September 30, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Europa: The Link Between OOL and SETI

Why would searchers for extraterrestrial intelligence be interested in Europa?  After all, despite the movie 2010 command to “attempt no landings there,” no astrobiologist believes it could host anything more than primitive life – certainly no one who could send messages to us.
    Cynthia Phillips, a principal investigator for the SETI Institute, explained the connection between origin of life studies and SETI in an article on Space.com:

Starting work on a Europa mission now, as suggested by the Solar System Exploration Roadmap, is the right thing to do.  Europa’s interior ocean may be the best environment for life in the solar system beyond planet Earth.  There is a substantial scientific basis to believe that Europa has the fundamental ingredients necessary for life: water, organic molecules, a chemical energy source, and a stable environment.  Understanding Europa’s potential for life brings us closer to addressing one of the most fundamental scientific questions that humans can ask: Are we alone in the cosmos?  It is only by committing the time and resources to a capable Europa mission that we will be able to begin to answer this essential question.

The Lunar and Planetary Institute recently issued its Solar System Exploration Roadmap, suggesting missions that NASA should consider for the next 30 years.  It focuses on the theme of habitability, indicating the importance that the search for life has in the minds of planetary scientists.  Not surprisingly, a Europa orbiter is one of the flagship missions in the plan.

Notice the assumptions implicit in her answer.  Cynthia Phillips, like most astrobiologists, believes that environment produces life.  Provide water, heat, stability and organic molecules, and these are not only necessary conditions for life, but sufficient ones as well.  A second assumption is that life not only emerges from suitable environments, but evolves into complex life, and then to sentient beings who can communicate with us.  These are assumptions, not scientific demonstrations; in fact, they are contrary to good lab science.  The only thing about these assumptions demonstrated in the lab is their falsification.
    SETI and OOL people should never assume that finding life on another world will disprove religion.  Many theologians for millennia have anticipated finding life beyond the Earth.  Indeed, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was uncommon not to believe in it.  The same debates over whether natural forces alone are sufficient to produce specified complexity will go on if life is found.  Only the location will change.  Most likely, Europa, Titan, and Mars will all prove a disappointment.  The debate is too important to delay for 30 years to look at Europa.  Evolutionists need to engage this debate on Earth and not displace it to a distant world.

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Categories: Origin of Life, SETI

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