Newfound Extra-Solar Planet: No Chance for Life

That title is the conclusion of the creation scientists at the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) — the fountainhead of young-earth creationist wisdom. Our last post on this topic was Newly Discovered Habitable Extra-Solar Planet, which was about:

… the discovery of an Earth-sized planet (three times the mass of Earth) orbiting a nearby star at a distance that places it squarely in the middle of the star’s “habitable zone,” where liquid water could exist on the planet’s surface.

The article we quoted said:

Habitability depends on many factors, but liquid water and an atmosphere are among the most important.

It didn’t take long for the powerful intellects at ICR to bring their vast knowledge to bear on this discovery. We present to you, dear reader, some excerpts from Newfound Planet Is ‘100 Percent’ Sure to Have Life?, which appears at the ICR website. The bold font was added by us:

A newly discovered “exoplanet” (a planet outside the solar system) named Gliese 581g appears to be inside the “habitable zone” of its red dwarf star. Since this means that the planet’s surface could potentially hold liquid water, Steven Vogt, professor at UC Santa Cruz, expressed confidence that the planet indeed harbors life.

Well, he said it was likely to be habitable. Let’s read on:

But with only one of the required parameters present — temperature — how reasonable is it to assume the rest? Is there even water there?

That’s a fair question. Then they quote from another article, perhaps accurately, in which they claim Vogt said:

Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent.

Then ICR quotes Guillermo Gonzales, a creationist favorite. He’s a co-author of The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery. He’s also a “senior fellow” among the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

The Discoveroids have tried to make a big deal out of the fact that Gonzales was denied tenure at Iowa State University. He was Expelled! Now he’s teaching at some bible college. Anyway, he’s a Discoveroid martyr and ICR considers him an authority. They quote him as saying:

For the extreme case of synchronous rotation, the complete freeze-out of water on the dark hemisphere is very likely….Once water begins to freeze on a region of a planet with continuously sub-zero temperature, the stage is set for a runaway process of continuing freeze-out.

Egad — a freeze-out! ICR then uses that Gonzalez claim to counter the opinion of Vogt, saying:

Vogt did not suggest any solution to this problem, instead invoking a 19th-century, Darwin-inspired, assumed “propensity of life to flourish wherever it can.” What Darwin’s followers are not recognizing, however, is that any propensity for life to flourish is a direct result of the specialized machinery and coded instructions that living cells have been given

Given? Wow! If living cells have been given “specialized machinery and coded instructions” — why, that implies a Giver! Hey, this is undeniable evidence for Oogity Boogity! We now continue that ICR sentence which we interrupted:

— rather than the result of a happy accident of just the right random assemblage of physical parameters and natural laws.

Yes, oh yes! What are the odds that a living cell just popped into existence because of a happy accident? It’s all so obvious! We continue:

In fact, those coded instructions make life possible precisely because they circumvent or exploit the laws of nature.

Aaaargh!! “Circumvent or exploit”? One is a miracle, the other is a natural occurrence. Come on, ICR — which is it? Anyway, here’s the end of ICR’s article:

So, given that there are no known natural entities capable of dreaming up those instructions, let alone capable of building biological machines than can effectively use them, the chances of life on planet Gliese 581g have to be zero.

Zero! So there you are.

Update: See Discovery Institute: Extraterrestrial Life Is OK.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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18 responses to “Newfound Extra-Solar Planet: No Chance for Life

  1. I think Vogt was a bit over-enthusiastic with his 100% prediction, but on the other hand, the ICR topped it by staking a claim to zero percent chance…not only on Gliese 581g, but by their logic, on any other world. No life, anywhere in the universe, but on earth.

    It’s also odd that they state that there are “no known natural entities” capable of dreaming up instructions for the components of life on Gliese 581g. Surely they understand that there are no known natural entities capable of doing that on earth, either. Does that mean life cannot exist on earth? I’m sure they meant supernatural entities, but it’s not clear.

  2. That anonymous post was mine – for some reason I forgot to fill in the name and email fields. I’m surprised it was accepted ??

  3. Ed says: “I’m surprised it was accepted ??”

    I have the option of requiring registration to post comments, but I’ve never bothered with it.

  4. Gabriel Hanna

    I thought Discoveroids thought God poofed life on Earth into existence. But Gonzales is saying that God couldn’t have poofed life outside of the Solar System? Because if life is found there, the Discoveroids are all just going to say that God made that too. Why would they say such a stupid thing?

  5. Gabriel Hanna asks: “Why would they say such a stupid thing?”

    Uh, golly, I just can’t think of any reason why a creationist would do that. Perhaps someone else can figure it out.

  6. Gabriel Hanna, why would they say such a stupid thing? Because their faith is small and shriveled and the thought that Creation might encompass somewhere other than Earth is terrifying. It would mean that God really is everywhere, and that’s definitely not what they want. God In A Box is much safer and more comfortable. Just my opinion as an oddball Christian.

  7. But is it not supposed to be all about “scientific” intelligent design, and thus not a religious belief? Do they mean that intelligent designers can only design life systems on earth?

    Well, I guess they are ready to come out of the closet and admit that it is all about their religion.

  8. Gabriel Hanna asks: “Why would they say such a stupid thing?”

    Uh, golly, I just can’t think of any reason why a creationist would do that. Perhaps someone else can figure it out.

    You both owe me a new keyboard. Gabriel for setting this up, Curmy for following up so masterfully.

  9. Gabriel Hanna

    I just thought it was an unforced error. There’s no reason why they had to say anything but “We are confident that any life found outside the solar system will also show signs of having been intelligently designed” or some such. Why go out of their way to make a definite statement that can proved wrong?

  10. retiredsciguy

    Evidently, the Discoveroids believe in “Earth God”, and only “Earth God”.
    He is said to reside somewhere up there in the clouds of this planet’s atmosphere. We should probably ask their expert Gonzales where He can be found on clear days.

  11. Well, this is ICR, not the Discoveroids. ICR’s problem with extraterrestrial life has religious/Biblical grounds. Life elsewhere would call into question Earth’s special place in the Universe (it took God several days to make Earth and the whole rest of the Universe was practically an afterthought covered in about five words in Genesis) and pose problems for the doctrine of the Fall. Intelligent aliens would really cause problems (are they in need of salvation?). Still, I can’t see why non-intelligent life couldn’t exist on other planets, also especially created by God, even if there are no intelligent beings elsewhere. Earth itself has a lush abundance of life far in excess of human needs for domestication or hunting, so the Lord would seem to enjoy making penguins or deep-sea creatures or many other that seldom or never interact with people. If the ICR site allowed comments, I’d suggest that to their young science writer with the highly coveted MS degree as a possible fallback position for when they have to admit their error. The Discoveroids are less constrained by Biblical dogmatism, so they could probably do fine by allowing their mysterious unidentified designer the option of designing life on other words as well as on Earth.

    What the ICR’s writer missed was the actual importance of the newly discovered planet (if its discovery holds up — I think there’s been some controversy about it). Out of the well over 400 planets of other stars so far discovered, none have been Earth-like, but that’s due to the search technique not being sensitive enough yet to detect Earth-sized bodies around Sun-like stars. The methods used favor detection of planets in the Jupiter size range close to their parent stars. But as the technique improves, smaller planets are being discovered and it’s only a matter of time before we get into the terrestrial range. What Gliese 581g shows is that it’s the first even somewhat Earth-like planet to be discovered at about the right distance from its star to support life. It’s a marginal case and may not pan out — but it shows that such planets can and do exist, and since it’s relatively close and was discovered just as soon as the technique was refined enough, even more Earth-like planets may exist and may even be relatively common. (Look at our own solar system. Earth and Venus are practically twins in terms of size. That alone shows that Earth can’t be a fluke. Venus was just too close to the Sun to turn out well.) Tremble in your boots, Mr. Thomas. Gliese 581g may be a marginal case you can dismiss out of hand, but it was also just the first of many and likely even more promising abodes of life.

  12. Given that the intelligent designer(s) are not constrained by physical laws, this means that life can exist anywhere in the universe. Not only on earth-like planets. There is no reason for the designer(s) to restrict life to places where it can survive by natural processes.

  13. The ICR’s statement makes sense, if you believe Genesis is literally true and the stars are only made to provide light and signs for the earth. If that’s their only purpose, then creating life around those cosmic lightbulbs would not make any sense. From that perspective, the only theologically consistent position for the ICR would be that there is no God-created life on Gliese 581g, or anywhere else. Since we know of no natural beings that could step in and do the job, there must be no life there.

    I think the ICR and the Discovery Institute would differ on this call. As far as I know, the DI has made no claim that intelligent design has only occurred on this planet. The DI is much too slippery to make a testable claim.

    We have a fairly good shot at finding some sort of microbial life in our solar system in the next few years. It will be interesting to see how the literalists retool their theology.

    My grandmother, who was a minister and founder of a country church, used to tell me that “in heaven there are many mansions”, which she interpreted to mean that god created people throughout the universe. (this was back in the 60’s, in response to my query about whether she believed in UFOs, which I was interested in at the time). She was as conservative as anyone I knew, but she loved science, and reading about new discoveries. I wish there were more like her.

  14. Ed says:

    We have a fairly good shot at finding some sort of microbial life in our solar system in the next few years. It will be interesting to see how the literalists retool their theology.

    They can try to dance around that by claiming: ‘Well, yeah, no problem with bacteria and moss and such, because they don’t have souls.”

    But that approach would really open them up to problems. If the miracle isn’t life — which may be a natural occurrence that happens all over the universe — but it’s our possession of souls, then that’s the Catholic position. They have no problem with evolution whatsoever.

  15. Bacteria aren’t mentioned in the Bible. Therefore they are not a created kind of life.

  16. You mean Adam didn’t have to name all the bacteria? He must have been happy about that.

  17. retiredsciguy

    Deklane pointed out, “Well, this is ICR, not the Discoveroids.”

    Correct. I apologize for my error, which somewhat sidetracked this thread. The point I was trying to make is that our religious views tend to be quite geocentric — probably because at the time most of our religions were taking shape, humans had no idea that other worlds existed, not even in our own solar system. I wonder if fundamentalists ever contemplate why God didn’t tell us about them in the Bible?

  18. Gabriel Hanna

    It doesn’t matter if it’s ICR or not–I made the same mistake. Gonzales is invoking the ostensibly scientific position that no intelligent designers would have made life on that planet. That doesn’t make any sense to me. It was totally unnecessary to make any empirical prediction at all. They could have just criticized the scientists for speculating without evidence, or said that any life found anywhere would be found to be intelligently designed.