Monday, 14 September 2020

Terrible News for Creationists - Signs of Life on Another Planet

Venus in real colors, processed from Mariner 10 images.
Image credit: Mattias Malmer / NASA.
Phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus | Nature Astronomy

Creationists have been putting all their eggs in one basket and telling their credulous dupes that the possibility of living organisms arising by natural processes on Earth are so low as to be impossible - so they should conclude that it must have been created by the Christian god exactly as the Bible says.

Now it seems their egg basket may have been kicked over by science. Leaving aside the false dichotomy fallacy in their non sequitur of an argument, the discovery that there may be life in the atmosphere of Venus blows their big scary number tactic out of the water. If it could have happened on Venus it could happen on Earth.

And they still face the prospect of signs of life, either now or in the past, in the soil of Mars and maybe in the waters on some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn!

The announcement today (and rumoured now for several days) is that an international team led by Jane Greves of the School of Physics and Astronomy, Cardiff University, Wales, UK believe they have found evidence of phosphine in Venus' atmosphere. Their paper announcing their discovery was published today in Nature Astronomy. Phosphine can only be produced in two ways - in special laboratories or by some species of anaerobic bacteria. So confident are scientists that this is the only way phosphine can be made that its presence is taken as a definitive indicator of the presence of living organisms. It is the tell-tale signature of life that astronomers looking for life on exoplanets try to detect.

A schematic representation summarizing the team’s ideas regarding the potential for microorganisms to survive in Venus’ lower clouds and contribute to the observed bulk spectra. In this scheme, the approximate altitude and temperatures are shown on the left axis, the approximate pressure on the right axis, while the surface topography represents an exaggerated perspective view of Venus. The cloud layer is depicted by a yellow-tinted hazy region between an altitude of 30 and 44 miles (47-72 km), where the varying opacities and thicknesses represent differences in mass loading. The black dots within the cloud layer depict the sulfuric acid aerosols with diameters ranging from 0.2 mm (which are found as high as 55 miles, or 90 km) to 2.5 mm and to as large as 36 mm (in smaller quantities) near the bottom of the cloud layer; aerosols below the cloud base have also been reported by the Venera probes. The hypothetical microbial contents of particles from the lower cloud layer are depicted in a magnified view using the dashed-line callout bubble, which shows differing possible microbial morphologies. These microorganisms may potentially survive by fixation of carbon dioxide through the phototrophic or chemolithotrophic oxidation of iron and sulfur compounds, and by a coupled iron-sulfur metabolism (depicted by the blue reaction scheme). The cloud-based microbial communities may remain afloat through gravity waves (red wavy line), which propagate up, and are triggered by westward ambient flows over the elevated topographies; gravity waves have been detected at the cloud tops in thermal infrared in the data from JAXA’s Akatsuki orbiter. Additionally, the convective activity of the lower cloud region may persist on the night side, thereby leading to opacity variations and differing thermal emissions through the cloud layer, as is observed in the near infrared in the data from Akatsuki and ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft. Consequently, the spectra of Venus may include contributions from the cloud-based microorganisms, as is depicted by the dashed-line callout originating from the magnified view of the particles; the inset spectral plot shows the albedo of Venus compiled from differing observations (red) and the sunlight absorption estimated by a singular measurement on the dayside (at one location), as calculated from the difference between the VIRA cloud model and the spectra from NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft. The absorption of sunlight may actually extend to much longer wavelengths based on muted contrasts observed by Akatsuki, which is consistent with the albedo variation with wavelength.
Image credit: Limaye et al, doi: 10.1089/ast.2017.1783."
If their measurements are correct, because phosphine should be quickly destroyed by the highly acidic conditions in Venus atmosphere, the quantities the scientists detected suggest it is being replenished at least as fast as it is being destroyed, and this indicates actively metabolising organisms.

What scientists will now do is try to explain the presence of phosphine some other way because science never takes any of its conclusions as definitive but they are always subject to review, revision and falsification. They will also scrutinise the methodology to see if it can be explained as an anomalous finding and they will try to replicate the method to see if they get the same result. In other words, they will try everything they can to falsify the finding scientifically.

What creationists will now do is try to explain away the facts or ignore them altogether. Their tactics will include any or all of the following:
  • Attack the scientists and impugn their motives.
  • Attack the methods.
  • Lie and misrepresent the findings.
  • Perform intellectual and theological contortions such as claiming that God could have created life on Venus too, although they will need to fine tune their fallacious 'fine-tuned' argument considerably.
  • Claim the Bible prophesied it and it is entirely in line with what the Bible says. This may or may not involve giving new meanings to words or inserting 'missing' passages. (The Bible doesn't mention bacteria or the atmosphere of Venus because there is nothing in the Bible that wasn't know or believed (usually wrongly) by the Bronze Age people who made it up)
  • Ignore it altogether or dismiss the facts as 'scientism', therefore just an alternative 'faith' system, therefore wrong.
  • Dismiss it as 'just a theory' which no-one has ever witnessed happening, therefore mere 'speculation'.
  • Try to project guilt onto those who mention it.

what they won't do is acknowledge that this refutes their 'impossible abiogenesis' argument and slams shut yet another gap in which they had tried to force-fit their favourite imaginary god. These will be interesting times and will reinforce the more paranoid conspiracy theorist creationists' belief that science is trying to overthrow their superstition, so we can expect Satan to be invoked regularly as they try to come to terms with the loss of another of their favourite 'gaps'.

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1 comment :

  1. You might be jumping the gun here. The news about Venus's atmosphere is exciting, and not completely unexpected since people had previously speculated about the possibility of life high in the Venusian atmosphere. However I still think it's probably a long shot. If I had to lay money, I'd put it on the phosphine being created by an abiological process we're just not aware of yet, much like the methane being produced on Mars. My hopes lie with a biological source, but I suspect it's unlikely.


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