Astrobiolo-SETI: Science or Fantasy?
Fantastical scenarios with no evidence – sometimes contrary to evidence – continue to get good publicity in science venues.
Imagining Dyson Spheres: No one has ever seen a Dyson sphere (a theoretical way for an alien civilization to conserve all the energy from a dying star). No one has seen an alien civilization, for that matter. It didn’t stop Live Science from describing the “incredible technology” of Dyson spheres and how they will enable SETI researchers to find aliens. Live Science took another step into Fantasyland by posting an “infographic” about objects we have no information about. What would its editors think of an infographic about heaven, which arguably has more information from multiple sources? Would that qualify for a science news post? Yet Dyson spheres (imagined by futurist Freeman Dyson) were described as devices by which “advanced civilizations would conquer the galaxy.” Presumably they would have to be intelligently designed, but ID is shunned by Live Science except for ridicule.
Imagining superhabitable worlds: National Geographic posted a discussion about planets that are more habitable than Earth. None of these are known; they are only supposed as possible. To its credit, the article gives views of skeptics who think the question is vacuous. Still, “If superhabitable planets exist, and if we develop the means to find them, they may turn out to be more common than Earthlike planets,” the article speculates. Just thinking about it “could broaden our chances of discovering life on other worlds,” the speculation continues, “because it opens up the possibility that there may be some super-Earth planets with appropriate conditions for life.”
Imagining many ways to unguided life: An extremely optimistic article about the origin of life was printed by Science Magazine on January 17. In a response to pessimistic thoughts recently expressed by Steven Benner (see 8/28/13, 9/07/13 and 12/31/13), Jimmy Gollihar, Matthew Levy and Andrew D. Ellington are highly confident that science is on the verge of finding the way life evolved. Indeed they are impressed with the “many paths to the origin of life” that create an embarrassment of riches:
The origin of life remains a daunting mystery in part because rather than knowing too little, we increasingly know about too many possible mechanisms that might have led to the self-sustaining replication of nucleic acids and the cellularization of genetic material that is the basis of life on Earth.
To speak so optimistically, they have to virtually leap over conceptual canyons. Difficulties with homochirality, adverse reactions forming tars, the problem of compartmentalization and other daunting challenges (such as the improbability of reaching functional information from nonliving chemistry) are treated as low hurdles that primordial cells would rush forth to conquer like Olympic athletes. Those cells could have even used teamwork:
As RNA or an alternative precursor nucleic acid begins to self-replicate, protection from molecular parasites and the low concentrations of needed substrates become paramount in propagating chemical information content. Compartmentalization of the genetic/catalytic machinery would have necessarily been an early invention or co-option of a self-replicase. The demonstration of protocell division based on simple physical and chemical mechanisms lends credence to the idea that nucleic acid and vesicle replicators got together for mutual benefit.
In closing Gollihar, Levy and Ellington point back to the Miller experiment for inspiration:
The great benefit of the demonstration of prebiotic amino acid synthesis from a simple gas mix and an electrical spark was not that it was a cookbook for how things occurred, but rather that it was the identification of a plausible path to an origin of life that would continue to bear experimental fruit.
Being translated, an experiment that failed to serve as a cookbook inspired other cookbooks that so far have cooked up only imaginary scenarios after 50 years of trying by intelligent cooks in the kitchen.
This last article was ungodly awful; Baloney Detector apprentices should use it as a case study. Its perhapsimaybecouldness index saturated our meters: 4 could‘s, 4 may‘s, and 5 might‘s in the short article (and those are only the overt indicators). Faster than a speeding bull**it, more powerful than a “loco” motive, able to leap tall futilities in a single bound, it’s absurd. It’s insane. It’s Supermad. Yet it was published in Science Magazine, not Marvel Comics. These delusional sciopaths simply imagined solutions to every show-stopper the more realistic scientists and philosophers have wept over their beer about. It “is easy to imagine how such simple replicators might have evolved in complexity,” they said. (Speak for thyselves, dreamers.) Later “an origin can be imagined that involves” blah blah blah, till, “Ultimately, a fully functional RNA polymerase should evolve from the heady broth of reactions in the primordial soup.” Ah yes, primordial soup. Old mythoids die hard.
The perceptive Baloney Detector finds instances of personification scattered throughout the scenario: “it is possible that prebiotic analogs of these enzymes might have assisted in chemical syntheses” (contrary to the laws of chemistry), they presume; “millions of years of a poor replicator (a blink on the geological time scale) might well have been necessary to craft a feedback cycle” (there’s the moyboys‘ magic wand); replicators “got together for mutual benefit,” while a better replicator arises “that could better feed itself by directing the chemistry around it.” Imagine that; a non-living molecule with a mind, will, and even leadership! In other places they hid their Tinker Bell fairy in passive voice, speaking of “the evolution of,” or how things “arose” or “led to” this or that.
Where is the science? Realize that the actions of intelligent agents in a chemistry lab have nothing to do with their subject matter. They are using intelligent design! Listen: “Ribozymes have been crafted that make carbon-carbon bonds, glycosidic bonds, phosphodiester bonds, and others, and it is possible that prebiotic analogs of these enzymes might have….” blah blah blah, and so on, and so forth, etc. What’s another word for “crafted,” students? Intelligently designed! How about “possible” and “might”? Speculation! You can’t design a robot and then speculate that rocks can do the same. (Well, you can, but don’t call it science.)
At one point, the authors used the word “unguided” properly: “Initial insights that biological compounds could be generated by prebiotic means quickly ran up against a gap in our understanding of how unguided syntheses could result in defined templates for replication.” That’s what they are stuck with: unguided processes. They need to keep their intelligently guided hands off the story and watch it implode. These unguided molecules are simply not going to do what they need them to do. (Notice that words like “prebiotic” build evolutionary assumptions into them by the power of suggestion.)
It is atrocious that imagineers without a leg to stand on empirically can get away with dreaming on the job in science magazines and websites. These are the same ones who refuse to consider intelligent design, which has tons of empirical backing for its scientific principles (e.g., archaeology, cryptology, forensics), as they repeat ad nauseum the long-debunked canard that if something is not 100% materialistic, it must be religious. It’s about time to declare Tinker Bell worship as a religion: the preferred “mystery religion” of the scientism crowd.