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Can we find “life” on other planets if we refuse to specify what it is?


In “Is Life an ‘Artificial Category’?” (Astrobiology Magazine, June 11, 2012*) Susan Mazur interviewed researcher of habitable star systems Maggie Turnbull on the definition of life, with some interesting results:

(Note: Mazur is best known for her book on the Altenberg 16, non-ID scientists who doubt Darwin.

Suzan Mazur: NASA’s official definition for life is no longer still limited to “a self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution,” is it?

Maggie Turnbull: All I can say is, if NASA has an official definition of life, I don’t agree with it, and neither does life.

Suzan Mazur: Would you know if NASA is still financing and otherwise supporting research pegged to the Darwinian model?

Maggie Turnbull: I don’t know exactly what you mean by “pegged to the Darwinian model.” NASA supports research in genetics and in mechanisms that allow for survival in extreme conditions. …


Suzan Mazur: Funding of origin of life research pegged to the Darwinian model is increasingly a contentious issue because Darwinian science is being marginalized by a growing number of responsible scientists. There’s a schism between the neo-Darwinists on one side and on the other many of the evo-devo scientists, symbiogeneticists, geologists, mechanical engineers, natural scientists, cognitive scientists, linguists and others. Would you comment?

Maggie Turnbull: I don’t know much about it. I’m really an astronomer at heart. My focus is on the stars. I have very simple objectives when it comes to finding habitable planets and whatever the biologists want to say about the evolution of life is fine with me. At the end of the day though nothing matters until we find it.

Suzan Mazur: Until we find what?

Maggie Turnbull: Until we find life on another planet. [… ]

Well, Maggie Turnbull, we hope you find life, but if you dodge issues around its definition, how will you know?

* Also at Counterpunch (June 6, 2012)

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