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Is astrobiology really a science?

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Further to “Is universe, complex as human brain, conscious?” (You know something’s up when people who discuss science at Forbes are even having this conversation), Pos-Darwinista writes to ask, re a recent astrobiology article: “Case for Gaian bottleneck?,” “Is this a case for removing the label ‘science’ from some efforts at astrobiology?”

From Astrobiology:

The Case for a Gaian Bottleneck: The Biology of Habitability

Abstract: The prerequisites and ingredients for life seem to be abundantly available in the Universe. However, the Universe does not seem to be teeming with life. The most common explanation for this is a low probability for the emergence of life (an emergence bottleneck), notionally due to the intricacies of the molecular recipe. Here, we present an alternative Gaian bottleneck explanation: If life emerges on a planet, it only rarely evolves quickly enough to regulate greenhouse gases and albedo, thereby maintaining surface temperatures compatible with liquid water and habitability. Such a Gaian bottleneck suggests that (i) extinction is the cosmic default for most life that has ever emerged on the surfaces of wet rocky planets in the Universe and (ii) rocky planets need to be inhabited to remain habitable. In the Gaian bottleneck model, the maintenance of planetary habitability is a property more associated with an unusually rapid evolution of biological regulation of surface volatiles than with the luminosity and distance to the host star. Key Words: Life—Habitability—Gaia—Abiogenesis habitable zone
(AHZ)—Circumstellar habitable zone (CHZ). Astrobiology 16, 7–22. (paywall) – Chopra Aditya and Lineweaver Charles H., Astrobiology. January 2016, 16(1): 7-22. Volume: 16 Issue 1: January 20, 2016 doi:10.1089/ast.2015.1387.

Pos-Darwinista snorts, “If this is science so is astrology, runes, animal entrails, horoscopes, divination.”

Understandable frustration. There is no evidence of life anywhere outside the vicinity of Earth. Mythical histories, as presented above, are fun and can be instructive, but they are not science. Astrobiology, as has been said before, is a discipline without a subject.

Why is the space alien science, but Bigfoot — on the same level of evidence — is not science? Seemingly, the space alien serves certain agendas that Bigfoot doesn’t.

We look forward to a paper that unpacks the psychology behind the choice to consider the unseen life of alien worlds as “science.”

See also: How do we grapple with the idea that ET might not be out there?

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9 Replies to “Is astrobiology really a science?

  1. 1
    EvilSnack says:

    I’m guessing that the reason extraterrestrials haven’t contacted us is because they’re waiting for us to progress to the point that we regard political ambition as a mental illness.

  2. 2
    Jim Smith says:

    but Bigfoot — on the same level of evidence

    I think you might be underestimating the level of evidence for Sasquatch. Besides numerous sightings by reputable witnesses, there are scientific papers examining physical evidence, DNA and tooth marks on bones (see below).

    From this blog:
    Everything You Believe Is Based on Personal Experience and Testimony

    So, when anyone says that testimony and personal experience are dismissible forms of evidence, they are obviously using (consciously or not) selective (and logically incoherent) hyperskepticism against an unwanted idea, because everything any of us believe or call ‘knowledge” is gained/extrapolated (hopefully using logic and logical arguments) via personal experience and/or information gained via testimony.

    Scientific research on Sasquatch:

    Sasquatch Are People DNA sequence studies by Dr. Melba Ketchum show that the Sasquatch are a hybrid of human and an unknown primate species:

    Wood Ape Sightings: Correlations to Annual Rainfall Totals, Waterways, Human Population Densities and Black Bear Habitat Zones by Daryl Colyer & Alton Higgins

    Using Biotic Taphonomy Signature Analysis and Neoichnology Profiling to determine the identity of the carnivore taxa responsible for the deposition and mechanical mastication of three independent prey bone assemblages in the Mount St. Helen’s ecosystem of the Cascade mountain range by Aaron Mills, Gerald Mills, M. N. Townsend

  3. 3
    Jim Smith says:

    There is no evidence of life anywhere outside the vicinity of Earth

    I read on this blog that it is incorrect to say that evidence that does not convince you is not evidence.
    From this blog:
    A Final Word on “Evidence”

    Many of our materialist friends seem to believe that unless evidence compels belief it does not count as evidence at all. Worse, they seem to believe that merely by advancing an alternative explanation for some proposition, they have caused all of the evidence for the explanation advanced by their opponents to magically turn into non-evidence. This is simply not the case.

    Here is some of the evidence:

    High Ranking Government and Military Officials Say UFOs are Extraterrestrial Craft Visiting the Earth

    UFOs and Defense: What Should We Prepare For? The COMETA report produced by the Institute of Advanced Studies for National Defense in France. Part III concludes: “A single hypothesis sufficiently takes into account the facts and, for the most part, only calls for present-day science. It is the hypothesis of extraterrestrial visitors.”

    Astronauts Say UFOs are Real

    Unidentified Flying Objects Briefing Document The Best Available Evidence by Don Berliner with Marie Galbraith Antonio Huneeus, Presented by CUFONS, FUFOR, MUFON December 1995

    Video: “Debunking the UFO Debunkers” in which Stanton Friedman explains why you cannot trust the “skeptics”.

    UFO Witness Testimony

    UFO Experiencers Speak

    Exopolitics Lectures from the 2010 X-Conference

  4. 4
    tjguy says:

    We look forward to a paper that unpacks the psychology behind the choice to consider the unseen life of alien worlds as “science.”

    Exactly. Perhaps if we study it hard enough we can come up with the gene that is responsible for producing belief in aliens.

    Back in December, they had a conference in New York about the ethics of looking for genes that contribute to intelligence. Some were afraid of pursuing such a study because of how it could lead to discrimination and designer babies etc.

    Perhaps there is a gene for a tendency to believe in aliens just as they think there might be a gene(s) that contribute to intelligence.

    Probably there is also a gene for atheism as well as a gene for people who tend towards a religious worldview.

    We’re all just slaves to our genes anyway!

    See “Are There Genes for Intelligence – and is it too Racist to Ask” http://news.nationalgeographic.....m-science/

    Of course the article did not mention the historical errors of this type that were

    …. committed by evolutionists following Darwin and his half-cousin, Francis Galton, the father of eugenics. Forced sterilizations that followed were direct results of eugenics, as documented by John West in Darwin Day in America. A sequence at the end of Ben Stein’s 2008 documentary Expelled shows a museum curator at the infamous Hadamar prison stating that the ten thousands of murders of mentally retarded that occurred there, including of children, were based on Darwinism. – See more at: http://crev.info/2016/01/darwi.....WRqst.dpuf

  5. 5
    Zachriel says:

    Pos-Darwinista snorts: “If this is science so is astrology, runes, animal entrails, horoscopes, divination.”

    Um, no. Astrology makes claims without basis. Astrobiology proposes hypotheses based on the one example of a known planet harboring life, and other known facts about the universe.

  6. 6

    Frankly, my problem with astrobiology is etymology. “Astro” means star. “Bio” is life, “Logy” comes from “Logos” meaning word or study or knowledge. So “astrobiology” is the study of life on stars. But there isn’t any life on stars. So this field needs only a paragraph to be completely understood.

    What happened, I surmise, is that Goddard Spaceflight Center had already stolen the word “Exo-biology” and so disgruntled sorts wanted to start an independent group/magazine and came up with astro-biology. I suppose we can look forward to astro-hydrology, astro-geology and astro-oceanography next.

  7. 7
    Ginger Grant says:

    I think that astro (exo) biology can be examined using science. But I don’t think there should be any tax funding until extraterrestrial life has been identified. Or, maybe, I should apply for a Leorechaunology grant.

  8. 8
    Eric Anderson says:

    The search for and, should it be found, the study of life outside our solar system is certainly a scientific enterprise. At the very least in the same sense that an exploratory or observational undertaking can be deemed science.

    Whether the scientific exercise is likely to yield the desired results, whether the headlines and the pronouncements sometimes go awry, whether some of those engaged in the exercise bring unwarranted a priori philosophical assumptions to the table — all of those are separate questions.

  9. 9

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