The biology world was shocked back in 2010 when a NASA-funded research paper was published in the journal Science which announced that a bacteria which thrives on arsenic, rather than phosphorus was discovered in the murky depths of a lake. The bacteria GFAJ-1 was thought at the time to incorporate arsenic into its DNA instead of phosphorus, thus challenging the received belief that the necessary elements of life are hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulphur and phosphorus. (See F.Wolfe-Simon (et.al), "A Bacteria that Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus", Science, vol. 332, 2011, pp. 1163-1166).
As it turns out GFAJ-1 can grow in low phosphorus, high arsenic environments, but cannot grow in a medium totally depleted of arsenic. (See: J.Tobias (et.al), "GFAJ-1 is an Arsenic-Resistant, Phosphate-Dependent Organism", Science, vol.337, 2012, pp.467-470) Thus, rather than being an entirely distinct life form the bacteria GFAJ-1 is an unusual organism that is highly arsenic-resistant.
The existence of the bacteria was thought to support the idea of "weird life", that "alien" life could be here, indicating that life from other planets could have "seeded" the Earth, or that radically different life forms could exist on other planets.
Astrobiology and Panspermia
The standard view about the origin of life has it that life, from primitive bio-molecules to man, evolved from a primaeval "soup". The idea here is that by randomness and natural selection, biological order was created. The first proteins apparently arose by chance. By a lot of hand-waving these proteins were arranged into the first cell, which probably did not have a cell nucleus. Perhaps the nucleus arose from a virus or bacteria - which also arose by chance - being genetically organised into the cell. A stepladder process led to cellular systems being created, then organs, and then an entire, simple organism, by a long process spanning billions, or at least, millions of years. Eventually one arrives at man.
Such a view has always faced problems and is probably only accepted because of (1) brain washing in biology courses and (2) the alternative is either scepticism (suspension of judgement) or acceptance of the creating hand of God - which goes against the reductionist materialist spirit of the current regime. One of the big problems with the materialist evolutionist position is that according to orthodoxy, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is supposed to determine all aspects of an organism.
However as noted by James Le Fanu in Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves, Swiss biologist Walter Gehring has shown that the so-called Hox "master" genes that determine the spatial configuration of organisms, such as the front and backs of them, simply lack the physically encloded information sufficient to "construct" organisms.
Rather "It is as if the 'idea' of the fly (or any other organism) must somehow permeate the genome that gives rise to it". The central-directing agency is that not DNA but something outside of the organism. (See also Stephen Meyer, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence of Intelligent Design) This creative energy, before the age of materialism, was thought to be Gods "wisdom" acting in the world to produce biological order. David Klinghoffer, a leading intelligent design scientist/philosopher rightly observed: "DNA is one of the most powerful clues we have of the existence of a spiritual reality, maybe to the existence of God". We would say, definitely for the existence of God.
One of the challenges to received biology and evolutionary theory is the astrobiological theory of panspermia: that life on Earth arose from other planets. Various pieces of evidence are cited in support of this position, such as supposed carbonaceous chondrites in comets and micro fossils in meteorites. (See R.B. Hoover, "Meteorites, Micro fossils, and Exobiology", Proceedings of SPIE, vol. 3111, 1997, pp.115-136, (http://www.archive.org/stream/nasa_techdoc_19980021283/19980021283_djvu.txt)) Supporters of the panspermia hypothesis also point out that life can exist in extreme environment, such as hyperthermophile bacteria existing in boiling water, and with extreme quantities of radiation: see Rhawn Joseph, "Life on Birth Came from Other Planets", Journal of Cosmology, vol.1, 2009, pp.1-56 and Astrobiology: The Origin of Life and Death of Darwinism: Evolutionary Metamorphosis, (University Press California, San Jose, 2001); C. Wickramasinghe, "Life on Earth: Did it Come from Other Planets?" Journal of Cosmology, vol.1, 2009, pp. 76-80.
Panspermia though merely removes the problem of the origin of life from the Earth to outer space and alien environments. There is still the major problem of the extreme improbability of life simply arising by chance: William Dembski, The Design Inference, (Cambridge University press, 1998); Robert Shapiro, Origins: A Skeptic’s Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth, (Bantam, 1986). Thus it is improbable that any person would win a lottery, but with enough people (for a X-lotto style lottery), someone may well win. That improbability differs from the improbability of say all the "hot" molecules in a tub of warm water suddenly going to one end of the tub and the "cold" molecules (those with much less kinetic energy) going to the other end, so that one part of the tub "boils" and the other part "freezes", simultaneously. Although not theoretically impossible, according to statistical thermodynamics, this state has a probability close to zero and is not likely to occur in the entire history of a finite universe.
The Finite Universe
Matters are different though if the universe is infinite in the sense of having an infinite spatial extension and an infinite duration. However the "infinite past" hypothesis conflicts with the present "Big Bang" cosmology which holds that the universe and space-time, were created in one cosmic explosion. The infinite extension of the universe though is now widely accepted by cosmologists, with some citing the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), a NASA satellite, as giving data indicating that the universe is infinite. But this is nonsense because any experimental data would always fail to distinguish between a so-called "infinite universe" (whatever that means), and one merely super-large or "potentially infinite". The "potentially infinite" universe is a universe which has a vague length and is not a completed infinity, for as far as one goes, there is always another distance to travel: there is no outer "fence" of the universe.
The present fad in cosmology is "inflationary cosmology", which apparently has abandoned Einstein's idea that the space of the universe was like a ball, that the universe was finite but "unbounded". Space is now regarded as not curved, but a plane - allegedly shown by the uniformity of Cosmic Microwave Background: see A.Guth, "Inflation and Eternal Inflation", Physics Reports, vol. 333/334, 2000, pp.555-574. However in our opinion none of this shows that the universe is a completed infinity. Perhaps space is a plane which has a boundary or a "fence". The ancient Greeks asked that if space was finite then couldn't one stand at the end of the universe and throw a spear? Yes, but by this hypothesis space would run out at the boundary so that the spear would stop, and “bounce" back as if striking a shield.
Evolutionists require the hypothesis of an infinite universe to deal with the extreme/diminishing small/infinitisimal probability argument. For as long as the probability is non-zero, one would expect any physically possible thing to occur in an infinite universe. Indeed, in an infinite universe, life and anything physically possible should arise infinitely many times, however improbable. But reject the assumption - and that's all it is - of an infinite universe - and the materialist evolutionist argument collapses.
The Cosmic Mind
Some, such as James Gardner in Biocosm: The New Scientific Theory of Evolution: Intelligent Life is the Architect of the Universe, (Inner Ocean, Makawao, Hawaii, 2003) and The Intelligent Universe: AI, ET and the Emerging Mind of the Cosmos, (New Page Books, 2007), have seen it necessary to go beyond orthodox materialism, although they claim to embrace evolutionism still. In Biocosm Gardner advances the "selfish biocosm hypothesis": "the anthropic qualities that our universe exhibits can be explained as incidental consequences of an enormously lengthy cosmic replication cycle in which a cosmologically extended biosphere provides the means by which our cosmos duplicates itself and propagates one more "baby universes"." (pp. xxiv-xxv) The cosmos thus aims at self-replication and if the space-time continuum constitutes a closed loop linking the "Big Bang" (the beginning of the universe) with the "Big Crunch" (the end of the universe), the universe is its own "mother" (p. xxv), that is, is self-generating. Thus: "highly evolved life (and its bi-product intelligence) is the hypothesised causal agent that gave birth to our universe". (p. 122)
Gardner is more explicit about the primacy of mind in the cosmos in his book The Intelligent Universe and says: "The basic idea is that life and intelligence are the primary cosmic phenomena and that everything else - the constants of nature, the dimensionality of the universe, the origin of carbon and other elements in the hearts of the giant supernovas, the pathway traced by biological evolution - is secondary and derivative. According to this theory, the emergence of life and intelligence is not meaningless accidents in a hostile, largely lifeless cosmos but at the very heart of the vast machinery of creation, cosmological evolution and cosmic replication". (p.159)
This position, for the Christian, is much better than materialist evolutionism, but it still leaves God out of the picture. But it is not too difficult to bring God back in once one has abandoned the central dogma of materialism. Mind and life still need to be accounted for and it is implausible to suppose that they are sui generis, self-generating phenomena as Gardner supposes. Mind is fundamental in the universe because our universe is not atheistic but was created by an infinite, universal mind. There is mind in the universe rather than no mind, or just quarks in the void or strings in multidimensional space because the Divine Mind, God, created our reality.