Baseless speculations are considered perfectly sane as long as you are a secular materialist.
Recent headlines show scientists taking space aliens very seriously. But could anyone else get away with this kind of fact-free imagining?
- ET search: Look for the aliens looking for Earth (Nature). Rene Heller channels aliens in his new idea about how to hunt for aliens. “They have a higher motivation to contact us, because they have a better means to identify us as an inhabited planet,” he speculates.
- What if extraterrestrial observers called, but nobody heard? Researchers suggest a way of searching for weak signals from beyond Earth (Science Daily, Astrobiology Magazine). “It’s impossible to predict whether extraterrestrials use the same observational techniques as we do,” says Heller, but predict he does anyway.
- Hunt for Intelligent Aliens Should Focus on ‘Transit Zone’ (Live Science). This article gives good press to another of Heller’s speculations: “If any of these planets host intelligent observers, they could have identified Earth as a habitable, even as a living world long ago, and we could be receiving their broadcasts today.”
If we lower the search space to just any life, not intelligent life, the speculation level increases:
- Life or illusion? Avoiding ‘false positives’ in the search for living worlds (Science Daily). Recognizing and avoiding false positives is good in any search, but that doesn’t mean any true positives will ever be found.
- Follow the Salt: Search for Mars Life May Focus on Driest Regions (Space.com, New Scientist). This work was carried out by the SETI Institute. “Most of my fellow scientists feel confident that there’s a very high chance that life existed at some point on Mars,” says Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University. “So the question is only, with conditions worsening to colder and drier, whether life could have hung in.” Or maybe Martians enjoy Doritos.
- First life may have been forged in icy seas on a freezing Earth (New Scientist). According to this article, “some research suggests life might actually have emerged in frozen water.” (Inspect your freezer.) No less than Jeffrey Bada accepts this idea. “Alternatively, life could have still formed in hot conditions, around hydrothermal vents within those cold waters,” the article admits. “There’s no obvious way to work out which of the competing ideas is correct.” There’s always a third alternative; both theories are wrong. The null hypothesis should be the default in real science.
Science begins with observation. To date, there are no observations at all of life on other worlds, least of all intelligent life. That last article ends with this gem: “But the new research does, at least, suggest that some of the world’s most ancient rocks still have secrets to reveal.”
Secrets to reveal? Bring out the wizards with their divination tools! Their crafty rhetoric, high on the perhapsimaybecouldness index, allows for any and all ideas, even contradictory ones. Life began in ice! No, it began at hot hydrothermal vents! “There’s no obvious way to work out which of the competing ideas is correct,” but this is science!
SETI still doesn’t get it. Their search is a form of intelligent design inference. It relies on a substantial difference between intelligent causes and natural causes that can be differentiated. Yet they generally despise intelligent design.