Saturday, January 22, 2011

Aliens and Apologetics

***NOTE:  Some of my posts are serious rebuttals to serious arguments given for the existence of a god.  This is not one of those posts. 

In my view, there are four very important questions that fall upon the shoulders of science to answer.  Those questions are:

  1. How did everything that exists get to where it is today?  
  2. What will probably happen to everything that exists in the future?
  3. Are we alone in the universe?
  4. Does the universe have a creator? 

In some ways, questions 3 & 4 are similar but the answers to those questions, based on the currently available evidence, would be very different.  We have good reasons to entertain the possibility that an alien civilization may exist somewhere in the universe.   

We have found that life can survive and even flourish under harsh conditions.  Life forms called extremophiles have been found in the coldest and hottest places on Earth.  Some have even been found to survive on vessels that have traveled through space.   Animals and plants are composed of four of the five most abundant elements in the universe, so we know the ingredients for life are not difficult to find.  We know that any self-replicating molecule that makes slight errors in its replication process will undergo the process of evolution by natural selection and we know that human beings are very successful animals because of our intelligence, so we can imagine intelligence developing independently on some distant planet the way, for instance, the eye has developed independently forty times here on Earth because of its utility.  Finally, we know that stars and planets are abundant in the universe—one could estimate upwards of 160,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars altogether, so there are LOTS of potential chances for life to get started and develop. 

We have no such reasons to entertain the possibility that a creator may exist.  Any being sufficiently intelligent to create a universe would require an explanation for its own existence and no such explanation has ever been postulated for the existence of a creator that is credible.  Furthermore, there is no mark of design in our universe, and no argument for the existence of a creator has ever been formed which does not rely upon a fallacy or a false premise. 

However, there is one key similarity between the two questions:  We can have an intelligent discussion about the possibility of the existence of both an alien civilization and a creator, a conversation informed by all available evidence.   But anyone who claims to be in constant, personal, telepathic communication with either thing should be immediately removed from that conversation.

Think about it.  We do discuss the possibility of alien life at the highest levels of science.  NASA employes ‘astrobiologists’—individuals who study what alien life might be like, despite having no alien life to study.  The Keplar Space Telescope surveys planets in distant solar systems, hoping to find one that may be “Earth-like” and home to other life forms.  A robot is being built by a private company that may one day be sent to the icy Jovian moon, Europa, on an “ice-fishing” mission into the liquid oceans that exist miles beneath its surface, hoping to find something swimming around down there. 

However, there are many people in our society for whom these endeavors are a waste of time.  They will tell you that they already know the answer to the question of whether or not aliens exist—yes!  How do they know?  Why, because they are communicating with those aliens of course!  But it is a telepathic communication, so only the select few individuals who the aliens choose to communicate with are able to hear what the aliens want.  Some of those individuals don’t want to communicate with the aliens, so they construct hats out of tin foil to protect their thoughts.  Every once in a while, someone will come along and claim to actually be an alien, just in human form. 

All of these people are immediately discounted from the conversation about the existence of alien life for obvious reasons.  

However, we seem to allow the same class of people to enter into conversations about the existence of a creator.  Most apologists and theologians will freely and willingly admit to being in constant, personal, telepathic communication with the creator.  They are actually proud of this fact.  They tell you exactly what that creator wants you to do, who he does and does not want you to sleep with and what days of the week he wants you to eat fish instead of meat.  We put these people in charge of large congregations of eager followers, who also want to be able to engage in telepathic communication with the creator.  We even put these people on television, on news shows, and let them discuss matters of morality and public policy.  In recent memory, we have elected at least one of these people to the office of the Presidency!  And the extra-crazy person who claims actually be the creator in human form?  Well, instead of locking him up and throwing away the key, the way we do with people who claim to be aliens in human form, people all over the world now worship that guy, thousands of years after his death! 

Why the dissonance?  I honestly cannot figure it out.  Yes, let’s have a conversation about the possibility of alien life.  Yes, let’s have a conversation about the possibility of a creator.  Let’s hear all the arguments for both and let’s hear all the counter-arguments.  But we should also make a rule of immediately excluding anyone who claims to be in direct, personal, telepathic conversation with either an alien civilization or the creator of the universe from that conversation.


  1. Two points I have:
    1. Your lower bound estimation of the number of stars in the universe is about 10 times too large, though your point is still made. You should also know that this is only the size of the observable universe, and that the total universe is larger to an unknown degree.

    2. We did lock up the man claiming to be the creator. And we killed him the next day.

  2. Excellent job, I really enjoyed the way you put it together. You're right science does have four questions to answer. hopefully I'll be around for the answers but probably not. Having intelligent conversations without the crazies, the ones that think they have telepathic abilities, or religious ones that think they actually communicate with a god, is always a stimulating experience for me. But when the crazies come in I just walk away because I can't deal with fools.

  3. I don't think this follows. It isn't impossible that someone could be receiving mental communication from an alien lifeform. It seems unlikely, but it isn't impossible. It's certainly more probable than matter becoming life and that life becoming able to think all on its own. So if someone says they are speaking with an alien, I say bring on the evidence! If you can provide me with data that I could test that would demonstrate you're talking with an alien, then I'd love to see it, and I will examine it with an open mind.

    Similarly, someone claims that God exists and claims to know Him on a personal level. What kind of evidence could be brought forth to test this? It depends. What does this person claim God is telling them? If it's just personal stuff that only seems to apply to the one who is claiming to be in conversation, it probably won't do much for outsiders wanting to test it, though it will certainly be convincing for the individual in question. But what if God gave this person predictions about the future? This would be much stronger evidence, because the predictions could be tested. Some people, like Daniel, have claimed to have received messages from God with predictions about the future. Would you shut this person out immediately because of the arbitrary criteria you've developed, or would you be willing to give them a listen? If the predictions they claimed came from God come true, and if they are detailed predictions of events that were not likely to transpire, wouldn't this be evidence that God exists? It's interesting that your criteria has actually shut out potential good evidence for God right from the get go. I suppose you are the master of what you consider good evidence FOR YOU, but if your atheistic presuppositions stop you from being open to objectively good evidence, I'm not sure that anything can be said to change your mind, no matter how plausible or true.

    Also, the Klan can let the Jews off the hook. Theoretical Mechanics is willing to take the heat.

  4. Lol Cody I think you really stretched yourself there when you claimed to be open to talking to people who claim to be able to communicate telepathically with aliens. I guarantee you, you would not be as open to the discussion if someone who made that claim actually approached you.

    You have to understand, that this is how extremely religious people seem to the rest of us--like people who carry on telepathic conversations with aliens. Some people, like yourself, can lay out a case rationally with well-articulated arguments and we can have a calm, intelligent discussion.

    But then you go and put your hands in a particular position, kneel down, shut your eyes, say some incantations and telepathically send messages to the creator of the universe. You should really try to grasp how utterly ludicrous that looks from the outside.

  5. Regarding the point you brought up about what evidence someone would need to present in order to demonstrate that they were actually in communication with a deity or advanced alien civilization, I would agree that some piece of information that would be otherwise unattainable would be ideal.

    Obviously, a prophecy is not sufficient, since writing prophecy is basically just a magic trick--superficially it seems convincing, but really it just involves subtle technique. I saw someone on the history channel recently who wrote a prophecy in 1988 that appeared to predict the 9/11 attacks, but really it's all in the writing.

    If you were to be consistent in your acceptance of fulfilled prophecy as evidence of divinity, you would also have to worship Quetzalcoatl and the Oracle of Delphi, both of whom had priests/priestesses who made much more impressive fulfilled prophecies than anything in the bible. Not to mention Nostradamus and astrology.

    I don't know how you can look at biblical prophecies, which use exactly the same techniques as Nostradamus, Mayan, Greek and astrological prophecies (among others) and conclude that one is divine revelation and the others are all just trickery. They all use the same type of word play, so either you have to accept them all as divine or all as trickery.

  6. Now, since prophecy is off the table, what would be information that could prove divine/extraterrestrial revelation of information? Anything about the nature of the universe that would have been unknowable at the time but could be confirmed later by independent testing and observation.

    If some hillbilly farmer had the Grand Unifying Theory of Everything, and claimed it had been given to him by aliens, I might take his story more seriously. But, alien abductees and biblical prophets have never produced any such information.

    Knowing the exact age of the Earth might have been a good test for the biblical prophets. The bible puts it at around 6000 years--which is so wrong it is like estimating the continental United States to be 7 yards wide.

    Or how about knowing that everything is made up of neutrons and electrons? The authors of the bible did not know that either, apparently. How about the marvelous process of evolution that took life from one single self-replicating molecule to the vast and incredible variety of organisms that exist today? Well, apparently no one in the bible knew about that, either--they all thought that all animals were created at the same time, even ones we had domesticated within the past few thousand years like cattle!!

    Maybe if just one important equation was in the bible--something like E=MC^2--then there would be a reason to believe a deity had something to do with it. But, much like the people who claim to have been abducted by aliens, the people who claim to have talked to the creator of the universe apparently were not told anything true or interesting or useful about the universe.

  7. Men wrote (and edited again and again) the bible from their understanding and imagination at the time, plain and simple. That's the only logical answer to all the questions and evidence so far. The “moral” and “useful” wisdoms in the bible are not unique, and appeared in the texts of other cultures, sometimes thousands of years earlier than the bible. That's why no advance knowledge of physics, chemistry, astronomy, etc. beyond the understanding of the men at the time was present in the bible, except for misconceptions and lies (such as the virgin pregnancy - a case of lie by Mary or by the writers, and resurrection - a case of premature pronunciation of death, if they ever really happened in history).

    "It isn't impossible that someone could be receiving mental communication from an alien lifeform. It seems unlikely, but it isn't impossible." Cody, you are right about this. More importantly, nobody who discredited such claims has ever based solely on the reasoning that it’s impossible. Case by case, those claims were discredited on their credibility. Once the details in a claim were proved inconsistent with known facts, that claim was discredited. Bible should’ve been discredited as truths dictated by the creator God in the same way. It doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed as fairy tales and legends, but nothing more.

    "So if someone says they are speaking with an alien, I say bring on the evidence! If you can provide me with data that I could test that would demonstrate you're talking with an alien, then I'd love to see it, and I will examine it with an open mind." Very good, now apply the same standard to yourself. Don’t get mad when atheists say “bring on the evidence!” Demonstrate reliability and predictability through testing and retesting. Like if one apple falls from the tree, demonstrate that other apples also fall from the tree sooner or later, instead of flying upwards to the sky. We are all listening. Remember, if one person hears voices in his head, it’s probably not God, or alien, talking to him, it’s could very well be he is just hearing voices in his head.

  8. Ben, is there really a happy moon named Europa? Or did you mean Jovian instead of Jovial?

    And those who say aluminum foil will stop alien thoughts are wrong. What they need is a fine-woven copper hat.

  9. Oh, damn, I did write jovial! Haha I can't believe I did that, all fixed now. Thanks for pointing that out :)

  10. A fantastic exposition, but I just have a footnote. You didn't address God's most recent trip to earth.

    He came to enlist Jerry, an assistant grocery manager, to help spread his message. Reluctant at first, Jerry finally ends up in a court case involving the slander of a popular evangelist.

    God caused quite a stir. He said, "It's true. People have trouble remembering My Words. Moses had such a bad memory I had to give him tablets."

    The closing moments of his visit occurred in a court room where he comes to Jerry's defense, just in the nick of time. He has this eerie ability to just appear out of thin air. I personally find it unsettling.

    That God is quite a deity. Anybody who could turn Lot's wife into a pillar of salt, incinerate Sodom and Gomorrah and make it rain for forty days and forty nights has got to be a fun guy.

    I don't have a tin hat or one made of woven copper. Really. I'm not claiming I got any of this information directly from the principal parties. In fact, you could probably find all of this and more on the Internet Movie Database. I <3 the internet.

    Ray Hamel (Oh God, starring George Burns and John Denver)

  11. I help admin the following Conversational Intolerance fb group:!/group.php?gid=11306530867

    Conversational intolerance is the gambit suggested by Sam Harris and I wish more atheists would take his advice. Thanks for writing this post to illustrate the issue, I'll share it with the group.

    Going along with the delusions of people out of a sense of respect or propriety has been a huge mistake. In the first place it is not respectful because it is not honest. Secondly, we are paying for our misplaced politeness now with people like the execrable Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and the rest of the tea bag loonies who have promoted themselves to the national stage. With some help from unsavory billionaires pushing an agenda.

    In no other field of human thought or action would we allow people to gas on and on about fantastical claims. Even some bright seven year old children can see through the flimsy hoax that is organized religion. They just don't dare say as much.

  12. Ben, out of all your posts this has been my favorite.

    This is slightly off topic of what you were posting but I think it’s a funny point.

    I neither confirm nor deny the existence of extraterrestrials because I don't know and don't have time to sit around and think about it, and unless they’re bothering me I really don’t care. However, I strongly feel that if there are aliens with interstellar capabilities then that means the planet Earth is basically (and I'm not trying to offend anyone too much) the New Jersey of the universe. Turn on the television and watch ten minutes of any of the falling programs. Jersey Shore, Jerseylicious, Real Housewives of New Jersey. Now think, think real you want to go to New Jersey for any reason.

    The correct answer is no.

    Imagine highly intelligent aliens, for those of you with no imagination think of little green men zooming around the universe in a saucer. Now imagine them stopping by Earth and observing it and all our wars, our funny religious conquests, our holocausts and genocides, and our blatant destruction of the environment.

    I can imagine one turning to the other and saying. "We're running low on fuel (or whatever the hell spaceships run on). Should we stop there and fill up?"

    "No." The other responds.

    "Why not, there isn't another place for a while."

    "Haven't you heard about how fucked up this place is? I don't want to stop here, I have to use the bathroom and I'm sure as hell not going here. This place is a dump, there’s probably graffiti all over the stalls. And Krishna knows what those monkeys will do to us if we’re spotted. They’ll probably either worship us or kill us.”

    I feel the same way whenever I've had to drive through New Jersey.

  13. Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you Ben. I've known you or YEARS and this totally slipped my mind! I'm the creator of the universe.