By: David P. Cantrell
I’ve read science fiction since my teens and accepted the premise of intelligent space aliens as part of rousing and thought provoking stories written by Isaac Asimov and others, but I didn’t accept the stories as proof of alien existence. Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the phrase “willing suspension of disbelief” in 1817 to explain the ability of readers to accept fantastic and bazaar situations while enjoying a story. I was willing to suspend my disbelief.
I didn’t consider aliens any more real than Rocky & Bullwinkle, partly because of my religious education, which taught me that the Earth and mankind were created by God in a matter of days. My family wasn’t devout, but we went to church on the important holidays—Easter and Christmas. And, I attended Sunday school from time to time.
When I learned more about that vastness of our universe, I found myself questioning my religious training. Religion explains the existence of the universe and mankind based on divinely inspired stories passed down over the centuries. The stories attempt to explain mankind’s biggest question: How did we get here? Science has a different approach, but a similar goal. Science takes observations of our universe and applies hypotheses to explain them. A big difference between the approaches is that a hypothesis isn’t accepted as correct unless it can be proven through experimentation, whereas religious doctrine is irrefutable.
The Bible doesn’t deal directly with the existence of alien intelligence, although angels are mentioned, which might be construed as such. If you think about it, science doesn’t have much to say about them either.
Many words have been written and spoken by scientist and laymen alike about the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrials. Millions of people not only believe they exist, but that they have visited the earth. A National Geographic survey conducted in 2012, found that 77% of Americans believe there are signs that aliens have visited the earth.
Scientists speculate about the kind of stars and planets that could support life. They talk about how extraterrestrial life might arise and whether or not intelligence is always a product of life. Frank Drake, an astronomer and astrophysicist, even came up with a professional looking equation to calculate the number of planets inhabited by intelligent beings in the Milky Way.
NOVA Science Now offers an online-interactive site to play with Dr. Drake’s formula and shows his original assumptions that computed 10,000 intelligent civilizations are beaming signals to earth, see: (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/space/drake-equation.html).
Drake’s equation looks very science-like, but its results are no more accurate than an Ouija board’s. Why? Because mankind doesn’t have the information needed to make reasonable assumptions for most of his variables. The first three variables deal with star and planet formation and can be reasonably estimated today. But, the remaining variables relate to the development of life, intelligence and technically inclined civilizations. We don’t know how those things arose on Earth, not even the conditions under which life developed. There are hypotheses, but they can’t be tested—they’re no more than educated guesses. We only have one data point (Earth), and that’s not enough to make predictions.
It is hard for us to accept the idea that life and mankind are happy accidents that will never be repeated, but there’s more evidence to support the proposition than against it. Thousands of UFOs are reported by all sorts of people, some more credible than others, but the existence of UFOs doesn’t prove the existence of space aliens. Our intuition tells us that the vast universe must have millions of life baring planets. Perhaps it does, but there is no supportable evidence that alien life exists or ever has.
Does Intelligent Alien Life Exists—What are the odds? Here is my answer. I know of one star and one planet that produced intelligent life capable of interstellar communication. Scientists estimate there are 100 billion stars in the Milky Way and 100 billion galaxies in the universe, therefore, at this point I can positively conclude that 1 out of 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars produced intelligent life. I’m an optimist so I’ll round up to 2 over 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
It’s fun to suspend disbelief, but let’s not suspend our intelligence by accepting conjecture as fact.
David P. Cantrell is an author and a member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.