December 17, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

Astrobiology Has No Bio

When you take the “bio” out of astrobiology, what do you get?  Is it still a science?

Astrobiology as a new branch of science was launched in 1996 at the announcement of possible life fossils in a Martian meteorite (NASA).  18 years later, there is still no biology in astrobiology, despite highly-publicized, optimistic research attempts to figure out the origin of life without an intelligent designer.

One might describe two kinds of astrobiology.  “Weak” astrobiology (our term) attempts to understand the requirements for life to exist on a planet.  This is empirical science, and can help us understand life on Earth—i.e., what would happen if Earth did not meet these requirements.  Observations can be made of where life exists on Earth in extreme environments, and experiments can be done with microbes to see what happens if certain requirements are reduced or eliminated.  “Strong” astrobiology expects that life is common in the universe (because it’s here on this planet, assuming our planet is nothing special): we just need to find it.  It also is heavily dependent on origin-of-life experiments.  This kind of astrobiology, so far, has failed miserably.

Here are recent news items about astrobiology’s search for life or the origin of life.  As becomes obvious from headlines, the word “could” is prominent.  Progress is always promised out in the future somewhere.

  1. Nuclear fragments could help uncover the origins of life-supporting planets (PhysOrg): “Our study essentially demonstrates how star dust – the remnants of exploded stars – plays a role in the formation of life-supporting planets,” say researchers from the University of Surrey.  “It is just one discovery in a long process, but it will pave the way for further work in understanding the conditions needed for life in the universe.”
  2. From Hell on Earth: Life’s Building Blocks (Science Magazine): “Ancient asteroid impacts may have kick-started life on Earth” say researchers in the Czech Republic. Under controlled lab conditions at extreme temperature and pressure, they found the 4 bases of DNA in clay spiked with formamide.  “Could” is used 4 times in Sid Perkins’ article, and “may” twice.  See also New Scientist.  The coverage on Live Science points back to the Miller spark-discharge experiment.
  3. Cosmic Impacts Might Help Synthesize Organic Compounds (Astrobiology Magazine): Some organic compounds “could” survive impacts, experiments with projectiles fired at organic-enriched ices show.  “Future research could also focus on creating icy projectiles that better match the composition of comets.”
  4. Ponds or pounding are both possible origins for life (New Scientist):”If the Rosetta result holds up, we’ll have to explain why we haven’t seen more comets with heavy water” (see 12/11/14). But if impacts forged nucleic acid bases, well then: “It’s a long way from life, but our own kind of big bang may have sparked it.”
  5. Young, hotheaded stars could host habitable worlds (New Scientist): This article speculates that M-dwarf stars “could” have hosted life early in their careers (but see 12/06/14).  “That may be enough time for life to develop and then go underground or underwater to survive as the star cools.”
  6. Chemists create ‘artificial chemical evolution’ for the first time (PhysOrg):”Scientists have taken an important step towards the possibility of creating synthetic life with the development of a form of artificial evolution in a simple chemistry set without DNA.” This is crazy: they watched oil droplets “evolve” in water. “Droplets of oil move in water like primitive chemical machines, transferring chemical energy to kinetic energy.”  But where is a genetic code and signaling networks?  Where is accurate replication?  “This is the first time that an evolvable chemical system has existed outside of biology,” a professor at the U of Glasgow claims.
  7. Giant impacts, planet formation and the search for life elsewhere (The Conversation): article agrees that moon is finely tuned, habitability is tenuous, and that impacts can be devastating, but keeps hope alive.  “The future will doubtless reveal more factors that must be taken into account when assessing the suitability of a given planetary system as a host for life,” three evolutionists speculate.

The confidence in each of these articles that life can originate by chance is challenged by the complete lack of evidence that it happened that way.  This is all “strong astrobiology,” expecting life by chance and speculating on how it happened, with heavy use of promissory notes and a high perhapsimaybecouldness index.

Ever since Darwin speculated about some “warm little pond” where life may have originated by chance, the search for life by chance has grown and become more detailed and technical.  Now we have high-temperature ovens, impact guns, and spark chambers.  Nothing ever grows out of the test tubes.  The empirical data is inversely proportional to the hope and hype in the media.  That story about oil in water (#6 above) is unbelievably stupid; it’s like staring at a Lava Lamp and calling it alive.  Read with astonishment what a “science” news site reported without laughing out loud:

The researchers’ robot used a video camera to monitor, process and analyse the behaviour of 225 differently-composed droplets, identifying a number of distinct characteristics such as vibration or clustering.

The team picked out three types of droplet behaviour – division, movement and vibration – to focus on in the next stage of the research. They used the robot to deposit populations of droplets of the same composition, then ranked these populations in order of how closely they fit the criteria of behaviour identified by the researchers. The chemical composition of the ‘fittest’ population was then carried over into a second generation of droplets, and the process of robotic selection was begun again. [This is artificial selection—intelligent design, imposing investigator interference and anthropomorphism on lifeless matter.]

Over the course of 20 repetitions of the process, the researchers found that the droplets became more stable, mimicking the natural selection of evolution.

Good grief.  The most outrageous lapses of empirical science get a pass if they support evolution in some way.

Let’s recall the days of alchemy: this was a long-lasting inquiry into nature.  Like astrobiologists, alchemists believed with all their heart that base metals “could” be turned into gold.  The quest lasted for centuries.  Techniques were devised that later proved helpful to “real” chemistry.  But alchemy failed, and always failed, year after year, century after century, even though its practitioners believed strongly they were making progress.  They kept hope alive with the belief that a breakthrough was just around the corner.  (Actually, using atom smashers, it can now be done, at far more cost than any yield of gold.)  In hindsight, alchemy was a fruitless quest.  It was not science.  Astrobiology now seems to be in that early euphoric stage.  Its hopes are misguided, when one considers the impossibility of getting life by chance (see our online book).

Take the “bio” out of astrobiology, and what do you get?  Astrology—a method of divination.  Look at these news articles above and explain if you see any real philosophical difference.

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