Life in a Purposeful Universe?

Supernova remnant N103B
Supernova remnant in the Large Magellanic Cloud , by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Jenny Hottle

What does astronomy have to do with the living world? Is a vast universe really necessary to life? Any does science say anything at all about purpose? In today’s podcast (transcript below) I discussed these questions with astrophysicist Dr Jennifer Wiseman, who shared some of her personal perspectives. Jennifer is a person of faith who has spent time thinking about the questions about meaning and purpose that her work raises. For her, science does not compel belief in God, but it can vastly enrich the sense of a purposeful and awe-inspiring creation. Continue reading

Chance or Necessity in the Origin of Life?

Stephen Freeland
Stephen Freeland

Was the living world destined to look the way we find it? Or to ask a question that’s closer to home, were our bodies meant to be the way they are? These are the sorts of questions that astrobiologist Stephen Freeland asks as part of his research into the genetic code. Continue reading

Predictable Universe?

Two planets. Gilderm, http://www.sxc.hu/
Two planets. © Gilderm, http://www.sxc.hu/

Over the last few years, the universe has started to look increasingly friendly to life, and scientists who previously said they didn’t expect to find living things on other planets are beginning to change their tune. NASA’s Kepler telescope may be largely non-functional, but the search for other organisms in the Universe is just beginning.

Last month at the Faraday Institute, astrobiologist Stephen Freeland gave a lecture entitled, ‘Will alien life share our genetic code?’ – a topic which would have been on the border of science fiction a couple of decades ago, but is now a serious question. Continue reading

Wonderful Code

© BSK, freeimages.com

Incredibly, every living thing – you, your cat, the plant on your desk, and the bacteria in your toilet – share exactly the same genetic code. It has been suggested that the particular code we all use was arrived at by chance, and that we have a shared genetics because we have a shared ancestor.  Others think while it’s true that we have a common ancestor, our molecular biology is highly optimised.

The genetic code is fascinating because it links two completely unrelated biological systems. It’s rather like sending a message in Morse code and receiving it with a machine that uses binary numbers. The two codes are completely unrelated, but it’s possible to translate between them. It sounds odd, but this juxtaposition of completely different systems works incredibly well in living organisms. Continue reading