (like prokaryotes - bacteria and archaea) may well be common. What they are saying is that complex life (like eukaryotes, from the simplest single-celled variants right throught to intelligent humans) required a set of circumstances to develop which may be rare throughout the universe.

This book by Darling was written as a direct response to Ward and Bronwlee's work. On occasions he seems to be objective. For example despite him being a cheerleader for the idea of life being everywhere, he is actually quite even-handed in his coverage of the evidence or otherwise for life on Mars as claimed in 1996 by the NASA team researching the ALH84001 meteorite. On the other hand, he sometimes loses objectivity. His somewhat vituperative attitude towards the work of Gonzalez is coloured entirely by the fact that Gonzalez is a Christian, rather than his science. It may be correctly argued that this influences the science (the uniqueness of the Incarnation must require the uniqueness of humans - the idea of alien civilisations does present a problem for Christology), but methinks that Darling is actually equally guilty of starting from a premise (that life is common) and making the evidence fit.

Evidence for extraterrestrial life seems to follow this kind of reasoning:
- There are lots of stars with planets
- There are lots of stars in a galaxy
- There are lots of galaxies in the universe
- Since the Earth has life, some of the others must have life on them too (the probability that amongst so many none of them have life is just too small)

This is about as logical as the argument which goes:
- Life on Earth is far too complicated to have originated by chance (the probability that it did so is just too small)
- Therefore it must have been created that way
- Therefore there is a Creator

an argument rightly derided by scientists.

Far from a "blistering critique", Darling's response has done nothing to convince me - Ward and Brownlee surely won't be batting an eyelid as they have much the stronger scientific argument. W&B have nothing to lose in this battle, but on the other side, justification for funding for a whole lot of astronomers, space engineers, planetary scientists and exobiologists is at stake here, and they ain't gonna roll over easily. Read both and decide for yourself.
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Life Everywhere: The Maverick Science of Astrobiology
Life Everywhere: The Maverick Science of Astrobiology by Darling (Paperback - 11 April 2002)
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