New Theory Suggests That the Origin of Life on Earth-Like Planets Is Likely

Alien Exoplanet With Rings

The new paper argues that the widely accepted theory from astrophysicist Brandon Carter used faulty logic.

According to a recent paper by a math professor at the University of Arkansas, the existence of life on Earth provides proof that abiogenesis is relatively easy on planets similar to Earth, refuting the “Carter argument” conclusion.

Does the presence of life on Earth provide any insight into the likelihood that abiogenesis—the process by which life first emerges from inorganic substances—occurs elsewhere? That is a question that has baffled scientists for a while, as well as everyone else inclined to think about it.

Daniel Whitmire

Daniel Whitmire. Credit: University of Arkansas

Astrophysicist Brandon Carter makes the widely accepted claim that the selection effect of our own existence limits our ability to observe. Nothing can be concluded about the likelihood of life existing elsewhere based on the fact that we had to end up on a planet where abiogenesis took place.

He claimed that understanding life on this earth had, at best, neutral value. Another way to look at it is to say that because Earth wasn’t chosen at random from the group of all Earth-like planets, it can’t be seen as a typical Earth-like planet.

However, a recent paper by retired astrophysicist and University of Arkansas mathematics instructor Daniel Whitmire argues that Carter’s logic was flawed. Whitmire contends that Carter’s theory suffers from “The Old Evidence Problem” in Bayesian Confirmation Theory, which is used to update a theory or hypothesis in light of new evidence, despite the fact that it has gained widespread acceptance.

After giving a few examples of how this formula is employed to calculate probabilities and what role old evidence plays, Whitmire turns to what he calls the conception analogy.

As he explains, “One could argue, like Carter, that I exist regardless of whether my conception was hard or easy, and so nothing can be inferred about whether my conception was hard or easy from my existence alone.”

In this analogy, “hard” means contraception was used. “Easy” means no contraception was used. In each case, Whitmire assigns values to these propositions.

Whitmire continues, “However, my existence is old evidence and must be treated as such. When this is done the conclusion is that it is much more probable that my conception was easy. In the abiogenesis case of interest, it’s the same thing. The existence of life on Earth is old evidence and just like in the conception analogy the probability that abiogenesis is easy is much more probable.”

In other words, the evidence of life on Earth is not of neutral value in making the case for life on similar planets. As such, our life suggests that life is more likely to emerge on other Earth-like planets — maybe even on the recent “super-Earth” type planet, LP 890-9b, discovered 100 light years away.

Reference: “Abiogenesis: the Carter argument reconsidered” by Daniel P. Whitmire, 23 September 2022, International Journal of Astrobiology.
DOI: 10.1017/S1473550422000350

38 Comments on "New Theory Suggests That the Origin of Life on Earth-Like Planets Is Likely"

  1. This is an Einstein moment. Except NASA seems incapable of pointing their JWST at a earth like planet to test this theory. COME ON MAN!

  2. Hello, just a theory if there are planets out there made of exactly the same thing such as millions of Jupiter’s or even Venus,then there must a planet with the exact make up of our own earth,so if that’s the case then that planet may also have life.

  3. Uhhhhmmmm…. please notice the atoms just natually STICK TO ONE ANOTHER. Almost as if SOMEONE (opening for you religious types) decided there would be life. And, not to put too fine a point on it, when one finds amino acids floating around in SPACE, apparently due to spontaneous self assembly, it takes an act of WILLPOWER to avoid the idea this is happening everywhere. And always has.

    • I’ll be impressed when we find a properly sequenced and folded protein molecule outside our solar system because to get from amino acids to proteins requires information as well as the environment, materials, and mechanisms to produce them. Chemistry can only go so far and then, yes, someone has to intervene.

  4. Stephen Benson | December 15, 2022 at 5:12 am | Reply

    The odds of even the simplest life form arising through sheer chance, there aren’t enough stars in the galaxy for it to happen (even once). Calling it ‘likely’ is utter fantasy. For complex, intelligent life to form…the odds are such that even if there was one intelligent species per galaxy, there just aren’t enough galaxies in the known universe. It’s irresponsible claptrap for a scientist to make these absurd claims.
    Whether you believe in a divine creator, or life happening by accident, we are alone in the universe.

  5. “The existence of life on Earth is old evidence.” Yes, but not possible without protection from the young Sun’s DNA-damaging UV radiation. Earth had an early ozone screen derived from the oxygen created when water vapor was photo dissociated in the stratosphere by that UV… with the loss of light hydrogen to space. Life elsewhere would need something similar.

  6. The elements created inside stars which are released when the star comes apart will mix and become part of another celestial object. Iron for example is what our planet’s core is made from apparently. How many planets have iron cores? Iron is a simple structure compared to a living organism. Let’s imagine for a moment, in very simple terms, because I am a very simple person, that iron is made from 2 fundamental pieces; blue piece and red piece. The blue piece must always be on top of the red piece for it to be classed as iron and if the red piece is on top it becomes something else, let’s say gold for simple sake. If we throw the blue and red pieces up into the air there is a greater chance that it will result in either the creation of iron or gold than nothing, as would happen if neither ended up on top and just ended up lying beside each other.
    Life, on the other hand, is made from 1000 fundamental pieces of every colour in the electromagnetic spectrum but must land in the correct order after being tossed in the air.
    If someone spends 14.5 billion years throwing the 1000 pieces into the air, how many times during that period will the pieces fall in the proper sequence to become life?
    Now take that into real values and have the thermodynamics of the universe become the one who is throwing the pieces.

  7. Since information comes from intelligence and life requires information, abiogenesis is just wishful thinking. Stephen Meyer demolishes the idea of abiogenesis in his book “Signature in the Cell” which is one of my favorites on the topic.

  8. Have we observed any planets with oceans of liquid water?
    Right, other life does not have to be like Earth-life, but so far the only life we see IS earth like, and oceans of water seem to be helpful to making life.

  9. Where are they? I’m all ears.

  10. I have to agree with Phil on this one, he is absolutely correct concerning amino acids and proteins. And, the endless or almost endless amount of proteins that have been developed from the peptide chains are improbable by accident. And then there are all of these proteins coming together to form chains in DNA and then not only DNA but you have it’s mirror image the RNA which reads the DNA. Without RNA, DNA would not be viable anyway. All these things coming together by happenstance is really a joke, the probability of all of this happening out of billions of years of laying around, is so mind-bogglingly improbable, it really has to be considered impossible!

  11. On this perfect world life only happened once and four billion years, as proved by evolution.
    On Earth, a sugar phosphate chain holds a code of four sidechains, or two lightly held mechanisms, that with the help of supplyer, when read in three’s assemles the correct amino acid among 20 to a protein chain. That’s our simplest life.
    Expect the next life mechanisms to be many perfect planets distant, statistics are slim based on once in 4 billion years, slimmer due to the need for coding it is now we are just talking about the simplest bacteria.
    After that it’s quite a jump from one cell to organisms, quite another to develop an organism smart enough and able enough to get off the planet.

  12. Darrin Leuthauser | December 16, 2022 at 4:21 am | Reply

    I’m no scholar but to me it seems reasonable that the more favorable the conditions are the greater chance there is of life forming. Think of all the planets in all the galaxies. Using the multicolored pieces as an example, a planet with more favorable conditions might be like some of the pieces being grouped together. So a less hospitable planet would seem to have more pieces that need to fall together just right while a more hospitable planet would have some pieces pre-assembled. The odds of everything falling into place just right would be much greater. I’m not sure how well I expressed that but it just seems reasonable to me.

  13. Wow, I thought this was scientific discussion not religious and debunked intelligent design discussion? Life requires information and information requires intelligence? What kind of nonsense is that ? If you don’t believe fish existed for billions of years and dinosaur 100 millions years ago and intelligent human less than a million year then that’s the end of discussion, I am not going to get into religious mambo jumbo debate. Give it a break. I am not saying intelligent life or life exist outside earth or not . I don’t know but what happens to your religion if they do find life elsewhere? You made its life shorter , not me

    • Well if you introduce a designer, then that designer could theoretically put life on multiple worlds. Finding life elsewhere isn’t going to derail an intelligent design argument. The only thing that really should debunk the intelligent design idea is finding life spontaneously forming from non-living molecules.

  14. Actually new data shows life started very early on earth And for those who hide behind very slim probability argument, the very short answer is : “ But it did happen, didn’t it ? “

  15. Darrin Leuthauser | December 16, 2022 at 5:22 am | Reply

    That was my thought exactly. For those who say “impossible” I ask, how do you explain us? It can’t happen? It already has! So don’t be too hasty and say impossible.

  16. Exactly Darian,
    The gentleman who starts with “In this perfect world” gives his bias out right away . Perfect according to who ? In this perfect world is not a science related phrase. Forgot theory of relativity already ? More scientific phrase would be “Relatively friendlier to life .

  17. Exactly,
    And the gentleman who starts with “In this perfect world” gives his bias out right away . You don’t need to read the rest of the argument. Perfect ? Really ? According to who ? Forgotten Einstein s theory of relativity already ? More scientific statement would be relatively friendlier to life

  18. Whitmire is an idiot.
    Using his own, logic life outside of Earth would be easy and simply happen without effort.
    Not factoring in any of the details an Astrophysicist is actually meant to look at.

    If anything you should be learning more about life on earth, as we still don’t even know our own bodies.
    How can you expect to find life outside of Earth when we are still don’t understand our own body and can’t see everything in our own home.

    You really think we are going to be able to see life forms we don’t understand in places we don’t understand.

    Until we are actually living in space we won’t understand it’s effects enough to be able to see anything.

  19. Ontology recapitulates phylogeny. The Universe is alive.

  20. What a shame, consensus science still rules!

  21. Abiogenesis is nonsense. Life is more than aminos. Miller-Urey produced a racemic subset of the required amino acids, and it did not produce any homochiral D-pentose carbs (required for DNA), and it did t produce any lipids. And, even if you had all of these pieces, there is no one in all of biochemistry who knows any way you can assemble these pieces in laboratory conditions, let alone in natural, uncontrolled ones. Absolute non-science. ATP Synthase requires no less than 18 different long-chain proteins, and natural conditions cannot create a fraction of just one of those 18 proteins.

  22. I fail to find the life everywhere theory compelling. All life on earth comes from a single source. Meaning on a planet known to support life, the original creation of life happened once in millions of years. If it was solely about random chemistry, our own planet would have had more than one abiogenesis event.

  23. Deadparrothead | December 16, 2022 at 8:07 pm | Reply

    The biggest question is “What’s the definition of life?” If you believe that all possible life has to be carbon based, that’s a very arrogant answer. When the age of the universe is taken into account (which by the way is an unknown) life on planet earth is possibly just in it’s infancy. If any human says they have figured out the origin of Life, all life. They are either, 1: lying, 2: ignorant or 3: have talked to God about it. Etc. IMHO, and yes everybody has one.

  24. We are in the goldilocks zone of the Sun which is very stable, goldilocks zone of the Milky Way, we have a moon keeping our weather patterns mild, we have a rotating, molten iron core to keep our magnetic field, Jupiter to clean up most stray asteroids and comets, etc. We may not be a one-off, but I think Intelligent Life is probably very rare.

  25. Life is common in our slice of the multiverse. That of course is the premise of that theory, that our particular universe (out of countless others) has a fine tuned subatomic architecture suitable for life, and thus, realizable (measurable) to that life (us).

    The idea that life can spring from non-life may be a simple case of semantical interpretaton; the definitions are biased.

    An existential perspective is needed. We exist, that is the place to start. The how’s or why’s may not be important. The answers to life’s intangibles are found in the everyday examination of observable variables within nature.

  26. The fact that the Earth is the only planet with life in the entire universe is possible, but why is that a more acceptable idea then there being life elsewhere? The only reason that most people accept that fact is religion. In my opinion even if the religious side is right, why would he/she/it only pick Earth to populate?

  27. William Simmons | December 17, 2022 at 7:38 pm | Reply

    Really ? You have zero evidence that abiogenesis ever occurred…..this is laughable

  28. “Full of sound & fury, signifying…” something? Anything?

  29. Did life only start at one specific spot on earth or at differently places. If it can be reasonably assumed at differnt places, then it is easy to conclude it has happen on other earth like planets.

  30. Lol, hard conception… I’m impressed with the technical knowledge of believers today. The fact that today’s scientific minds are really open to anything, especially intelligent design gives me hope for the future. God is real people

  31. Lots of silly arguments here made against the possibility of life developing elsewhere. The fact is on >thishasunaided.< So, it doesn't take a mathematician to understand that to discount the high probability of life developing throughout the universe, you have to say Earth is unique in an otherwise entirely isotropic universe. You have to invoke superstition, not science.

  32. Lots of silly arguments here made against the possibility of life developing elsewhere. The fact is on this Earth like planet, our own planet, life has developed and evolved. To make the conclusion that on a similar planet elsewhere, life cannot possibly develop requires invoking superstition or the supernatural. Something or someone has made it so that only Earth can have life on Earth-like planets. That’s obviously false.

    One such person said it can’t all have come together naturally in all the billions of years and billions of Earth-like planets there may be, totally ignoring the unaided process of evolution that has been verified to have occurred through the scientific method here on Earth over the billions of years of our own history! The operative word being unaided.

    So, it doesn’t take a mathematician to understand that to discount the high probability of life developing throughout the universe, you have to say Earth is unique in an otherwise entirely isotropic universe. You have to invoke superstition, not science.

  33. Some people might say: ‘Well DNA, RNA and complex polypeptides were designed by a super-intelligent life form somewhere else and ‘seeded’ here on Earth.’ Which creates its own logic problem. If so, then who or what created the super-intelligent life form that seeded life on Earth? Who or what seeded the seeders?

    The only other possibility is a magical super being or deity placed the building blocks of DNA, RNA and so on here on Earth. If you go that route, the route of the supernatural or superstition, then you might as well throw any and/or all concepts of science out the window because with a deity, anything is possible. Which then begs the question, ‘Well, for a deity who can do anything, why would the deity seed life only on Earth of all the billions of Earth-like planets?’

    So, if you rule out the natural, unaided development of DNA, RNA, etc. because of its complexity or for whatever reasons, the two unlikely possibilities I’ve stated above are what’s left. The first is impossible, because of the logic problem, so it leaves only the second possibility. Invoking the superstition of a deity or the supernatural. You might as well leave science out of it completely.

  34. Yeh Phil u forgot to tell them about the Cambrian explosion and irreducible complexity

  35. Yeah, Cambrian, explosion, viruses, flesh eating bacteria, a lot of silly and not interesting life forms. That deity must had interesting imagination. I personally go with evolution and it happened on Earth so it could happent in earth like planets. And it is too late to disprove evolution, maybe 20 years too late at least

  36. Until you realize that there has only been ONE planet all along. Each planet they have taught us to believe in is simply a snap shot(picture)in time of Earth reflected of of the firmament. Earth has been and will always be the only planet ever. Starting with closest “planet” to earth is the earth as God formed it, void and without form’ and so forth out to the next. We are in the third stage. Mars is the earth in the future, after we destroyed it, and so forth. They are hiding it from u. Wake up.

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