September 29, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

SETI Calls Alien Signals Unnatural

It may be harder to find alien radio signals than thought.  If aliens follow the human technological path of progress, they will move from analog to digital broadcasting in a century or less.  In that case, it will be much more difficult to eavesdrop on intelligent signals, because digital signals tend to be more focused, and sometimes encrypted, than analog broadcasts that leak out in all directions.
    Zoe Macintosh explored this concern in an article in Live Science, “Finding E.T. May Become Harder If Aliens Go Digital.”  Macintosh reported on a study by Duncan Forgan [U of Edinburgh] who is preparing a paper for the International Journal of Astrobiology.  The Drake Equation only considered the lifetime of a civilization.  What if the time before a civilization goes “radio quiet” is factored in?  That new factor, according to Forgan, drops Drake’s optimistic estimate of the probability of detection down to one chance in 10 million (assuming the capabilities of a new radio telescope being constructed in the UK).  “The radio quiet concept reduces the timescale to a very low number, which means your chances of hearing it are very small,” he said.
    What would SETI researchers be looking for?  “Scientists continue to use radio waves to search for life because of the scarcity of natural sources of radio waves in the universe, and the fact that they are less easily lost by absorption than other forms of light,” Macintosh wrote.  This implies that intelligent signals are unnatural.  Forgan agreed; “An artificial signal will have patterns in it that usually do not appear in nature, even if distorted.”  Would researchers be justified in inferring an alien signal from an unnatural signal?  “Even the smallest snippet from an alien broadcast could count as evidence of an extraterrestrial intelligence.”
    The remainder of the article discussed other channels than radio that aliens might use to communicate.  Forgan even took a step into alien psychology.  In discussing whether the long turnaround time would make human-to-alien conversations undesirable, Forgan said: “On the other hand other civilizations may have a different outlook.  They may be desperate to make communication with other civilizations.”

Are Macintosh and Forgan saying that aliens are unnatural?  Well, then, are humans unnatural, too?  Are intelligent signals unnatural?  If something is unnatural, does that imply it is designed?  What evidence would it take for someone to make a design inference?  “Even the smallest snippet from an alien broadcast could count as evidence of an extraterrestrial intelligence,” the article said.
    This means that SETI researchers accept the design inference: “patterns” that have no known natural origin can be discerned by the human mind as having come from another mind – on purpose, by design.  Seth Shostak, Mr. SETI himself, tried to wriggle out of this conclusion but couldn’t (12/03/2005).  Why not just face the obvious and admit it?  We invite SETI researchers to join the Intelligent Design movement.  The only drawback is that they have not found evidence for their targets yet, while leaders of the I.D. movement have found plenty – their own genes, cells, bodies, and minds.

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