March 9, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Deities for Atheists, or Atheism for Dummies?

Michael Shermer wrote a book review in Science entitled “Deities for Atheists.”1  The article reviewed George Basalla’s recent book, Civilized Life in the Universe: Scientists on Intelligent Extraterrestrials (Oxford, 2005).  Basalla (historian of science and technology, U of Delaware) contends that SETI is the continuation of an ancient religious quest.  If so, who are the deities?
    Shermer discusses Basalla’s assumptions. 

He proceeds to outline three assumptions that underlie thinking about extraterrestrial intelligence from antiquity to the present: the universe is very large or infinite, there are other inhabited worlds, and these other complex and intelligent beings are vastly superior to us….
    As for the third assumption, if we did make contact with an ETI, they would have to be vastly superior to us (since we just recently mastered radio and spaceflight).  On an evolutionary time scale, an ETI species only slightly ahead of us biologically could be millions of years ahead of us technologically. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)

At this point, Shermer announced a new scientific law to add to the collection of Murphyisms.  Imitating Arthur C. Clarke, ’Shermer’s Last Law” posits, “Any sufficiently advanced extra-terrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God.”


1Michael Shermer, “Astrobiology: Deities for Atheists,” Science, 3 March 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5765, p. 1244, DOI: 10.1126/science.1126115.

Isn’t it amazing that whenever other inhabited worlds are discussed, the assumption is that they are always “vastly superior to us.”  Suffice it to say that even if we met an advanced extra-terrestrial being it would be quite easy to distinguish it from God.  God doesn’t need a spacecraft for travel.
    Question: what’s an article advancing atheism doing in a scientific journal?  We thought that Darwinism was perfectly compatible with Christianity.  That’s what they always claim, at least.  Though belief in advanced extraterrestrials has spanned the spectrum of religions and philosophies, Shermer, who abandoned his childhood Christianity when he learned about evolution, made it clear that (in his opinion) atheism is the religion of choice for scientists.  He concluded, “If we do make contact with intelligent celestial beings, all of this speculation and conjecture will fall by the wayside in favor of real science.  So in the spirit of scientific inquiry, the search must go on.  Ad astra!”
    So the radio telescope is his cathedral, the stars are his heaven, and his deities are other evolved beings who will perish in the heat death of the universe.  Whosoever will, may succumb.

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