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NASA’s Big Announcement: Much ado about, nothing much

Once again we are being told that astrobiologists have discovered life in outer space. Well, that’s not really what we are being told. Like everything and everyone else that embraces Darwinian Theory, these scientists often hype the flash with little or no substance following. This is not the first time these so-called scientists have ventured out on the proverbial limb of “wishful thinking passing for science.” It is exactly one and one half hours until the scheduled 2pm NASA news conference, and already cyberspace is abuzz with the fall out from the Associated Press’s (AP, 2010) story entitled “Has NASA discovered life in outer space? Scientists say no, but an unusual news conference is planned.” How would George Orwell characterize this news story?  Just some more doublespeak from our friends at NASA.

Sometimes it appears that the entire race into space had one goal in mind, to discover extraterrestrial life. It all began very innocently, or so we thought. Search for water, because life (as we know it) requires water and, as every evolutionist knows, the formula for life is just add water and mix for a very long, long time. Perhaps for a couple of hundred million years. Well, I guess that was just another oversimplification, or was it? As recently as this past November, Science magazine published an article concerning liquid water found on the surface of Mars. True to form, Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor said, “Liquid water seems plausible, quite reasonable. If so, life might – just might – be holding out a bit beneath the surface of the martian artic” (Kerr, 2010).  I rest my case.

Most people can remember the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project. This is the collective name for a number of activities people undertake to search for intelligent extraterrestrial life. It was the inspiration for the very ambitious Robert Zemeckis movie entitled Contact. The movie was based upon a novel by, none other than the poster-boy for life in outer space, Carl Sagan. SETI projects use scientific methods to search for electromagnetic transmissions from civilizations on distant planets. The SETI project dates all the back to 1960 when Cornell University astronomer, Frank Drake, performed the first modern SETI experiment, named “Project Ozma,” after the Queen of Oz in L. Frank Baum's fantasy books (Time Magazine, 1960). 

By 1971, NASA was funding the SETI project that involved Drake and some hefty corporate funding.  Project Cyclops incorporated 1,500 satellite dishes, and a price tag of 10 billion USD, to search the heavens for signs of life. The OSU SETI program gained fame on August 15, 1977 when Jerry Ehman, a project volunteer, witnessed a startlingly strong signal received by the telescope. He quickly circled the indication on a printout and scribbled the phrase “Wow!” in the margin. This signal, dubbed the Wow! Signal, is considered by some (the evolutionary faithful of course) to be the most likely candidate from an artificial, extraterrestrial source ever discovered. No one bothers to admit that in the ensuring years, and following numerous searches in the same location, the signal has never been detected again!
In 1979, evidently encouraged by the never heard again Wow! Signal, the University of California at Berkley jumped on the SETI bandwagon with the “Search for Extraterrestrial Radio Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations (SERENDIP).” In 1986, UC Berkeley initiated their second SETI effort, SERENDIP II, and has continued with four more SERENDIP efforts to the present day.   

Fast-forward to the early 1980’s and now you have, in 1981, a portable spectrum analyzer named “Suitcase SETI” that had a capacity of 131,000 narrow band channels. Even 131,000 channels weren’t enough to search the sky in detail at a fast rate, so Suitcase SETI was followed in 1985 by Project “META,” (and META II) for “Megachannel Extra-Terrestrial Assay.” The fact that these hi-tech systems failed to produce any evidence of life beyond the atmosphere of planet Earth did not deter these alien-hunting astrobiologists. The follow-up to META was named “BETA,” for “Billion-channel Extra-Terrestrial Assay,” and it commenced observation on October 30, 1995. On March 23, 1999, tragedy struck the 26-meter radio telescope on which Sentinel, META, and BETA were based. The structure was blown over by strong winds and seriously damaged. This forced the BETA project to cease operation.

Not to worry, MOP and Project Phoenix to the rescue!
That’s right. With the demise of the SETI project (and after nearly 30 years of abject failure to produce any evidence of life in outer space, with the exception of the never to be heard again Wow! Signal) the U.S. government stepped in and funded the 1992 operational SETI program in the form of the NASA Microwave Observing Program (MOP). MOP drew the attention of the U.S. Congress where the program was ridiculed and canceled a year after its start. SETI advocates continued without government funding and, in 1995, the nonprofit SETI Institute of Mountain View, California resurrected the MOP program under the name of “Project Phoenix,” backed by private sources of funding.  Therefore, SETI lives on, despite the utter failure of this technology to yield any substantive results.

Never fear, the Fermi paradox is here
By this time, you might be asking yourself, “Why-oh-why do these astrobiologists (and others) persist with their overly optimistic view that eventually ET will finally phone home (sic)?” The answer can be found in the logic of the Fermi paradox. What exactly is the Fermi paradox? It was the result of a 1950 discussion with physicist Enrico Fermi. In 1975, astrophysicist Michael Hart wrote a paper containing a more detailed discussion of the implications of the Fermi paradox, sometimes referred to as the Fermi-Hart paradox (Wesson, 1990).

It is a set of seemingly logical precepts concerning the existence of extraterrestrial life. The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations (in the minds of evolutionary scientists) and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations. These precepts are based entirely on a fallacious premise, i.e. that there must be life somewhere in the vast unchartered regions of outer space. Here is the Fermi paradox in a nutshell:

The size and age of the universe incline us to believe that many technologically advanced civilizations must exist. However, this belief seems logically inconsistent with our lack of observational evidence to support it. Either:

(1) The initial assumption is incorrect and technologically advanced intelligent life is much rarer than we believe, or

(2) Our current observations are incomplete and we simply have not detected them yet, or

(3) Our search methodologies are flawed and we are not searching for the correct indicators.

Have you noticed the flaw? There is nothing in this paradox that allows for the possibility that life simply does not exist in outer space. Fermi states, life might exist, but the smart aliens are too rare for us to discover or we just haven’t  looked in the right place yet or we are not doing it correctly or fill in the blank yourself any old reason will do.  Bottom line, according to Fermi and those who endorse his paradox, life exists in outer space, period!  End of discussion.

I have a sneaking suspicion those meteorite bacteria are making a comeback
Don’t quote me on this just yet, it’s still  20 minutes before the much heralded NASA “we’ve found life in outer space, not really,” press conference. Could we be on the verge of yet another hitch-hiking space microbe story? Does anyone remember the Mars microbe fossil that wasn’t? The existence of microbes that are extremely resilient in both extreme hot and extreme cold temperatures are the basis for speculation concerning the ability of microorganisms to survive in outer space. Now it is after the NASA news conference, and guess what? I was right. It’s all about microbes that can thrive, not in cold or hot, but by ingesting toxic substances, arsenic to be specific.

Alien life has been with us all along, right here on planet Earth!
Well that’s the big announcement from the people at NASA.  That’s right, since we cannot find any real evidence of aliens in outer space; we can just identify these “little green” bacteria (not men) right here on planet earth.  After a two-year study at California's Mono Lake, near Yosemite National Park, Wolfe-Simon found that a bug will grow in the presence of the toxic chemical arsenic when only slight traces of phosphorous are present (Brandon, 2010).  This is, if you believe those folks at NASA, very important because this is the only organism that substitutes a poison for phosphorus.   

However, is this really news? Is it worthy of all the publicity that NASA has generated? Here’s the bottom line as to why they are all so excited. Dimitar Sasselov, an astrobiologist who leads the Origins of Life Initiative at Harvard University and evidently one of the biggest cheerleaders for this discovery says, “The possibility that Earth-life biochemistry is not universal is a transformational concept. It fills the search [for alien life] with optimism. NASA is moving in a good overall direction. What is needed is to take alternatives for life’s chemistry to heart and fund research work better.” Arsenic is poisonous to nearly all forms of life on earth. Even small amounts of the poison become embedded in living tissue, causing liver failure and ultimately death -- in nearly everything BUT these bacteria.

Oh well, that settles it. Life in outer space must exist because we have life here on earth, some of which is incredibly resilient and, in this case, immune to a normally poisonous substance. Why didn’t these same scientists present other chemolithotrophic bacteria that have been found to exist in nature? One such research paper reported extensive bacterial growth observed when copper sulfide ores were leached with 0.6 N sulfuric acid (Va´Squez & Espejo, 1997).  I think that H2SO4, a.k.a. sulfuric acid, is pretty toxic to most life; however, God did create life to be resilient.  It is His plan that living things “be fruitful and multiply.”

If the truth be known, some of the most resilient living organisms are found in the realm of microbiology.  Alcanivorax borkumensis is a rod-shaped bacterium that relies on oil to provide it with energy. In 2007 American Scientific magazine asked “Are Aliens Among Us?”  (Davis, 2007). This is nothing new at all, so the all the hype from NASA is just that… more extraterrestrial propaganda from the people who need evermore taxpayer dollars to fuel their quest for life beyond the confines of planet Earth.

Make no mistake about this; evolutionary scientists will continue to see evidence where none exists.  They will continue to make announcements that are mostly flash and very little substance. Like the evolutionary story of molecules-to-men, astrobiologists simply assume extraterrestrial life exists. They assume many things, and today they have assumed that life exists, unusual and exotic life, but life nonetheless. Right here, right now. So the next time you see some mold, or some other representative from the world of microbiology, perhaps you should ask it to “take me to your leader.”  Just don’t hold you breathe waiting for a response.

Submitted by Steven Rowitt, Th.M., Ph.D. (c)
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