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Extraterrestrials: Looking back a decade on “Are we alone?”

Remember Templeton Prize-winning astronomer Martin Rees? Looking back at what speculative cosmology was like a decade ago, I ran into this opinion piece he wrote in 2003 on why the fact that we never hear from space aliens doesn’t mean anything. A couple of remarks stood out, especially,

Any claims that advanced life is widespread must, of course, confront the famous question posed by the great physicist Enrico Fermi: “Why aren’t the aliens here?” Why haven’t they visited Earth already, or at least manifested their existence in a way that leaves us in no doubt? This argument gains further weight when we realise that some stars are billions of years older than our sun: if life were common, its emergence should have had a head start on planets around these ancient stars.

green space alien

The Fermi paradox is not entirely compelling. Indeed, a recent book by Stephen Webb claims to offer 50 different counter-arguments. ET’s signal may simply have been missed, for example. Webb concludes the best option may be that we really are alone. But as often in science, opinions are most strongly polarised when evidence is minimal; we know far too little about how life began, even on Earth, to offer confident odds. Moreover, no matter how heavy the odds against finding it, searches for extraterrestrial intelligence are surely a worthwhile gamble because of the huge philosophical import of any detection.

A manifestly artificial signal – an ultra-narrow-band radio transmission, or a message as boring as a set of prime numbers or the digits of in binary notation – would convey the momentous message that intelligence, though not necessarily consciousness, is not unique to the Earth and has evolved elsewhere, and that concepts of logic and physics are not peculiar to the type of biological hardware contained within human skulls.

First, if fifty different counter-arguments are needed, the most likely situation is that we are indeed alone.

It rather reminds one of Albert Einstein’s comment, on hearing of a book called One Hundred Authors Against Einstein: “Why 100 authors? If I were wrong, then one would have been enough!

Second, why would we have any reason to believe that, absent space aliens, concepts of logic and physics are “peculiar to the type of biological hardware contained within human skulls.” Do two and two only make four because we think it’s true? Would gravity not exist if it had no impact on us?

The best argument for space aliens right now is the impact they seem to have on the minds of otherwise intelligent people. That is one of the things I learned from researching my recent series on cosmology. Unfortunately, even that does not seem to be a good enough argument; one could make the same claim for Bigfoot and the ghost of Lady Jane Grey.

See also:

What has materialism done for science?

Big Bang exterminator wanted, will train

Copernicus, you are not going to believe who is using your name. Or how.

“Behold, countless Earths sail the galaxies … that is, if you would only believe

Don’t let Mars fool you. Those exoplanets teem with life!

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27 Responses to Extraterrestrials: Looking back a decade on “Are we alone?”

  1. Actually the evidence for aliens is all around us. We are either too blind or too proud to acknowledge it. Many ancient societies worshiped them as gods: the ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Mayans, Aztecs, Greeks, Indians, Hebrews, etc., left plenty of evidence for this. Some of those aliens were total jerks, requiring frequent human sacrifices to appease their lust for blood.

    Christians and Jews should know better because Yahweh himself acknowledged the existence of other gods, claiming that he chose the house Israel for himself while the other gods chose other nations. Yahweh even passed judgement against the gods (elohim) of the land of Egypt. It’s obvious Yahweh was pissed at them and a severe butt-whipping was in order. Don’t look at me like that. It’s in the Bible. Many megalithic monuments from antiquity, given their sheer size (some of them weigh over a thousand tons!), defy explanation even to this day.

    So, for anyone to say that there is no evidence for aliens is to be willingly blind or to have a hidden agenda or something. Yahweh, too, is an alien God, since he is not human. He is the God of all the other alien gods.

    As an aside, why would advanced aliens use electromagnetic waves to communicate? The aliens have long ago figured out how to send messages instantly from anywhere to anywhere using non-local physics. We humans are still using EM waves because we are not very bright. It also amazes me how supposedly intelligent people think they can calculate the probability of aliens inhabiting other planets when they have only one example to work with, earth. Worse, they have no clue how life arose on earth. Duh.

  2. Anything that is intelligent but is not living on this planet is an extra-terrestrial intelligence, and that is what Intelligent Design proponents believe is the best explanation for life on Earth. But here you present a post that concludes there probably is no such thing as extra-terrestrial intelligence! Looks like you’ve figured out that ID was wrong after all, huh?

    Cheers,
    RDFish

    P.S. Mapou, you are so entertaining!

  3. a few notes:

    Interestingly, when Dr. Ross factors in the probability for ‘simple’ bacterial life randomly happening in this universe, which is necessary for more advanced life to exist on any planet in the first place, the probability for a planet which can host life explodes into gargantuan proportions:

    Does the Probability for ETI = 1?
    Excerpt: In another book I wrote with Fuz, Who Was Adam?, we describe calculations done by evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala and by astrophysicists John Barrow, Brandon Carter, and Frank Tipler for the probability that a bacterium would evolve under ideal natural conditions—given the presumption that the mechanisms for natural biological evolution are both effective and rapid. They determine that probability to be no more than 10-24,000,000.
    The bottom line is that rather than the probability for extraterrestrial intelligent life being 1 as Aczel claims, very conservatively from a naturalistic perspective it is much less than 10^500 + 22 -1054 -100,000,000,000 -24,000,000. That is, it is less than 10-100,024,000,532. In longhand notation it would be 0.00 … 001 with 100,024,000,531 zeros (100 billion, 24 million, 5 hundred and thirty-one zeros) between the decimal point and the 1. That longhand notation of the probability would fill over 20,000 complete Bibles. (As far as scientific calculations are concerned, determining how close a probability is to zero, only Penrose’s 1 in 10^10^123 calculation, for the initial phase-space of the universe, is closer)
    http://www.reasons.org/does-probability-eti-1

    Dr. Ross points out that the extremely long amount of time it took to prepare a suitable place for humans to exist in this universe, for the relatively short period of time that we can exist on this planet, is actually a point of evidence that argues strongly for Theism:

    Hugh Ross – The Anthropic Principle and The Anthropic Inequality – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/8494065/

    Anthropic Principle: A Precise Plan for Humanity By Hugh Ross
    Excerpt: Brandon Carter, the British mathematician who coined the term “anthropic principle” (1974), noted the strange inequity of a universe that spends about 15 billion years “preparing” for the existence of a creature that has the potential to survive no more than 10 million years (optimistically).,, Carter and (later) astrophysicists John Barrow and Frank Tipler demonstrated that the inequality exists for virtually any conceivable intelligent species under any conceivable life-support conditions. Roughly 15 billion years represents a minimum preparation time for advanced life: 11 billion toward formation of a stable planetary system, one with the right chemical and physical conditions for primitive life, and four billion more years toward preparation of a planet within that system, one richly layered with the biodeposits necessary for civilized intelligent life. Even this long time and convergence of “just right” conditions reflect miraculous efficiency.
    Moreover the physical and biological conditions necessary to support an intelligent civilized species do not last indefinitely. They are subject to continuous change: the Sun continues to brighten, Earth’s rotation period lengthens, Earth’s plate tectonic activity declines, and Earth’s atmospheric composition varies. In just 10 million years or less, Earth will lose its ability to sustain human life. In fact, this estimate of the human habitability time window may be grossly optimistic. In all likelihood, a nearby supernova eruption, a climatic perturbation, a social or environmental upheaval, or the genetic accumulation of negative mutations will doom the species to extinction sometime sooner than twenty thousand years from now.
    http://christiangodblog.blogsp.....chive.html

    At least one scientist is far more pessimistic about the ‘natural’ future lifespan of the human race than 20,000 years:

    Humans will be extinct in 100 years says eminent scientist – June 2010
    http://www.physorg.com/news196489543.html

    Related note:

    The Place of Life and Man in Nature: Defending the Anthropocentric Thesis – Michael J. Denton – February 25, 2013
    Summary (page 11)
    Many of the properties of the key members of Henderson’s vital ensemble —water, oxygen, CO2, HCO3 —are in several instances fit specifically for warm-blooded, air-breathing organisms such as ourselves. These include the thermal properties of water, its low viscosity, the gaseous nature of oxygen and CO2 at ambient temperatures, the inertness of oxygen at ambient temperatures, and the bicarbonate buffer, with its anomalous pKa value and the elegant means of acid-base regulation it provides for air-breathing organisms. Some of their properties are irrelevant to other classes of organisms or even maladaptive. It is very hard to believe there could be a similar suite of fitness for advanced carbon-based life forms. If carbon-based life is all there is, as seems likely, then the design of any active complex terrestrial being would have to closely resemble our own. Indeed the suite of properties of water, oxygen, and CO2 together impose such severe constraints on the design and functioning of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems that their design, even down to the details of capillary and alveolar structure can be inferred from first principles. For complex beings of high metabolic rate, the designs actualized in complex Terran forms are all that can be. There are no alternative physiological designs in the domain of carbon-based life that can achieve the high metabolic activity manifest in man and other higher organisms.
    http://bio-complexity.org/ojs/.....O-C.2013.1

    The Privileged Planet – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnWyPIzTOTw

    Privileged Planet – Observability Correlation – Gonzalez and Richards – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5424431

    The very conditions that make Earth hospitable to intelligent life also make it well suited to viewing and analyzing the universe as a whole.
    – Jay Richards

    The scientific evidence clearly indicates the earth is extremely unique in this universe in its ability to support life. These facts are rigorously investigated and cannot be dismissed out of hand as some sort of glitch in accurate information. Here materialism can offer no competing theory of blind chance which can offset the overwhelming evidence for the earth’s apparent intelligent design which enables her to host complex life. A materialist can only assert we are extremely ‘lucky’. This is some kind of fantastic luck materialists believe. The odds of another life-supporting earth ‘just so happening’ in this universe (1 in 10^1054 : H. Ross) are not even remotely as good as the odds a blind man would have in finding one pre-selected grain of sand, which has been hidden in all vast expanses of deserts and beaches of the world, with only one try, and then the blind man repeatedly finding the grain of sand, first time every time, several times over!

    Isaiah 45:18-19
    For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens, who is God, who formed the earth and made it, who established it, who did not create it in vain, who formed it to be inhabited: “I am the Lord, and there is no other. I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth; I did not say to the seed of Jacob, ‘seek me in vain’; I, the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.”

  4. RDFish,

    extra-terrestrial intelligence, and that is what Intelligent Design proponents believe is the best explanation for life on Earth

    It was Dr.Richard Dawkin’s who said ET explains life on Earth! (check out ‘Expelled’ documentary)

  5. Hi selvaRajan,

    No, Dawkins said it’s possible that life on Earth came from life on another planet. Francis Crick seriously considered the possibility too. And of course Intelligent Design Theory proposes that extra-terrestrial intelligence best explains life on Earth. But as the OP here points out, given our failure to find any hint of intelligence anywhere except among the biological organisms right here on Earth, Intelligent Design theory is quite likely to be wrong.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  6. First, if fifty different counter-arguments are needed, the most likely situation is that we are indeed alone.

    No.

    One could just as easily say that if there are fifty different counter-arguments, then perhaps the first argument wasn’t really that persuasive after all.

    This OP is another example of News pushing the view that there isn’t other life out there. There is no rational basis for that assumption.

    Think of it this way:

    If life is designed, as presumably many on this site, including News, think, then why on Earth (pun intended) would we think that the designers would limit themselves to just one planet? That is about as rational as saying that if we discover one ancient wall painting in some ruins but don’t see any others, then we should assume that the painters only painted one painting.

  7. The book of Genesis speaks of the Nephilim who were, some believe, the giant offsprings of the Bene Elohim (sons of the gods) who thought that human females were hot and had sex with them. If that passage in Genesis was correctly interpreted (who really knows?), this means that some of those alien gods were human enough to ravish our beautiful women and copulate with them. How dared they? I hope Yahweh kicked their butts. :-D

  8. There are no ET because the fall by man would of unjustly affected them as the univewrse shows its affected by the fall. Then the bible stresses Gods spirit came over the earth to give biological life.

    The thing about ET proponents should be their suggestion the ET could show us videos of all happenings on earth ever. They must be recording us for school projects etc but not interfering like on Star Trek.

    If ETS are here then as a option any accused person can invoke them. A eT stole this or that and not me despite being the only one in the room JUDGE.

    do ET believers really walk around thinking intelligent life out there is OUT THERE?!
    It must be a weird feeling!
    Like when creationists ponder why evolutionists think we came from bacteria and might be evolving back to it! !!

  9. The Urantia Papers, the 5th divine revelation of epochal significance for us humanity, affirms that we live in a partially quarantined planet & therefore there is not interplanetary communication from other planet w/ us. (…)


    .LM., 29, Mexico City

  10. The best argument for space aliens right now is the impact they seem to have on the minds of otherwise intelligent people.

    No, I think the best argument for extraterrestrials right now is the weight of accumulated physical evidence and thousands of cases of credible eye-witness and first-hand experience testimony from what would otherwise be taken as utterly unimpeachable sources.

  11. BTW, the offhand and prejudicial dismissal of what is a rather large body of credible physical and testimonial evidence for the existence of ETs, including the work of many scientists (“… otherwise intelligent people ..”), is no different than how others might dismiss “otherwise intelligent people” who have had their “minds impacted” by ID arguments and evidence, or who have had their “otherwise intelligent minds impacted” by evidence and testimony for the existence of God.

    The author’s a priori bias against the existence of ET’s is apparently showing.

  12. As to the Intelligence that is required to have encoded the information in biological life (Dembki, Marks, Conservation of Information, evo.info.com), should not the fact that Information itself is immaterial by nature at least hint to the fact that the Intelligence that encoded that immaterial information must ultimately also be immaterial to?

    “One of the things I do in my classes, to get this idea across to students, is I hold up two computer disks. One is loaded with software, and the other one is blank. And I ask them, ‘what is the difference in mass between these two computer disks, as a result of the difference in the information content that they posses’? And of course the answer is, ‘Zero! None! There is no difference as a result of the information. And that’s because information is a mass-less quantity. Now, if information is not a material entity, then how can any materialistic explanation account for its origin? How can any material cause explain it’s origin?
    And this is the real and fundamental problem that the presence of information in biology has posed. It creates a fundamental challenge to the materialistic, evolutionary scenarios because information is a different kind of entity that matter and energy cannot produce.
    In the nineteenth century we thought that there were two fundamental entities in science; matter, and energy. At the beginning of the twenty first century, we now recognize that there’s a third fundamental entity; and its ‘information’. It’s not reducible to matter. It’s not reducible to energy. But it’s still a very important thing that is real; we buy it, we sell it, we send it down wires.
    Now, what do we make of the fact, that information is present at the very root of all biological function? In biology, we have matter, we have energy, but we also have this third, very important entity; information. I think the biology of the information age, poses a fundamental challenge to any materialistic approach to the origin of life.”
    -Dr. Stephen C. Meyer earned his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of science from Cambridge University for a dissertation on the history of origin-of-life biology and the methodology of the historical sciences.

    Is There Evidence of Something Beyond Nature? – John Lennox – semiotic information – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6rd4HEdffw

    Dr. Werner Gitt, starting around the 2:00 minute mark of the following video, touches on how using the infinite regress argument from immaterial information confirms Theism:

    Dr.Werner Gitt Ph.D.”In The Beginning was Information” Part 3 of 3 – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWZpG0ye8KI

    Moreover, we can go one ‘scientific’ step further and actually produce emprical evidence for beyond space and time (immaterial) Quantum Information/Entanglement in life. Quantum Information/Entanglement that cannot possibly be reduced to a ‘local’, within space and time, cause!

    Quantum Information/Entanglement In DNA – Elisabeth Rieper – short video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5936605/

    etc.. etc..

    Quantum information, like matter and energy, is a physical resource:

    Quantum Entanglement and Information
    Quantum entanglement is a physical resource, like energy, associated with the peculiar nonclassical correlations that are possible between separated quantum systems. Entanglement can be measured, transformed, and purified. A pair of quantum systems in an entangled state can be used as a quantum information channel to perform computational and cryptographic tasks that are impossible for classical systems. The general study of the information-processing capabilities of quantum systems is the subject of quantum information theory.
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qt-entangle/

    It is very interesting to note that quantum entanglement, which conclusively demonstrates that ‘information’ in its pure ‘quantum form’ is completely transcendent of any time and space constraints, should be found in molecular biology on such a massive scale, for how can the quantum entanglement ‘effect’ in biology possibly be explained by a material (matter/energy) ’cause’ when the quantum entanglement ‘effect’ falsified material particles as its own ‘causation’ in the first place? (A. Aspect, A. Zeilinger) Appealing to the probability of various configurations of material particles, as Darwinism does, simply will not help since a timeless/spaceless cause must be supplied which is beyond the capacity of the material particles themselves to supply! To give a coherent explanation for an effect that is shown to be completely independent of any time and space constraints one is forced to appeal to a cause that is itself not limited to time and space! i.e. Put more simply, you cannot explain a effect by a cause that has been falsified by the very same effect you are seeking to explain! Improbability arguments of various ‘special’ configurations of material particles, which have been a staple of the arguments against neo-Darwinism, simply do not apply since the cause is not within the material particles in the first place! Whereas, unlike materialistic atheists who have no cause to appeal to, I, as a Christian Theist, have a beyond space and time cause that I can appeal to!

    John 1:1-4
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

    Music:

    ROYAL TAILOR – HOLD ME TOGETHER – music video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbpJ2FeeJgw

  13. 13

    If life is designed, as presumably many on this site, including News, think, then why on Earth (pun intended) would we think that the designers would limit themselves to just one planet? That is about as rational as saying that if we discover one ancient wall painting in some ruins but don’t see any others, then we should assume that the painters only painted one painting

    Eric,
    I agree with you. I suspect that life exists only on Earth, but that’s just my gut feeling. Indeed, if life on other planets IS eventually discovered, I’m afraid it will be a big PR setback for ID, many people will say, see, life just arises naturally given the right conditions. But it will not really be a logical setback for ID, so I don’t think we should ally ourselves too closely to the belief that we are alone, we might be wrongon that.

  14. F/N: The above is thought-provoking. The real question is, given the notorious challenges of getting to FSCO/I on blind chance and mechanical necessity why is there a known planet with C-Chemistry aqueous medium cell based life that uses digitally coded genetic information? And, from what that tells us, what could that suggest or imply about other such possible planets etc. In short, if life here is on evidence best explained as designed, probabilities on odds is the wrong approach, the issue is whether designers of life here might want to design similar forms elsewhere. As decision theory tells us, if we are dealing with intelligence the issue is intent not odds on blind necessity. And in context, if advanced cultures are using spread spectrum coded techniques we will never spot their comms in the midst of the noise. Assuming that they are using e-m techniques. As for galactic colonisation explosions, the Drake eqn does raise an issue, but I doubt that advanced ETs of sufficient technology to visit us across interstellar distances, would be detectable by us save as they wish to be known. And no, we do not need to put a henotheistic-ET reading on OT and other early traditions. KF

  15. Dr. Sewell, you may appreciate this recent article:

    William Lane Craig on the unexpected applicability of mathematics to nature – 11/13/13
    http://winteryknight.wordpress.....to-nature/

    along that line, I recently found this quote by Dr. Berlinski

    An Interview with David Berlinski – Jonathan Witt
    Berlinski: There is no argument against religion that is not also an argument against mathematics. Mathematicians are capable of grasping a world of objects that lies beyond space and time ….
    Interviewer:… Come again(?) …
    Berlinski: No need to come again: I got to where I was going the first time. The number four, after all, did not come into existence at a particular time, and it is not going to go out of existence at another time. It is neither here nor there. Nonetheless we are in some sense able to grasp the number by a faculty of our minds. Mathematical intuition is utterly mysterious. So for that matter is the fact that mathematical objects such as a Lie Group or a differentiable manifold have the power to interact with elementary particles or accelerating forces. But these are precisely the claims that theologians have always made as well – that human beings are capable by an exercise of their devotional abilities to come to some understanding of the deity; and the deity, although beyond space and time, is capable of interacting with material objects.
    http://tofspot.blogspot.com/20.....-here.html

  16. Red rain cells from space: extraterrestrial life replicates on Earth with no DNA:

    http://science.discovery.com/t…..d-rain.htm

  17. If the completely credible testimony (backed by documented evidence) of what would otherwise be accepted as unimpeachable sources counts for evidence, the existence of ETs has already been proven beyond any reasonable doubt.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkswXVmG4xM

  18. The reason that some in the ID camp resist the notion of finding living organisms on other planetary bodies is that such a finding would bolster the materialist claim (wishful thinking, really) that life can spring from dirt all by itself and that such organisms should be common throughout the universe. Of course, this would not count as evidence for their claim that dirt can self-organize into living cells. No amount of dirt-worship can change that.

    However, if primitive ET life is found and they happen to use the same DNA proteins as life on earth, it would be very hard to prove that it did not come from earth. It is easy to imagine that ancient collisions between comets and earth might have jettisoned enough organic material from earth and that such material might have eventually made it to other bodies in the solar system. After all, we have found meteorites on earth that came from Mars. Besides, why would ET life use the same building blocks as life on earth? Is there a law that that says this is the way it must be?

    Note that finding life outside the solar system is much more problematic, however. Such far away life would have to be very advanced for us to find their signature. Those brave SETI souls are wasting their time, in my opinion. My personal opinion is that advanced ETs are here already and they’ve been here for a long time.

  19. If ET life used the same building blocks as life on earth, that fact tells us nothing about how that life came to be. But it could be s strong indicator that the same designer created it according to the designer’s own rules, needs, whims, toolbox, etc.

  20. EJR, excellent point.

  21. If the earth is special, and man is special, why would God create so many other habitable planets?

  22. Mung:

    If the earth is special, and man is special, why would God create so many other habitable planets?

    Probably for the same reason that they created the trilobites in the Cambrian and later, the dinosaurs, and allowed (or caused) them to become extinct. They were either having fun or were experimenting or both. It seems that, according to the book of Genesis, they decided to create man in their image after everything else was created.

    As an aside, if I remember correctly, the apostle Paul believed that there were other worlds besides this one.

  23. William. J .Murray
    There is as much a “large body of credible physical and testimonial evidence…” for ets as there is for biological evolution!!!
    Exactly the same body of mass.
    why do people think there is heaps of evidence where there is none?!

  24. 25

    Thanks BA77, that is a nice quote from Berlinski.

  25. #23,

    There’s plenty of evidence for biological evolution, there’s just no evidence that it is Darwinistic in nature.

    I’ve never heard of any scientist claiming to have personally observed any Darwinistic macroevolutionary events. The link I provided has a video of several (with scores more available) retired military officials, some quite high-ranking, with documentation, credibly testifying that they have personally encountered living and dead ETs in the course of their official duties.

  26. kf @13:

    In short, if life here is on evidence best explained as designed, probabilities on odds is the wrong approach, the issue is whether designers of life here might want to design similar forms elsewhere. As decision theory tells us, if we are dealing with intelligence the issue is intent not odds on blind necessity.

    Exactly. Well said.

    —–

    Robert Byers @8:

    So the atonement isn’t an infinite atonement after all? Strange Christian doctrine that. I think we are all aware that you are using a philosophical/religious argument. That is precisely the kind of argument we do not want tied to ID. You are of course free to have that viewpoint, let’s just make it clear that it has nothing whatsoever to do with ID. (Nor is it a very good religious argument, but that is another story.)

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