SETI Sans ETI So Far
There’s “no din of alien chatter in our neighborhood,” writes Richard Kerr in the Feb. 20 issue of Science.1 “Early-generation searches for extraterrestrial intelligence are coming up empty-handed, but the SETI community is carrying on,” he writes. Search pioneer Frank Drake admits “We found nothing” in the latest Project Phoenix, a survey of 700 nearby sunlike stars. James Trefil adds, “this idea there’s a galactic club that we would join as soon as we started … doesn’t look like it’s panning out.” Paul Horowitz is not near ready to quit, though, urged on by the conviction that “There’s got to be life in the galaxy.” Statistically, even with optimistic assumptions, it would not be probable to have found one by now – just hopeful.
Upcoming searches promise to be quicker and more powerful. But if there are only 10,000 alien civilizations surfing the galactic radio internet, it could take decades to find one. The importance of a positive signal keeps the search going. Until one is found, however, SETI has been termed by Seth Shostak as “looking for an uncertain manifestation of a hypothetical presence.”
1Richard Kerr, “No Din of Alien Chatter in Our Neighborhood,” Science Volume 303, Number 5661, Issue of 20 Feb 2004, p. 1133.
Without the belief in Darwinian evolution, one wonders how much motivation SETI would have. Would believers in God expect to find life all over the universe trying to contact us? If so, would they work this hard looking? The Darwin Party seems to think a discovery of alien life would disprove the Bible, but is that necessarily true? Why would it not just as clearly indicate creation? What if the aliens tell us they evolved, but are lying? What if they turn out to be storytellers as incorrigible as members of the Darwin Party here on earth?
It’s fun, but maybe not useful, to speculate about things we cannot know. Take your pick on this one. Not even all secularists, though, agree SETI is worthwhile. Michael Crichton used it as an example of policy-driven pseudoscience, essentially a religion (see 12/27/2003). The only data point we have so far is that the local neighborhood is not teeming with alien broadcasters on the channels we are checking. Maybe that means something.
If nothing else, the SETI researchers are making a great case for intelligent design (see 07/29/2002). Their core assumption is that a nonrandom, coded message would be convincing evidence of intelligence, even if they knew nothing about the sender.