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Strong artificial life research is often thought to rely on Alife systems as sources of novel empirical data. It is hoped that by augmenting our observations of natural life, this novel data can help settle empirical questions, and thereby separate fundamental properties of living systems from those aspects that are merely contingent on the idiosyncrasies of terrestrial evolution. Some authors have questioned whether this approach can be pursued soundly in the absence of a prior, agreed-upon definition of life. Here we compare Alife's position to that of more orthodox empirical tools that nevertheless suffer from strong theory-dependence. Drawing on these examples, we consider what kind of justification might be needed to underwrite artificial life as empirical enquiry.