Are We Alone In The Universe?

In general, I take a non-committal stance on the question of extraterrestrial life. Like nearly every other question entangled in religion and metaphysics, the question of humanity’s role in the universe is inevitably muddied by pop culture, mass ignorance of science and ulterior motive. It’s fine if UFO enthusiasts and little green men supporters want to believe that carbon-based biogenetics also happened to evolve metazoa capable of traveling to Earth in mechanical craft ala Newtonian means, but don’t say the facts of astronomy, physics or statistics support it!

I just spent about fifteen minutes looking for legitimate survey results to get a feel for the current level of belief in extraterrestrials. Nothing persuasive popped up, and the top results all mentioned the rather unconvincing 2002 Roper poll, funded by the SciFi Channel. One blogger claimed a Gallup poll had in fact been conducted, but this link to the Gallup web site says the page is unavailable. Most sites and figures I observed seemed to hover around two-thirds of Americans believing in extraterrestrial life. Other interpretations report one-third of Americans believe the government is hiding information about the UFO phenomenon. More liberal interpretations claim "most" Americans are psychologically and spiritually ready for an extraterrestrial encounter. All reports I observed revealed majority belief. I feel this is largely due to the proliferation of ET and paranormal themes in popular culture over the last decade in conjunction with the staggering scientific advancements of the last century.

Identified in the Star catalog by German astronomer Wilhelm Gliese (1915-1993), Gliese 581 (Wolf 562, HO Librae) is a red dwarf star just over twenty light years from Earth. The star hosts a series of planets, and its April 2007 discovery was the first time astronomers confirmed the existence of a low mass extrasolar planet relatively situated in its habitable zone. Although the current scientific consensus is that Gliese 581 C would suffer from a runaway greenhouse effect and not be amenable to life, discoveries like these lend themselves to bolstered claims of probability. Our Milky Way contains an approximated 200 billion stars; per the law of probability, it certainly appears plausible that a situation similar to Earth may exist, but the extent to which we develop our belief systems on this plausibility is another issue entirely.

Pop culture and even legitimate journalism can produce loose science writing, typified by misleading, unfairly-emphasized or undisputed statements. When a study is released to major media, there is a natural and inescapable level of anxiety on behalf of journalists to cover the story. Although fitting for the ambitious journalist, ulterior motives such as wanting to be the first or most controversial reporter to cover a story often have negative repercussions for the truth. Sure, headlines of "Life In A Test Tube?" or "Aliens In Government Bases" are virtually guaranteed to increase readership and newspaper sales, but are they ethically, socially or scientifically responsible?

Heard time and again in print, over the radio and on presumably educational TV programs, one popular line of reasoning goes something like this: In a universe full of billions upon billions of stars, galaxies and planets, is it not probable that there is life beyond Earth? However, especially in the absence of even a shred of non-anecdotal evidence, are these types of common statements ethically, socially or scientifically responsible?

Part of our belief in aliens and extraterrestrials that does not stem from Hollywood might stem from liberal interpretations of evolutionary theory. The twentieth century’s unprecedented progress in the hard sciences has certainly illuminated and arguably trivialized our view of life, and there’s been a common misconception for the past half-century or so that all you need for complex life is a handful of the right chemicals placed upon a rocky planet with water situated about yeah far from a local host star, best expressed by the common phrase, "If life could get started here, couldn’t it get started somewhere else?

The idea is not too repulsive philosophically, but scientifically, we still have no clue how life got started on Earth. If you’ll allow me to break another cardinal rule of accurate reporting (avoiding all-inclusives), I’m fairly confident there is still no theory that can credibly account for the huge leap from inorganic matter to the first replicator, or the sudden and mass proliferation of biological forms in the Cambrian. As much as we think we know, our knowledge is dwarfed by our ignorance, and the imminent success of scientists creating life in a laboratory asks as many questions as it answers, just like any other valid scientific success story.

Evolution can explain how pre-existing biological organisms evolve, but at least in our solar system, biological organisms are apparently the newcomers on the universal scene, and who can say from whence they came? If we don’t know how it happened here, what qualifies us to say conclusively whether it happened, is happening or can happen elsewhere? How do we know what to look for? If these beings travel from other galaxies, how much fuel do their craft use? If we posit antigravity as the means, how do the craft avoid asteroids and planetesimals?  Assuming the speed limit of light is still the universal speed limit, how fast do these antigravity craft travel? It is both obvious and expected that unanswered questions about these craft persist, and the difficulty in identifying a set of biochemical conditions in exoplanets we can’t even yet see or sample from should be apparent.

Like religious dogmatists, UFO enthusiasts rarely address such questions or attempt to frame their arguments in a scientific backdrop. In most of our UFO stories, basic facts and questions like these remain unanswered, and we are often told unilaterally that aliens exist. For every UFO or extraterrestrial enthusiast receiving national airtime with their speculations, we have millions of scientific laypeople completely unfamiliar with the extremely rare conditions that must be met to support life.

What do we need to get life going anyways? The full answer is beyond the scope of this piece, and although I’ll refrain from asking you to accept some statistical figure I pulled off the internet, suffice it to say that the odds against the development of complex life appear to be astronomical.

Central to the development of carbon-based life are the good old-fashioned planet and host star, and not just any planet and star, either. First we need the right type of star. Aged or variable stars (white dwarfs, red giants, Cepheid variables) won’t work. Further consensus states that life could only develop on a planet with a circular orbit around a metal-rich central host star. Two-thirds of the stars in the universe belong to binary or multiple systems, precluding such systems from the development of life. Of the remaining one-third, we would need a star about .8 – 1.25 solar masses to support life. If the star were smaller, its planet would orbit too close causing devastating tidal forces that would slow the planet’s rotation causing it to cook on one side, like Mercury. If the star were larger, it would burn out long before intelligent civilization could arise. The star must be appropriately sized, otherwise a runaway greenhouse effect or permanent ice-age results, and that’s if the planet even has water.

The planet also has precise requirements, and water appears to be primary. The planet has to be large enough to support an atmosphere and small enough to maintain correct gravity. To support the development of carbon-based life, the host planet must be about .8 – 1.25 the size of Earth’s mass or temperature variations would presumably halt the development of life within about 2 billion years. The planet must also have some mechanism for the preservation of carbon-dioxide, or else chain reactions resulting from the presence of water would deplete carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere. On Earth this occurs via plate tectonics and volcanic activity.

The solar system in which the planet and host star exist also has a set of prerequisites. Much of our universe and galaxy contains dead zones completely unhospitable to the development of complex life, and the positioning of the solar system relative to its galactic center is key. A galactic habitable zone also exists, as solar systems also orbit the center of barred spiral galaxies like ours. Just as the rocky planet must be within correct range from its host star, the host star must also be within correct range from its galactic center. The ability of a star to produce the metals necessary for complex life decreases with distance from the galactic center, and the prevalence of life threatening X and gamma ray radiation increases as we near the black hole at the center of our galaxy. If the solar system is too far out, not enough metal; if the solar system is too close, too much radiation. Also, within the solar system there cannot be large planets with elliptical orbits, because their perturbations would either eject or annihilate smaller planets. Conversely, it is thought that the solar system must contain large planets with circular orbits to act as buffers for asteroids and meteors that would otherwise strike with regularity causing mass extinctions much more often, but current evidence also suggests that gas giants like Jupiter may emit as much debris as they sweep.

These requirements could be extended ad nauseum, and I don’t expect you to take my word on any of it. For the serious student, I suggest review of the Rare Earth hypothesis and the Drake Equation as starting points. I include the above summary only to dispel with the mythical, unscientific wishful thinking so prevalent in pop culture. All our science to date suggests that the universe is not literally teeming with planets capable of supporting life. You’ll rarely ever hear questions or facts like these from UFO enthusiasts, but I feel fair and balanced reporting still has merit in science.

I think the general public has some deep-rooted misconceptions about space. Largely due to the enormous size of our universe, many people seem to view space with an "anything’s possible" attitude, but our universe is more than just emptiness interrupted by an occasional star here and there, and unyielding natural law doesn’t stop at the outer edge of Earth’s atmosphere. Of 287 known exoplanets to date, zero appear capable of supporting complex life.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with the idea that our universe might be populated with higher intelligences. I don’t have a problem from a religious or philosophical standpoint with the idea of God creating other life forms elsewhere in the universe. However, I often tell friends and acquaintances I don’t believe the UFO phenomena represents carbon-based life forms visiting Earth from other galaxies, and I’m far less convinced that unguided, carbon-based biogenetics also happened to evolve metazoa capable of traveling to Earth in mechanical craft ala Newtonian means. Quantum manipulation or time travel are far more appealing to me, and this wild speculation supports another wild speculation of mine which posits that these beings and craft are electromagnetic in origin, capable of metamorphisis or otherwise able to temporarily embody a physical form.

Science usually dispels myth; sometimes it takes longer than others, some myths survive longer than others, and sometimes science even introduces myths of its own, but by and large if we want to know the truth of some physical phenomenon we turn to hard scientific results. On the other hand, hard scientific results inevitably lend themselves to charlatans and by their very nature require human interpretation.

That’s where the room for error is, and I’d like to close this rambling abstract with a simple cautionary warning: When the question at hand involves science, always be skeptical of those who advance arguments in the absence of hard data.

*Milky Way rendering by CalTech’s R. Hurt, all other photos courtesy NASA

12 Comments

  1. Mind you this is AOL and it’s on UFOs but three things here first. One, aliens can only fly in what would many times be defined as a UFO so this would pertain to aliens as well since they need a mode of transportation. Two, AOL does not permit multiple voting, and three as seen in the numbers below, AOL is still quite popular statistic wise.
    On March 30, 2008, AOL ran the Capitola drone story in their ‘Weird News’ section. The question was, “Have you ever seen a UFO”? The response was as follows and taken from 397,120 individuals. 75% no and 25% yes.
    Again, and this time on November 13, 2007, AOL ran the story, “Ex-Pilots Call for New UFO Investigation”. This was that National Press Conference incident and also in their ‘Weird News’ section.
    The same question of “Have you ever seen a UFO”? was asked in that poll as well. The total that responded was 180,820. The results were 68% no and 32% had seen a UFO. There is a 7% drop then from November of 2007 to March 2008.
    One month previous to that on October 27, 2007, AOL ran the Kecksburg UFO story about Leslie Kean and her to do with NASA. They asked the question, “Have you ever seen a UFO?” The total that responded was 256,550. The results were 67% no and 33% had seen a UFO.
    One interesting statistic I did appreciate AOL for asking was, “Should the investigation be reopened” in regard to the ex-pilots and the National Press Conference article.
    Out of 175,116 polled, 86% said yes and 14% said no. There were over 6,000 posts in that article’s chat but just the same, the bulk were non-believers and these were the same individuals that responded to the poll.
    Another poll done during the Kecksburg article was titled, “Do you believe that intelligent life exists in the universe”? There were 267,804 that responded and from that total, 87% said yes and 13% said no.
    Now that last poll is the only single poll that interests me because the question is something that one would respond to truthfully – right? In a round-a-bout way, it’s a question that asks the individual about the possibility of UFOs while not expecting them believe or not. That’s why their response would be truthful where as it’s easy for someone to click, ‘yes’, I’ve seen a UFO or ‘no’ I don’t believe in UFOs. That 87% represents a lot of people who believe that there are extraterrestrials out there but I think sit in a slight degree of denial while not wanting to admit to or believe such could be in our airspace presently. It’s human nature to do that anyway, they need their safe spot – comfy spot, whatever you want to call it.
    Somewhat of a degree of entrenchment (in intelligent information about UFOs and aliens) is really required in order to attempt to step out of the theoretical box. Outside of dwelling in the subject and dismissing the garbage, which I agree there is a ton of, this leaves those who have had personal experiences with aliens such as myself.
    http://www.aliencasebook.com
    http://alienufoparanormal.aliencasebook.com
    http://aliencasebook.blogspot.com
    http://aliencases.conforums.com

  2. cl says:

    @ Atrueoriginal,
    Thanks for the data. That’s more comprehensive than the Sci-Fi poll by a mile, and better really than anything else I could find. I don’t disbelieve people who have had alien or paranormal encounters. I do tend to disbelieve that ‘aliens’ have actually traveled here from distant galaxies, but that’s just because I’ve yet to hear a convincingly plausible explanation for the mechanism of travel. Abstract appeals to ‘antigravity’ and ‘time travel’ may be the beginnings of hypotheses, but we need more. I’ll check out the sites you mention, for sure.

  3. I would like to invite you to visit the disclosure project website, as an alternative to this article.
    http://www.DisclosureProject.org
    It would be arrogant to think we have achieved all knowledge.
    It would be arrogant to believe also that none of the other civilisations out there didn’t achieve it. In 14 billions years, there is got to be one of them that achieved things we can only dream about.
    Richard Lalancette
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    http://RichardLalancette.Blogspot.com

  4. cl says:

    @ Richard,
    Thanks for stopping by. You wrote,

    It would be arrogant to think we have achieved all knowledge.

    I agree. That’s why I in the original piece, I wrote,

    As much as we think we know, our knowledge is dwarfed by our ignorance…

    You also wrote,

    It would be arrogant to believe also that none of the other civilisations out there didn’t achieve it.

    I agree in theory but object to the given premise. Either way, to this end I also wrote,

    I don’t have a problem with the idea that our universe might be populated with higher intelligences. I don’t have a problem from a religious or philosophical standpoint with the idea of God creating other life forms elsewhere in the universe.

    2 questions for you:
    1) The point of this post: When the question at hand involves science, we should always be skeptical of those who advance arguments in the absence of hard data. Agree or disagree?
    2) The Disclosure Project has quite a bit of info. What part of this post do you feel contradicts any information there?

  5. Jon S says:

    I personally don’t believe in aliens of any kind. From a Christian perspective there is nothing to lead me to believe God created aliens. God is the one who created man and the universe, and He speaks to us through scripture, which is void of any reference to aliens. I think that turns out to be a strong argument against a belief in aliens, although it’s not necessarily a scientific argument. In Genesis God reveals the origin of man and the universe, but there’s no mention of aliens. God created man in his image and made the earth for us. In Genesis 1:14-19 God made stars and planets to separate the day from the night and to serve as signs to mark the seasons and days and years. Therefore He didn’t create them to be home to other lifeforms or civilizations.
    Now having said that I think it would be fascinating if there were aliens. I love sci-fi and enjoy movies and books with aliens and space travel. But when reality sets in I accept that we are alone in the universe (although we’re not alone when one considers the heavenly realms, which does have angels, seraphim, etc). As was pointed out in the article, there’s no scientific evidence of alien life. The only real evidence I’ve ever heard is the philosophical argument that “with all the billions of stars and galaxies there must be one that supports life”. But such an argument removes God from the equation and only views the argument from a purely naturalistic and evolutionary assumption… if there’s no God, and we evolved, then surely other civilizations must have evolved too, right? I don’t buy arguments like this which tend to be arguments from emotion. In addition I’ve watched many programs on t.v that seem to support alien life, but I tend not to believe everything I see on t.v.
    As far as being arrogant to believe that no other civilization has achieved all knowledge, well, I don’t believe there are other civilizations, therefore no other civilization has attained all knowledge, and no civilization will ever attain all knowledge. And while it may be trendy to believe another civilization may have achieved things we can only dream about, I believe it’s only a rejection of God that would cause one to think such a civilization may exist. I think it would be arrogant to believe any civilization, whether real or fantasy, could achieve all knowledge. This isn’t arrogance, it’s simply my belief in God and His word.
    My last thought may sound contradictory. As I’ve stated I don’t believe in alien life based on my belief in God and the Bible, but I’ve always been intrigued by the thought that God could have created aliens if He chose to, and the one passage in the Bible that caught my attention is Matthew 3:9 and Luke 3:8 where we’re told that God could raise up children for Abraham out of stones. In other words God could wipe out man from the face of the earth, and from the stones he could produce descendants for Abraham. And I suppose that if God made descendants for Abraham on another planet, then there could be aliens. But this doesn’t seem to be reality, for we have no Biblical evidence that God did anything like this, although Christians, by faith, are considered Abraham’s descendants, even though we may not have Jewish ancestry, and in this sense God did raise up descendants for Abraham.

  6. cl says:

    @ JonS,
    You wrote,

    From a Christian perspective there is nothing to lead me to believe God created aliens. God is the one who created man and the universe, and He speaks to us through scripture, which is void of any reference to aliens. I think that turns out to be a strong argument against a belief in aliens…

    Scripture is also void of any reference to Felis catus. Does this turn out to be a strong argument against a belief in the common housecat?
    Also, you say that God made Earth for us, then in the very next sentence, you say,

    In Genesis 1:14-19 God made stars and planets to separate the day from the night and to serve as signs to mark the seasons and days and years. Therefore He didn’t create them to be home to other lifeforms or civilizations.

    Here’s an area where I think you have presumed to know the mind of God. Sure, Genesis might say the stars were created for markers, but disclosure of a single motive does not equal disclosure of all motives. Though God may have shared one reason for miracle X with you, how can you, a mere man, then presume to know what God did not do miracle X for? Honestly, it makes you look pompous, and feel free to call me on the same wherever you feel. How do you know God’s full motive for creating stars and planets?
    You have no problem with God creating Earth “for us,” but then you jump to the assumption that God did not do something similar elsewhere, “for them.” 1) I don’t think the conclusion flows from the premise; 2) The premise of planets being formed as markers and not for habitation seems contradictory to 1, and also seems unscientific. It seems contradictory because God clearly made at least one planet for habitation, and the notion seems unscientific because although stars are certainly construable as markers, no planet outside our solar system could possibly serve as a marker to the Israelites, because none are visible to the naked eye.
    And I object to your final line of reasoning, where you again raise this idea of biblical evidence. You seem to be of the opinion that if there is no mention of phenomenon X in scripture, then there is no biblical evidence for phenomenon X. Can you see the danger here, best expressed by our friend the housecat?
    Unless I’m misunderstanding them, I think your objections to extraterrestrials on religious grounds would be best left to purely religious grounds. It might be better to simply say you don’t believe. Trying to justify what was initially an intuitive, religious decision with logic or science invites trouble, but also invites clarity. In this case, attempts at logical justifications make the religious-based position appear confounded and afraid. You seem to apply your methodology where it suits you, then fail to see where the methodology fails. Housecats, which we can see, aren’t mentioned in the Bible, and this is a poor argument against housecats. Photons, which we can’t see, aren’t mentioned in the Bible, and this is a poor argument against photons. Aliens, which some claim to have seen, aren’t mentioned in the Bible. How, without an appeal to special pleading, does the fact of scriptural silence work only against aliens, but not housecats or photons?
    There are millions of things that are real that are not mentioned in scripture. If God could raise up descendants for Abraham out of rocks, clearly God could raise up descendants on another rocky planet.

  7. Jon S says:

    Chris: True, there’s no mention of cat in the Bible, but I think you missed my point. If we read through Genesis several times we can get an understanding of what God is telling us. Whole books have been written, but among the things we can determine is that this book is about our origins (mankind). Who are we and where do we come from? What’s our purpose and what’s the meaning of life? Who is God and what does He want from us? Why is there death and suffering in the world? Why is there marriage? Why are there stars and planets, etc. And if we read through the rest of the Bible we discover an even greater meaning: that it’s really all about Jesus and how he redeems his people and brings salvation for those who put their hope and trust in him through faith.
    Now you’re right about a number of things, such as we can’t know all of God’s motives, no planet outside of our solar system is visible to the human eye, and there’s no mention of a house cat in the Bible. All well and good. But lets concentrate on what God did tell us. I think we can get a better grasp on this issue if we know what he said than if we look at what’s missing and start chasing fantasies.
    If God did create aliens, this would raise certain issues: are they with or without sin? Did Adam’s sin bring the curse upon them too? Did Jesus also die for them? Would Jesus have to go to their planet and die there too? Can they be saved? Do they have souls? What is their relationship to us? Were they created in God’s image too? (not to mention all the scientific questions).
    So just because the Bible doesn’t mention aliens doesn’t mean that the Bible has no relevance to the issue. On the contrary every area of our lives should be Christ centered, and the Bible should be our firm foundation. Now the Bible does tell us why God created the stars and planets. Of course I don’t know the mind of God, except when He reveals his mind to us. So in those instances when He does reveal is will, then we do, in fact, know the mind or will of God. That’s not being pompous or arrogant; that’s acknowledging and accepting God and His word, which I view as humility. Now you’re supposing that since God didn’t tell us that other planets are or are not inhabited or inhabitable, that that gives us enough to consider alien life. To me that sounds a bit pompous. For some reason a lot of people don’t like the notion that God specifically made earth man’s home and that he commanded us to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” This verse in Genesis has some powerful connotations. For example, if an alien creature visited earth, would we subdue them and rule over them, or would they subdue and rule over us? Would such aliens be superior to man? The Bible doesn’t say, does it? But if we see the Bible for what it is, then there’s really no place for aliens in light of what scripture actually does say. I’m taking God at His word that He created earth to be our home, and that the heavens were created for us too, specifically to separate the day from the night and to serve as signs to mark the seasons and days and years. That’s it. There’s no great mystery, and it doesn’t mean that I’m pompous or arrogant for pointing out what God plainly told us. I’m simply stating what scripture says, and applying it to the issue of aliens.
    Now what if I’m just plain wrong? What if aliens really do exist? Would that damage my faith in light of what I just shared, or would it change my perspective of the Bible. Well, to begin with, if I’m wrong then so be it. It wouldn’t damage my faith; I’d simply view aliens from a Biblical perspective, which I already shared from my thoughts of Matthew 3:9 and Luke 3:8. I’m sorry if I’ve come across as arrogant, because that’s not what I intended. I hope I cleared up my views. If not, feel free to question further and we can continue to discuss.

  8. cl says:

    “I think we can get a better grasp on this issue if we know what he said than if we look at what’s missing and start chasing fantasies.”

    Weird, because that was my implication to you. I would say taking a committed position on aliens, or worse yet, trying to say one knows from what particular galaxy they’re from, both qualify as ‘chasing fantasies.’ In your original comment, you seemed to argue the ‘It doesn’t mention aliens in the Bible so I don’t believe in them’ trope. To me, that is a case of looking at what isn’t there.
    In this comment, you make some points about how the biblical precepts might apply to extraterrestrials.
    I have to check you here though:

    “Now you’re supposing that since God didn’t tell us that other planets are or are not inhabited or inhabitable, that that gives us enough to consider alien life. To me that sounds a bit pompous.”

    Actually, I’m supposing that because the Bible takes a non-committal stance, perhaps its followers ought to as well. BTW, an appeal to knowledge is a prerequisite to pompousness. I do not claim to know whether there is life out there or not. In your first comment, you appeared to deny the possibility on account of its absence in scripture, and that was the basis of my comments.
    What I think you miss is that everything you restate as God’s word are things God said to us; they were meant to apply to us then. I see absolutely zero reason to think that because God said thing X, Y or Z to us, that this somehow limits God’s attention to us.

  9. Jon S says:

    Chris, sorry for the delay… been pretty busy, and too little time…
    You say that since the Bible takes a non-committal stance, perhaps its followers ought to as well.
    But does the Bible really take a non-committal stance? I think you’re supposing that it does. But what if there are no aliens… then that would be another reason why the Bible appears to be non-committal. But rather than being non-committal, the absence of any mention of aliens is simply because God didn’t create them. Why mention aliens, unicorns, fairies, goblins and centaurs in the Bible if they don’t exist? So since the Bible doesn’t mention minotaurs, does that mean we should speculate their existence? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. Hence, it’s ridiculous to think that since the Bible doesn’t mention aliens that gives us the freedom to speculate on their existence. Actually, I suppose it’s kind of fun to speculate and makes for good science fiction, but other than that it serves very little purpose. In fact millions and billions of dollars have been needlessly spent on the search for extraterrestrial life, and it could be spent better elsewhere.
    Of course I could be wrong, and I’ve already admitted that. I don’t know whether or not alien life is out there or not anymore than you do, but I’m willing to take a stance against that possibility, and I’ll be glad to admit that I’m wrong if alien life is ever discovered. But if we don’t discover alien life (and so far we arguably haven’t), then you have to admit my arguments could possibly be correct.
    So if you want to believe in aliens, fine. But you won’t find any Biblical evidence for it… only wishful thinking perhaps.
    Again I’m not trying to be arrogant, but if you think I am, then fine. I’m merely making my arguments based on scripture, whether I’m right or wrong.
    You also say that an appeal to knowledge is a prerequisite to pompousness. I’m not sure what you mean. Can you provide a reference? I suppose everyone in the Bible, including Jesus, is pompous when they repeat God’s word? Well, if that’s being pompous, then I guess I’m guilty.
    I’m not following your last paragraph and don’t know what you mean by how God is limiting His attention to us.

  10. cl says:

    @ JonS,
    I don’t think you’re arrogant. I am a little confused. For example, you say,

    “But if we don’t discover alien life (and so far we arguably haven’t), then you have to admit my arguments could possibly be correct.”

    I’m not sure what your arguments are. In the start of all this, I took you to task for saying your nonbelief in aliens was based on scripture. I said I felt that in arguing such, you were making scripture say more than it actually does.
    And here we are. In your latest comment, you seem to argue the negative of my own argument against me, the minotaur thing. If you don’t mind, I’m going to break what I perceive as your argument into four numbered sections:

    “1) But does the Bible really take a non-committal stance? I think you’re supposing that it does.
    2) But what if there are no aliens… then that would be another reason why the Bible appears to be non-committal.
    3) But rather than being non-committal, the absence of any mention of aliens is simply because God didn’t create them.
    4) Why mention aliens, unicorns, fairies, goblins and centaurs in the Bible if they don’t exist? So since the Bible doesn’t mention minotaurs, does that mean we should speculate their existence? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. Hence, it’s ridiculous to think that since the Bible doesn’t mention aliens that gives us the freedom to speculate on their existence.”

    In response to 1), I do suppose the Bible takes a non-committal stance on the existence of life on other planets.
    In response to 2), I think whether or not the Bible or any book is non-committal on a topic depends solely upon whether that topic is mentioned either directly or via reasonable inference by the book. A book does not appear non-committal on a topic because that topic doesn’t exist; such is a reverse flow of causality. So I can’t accept this section of your argument.
    In response to 3), I’ll again raise my felis catis argument. You seem to think that absence of mention is suitable grounds to presume absence of creation. If so, I disagree.
    In response to 4), I’ll start by saying we should speculate something’s existence in the face of reasonable evidence. And I’ll agree that without such evidence, then one shouldn’t necessarily feel free to speculate something’s existence. However, I ask you: Since the Bible doesn’t mention minotaurs, should we speculate their non-existence? This is where I see contradiction in your argument. You tell me since the Bible doesn’t mention aliens or minotaurs, I take too much liberty in hypothetically assuming their existence, but you take an equal amount of liberty in assuming their non-existence.
    I agree that funding for SETI and other forms of research could be better spent.
    But, I still disagree that you are arguing based on scripture. I am leaving the question open to an extent. You leave it open sorta, but you’re saying, “I disbelieve on the basis of scripture.” But scripture is silent on the issue, and your position can lead to the impression that your religion doesn’t approve of the idea of extraterrestrial life or something. If the Bible is null re aliens, only null arguments re aliens can be made from the Bible. As long as you argue otherwise, you will appear to be contradicting yourself to folks like me. If you’re okay with that, then no worries, but it makes other aspects of your beliefs suspect.
    When I said, “an appeal to knowledge is prerequisite to pompousness,” it was in retort to your comment:

    “Now you’re supposing that since God didn’t tell us that other planets are or are not inhabited or inhabitable, that that gives us enough to consider alien life. To me that sounds a bit pompous.”

    Pompousness can’t exist without an appeal to knowledge. I’ve not appealed to know the final answer. Mere consideration != pompousness. Unless I elevate my ignorance to the state of truth, charging me with pompousness on this particular issue seems difficult. The point I was making was that you are taking a stance. Taking a stance is a necessary step in pompousness. Are you pompous? Not my call.
    Also, because pompousness can’t exist without an appeal to knowledge doesn’t mean all appeals to knowledge are pompous. Does that clarify the questions about Jesus?

  11. Jon S says:

    Chris, you say you’re not sure what my arguments are, and then you go on to acknowledge my argument for my non-belief in aliens is based on scripture. Yes, my non-belief in aliens is based on scripture. God created man in His image, and created the heavens and earth for specific purposes. This can be read in the first two chapters of Genesis. It’s not merely that aliens are not mentioned… it’s much more; by giving credence to the alien issue I think we’re forgetting who we are, why we were created, and what God has revealed. Of course, as I’ve said previously, I could be wrong, but I’m willing to take a stance on the issue; call me pompous or arrogant, but you can’t say my belief is wrong unless you have serious evidence that contradicts my arguments, which has not been presented to my satisfaction. Again, looking closely at Genesis, we can see that God was very specific in what He created… light, sky, water, land, vegetation, sun, moon and stars, water creatures, birds, livestock and wild animals, man, and aliens… woops, my bad, no aliens! Did God just forget to mention that He created them??? Again, it’s not just that the Bible is non-committal, and it’s not that I’m making scripture say more than it actually does (as you suppose), but, as I’ve pointed out, I’m basing my belief on what scripture actually does say.
    You admit you don’t accept my argument that another reason the Bible doesn’t mention aliens is because God didn’t create them. Fine. You don’t have to believe my argument is correct. But at least acknowledge that it’s reasonable. The way I see it is that if God is the Creator, and He wanted to reveal our origins and purpose, and He spoke to man, who wrote down His word, and He failed to mention the existence of aliens during His Creation account, it could be that God is not just non-committal or didn’t think it was worthwhile or necessary, but it could be that He didn’t create them in the first place. The argument is very simple and valid. If God didn’t create minotaurs, then we wouldn’t demand that He specifically mention this just so that we don’t have to speculate on their existence, would we? If God didn’t create aliens, then that is a very legitimate reason why they’re not mentioned in the Bible. Of course that doesn’t prove they don’t exist, only that they’re not mentioned. But by studying the Bible one should come to a better understanding of who God is and who we are, and adding aliens to the picture really throws a monkey wrench into it. So again it’s not that I think the absence of mention is suitable grounds to presume the absence of creation, but it’s the entire Biblical picture and what God has in fact revealed.
    You go on to say we should speculate somethings existence in the face of reasonable evidence, and I agree to some degree. However what evidence are you presenting? I’ve seen plenty of evidence of alien life (just as I’ve seen plenty of evidence for evolution), but I find the evidence severely lacking, disputable, and uninspiring. I’ve seen no indisputable evidence for alien life. Therefore I find it perfectly reasonable to believe that God didn’t create aliens based on my understanding of scripture (which I admit is subjective).
    Now you do make an argument that I find reasonable: that my position could lead to the impression that ‘my religion’ doesn’t approve of the idea of extraterrestrial life. I’ve tried to clarify that these are my beliefs based on scripture, and that my belief is not authoritative. I’m not sure how much more clear I can be. It’s not that ‘my religion’ doesn’t approve of the idea of ET’s; it’s that I personally don’t see any reason or purpose for belief in ET’s based on my understanding of what God has ‘specifically’ told us about himself and us. Some people may find that belief arrogant, but it’s perfectly reasonable nonetheless. I find that many fellow Christians I know hold to the same belief (for the most part), so I know my stance is not unusual. On a side note, Answers in Genesis has a lot of information on the subject of aliens since it’s connected with the evolution issue. You may find some good reading on the subject of the Bible and aliens there.
    I’m not following the part where you say I appear to be contradicting myself regarding null arguments. Please clarify so that I can better explain.
    You say that taking a stance is a necessary step in pompousness (although not all appeals to knowledge are pompous). Fine. Are you willing to take a stance? You may not like my stance, but taking a stance isn’t necessarily what I would consider to be pompous. I tend to respect people who take a clear stance on something rather than being non-committal or wishy washy on an important subject. Taking a stance, especially on a controversial topic, takes courage and means you’re willing to fight for a cause; and if that cause is noble, then I wouldn’t consider that stance to be pompous. What I’m doing is defending scripture, which is what Christians are called to do (1 Peter 3:15).

  12. Brad says:

    An old discussion here, but I think it fun to drop by and chew the fodder. Note: I’ll pretend I believe in the Biblical god for the time being. (I don’t actually.)

    Now the Bible does tell us why God created the stars and planets.

    As cl mentioned, we don’t know if God told us all of why God created the stars and planets. What if there are a thousand million other reasons he created them, but only deemed it necessary to tell us one?

    For example, if an alien creature visited earth, would we subdue them and rule over them, or would they subdue and rule over us? Would such aliens be superior to man? The Bible doesn’t say, does it? But if we see the Bible for what it is, then there’s really no place for aliens in light of what scripture actually does say.

    None of these questions rule out the possibility of aliens, nor do they make consideration of the idea unreasonable. These merely illustrate the religious difficulties in explanation. In the face of potentially leading into theoretical difficulties, is it really prudent to turn the other way and assume God wouldn’t make things complicated or tell us everything from the beginning?
    I think it’s logical to posit that God would only tell humans how much and what as would best align with his intentions – and that does not automatically mean he has given us all we need to pay attention to or to consider for facing up to life, the universe and everything. Is it necessarily a moral responsibility of parents to tell their children completely everything about the outside world and the complexity of the world, even with omnimax attributes?
    To argue that the Bible’s silence implies anything about the mind of God appears as only an intuition without base. Where is the real logic? You can’t say “that’s it, no mystery, God told me,” when God did not in fact say that, and it has not be demonstrated that No Aliens is logically derivable from what he has said, or that it is what he intended by the silence.

    But rather than being non-committal, the absence of any mention of aliens is simply because God didn’t create them.

    And you claim to know this by what supporting facts and reasons? …

    So since the Bible doesn’t mention minotaurs, does that mean we should speculate their existence?

    Nobody here has said silence implies need for consideration, but rather, that silence does not imply lack of need for consideration. These are not equivalent, and confusion of such, I think, is revelation of a lack of understanding of non-committal stances.

    But if we don’t discover alien life then you have to admit my arguments could possibly be correct.

    The validity, soundness, and cogency of an argument do not depend on the truth of its conclusion, but the legitimate logical structure in its form. If I say, “Peaches are fruit, therefore humans exist,” I have an incorrect argument but a correct conclusion. If I say, “Women are mortal, Motoko Kusanagi is a women, therefore Motoko Kusanagi is mortal,” then we’re getting somewhere productive.

    I suppose everyone in the Bible, including Jesus, is pompous when they repeat God’s word?

    cl said appeal to knowledge was a necessary condition to pompousness, not a sufficient one. I’m guessing the other condition is that the appeal is unjustified.

    Of course, as I’ve said previously, I could be wrong, but I’m willing to take a stance on the issue; call me pompous or arrogant, but you can’t say my belief is wrong unless you have serious evidence that contradicts my arguments, which has not been presented to my satisfaction.

    The latter part of this is ironically irrelevant, as cl has not claimed this belief to be wrong but rather has claimed it to be unjustified. There’s a difference, and missing this is another demonstration of confusion surrounding non-committal stances.
    The arguments brought forth don’t need to be contradicted because they don’t conform to the protocol of logic in the first place.

    Did God just forget to mention that He created them???

    Is the notion God intentionally left it out not processable? Unthinkable? I think not. Mefinds it worthy of consideration.

    … as I’ve pointed out, I’m basing my belief on what scripture actually does say.

    I think this is an equivocation, because right above this the question was rhetorically asked why God would not tell us if he did create other lifes. Essentially, the words try to reduce (or proclaim) Silence + Aliens to absurdity in an effort to show Aliens false, given we know Silence. So this is grounded in the axiom of biblical silence on the matter, not on biblical content.

    You don’t have to believe my argument is correct. But at least acknowledge that it’s reasonable.

    This is flipped from the truth, as I implied further above. No acknowledgment for disconnected arguments, but no statement the belief is necessarily false for lack of demonstration either.

    If God didn’t create aliens, then that is a very legitimate reason why they’re not mentioned in the Bible.

    The facts on the table so far are consistent with the belief, but this doesn’t say anything about how the opposite belief fares.

    So again it’s not that I think the absence of mention is suitable grounds to presume the absence of creation, but it’s the entire Biblical picture and what God has in fact revealed.

    In other words, absence of mention, combined with the assumption that the Bible gives us the “entire picture,” leads to the conclusion there are no aliens. This is valid reasoning, but that second premise is dubious so the soundness is equally as unknown as the correctness of the conclusion.

    However what evidence are you presenting?

    Whoah, whoah. The entire idea behind cl’s post was that evidence and explanation for aliens was lacking. Then when some guy goes and says Bible ==> No Aliens, cl calls him out for incorrect reasoning, and said guy thinks cl was of the position aliens exist? No, I think cl was only trying to make sure the investigative process was airtight on both sides of the Aliens / No Aliens fork in the road. I think cl said somewhere else he disdains “muddying the waters,” or likewise, and so I think he just tries to treat these questions and such with utterly rigorous journalistic integrity.

    … taking a stance isn’t necessarily what I would consider to be pompous.

    And cl didn’t say as such, as I elaborated upon further above.

    I tend to respect people who take a clear stance on something rather than being non-committal or wishy washy on an important subject. Taking a stance, especially on a controversial topic, takes courage and means you’re willing to fight for a cause; and if that cause is noble, then I wouldn’t consider that stance to be pompous.

    Certainly clear stances are better than unclear ones, but wouldn’t it be more noble and self-conscious to admit “I don’t know” and concede a degree of uncertainty than taking a stance and only justifying it with dubious assumptions?

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