Science Without an Object: Astrobiology, Alien Science
Can science exist without an observable object? In recent years we have seen serious scientists ponder alternate universes and parallel universes, dark matter, dark energy and other imponderable entities. String theory has yet to rest on observable data, and physicists at CERN are getting worried about not finding the hypothetical Higgs boson (see article on Deseret News). Sooner or later, these theories need to detect their subjects or lose credibility in the science club. Perhaps nowhere else has the disconnect between hype and observation reached the absurd limits of astrobiology and alien science.
Astrobiology and SETI concern different objects, the former life, the latter intelligent life. But to evolutionists these are only a matter of degree. Intelligent or not, life emerged by natural causes according to their proponents. NASA has a federally-funded Astrobiology Institute that regularly publishes popular articles about extraterrestrial life. SETI is currently privately funded, but once was on the federal dole, and could conceivably be again someday. The problem with both these “sciences” is the lack of an observable object. Without the constraint of observations, speculation can run rampant, as the following examples show.
Duney tunes: Some astrobiologists apparently like Dune more than Waterworld. Long thought to be essential for life, water is drying up in speculations published by Astrobiology Magazine, claiming that worlds of sand dunes might be the best habitable worlds after all. Yes, Space.com affirms in its copy, “Desert planets like the one depicted in the science fiction classic ‘Dune’ might be the most common type of habitable planet in the galaxy, rather than watery worlds such as Earth, a new study suggests.” Suggestions are the only option without data. While suggesting things, they might as well pour on the spice trade; “And that’s not the only surprising result,” the article continues. “The study also hints that scorching-hot Venus, where surface temperatures average 860 degrees Fahrenheit (460 degrees Celsius), might have been a habitable desert world as recently as 1 billion years ago.”
Life rafts: Astrobiology merges seamlessly into origin-of-life studies, since the processes thought to cause the natural emergence of life on Earth must happen elsewhere, the thinking goes. That being the case, why not speculate about life rafts? Astrobiology Magazine envisioned “Volcanic pumice as rafts of life” in another speculative article. “The researchers, writing in the September issue of the journal Astrobiology, argue that pumice has a unique set of properties which would have made it an ideal habitat for the earliest organisms that emerged on Earth over 3.5 billion years ago.” Astrobiologists, lacking observable objects to study, need to keep the funding flowing by looking busy printing their speculations in their own journals. Maybe they test their hypothesis by looking for pumice rafts in the fossil record, the article speculated, or see what happens when they shine UV light on pumice. But would any results from those look-busy experiments have any necessary connection to their hypothesis?
Panspermia in reverse: Panspermia is the speculative idea that life was brought to Earth via comets or meteorites from somewhere else. The converse would be that Earth life has been transported outward to other planets. That idea was suggested on PhysOrg, “Earth could spread life across Milky Way.” [Note: No life has been found on any other body outside Earth.] If so, that possibility would seem to clutter any discovery of life on Mars or Europa with false positives – contamination from the one body we know has life. Though the title seems absurd that life could travel across the Milky Way, given the vast distances between stars, Mauricio Reyes-Ruiz from the National Autonomous University of Mexico calculated that some particles blasted off the Earth, carrying microbes, might actually leave the solar system. Imagine what might happen next.
Nice aliens: After the 15 minutes of fame NASA received last month for its announcement that aliens might punish earthlings for global warming (see 8/18/2011), PhysOrg has reconsidered whether alien encounters are all bad. Whoops; that’s not about space aliens; it’s about alien invasions right here on Earth, like the zebra mussel taking over the Great Lakes. Still, some of the principles may be applicable. After all, it just moves the boundary condition from Earth’s biosphere to other biospheres. “We’re not good at figuring out which species might be damaging,” one biologist lamented. If that’s the case right under our noses, how much less can astrobiologists predict the impact of arrivals from outer space?
Alien understudies: It’s amazing how much science can be written without any data. One way to stoke the muse is to let observable entities stand in for unobservable entities. Keith Cooper at Astrobiology Magazine managed to do that by letting dolphins substitute for space aliens. After discussing how Koko the dolphin struggled with a certain intelligence problem, he quoted an astrobiologist who said, “Now imagine an alien comes with more complex abilities….” Imagine is the operative word.
Back on Earth, tension is growing between astrobiology and cell biology. Bruce Alberts, writing for Science last week,1 revealed a “Grand Challenge to Biology” trying to synthesize life. “The remarkable advances in our knowledge of the chemistry of life achieved in the past few decades, published in Science and many other journals, could lead nonexperts to assume that biologists are coming close to a real understanding of cells,” he said. “On the contrary, as scientists learn more and more, we have increasingly come to recognize how huge the challenge is that confronts us.” Though confident of science’s march of progress, he worried about how scientists can make sense of the “enormous chemical complexity” of eukaryotic cells. He suggested starting with the simplest free-living organisms, but even so, “biologists will need the help of mathematicians, computer scientists, and engineers to make sense of the enormously complicated network of molecular interactions found in even the least complex living cells.” It would seem science needs a handle on the life under their noses before they can make any credible claims about unobservable entities out in space.
1. Bruce Alberts, “A Grand Challenge to Biology,” Science, 2 September 2011: Vol. 333 no. 6047 p. 1200, DOI: 10.1126/science.1213238.
When religions try to do that (speculate about unobservable entities), scientists are indignant. How dare they! That is irrational! But here in the religion of naturalism, the “mystery religion from the Victorian age” as Ann Coulter calls it, practitioners get federal funding and endless boilerplate from the slobbering lapdog media – you know, the same reporters who cannot write “intelligent design” without “religion” in the same sentence.
Astrobiology is the Science of Fantasyland, where your tax dollars bring thrill rides in black light, merry-go-rounds, magic castles in the air, cotton candy for the brain, Storybook Land, small worlds, and scientists in cartoon-character white lab coats. Wafting through the air are the hypnotic words, When you wish upon a star, all your dreams come true. It’s a magical, other-worldly experience, imagineered to transport your senses into mythical utopian dream worlds. Snap out of it.