Dan Popp
Chasing little green men
By Dan Popp
April 20, 2017

What is the warm underground ocean [of Saturn moon Enceladus] really like and could life have evolved there? These questions remain to be answered by future missions to this ocean world. – Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker

In this age of crowdfunding for all kinds of far-out projects, why do we need to tap taxpayers so we can find out whether life "evolved" elsewhere? [By the way, could someone explain to the scientist that evolution is a theory about the development, not the origin, of life?]

Otherwise-intelligent people will tell you that we "need" to search for extraterrestrial life so we can feel the feeling that "we are not alone." But Christians have always said that we're not alone. There's also God, and the various intelligent beings we clumsily clump together as "angels" – the holy ones and their fallen counterparts. And there may be others – the Bible doesn't say there aren't.

We don't want to find out we're not alone. We want to pretend that we are alone; at least, that there is no Creator and Judge above us. This desperate search for ET feels to me like the frantic fumbling for a club to use against God. If there is life elsewhere, then [logic error here] we can scrap Genesis and everything that follows.

We used to laugh at "UFOs" and "space aliens." We should still be laughing; the evidence has not changed. This is silly stuff.

Take the math myth.
    You know, there are four hundred billion stars out there, just in our galaxy alone. If only one out of a million of those had planets, and just of out of a million of those had life, and just one out of a million of those had intelligent life; there would be literally millions of civilizations out there. – Dialog from the 1997 Carl Sagan movie, Contact
What does the "billions and billions" line mean in terms of the probability of life? Precisely nothing. Because, you see, unless we know how life "arose" – how it created itself – we can't know whether that series of accidents could happen again. Since we haven't been able to create life on purpose, we certainly don't know how it could appear by accident.

We can't even define life. What is life? Like the good Justice's definition of pornography, we know it when we see it. We can talk about what a living thing does that a non-living thing doesn't do (moves, consumes, reproduces, etc.), but we cannot pinpoint what it is that animates the living thing without using non-scientific words like "spirit."

If life (whatever that is) bootstrapped itself (in violation of the Law of Causality) by a random electrochemical process (currently unknown), and if there's a sufficient number of planets on which that process might (note the speculation) occur, then our problem is indeed one of basic statistics, as Sagan pretended. But we don't know any of that. It's not science. Whether there's one other body in the universe or an unimaginably large number of them, we still don't know anything about the probability of life elsewhere. The entire left side of the equation is blank.

To put it another way, What are the chances of life if life didn't start by chance?

What we have here is shamanism, not science. The shaman's magic wand is Very Large Numbers. Anything that sounds absurd on its face will take on a convincing aura to an unthinking audience if we add great big units of time or space. If I say, "My computer accidentally created itself this morning out of some plastic and metal bits," people won't take me seriously. But if I say, "Things much more complex than my computer accidentally created themselves out of goo over millions and millions of years," they will give me a fellowship, and maybe an award.

Here's a magical number for you: the United States ran out of money $20,000,000,000,000 ago. Obviously we don't have the dough to spend on the search for little green men. And yet the quest continues. What powerful force drives some people to prove a simple statistic?

© Dan Popp


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