The Limits of Scientific Speculation
How far can a scientist speculate and get a respectful hearing, just because he or she is a scientist? One case to examine is a story on PhysOrg, “The Chance for Life on Io” (see also Astrobio.net). Jupiter’s innermost large moon Io might be considered the last place to look for life. It is the most volcanically active place in the solar system. Its surface varies between scalding hot lava lakes 1649°C and frozen sulfur dioxide snowfields at -130°F. Beside that, the surface is bathed in Jupiter’s deadly radiation – and there is no liquid water. Yet astrobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch at Washington State University speculates that there could be life there.
In the article, Schulze-Makuch acknowledges that most other scientists generally dismiss Io as a habitat for life, but he thinks there might have been a time in its history when water ice was plentiful, and if ice was there, liquid water might have been there, too. If liquid water was there, maybe life was there. If life evolved, maybe some if it went underground and still survives below the surface. He thinks that the possibility is enough to warrant a future mission to Io to look for signs of life.
The comments after this article were interesting. Readers got into questions of creation and evolution, atheism and religion. One called it sheer speculation, but no one seemed to ask whether it was a scientific practice to engage in this kind of evidence-free speculation.
Some of the Darwiniac drive-by mudslingers who pass by this site call what happens here “science bashing.” OK, please: where is the science in the above PhysOrg story? If you will point it out, we will gladly respect it and honor it. Why? Because we love science here (e.g., 06/12/2010, 06/09/2010 and 650 more “Amazing Facts” entries). But we deplore nonsense. Is it OK to bash nonsense? Would you Darwiniacs join with us in bashing nonsense?
This astrobiologist has asked for willing suspension of disbelief by taking the most unlikely body in the solar system for finding life and telling us it might be under the surface. OK, let’s play that game. It might be under the sun, too. After all, the sun has the building blocks of life: protons and electrons. The sun is not a very likely place for life now, but early in its history it was cooler. You never know, maybe life arose in a form we cannot even imagine – and maybe it persists today! We shouldn’t rule that out. NASA should send a probe to the sun to search for life under the sun. (No, we won’t add the old joke about doing it at night.)
That extreme example could be multiplied endlessly with milder examples throughout the solar system. We could speculate endlessly and mindlessly about life on Mimas, or Ganymede, or Iapetus, Pluto, Venus, Miranda, Triton, whatever. Lots of bodies have water ice. Many of them might have liquid water deep down under the surface. Why stop at the current astrobiology favorites of Mars, Titan and Europa? As long as evidence isn’t required, speculate at will. All that is necessary is (1) Be a “scientist” in the modern sense (i.e., have a degree, work at a university), which entails no obligation of being correct, and (2) have the Darwinians on your side. Then you are guaranteed to have a lapdog press to propagandize your views without critical analysis, and an army of Darwin Dobermans who will viciously attack anyone who calls your nonsense speculations “nonsense” as engaging in “science bashing.” Most of our readers are astute enough to see what is going on.