Most Exoplanets Are Probably Not Habitable
More astrobiologists are coming to the “depressing” conclusion that we are alone in the universe, but it’s only depressing if you’re an evolutionist.
Three trends in science are converging to support the contention that life is rare in the universe: (1) the extreme complexity of life, (2) the number of factors required for life as we know it, and (3) the Fermi Paradox. If space aliens are as common as Carl Sagan thought in the 1980s, then where are they? Advanced aliens should have visited Earth by now, but the silence remains.
The Fermi Paradox Dissolved
Humans alone in universe, depressing study finds (Fox News). “A new study from the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) at Oxford University,” taking the Fermi Paradox into account, “suggests that humanity is alone in the observable universe, putting a damper on the theory that there is intelligent life somewhere in the known universe.” Even using optimistic figures being thrown around these days, the Drake Equation yields a 30% probability that mankind is alone in the universe. Realistic figures are more pessimistic. Though not giving up on space aliens, they infer that if they exist, they are probably out of our reach.
“When we take account of realistic uncertainty, replacing point estimates by probability distributions that reflect current scientific understanding, we find no reason to be highly confident that the galaxy (or observable universe) contains other civilizations, and thus no longer find our observations in conflict with our prior probabilities,” the study’s conclusion reads.
New Model Predicts That We’re Probably the Only Advanced Civilization in the Observable Universe (Matt Williams, Universe Today). The authors of the FHI study wrote Universe Today with other reasons for pessimism.
“One can answer [the Fermi Paradox] by saying intelligence is very rare, but then it needs to be tremendously rare. Another possibility is that intelligence doesn’t last very long, but it is enough that one civilization survives for it to become visible. Attempts at explaining it by having all intelligences acting in the same way (staying quiet, avoiding contact with us, transcending) fail since they require every individual belonging to every society in every civilization to behave in the same way, the strongest sociological claim ever. Claiming long-range settlement or communication are impossible requires assuming a surprisingly low technology ceiling. Whatever the answer is, it more or less has to be strange.”
Strangeness is a function of worldview. Human uniqueness may seem strange to an evolutionist, but not necessarily to a believer that God created the Earth to be inhabited by beings made in his image (see Isaiah 45:18). Even so, Anders Sandberg (one of the co-authors of the study published on arXiv) does not feel that SETI is pointless. “Even terrestrial biology may give us important information about the probability of life emerging and the conditions leading to intelligence,” he quipped. And reporter Matt Williams, despite the bad news, finds reasons to rally the troops:
So take heart, SETI enthusiasts! While the Drake Equation may not be something we can produce accurate values for anytime soon, the more we learn, the more refined the values will be. And remember, we only need to find intelligent life once in order for the Fermi Paradox to be resolved!
It only takes one snipe, correspondingly, to prove that a snipe hunt is not a practical joke. Sandberg and Williams might reach a new low of depression by watching the Illustra film Origin, which puts realistic numbers on “the probability of life emerging” by chance.
Life Needs More than Water
Water May Not Be the Only Sign of Alien Life (Live Science). Charles Q. Choi, a reliable Darwin promoter, shares some depressing facts to astrobiologists whose motto is “follow the water” in the search for life.
When it comes to looking for alien life, scientists mostly focus on where there is water. Now researchers suggest that looking at “bioessential” elements such as phosphorus and molybdenum could help judge a world’s potential for life.
If you were to make a list of bioessential ingredients, you would probably add nitrogen and carbon to water. But did you ever think of phosphorus, molybdenum, cobalt or manganese as essential elements for life? Choi shares results of a study by Manasvi Lingam and Avi Loeb of Harvard (see 14 March 2017).
In the new study, the scientists calculated that if a world’s oceans are either neutral or alkaline and possess hydrothermal activity, “phosphorus may be entirely removed from the subsurface ocean world in a very short timescale compared to the age of the solar system — millions of years,” said study lead author Manasvi Lingam, an astrophysicist at Harvard.
The scientists also suggested trace metals such as molybdenum, manganese and cobalt might prove bioessential as well. “Molybdenum plays a crucial role in several enzymes, most notably in fixing nitrogen” — that is, breaking apart the powerful chemical bonds that hold nitrogen atoms in pairs in the atmosphere and “fixing” the resulting single nitrogen atoms into vital organic molecules, Lingam said. In addition, molybdenum “affects protein synthesis as well as metabolism and growth in many organisms,” he explained.
Furthermore, “manganese plays an important role in the context of generating oxygen via photosynthesis in chloroplasts,” Lingam said. “Cobalt has a variety of biological roles in metabolism — most notably, it forms a component of the vitamin B-12.“
Cornell astrobiologist Jonathan Lunine (see 3 May 2018) tried to downplay the study a bit, saying that “planets and moons are more complex than we expect.” Nevertheless, he did not dispute the important role these elements play in life as we know it. Lingam left a little room for finding life that is different from “life as we know it,” although many astrobiologists cannot conceive of physical organisms not using carbon, water, amino acids, and DNA or RNA – with all the accessory elements required for those. The article reminds readers that simply being in the habitable zone is not enough.
Keeping the Dream Alive
In spite of the pessimistic facts considered above, astrobiologists need job security, so they press on.
Climbing the Ladder to Life Detection (Astrobiology Magazine). Scientists in NASA’s Astrobiology program have dreamed up a “Ladder of Life Detection,” consisting of 15 factors that might indicate the presence of life on an exoplanet. The number of factors is subject to revision, the article says.
“The Ladder of Life Detection lists 15 features that the astrobiology community proposed to represent indicators of life,” said Marc Neveu, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC and lead author of the paper. The Ladder also describes how scientists might measure these features and determine whether they really are evidence of life.
For instance, all life that we know of requires complex organic molecules and uses amino acids—two features in the Ladder.
But just finding these molecules doesn’t mean they arose from life. “Many of the molecules that are used by life can be formed without life,” said Mary Voytek, Senior Scientist for Astrobiology at NASA Headquarters and paper coauthor. For example, chemical reactions on a planet or comet can form amino acids and other organic molecules.
Scientists have to “figure out, with those caveats, how you can say that what you’re looking at was produced by life,” Voytek said.
So far, no life has been detected, in spite of highly-publicized ‘possibly habitable’ locations at Europa and Enceladus. As we just read, though, water is not enough. Do those icy moons have cobalt and molybdenum? The Ladder to Life Detection seems analogous to “a ladder of snipe-signatures” – factors in the woods that might indicate the presence of snipe, if they exist.
UCR Team Among Scientists Developing Guidebook for Finding Life Beyond Earth (UC Riverside). Bio-astrologers (i.e., astrobiologists), are also getting into the detection business. In this press release, several UCR scientists boast on how they are using the taxpayer dollars from the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Edward Schwieterman and Timothy Lyons agree that a biosignature could be produced abiotically, and promise to proceed carefully so as not to be snookered by false positives. To do that, they are studying the only planet where life is known to exist: Earth.
“We are using Earth to guide our search for life on other planets because it is the only known example we have,” said Timothy Lyons, a distinguished professor of biogeochemistry and director of the Alternative Earths Astrobiology Center. “But Earth actually offers us a great diversity of possibilities. Rather than being constrained to a study of present-day life, we use geological and geochemical analyses to examine the billions of years that life survived, evolved, and thrived on Earth under conditions that are very different than today’s, hence the concept of ‘alternative Earths.’”
Schwieterman’s review outlines the complexities of searching for life on planets that are too far away to visit, including phenomena called false positives and false negatives. “The search for life using biosignatures is not as simple as looking for a single molecule or compound. Atmospheric oxygen, for example, could be a sign of life, but there are many nonbiological ways that oxygen gas could be produced on an exoplanet. Conversely, it is possible that life could exist in the absence of oxygen gas, similar to early life on Earth or portions of the oceans today,” Schwieterman said. “This is one reason temporal biosignatures, which are based on dynamic phenomena such as atmospheric seasonality, might be more robust biosignatures in some circumstances.”
More research on the ways nature can fool scientists into thinking a lifeless planet is alive or vice versa is described in the second paper in the series. The third and fourth papers propose novel investigations that would expand our conception of biosignatures to myriad habitable planets that are radically different from past or present Earth. The final article discusses how the search for life through biosignatures is incorporated into telescope and mission design.
As their papers show, plenty of activity is going on for a science without a subject, about places where what they’re looking for may not exist. At least the snipe hunters get paychecks for looking.
We share these news articles, with ample quotes, to reveal how the evolutionists think. Their beliefs and actions are strongly influenced by their worldview. To understand how non-empirical their faith is, you need to come at these articles without any prior conception that the universe is filled with life, and with a realization that it probably isn’t. Empiricists require evidence. Bio-astrologers have none. They do have knowledge of oxygen, molybdenum and nucleic acids, to be sure, but that knowledge does not bear at all on the question of life beyond the Earth. It bears only on what we know about Earth life. When you come at the question without their evolutionary assumptions, the analogy to a snipe hunt becomes vivid. Imagine thinking you are doing your snipe hunt any good by studying the anatomy and physiology of living snipe (there are, after all, true snipe on the Earth). If you really believe that Sagan and Drake were right that chance produces life and that it evolves into millions of super-intelligences all over the universe, then of course you will be excited to go on their snipe hunt on exoplanets. You will feel perfectly justified in ratcheting up your perhapsimaybecouldness index to the heights of heaven. If you don’t believe in Saganism and Drake-ology, you can be more objective. We prefer objectivity. Thanks to Brett Miller for this new cartoon that illustrates the situation in bio-astrology.
The Drake Equation is really easy to calculate when you bring in modern research on chemical abiogenesis. Parameter fl, which is the fraction of planets that develop life, is zero. Multiply all of the other parameters together and the result is zero civilizations in our galaxy that we can communicate with. This also handily resolves the Fermi Paradox: Where is everybody? There’s nobody there.