July 1, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

Astrobiology: The Science of Could

Anything “could” happen.  Shouldn’t science deal with what does happen and what did happen?  The “could” word is rampant in astrobiology literature and origin-of-life studies.

  • “Antifreeze on Titan could affect its chances for life” (Astrobiology Magazine): 14 uses of the word “could” and 6 of “might.”
  • “Billion-Year-Old Water Could Hold Clues to Life On Earth and Mars” (Astrobiology Magazine): 8 “could” and 4 of “may” or “might.”
  • “Life On Earth Shockingly Comes from out of This World” (Science Daily): 8 uses of could and may.
  • “A Stepping-Stone for Oxygen on Earth” (Astrobiology Magazine): 6 uses of could and may.
  • “Martian Clay Contains Chemical Implicated in the Origin of Life, Astrobiologists Find” (Science Daily): 5 instances of could, may, or might.
  • “More Evidence That Ancient Mars Could Support Life Found by Old Rover” (Space.com): 3 instances of could, may, or might.
  • “60 Billion Alien Planets Could Support Life” (Space.com): 8 instances of could, may, or might.

The hedging words are often key to the evolutionary ideas in the articles: e.g., in the antifreeze article, “These molecules could ultimately serve as the basis for life“; in the billion-year-old water article, “This water could be some of the oldest on the planet and may even contain life; in the Mars rover article, “NASA’s Curiosity rover found that the Red Planet could have supported microbial life in the ancient past”; in the out-of-this-world article, “icy comets that crashed into Earth millions of years ago could have produced life building organic compounds”.  No life, of course, has ever been found beyond Earth’s biosphere.

We need a new word to describe the propensity of evolutionists to speculate out of thin air with the power of suggestion to lend a false air of scientific credibility to their confabulations.  We’ll coin the term perhapsimaybecouldness index to measure that property and add it to our growing Darwin Dictionary (a helpful guide to understanding our commentaries).

Whenever you hear an evolutionist using the could word, as in “life could have emerged from methane clathrates in Titan’s subsurface ocean,” remind him or her that could works both ways.  Since it’s an imprecise, rigorless, unmeasured, hypothetical, speculative, imaginative, unscientific way to describe nature, stop them immmediately with the response, “But then again, life might not have emerged from methane clathrates in Titan’s subsurface ocean, if there is such an ocean; life could have been designed.  What do you know about it?”


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