April 29, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

SETI in Reverse

The SETI Institute has had to close down its search with the Allen Telescope Array (08/12/2010) due to lack of funds.  But while incoming messages might be missed, outgoing messages are still en route.  The Voyager record is approaching interstellar space.
    PhysOrg, Live Science and the BBC News all told about the budget cuts for SETI.  The news comes at a bad time for SETI hopefuls, since 2011 is the 50th anniversary of the first attempt at contact (11/13/2010); but so far, no outcry has been heard from the public or from the aliens, nor has new funding come to the rescue.
    Bob McDonald, commenting on CBC News, feels SETI is worth a lot more than the tens of millions spent on the royal wedding.  Just two to three million could have been used to keep SETI going.  “That tiny sum pays for a group of very intelligent and highly accomplished people to look for the answer to a fundamental human question, while many times that amount will be spent on security alone for the wedding of two people who have not really accomplished that much.”
    The flipside of SETI, METI (Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, 02/06/2011) is something humans can control.  The Voyager message to aliens was spotlighted on PhysOrg with a commemorative video from Science@NASA that summarizes the twin Voyager spacecraft’s historic missions to the outer planets.  They are now at the edge of interstellar space.
    The video ends with the story of the Voyager Record, put together by a team under the direction of Carl Sagan, tasked with encapsulating the sights and sounds of life on earth (09/01/2004; cf. 01/13/2003).  “We couldn’t help but appreciate the enormous responsibility to create a cultural Noah’s Ark with a shelf life of hundreds of millions of years,” said Ann Druyan, team member.  The record could not come within a few light years of nearby stars for at least 40,000 years.  Even then, chances of it being detected and retrieved under the most optimistic circumstances are vanishingly remote.
    Notwithstanding the low odds of interception, the Voyager Record served as a statement of earthlings to earthlings.  The video clip from NASA ends, “What are the odds of a race of primates evolving sentience, developing spaceflight, and sending the sound of barking dogs into the cosmos?  Expect the unexpected indeed.

Good grief; the aliens aren’t going to know anything about phonograph records.  They want it on Blu-Ray.  And a cultural Noah’s Ark is doomed without an Ararat to land on.
    The real irony of the Voyager Record is that it was put together by materialists, but it presupposes intelligent design (09/29/2010, 12/03/2005).  Natural selection did not create the record; humans did, with purpose and intent.  And they expected it to be received by intelligent beings who, with purpose and intent, would follow the directions and figure out how to use 40,000-year-old technology to play an old-fashioned phonograph.  SETI itself depends on the notion of ID.  We want to hear from intelligent beings who communicate on purpose.  Pulsars and natural sounds cannot fulfill that longing.
    So what are the odds of a race of primates evolving sentience, developing spaceflight, and sending the sound of barking dogs into the cosmos?  Pretty low, unless you believe the Stuff Happens Law routinely produces miracles (online book).  The Voyager Record is a lonesome cry for meaning in a senseless universe racing toward a heat death.  But that lonesomeness betrays a spiritual reality that materialism cannot deny (02/02/2011).
Exercise:  Debate the proposition that humans are the lone sentient physical beings in the universe (see the “misanthropic principle,” 02/27/2011, bullet 9).  Do materialism and theology lean toward opposite answers?  What are the grounds for the common assumption that the vastness of space demands life be common?  How solid are those grounds from both perspectives?

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