April 1, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Fooling Oneself About Aliens

Would you give a Bible to a Neanderthal, or invite a porpoise to your church?  Who would ask such questions?  Seth Shostak would – director of the SETI Institute.  On Space.com, he speculated about “alien sociology.”
    Shostak wrote the weekly SETI column for Space.com to answer critics who think that broadcasting our presence to aliens could be dangerous.  “The answer, of course, falls within the discipline of alien sociology – a field in which the data are, shall we say, sparse,” he admitted up front.  “Indeed, since we have no idea what the mores or motivations of extraterrestrials might be, you might conclude that, really, there’s nothing we can say about whether the aliens would come here or not.”
    Nevertheless, he dismantled each of the Hollywood sets.  They would not want to breed with us, use our resources, make earth their vacation home, colonize our planet or kill us off to wipe out the competition.  Speculating about these things, he said, is better than the “know-nothing” approach.  “After all, we’ve unraveled a few things about astronomy and physics, if not much about alien comportment.”
    Here was the context of the bibles-to-Neanderthals idea:

Other suggestions about why they might visit include forestalling competition in the Milky Way marketplace, proselytizing, or just learning more about us.  It’s not clear that any of these goals requires “killing us,” of course, but the logic is wobbly anyway.  Any beings that actually could come here will be far beyond us in technological accomplishment.  Imagine if you could visit the Neanderthals.  Would you worry about commercial competition?  Would you give them bibles?  Remember: these are (nearly) the same species as you are.  The aliens won’t be.  I dare say you wouldn’t try convincing porpoises to join your church.
    Then again, there’s that last point: they just want to learn more about us.  Well, perhaps so.  Maybe that’s really what’s interesting about Homo sapiens.  Not grabbing our habitat, saving our souls (or our environment), or subverting our industrial output – but assaying our culture.  I’m willing to consider that even very advanced beings might find our culture mildly worthy of study.

Thus, Shostak convinced himself to his own satisfaction that the aliens are friendly.  The Wise Old Extraterrestrials (03/17/2008) will tune in to our broadcasts, not because they think we are special or that “our hunk of real estate is terribly privileged,” but because they might be mildly curious about just one more species that is “Kind of like another weird fish found in the Atlantic” (01/16/2008).

Alien sociology; good grief.  Here’s another case of a so-called scientist waxing eloquent about nothing (03/12/2004).  You thought science was about things we could observe.
    Shostak is amusing to read, but should his speculations be considered any more academically rich (despite his science backdrop) than those of theologians who speculate about the nature of angels and devils?  At least they have some texts to refer to.  The Bible (capital B here) that Shostak would not think a Neanderthal would understand (but cf. 03/18/2008) actually says quite a lot about angels.  One could argue there is more support for the science of angel sociology than for alien sociology, for which there is zero evidence.  SETI has no data.  To date, it is a body of mere speculation based on assumption-driven probabilities.  Should it be viewed as somehow more scientific than theology, just because its practitioners use computers and radio telescopes?  So do theologians (computers and TV satellite dishes, at least).
    That Bible also teaches that the earth, though small, is privileged – not only because it’s the handiwork of God, but because it’s a place He visited in human form.  It also tells us that humans are special, not so much for their biology as for the sacrifice their Creator made out of His love for them.  That’s why the original Neanderthal man, an intelligent and wise theologian named Joachim Neander (see 10/26/2001), wrote a hymn proclaiming Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.  Shostak appeared briefly in the film The Privileged Planet, arguing that unless our planet is extremely special, miraculous almost, there should be hundreds of thousands of others like it.  That’s pure speculation driven by his evolutionary assumptions.
    Shostak pulled a fast switch in his article.  Don’t be April-fooled by it.  His career is Searching for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, SETI, not SOS, Searching for Other Souls.  The reason we don’t invite porpoises to church is because they are not souls.  A soul has more than intelligence.  Animals can be very intelligent, and even express what look like real emotions.  A soul has that and much more: it is a rational, free moral agent, endowed with the breath of life as a living soul by its Creator.  It makes moral choices on purpose, not on porpoise instinct.  A soul can also reason abstractly, understand and choose between right and wrong, comprehend God, exercise true altruistic love, and live forever.
    Evolutionists have a hard enough task explaining how intelligence could evolve without having to explain what a soul is.  If they want to argue a soul is a phantom artifact of blind selection processes, guess what?  They just April-fooled themselves! – because now they must deny their own rational choices.  That’s why Psalm 53 says only a fool is an atheist.  It’s not saying atheists are unintelligent.  Shostak is obviously highly intelligent.  So is Dawkins and Hitchens and Sam Harris.  Intelligent people can still do foolish things, though, like pulling the intellectual rug out from under their own feet, and sawing off the philosophical branch they are sitting on.  It’s the intellectual malady we named sophoxymoronia (02/02/2008 commentary) that makes April Fool’s Day last 366 x 24 x 7.  (It is Leap Year, you know.  Don’t use that as an excuse to make intellectual leaps.)

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Categories: Dumb Ideas, SETI

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