Astrobiology: Follow the . . . | The Institute for Creation Research

Astrobiology: Follow the . . .

Download PDFDownload Astrobiology: Follow the . . . PDF

"Astrobiology" is a curious science. Like its predecessor "exobiology" it is, as George Gaylord Simpson once quipped, "a science without a subject." We know about astrophysics and astrochemistry, but where is the biology in astronomy? So far, it's only in the imaginations of evolutionists, who think the recipe for life is as simple as "just add water."

Today, astrobiology is a dynamic, interdisciplinary field that is (as long as the NASA money flows) attracting a great deal of vibrant research into many interesting questions: What is life? What are the conditions for life? How can we detect it? But it is still a science without its prime subject. Nevertheless, there is motivational power in a suggestive name like astrobiology.

Another phrase motivates much of NASA's astrobiology quest: "follow the water." Since life as we know it depends on liquid water, it seems that watery environments are the best places to look. Doubters that water is essential for life usually do more armchair speculation than lab work. Most realists understand water's incomparable qualities.

"Follow the water" explains the excitement any time scientists find evidence for water at some planet or moon, such as last November's announcement that Saturn's moon Enceladus might have liquid under its erupting south pole. Due to its chemical properties, water can only exist under narrow conditions of temperature and pressure. For many years, scientists assumed this meant that only the surfaces of terrestrial planets within a star's habitable zone, where water could exist as a liquid, could host life. Inferences for watery environments under the ice of moons far outside the habitable zone opened up new vistas for imagination.

Another finding bolstering astrobiological hopes was the ubiquity of life in extreme environments. "Extremophiles" have been found around deep sea vents, under Antarctic ice and in boiling-hot springs. These discoveries, however, beg the question of how these hardy life forms originated.

The "follow the water" motto suffers from a logical flaw: water is necessary, but not sufficient for life. It is no more logical than assuming that if iron is found on a planet, skyscrapers can't be far behind. The key to life is the way its ingredients are organized, not just the materials used.

Though life is notoriously difficult to define, Benton Clark of the University of Colorado captured this essence in his definition of life in an article in Astrobiology Magazine: "life reproduces, and life uses energy. These functions follow a set of instructions embedded within the organism."

This suggests a different motto than "follow the water." If taken seriously, it might turn astrobiology in a completely different direction: one that takes seriously intelligence as a cause, and views design detection as the most fruitful approach. It might even lead a scientist to start with John 1:1-3 as a foundation for research. Instead of "follow the water," try "follow the instructions."

* David F. Coppedge works in the Cassini program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Cite this article: David F. Coppedge. 2006. Astrobiology: Follow the . . .. Acts & Facts. 35 (7).

The Latest
ACTS & FACTS
Creation Kids: Human Hands
You’re never too young to be a creation scientist! Kids, discover fun facts about God’s creation with ICR’s special Creation Kids learning...

ACTS & FACTS
Dross and Dilution
The first of seven great signs of Jesus’ deity recorded in John’s gospel is the wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11). By the time Jesus...

APOLOGETICS
Do the Unpersuaded Have Enough Proof?
At a local Bible conference, a respected seminary professor unintentionally contradicted the apostle Paul. During the Q&A session, he opined that...

ACTS & FACTS
Gunnison's Black Canyon: The Flood Solves Mysterious Missing...
Brian Thomas, Ph.D., and Tim Clarey, Ph.D. The Gunnison River winds westward from the Colorado Rocky Mountains through dry and dramatic landscapes....

ACTS & FACTS
Do We See Complex Design in Mosquito Eggs?
Mosquitoes hatch from tiny eggs and spend a few days filter-feeding on things like bacteria, pollen, and algae. They molt three times as they grow,...

ACTS & FACTS
A Texas-Size Spider Mystery
The delightfully creepy spider belongs to a class called Arachnida—which is distinct from the “bug” class Insecta. Not surprisingly,...

ACTS & FACTS
The Fossils Still Say No: The Fins-to-Feet Transition
One of the alleged greatest transformations in vertebrate evolution is said to be the emergence of creatures that traded fins for feet and transitioned...

RESEARCH
Largest Canyons Were Formed by the Receding Flood
Two newly discovered canyons in Greenland and Antarctica have a lot in common with Grand Canyon. Both canyons are as deep as or deeper than Grand Canyon...

ACTS & FACTS
ICR Upholds the Clarity of Scripture
“The Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God” has been affirmed repeatedly from pulpits. But did you know this important declaration...

ACTS & FACTS
Uncovering Creation Mysteries
Our Creator could have immediately revealed everything there is to know about His creation from the beginning—but He didn’t. Could it be...