How Much Life Would Be Required to Create the Phosphine Signal on Venus?

We find that the typical biomass densities predicted by our simple model are several orders of magnitude lower than the average biomass density of Earth’s aerial biosphere. – Lingam and Loeb 2020

In other words, far less life would have to live in the clouds of Venus to create the level of phosphine we’ve detected than the amount of life living in the clouds of our own planet – a plausible amount of life. That is really exciting because it means that we can still count life as a possible source of the phosphine gas. A small amount of possible life giving off a signal we can see from Earth letting us know it’s there. Were the amount of required biomass really high, we might then have to look for other abiotic processes we’re not aware of as it is less likely that high concentrations of life exists on Venus.


I’m very ignorant of the chemistry and the kinds of calculations described in the article but I’m wondering about the significance of this phosphine discovery on Venus versus the phosphine detected on Jupiter and Saturn by the Cassini probe.

Should I assume that the greater excitement about this Venus discovery is due to differences in the respective planetary environments thought conducive to life and to what is being illustrated in the the mathematics and graphs in this article?

Also, I couldn’t help but wonder what Ken Ham & Company (AIG) had to say about this phosphine discovery. Their cautions about media hype (see linked article below) certainly make sense—though they took predictable delight in downplaying the phosphine news almost entirely. No surprise there.

Nevertheless, I found this grand declaration quite interesting in a prominent header:

Secularists are desperately searching for life elsewhere in the universe, as they think this will prove that the God of the Bible doesn’t exist and that his Word is not true.

Ken Ham’s article was published on September 21, 2020 at:

Wow. Is the search for life truly about proving “that the God of the Bible doesn’t exist and that his Word is not true”? Are “secularists” indeed driven by such a goal. Are such scientists even “desperate”, as Ham claims? (If yes, I never got the memo. And I can’t recall ever hearing any scientist or academy colleague saying that disproving God and the Bible was a powerful motivation for investigating the possibility of extraterrestrial life.)

Why wouldn’t the discovery of past or present life on another planet be an exciting reminder of the tremendous variety and even inevitably of life in countless environments in God’s amazing creation? If such a biological discovery is ever confirmed by sufficient evidence, why shouldn’t Christians be as thrilled as everyone else?

If any of our readers agree with Ham’s position, I am very interested in understanding the reasoning behind it. Do you know of any scriptures which state that no biological organisms will ever be discovered outside of planet earth?

The Bible says nothing about green sulfur bacteria living in hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean–and getting their energy from hydrogen sulfide. So why would it be untenable for the Bible to not mention life in the clouds of Venus?

Mine is not simply a rhetorical question. I’m genuinely interested in understanding Ham’s position.


I think Ham is probably projecting his fear that if life can be proven to exist or have existed on other planets, this is something that God could not do or allow, so his faith in what he understands God to be would be shaken.


Yeah my guess is he would anticipate an inference that life on another planet could potentially imply a second origin of life, which he would see as a threat to a view that life on Earth is unique, and that it was basically created for humans.

Alternatively, life on Venus could imply substantial adaptation to a very different environment(assuming life was transported to Venus from Earth or Mars), and it would be difficult to square this observation with the idea that evolution is impossible and life has been basically been degenerating since “the fall”.

Of course, all of this is predicated on Ken Ham’s idiosyncratic YEC beliefs, and would have little to no bearing on many forms of theistic evolution-type ideas.

We know natural mechanisms other than life that explain PH3 on Jupiter and Saturn. For Venus, we don’t. That’s the difference.


In this case he is idiosyncratic among YECs too. Many of them have no problem with intelligent aliens.

I’m not convinced that’s true. At least I suspect the YECs who might seriously entertain that idea is a minority with in YEC. Some might be able to accept the idea that life exists on other planets (at least within the solar system facilitated by Earth-life being created on Earth, and then transported elsewhere), but the general impression I get from young Earth creationists is both that life on Earth is unique in the universe, and that the idea of panspermia is just another desperate naturalistic faith position.

I assume these same people would have an even harder time with the concept of intelligent life outside of Earth.

I would suggest he means that scientists who are atheists are motivated to discover the origin of life. Otherwise atheism has to appeal to their own type of miracle (without acknowledging they’re doing so) without science informing us of a reasonable cause of life.

Yes, Ham appears to hold that belief. I wonder how many atheist scientists he actually knows well enough to make that determination about personal motivations. I’ve certainly known many and not one ever articulated to me such a goal of “disproving God” by means of anything they were researching.

In my experience, all scientists (whatever their personal views about or lack of any strong opinions about God) chose that field because they love to investigate the mysteries of our world and to better understand that world.


A post was split to a new topic: Stated Casually: Interview with a Christian Origin of Life Researcher