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Archive for February, 2010

Over the course of the last couple of days we’ve been treated once again to the parade of astronomers and astrobiologists pontificating on the likelihood that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. In the wake of a couple of decades of failure on the part of the SETI program, the new credo is that “aliens could be staring us right in the face,” but we’re too dim-witted to recognize them. In an effort to renew enthusiasm for the search for extraterrestrial life, Lord Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society and astronomer to the queen (wonder why she needs one of those) recently directed a conference entitled, The Detection of Extra-terrestrial Life and the Consequences for Science and Society. The purpose of the conference was to ask whether the discovery of aliens would cause terror or delight on earth. Rees and other astronomers have been making the news rounds telling anyone who will listen that improved telescopes made the chance of finding extra-terrestrial life “better than ever.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that astronomers are atheists. I personally know some PhDs in this field who are firm Christians. I’m also not saying that we shouldn’t make any investment in trying to detect intelligent ET life. I share the enthusiasm of Lord Rees, at least to some extent.  I don’t, however, share his optimism.  I also think the recent news is a prime opportunity for showing how many scientists who do espouse atheism allow their wish to find an ET somewhere to blind their rationality. I would suggest that the optimism of Rees and his fellows is not based on better technology–it’s really based on faith. In this case, faith in an equation. The trouble is, this equation is basically worthless.

I begin with a simple question: WHY is Lord Rees and so many others so optimistic about the likelihood of intelligent ET life being out there? The answer is they believe that mathematical probability argues in favor of likelihood.

But does it?

This idea—that there is an overwhelming mathematical probability that there are intelligent aliens somewhere else in the universe has risen to the status of a creed in the UFO community. It derives from something called the Drake Equation.

The Drake equation was created in 1961 by astronomer Frank Drake. Its iconic status is seen in that it has been referenced in Star Trek: Voyager (“Future’s End”), Michael Crichton’s Sphere, and the Jodie Foster sci-fi film, Contact.

The Drake Equation is a mathematical postulate that states:

N = R* x   fp x   ne x   fe x   fi x   fc x   L

Okay . . . what does all that mean?

  • N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible
  • R* = the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy
  • fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
  • ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
  • fi = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
  • fi = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
  • fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
  • L = the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

In 1961, the values that were inserted into the equation yielded and answer of 10—ten postulated civilizations were out there in the universe somewhere waiting to be discovered. I know it’s hard to fathom, but this is the basis for the supreme confidence of a host of astronomers and physicists who promote SETI (The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). It gets worse.

Current data suggests the answer to the equation is really 2.31. It gets worse still.

Let me share what one lauded scientist, T. J. Nelson, thinks of the strength of the Drake Equation. It sort of affirms the obvious, but I think people might respond to it better from this credentialed scientist (emphasis is mine):

The Drake equation consists of a large number of probabilities multiplied together. Since each factor is guaranteed to be somewhere between 0 and 1, the result is also guaranteed to be a reasonable-looking number between 0 and 1. Unfortunately, all the probabilities are completely unknown, making the result worse than useless.

The famous science fiction author and medical doctor, Michael Crichton, echoed those sentiments:

The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses . . . Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless.

In other words, the Drake Equation is simply guesswork dressed up to look like data. This is what produces all the optimism.  This is why atheists, like our friend in my earlier post, say that have faith in knowledge, not myth. The Drake equation is not knowledge; it is a slice of faith grounded in no actual data that has now become a dogma. It’s part of the ET Hypothesis catechism.

Granted, I’d love for this emperor to have some clothes. The genuine discovery of ET life (that isn’t hostile or evil) is on my short list of “ridiculously improbable things I’d like to see or experience before I die.” But the next time someone brings up the statistical odds of ET being out there, I’m liable to test their faith. It’s time someone asked them to do the math.

News is circulating to about the alleged discovery of prehistoric cave paintings that show a remarkably clear UFO type craft and an alien.  I saw the news via the UFO Mystics blog. The description has the stink of hoax about it. Here are some oddities that would *not* be omitted information if this was a real archaeological project and find.

1.  The story is purportedly published in the “Rajasthan Times”.  I guess Google’s never heard of it. There *is* a place called Rajasthan about which some stories in the Times of India can be found by Googling. Ooops. Feels reputable already.

2. “Team of archaeologists” – From where? What university? What project group? Why is this team not identified in any way? Real digs don’t fear identification. In fact they’d want it (can you say “funding”?).

3. Why is there only one photograph, and that completely lacking any visual context?

4. Given the “amazing” skill of the primitive artists, I wonder why they were incapable of drawing the items to scale? The “alien” is so much larger than the “UFO.”  Why not draw a big UFO withe several smaller aliens so that they could fit in it? Oh, maybe they were so overwhelmed by the experience they couldn’t manage this.

5. The item at the top is described as a wormhole.  Uh, they’re in deep space and aren’t visible to the human eye. Oh, I know — the aliens told the primitives what they looked like. Too bad that wormholes are nothing but MATH. We *give* them such a shape because of the way they are theoretically and mathematically *thought* to be structured. In fact, they’d be so huge that they couldn’t be seen by anyone’s eye. Maybe the cave also has the vestiges of the equations the aliens taught them.

6. Oh, and the prehistoric people even drew us a tractor beam designed to suck something toward the craft. Or maybe its a vapor trail. I love both possibilities. You of course could not see a tractor beam, as it’s gravity modification, and gravity is invisible (even to enlightened primitive people). And the vapor trail would mean the craft *isn’t* powered by gravity modification (the only way interstellar space travel is possible because of the speed of light, wormholes or not). There’s that wonderful internal combustion engine powering aliens through space again! Love it.

7. And let’s not forget the “local archaeologist” who has seen the pictures himself. He’s the only thing that fits. No degree, no professional affiliation, no credentials of any kind. Google his name — strange how it only shows up in other reports of the same story.

Yeah, this stinks to high heaven . . . or maybe the nearest wormhole. And people make fun of Christianity for “lack of historical evidence.” Good grief. I don’t have enough faith for this sort of twaddle. This, as so many stories that have preceded it, will wind up in the dustbin of ancient astronaut chicanery.

I thought it might be an interesting idea to take a look at self-declared atheists and their own faith responses to UFOs as ET craft.  I’ll be pulling these from the web without names. My goal is *not* to poke fun at atheism. Rather, I want to show how religious their thinking is on this issue — how it is not grounded in science or even logical coherence (at times), but on faith/belief.

Here’s the first one. My comments are at MSH.

>>

I am an atheist. I believe in UFO’s.

Do these two statements seem contradictory to you? Why? Just because I am a person that does not believe in a supreme being, or a higher power, does that make me unable to accept the possibility of intelligent life existing outside of our own planet?

MSH: Of course it doesn’t, so this is perfectly coherent. Belief in a supreme deity and alien life are not mutually exclusive, and neither is denial of a supreme deity and belief in alien life.

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you are wrong. Now, I can’t speak for all the atheists, only for me. So let me let you in on my beliefs. I have faith. I know that may come as a shocker, but its true. I have faith, but not in any higher power, or supreme being. I have faith in knowledge.

MSH: He had me at “I have faith” – that’s an honest admission from an atheist (or anyone, really).  But faith in “knowledge”?  I know what he/she means, but as we proceed, you’ll see that he/she doesn’t actually have faith in knowledge, since no one *knows* that UFOs are indeed extraterrestrial (i.e., their existence and sightings only prove … well, that they exist and people see them; that t doesn’t prove at all what their nature is).  So he/she really doesn’t have faith in knowledge; rather he/she has faith in his/her own faith as to what these things are.

Religion, since the dawn of man, since the time of cave paintings, before the firsts cities were ever conceived, has been a way to explain the unexplainable. Why does the sun rise each morning and set each evening? Does the sun god ride his chariot across the sky every day, and rest every night as the ancient Greeks believed? No, the Earth rotates on its axis as it orbits the sun, thus creating day and night, the year and even the seasons. The ancient Greeks didn’t know that then, but we know that now.

So, how does this explain UFO’s? Simply put, in my opinion, we have had too many sightings that have been recorded to say that we have no knowledge of UFO’s existing.

MSH: Agreed, and coherent — people are indeed seeing SOMETHING.

Well, what about Moses, and the parting of the Red Sea, you ask? There is only one source that says that event actually happened. The Bible, and I think the writer was a little biased on that one. If it had just been one hillbilly from Tennessee that was screaming about how these grayish guys with huge eyes took them aboard their flying saucer, OK, I wouldn’t readily believe him. But its not. There have been videos from all over the world showing flying craft that defy the laws of our flight. Recorded by people in the streets, from the windows of their homes, even from gun cameras on military jets.

MSH: An odd sort of analogy on his/her part. It assumes that frequency of observation = reality.  What if we had only had one astronaut go to the moon and report seeing something unusual that couldn’t be captured on film (“I swear, the rocks there glowed green”). I would suggest people *would* believe the astronaut because it was an extraordinary experience. But by the writer’s logic, we shouldn’t.  Frankly, and less hypothetical, we have examples of incidents in ancient history whose truth is accepted on the basis of only one text or even just part of a text (e.g., the letter between the Hyksos king and the Nubian king intercepted by Kamose, prompting him to attack the Hyksos).  It’s taken as fact.  Numerical references actually have nothing to do with whether something might be true or not. And so the millions of sightings are *not* sufficient proof for what he/she “believes” — that what is being seen is extraterrestrial. They *are* sufficient to show that something is being seen, but that’s it. And bias interpretation of evidence?  See below.

They exist. I see no other reasonable explanation.

MSH: Therein lies the reason why this logic doesn’t work for all he/she wants it to work for. It “works” only in that he/she *wants* to believe these things are alien. There is no actual hard evidence that they are — only for the fact that things are seen.  Additionally, there are scientists who’d disagree, and who posit our lone existence. For example, the book Rare Earth.

Logic would be that in the trillions upon trillions of stars in just our galaxy alone, there has to be at least one other planet that has life on it.

MSH: Actually, logic does *not* dictate anything of the sort.  This is about math and statistical ODDS.  Logic deals with factuals and counter-factuals; necessary and sufficient argumentation; etc.  All logic needs is one example of astronomical (pardon the pun) odds being wrong to coherently argue that astronomical odds do *not* dictate an outcome.

The odds that we are the only planet with life is so infinitesimally small. And the odds that one of those other planets is home to a species that has evolved the knowledge of interstellar travel before us are very good. More than one probably.

MSH: This is a real weakness in the chain. Interstellar travel is one of the huge arguments against ET life out there; it requires *assumptions* about things like wormholes (assumptions aren’t facts). Astronomer Hugh Ross had a great chapter on the problems of interstellar space travel (in plain language)  in his book, Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men.

The belief that we are the only planet that has any life on it, let alone intelligent life, is so egotistical, that I would have figured only people who believe in god would assume that. I mean, he only created us, right? Atheists may be skeptical, but it is only about religion that we are skeptical. We embrace science and logic, not myth.

MSH: As readers of this blog know, this logic and conclusion are very naive (about God not creating aliens).  I won’t retread that ground here.

Continuing (and completing) my comments on the exchange between John Milor and Gary Bates. My comments are at “MSH”.

————————

John Milor shares Gary Bates’ third point:

Point 3: Since extraterrestrials would have no hope for salvation, this would mean that any ETs would be lost for eternity when this present creation is destroyed in a fervent heat (2 Peter 3:10, 12). Because of this, some have wondered whether Christ’s sacrifice might be repeated elsewhere for other beings. However, Christ died once for all (Romans 6:10, 1 Peter 3:18) on the earth. He is not going to be crucified and resurrected again on other planets (Hebrews 9:26). This is confirmed by the fact that the redeemed (earthly) church is known as Christ’s bride (Ephesians 5:22–33; Revelation 19:7–9) in a marriage that will last for eternity. Christ is not going to be a polygamist with many other brides from other planets. The Bible makes no provision for God to redeem any other species, any more than to redeem fallen angels (Hebrews 2:16).

MSH: Gary’s comments assume that the 2 Peter passage is to be taken literally.Maybe, maybe not – and in what sense if it is? For instance, does the wording apply just to our earth and its atmosphere (“heavens”)? Our solar system? The whole universe? Only if it applies to the last two items could Gary’s logic “work” (ETs would be burned up). But that of course presumes that the biblical writers knew about the solar system and the universe, so that those things would have been in mind when writing (no, the Bible was not given by mindless dictation, so that authors were regularly producing information that they knew nothing about; in other words, inspiration is *not* to be understood as channeling). I should also say something about the word “heavenly bodies” (stoicheia) in the 2 Peter passage. It does not refer to the planets. It is often used – interestingly – of cosmic demonic entities. If the latter was in Peter’s mind, Gary may actually have made his point about ETs being toast, though he’d have to give up a modern scientific understanding of the passage to do so.

For once, I actually agree with Mr. Bates, concerning Christ’s sacrifice not being repeated elsewhere. But where I disagree, is with Mr. Bates’ reasoning behind Jesus’ sacrifice not being repeated elsewhere, and also his conclusion that Jesus would be a polygamist if He saved other species in the cosmos. First of all, the scriptures that Mr. Bates quotes as saying that the redeemed church is “earthly,” (Ephesians 5:22-23; Revelation 19:7-9), do not say anything at all about the church being “earthly.” The Bride of Christ is simply all those who believe in Jesus, and no restriction is mentioned in scripture about where they come from, or what species they are.

MSH: Sorry to put it this way, but this is wacky. John is asking us all to believe that the atoning, redemptive work of Christ may have been for non-humans. There is ZERO support for that in the New Testament. Why? Because the only beings that are the object of the atonement are the ones who stand in a sinful, separated, “in need of atonement” situation before God. Genesis 3 (and much of the New Testament) makes it clear that the only beings who fell and now need redemption were humans (see Romans 5:15; 1 Cor 15:3). There is no account of a prior fall before Genesis 3 of non-humans. Humans are always the referent when Scripture writers speak about the body of Christ and actually (pardon the pun) flesh out the description:

1 Cor 6:15 – Paul speaks of HUMAN bodies here who are “members of Christ”

1 Cor 12:27 – God appointed apostles, prophets, teachers for the body of Christ. All these appointees were humans.So, if they were also appointed for ETs (members of the body of Christ in John’s thinking), how did they reach ET? Where are the passages that describe ministering to ET? (See also Eph. 4:12 here). Paul is also speaking to humans here.

Other problems:

1.The whole point of the incarnation and the kinsman-redeemer idea behind it is that the Savior had to become a human – so he could redeem HUMANS.

2.The whole basis of an “ET is part of the body of Christ” is deafening silence. There is simply no scriptural warrant for it.

After Mr. Bates’ three main points, none of which disprove the existence of extraterrestrials, he then attempts to refute a well known scripture that some UFOlogists have used to support the possibility of extraterrestrial life, which is John 10:16. Jesus is quoted as saying ‘I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.’

MSH: This has absolutely nothing to do with ETs. Paul tells us what this refers to: the mystery of Christ – that non-Jews were added to the covenant and given equal standing as children of God. This is actually fundamental to the gospel. See Romans 9-11. See also the parallels in the same gospel of John to the “one flock, one shepherd” idea:

John 11: 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but ?being high priest that year ?he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and ?not for the nation only, but also ?to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

Christ – the JEWISH messiah – would not just die for the nation (Israel) but also to gather into one God’s children scattered abroad – which Paul tells us repeatedly in Romans 9-11 were the Gentiles , not ETs.

John 12:32 – And I, ?when I am lifted up from the earth, ?will draw ?all people to myself.”

ALL people, not just Jews; ditto the above.

The shepherd reference, of course, goes back to Ezekiel 34:22-24, a messianic prophecy:

22 I will rescue? my flock; ?they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And ?I will set up over them one shepherd, ?my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And ?I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. ?I am the Lord; I have spoken.

The prophecy, of course, was of the messiah who would come (see Romans 9-11) who would gather in the Gentiles. It is only when the “fullness of the Gentiles” comes that “all Israel” will be saved.

To this, Mr. Bates states the following:

However, even an ET-believing astronomer at the Vatican (thus a ‘hostile witness’ to the ‘no ETs cause’), a Jesuit priest by the name of Guy Consalmagno, concedes, ‘In context, these “other sheep” are presumably a reference to the Gentiles, not extraterrestrials.’ Jesus’ teaching was causing division among the Jews (vs. 19) because they always believed that salvation from God was for them alone. Jesus was reaffirming that He would be the Savior of all mankind.

Just because a Jesuit priest at the Vatican has an opinion about what this particular scripture means within its context, doesn’t mean his opinion is infallible. I believe that scripture is infallible, but I trust no one person’s interpretation of scripture, including my own, as being infallible. I do agree that Jesus was talking about Gentiles, but He may have also been talking about extraterrestrials as well.

MSH: I’m glad John saw the obvious here (the Gentiles) – but it’s nothing more than reading ET into the text when he says it’s about ETs as well. We ought not insert ideas into the text. Earlier I suggested we shouldn’t insert scientific understanding into the text that isn’t there; in this case, we shouldn’t insert ETs (which we have no proof exist). Let the text be.

Lastly, John assumes I am an old-earth creationist in the vein of Hugh Ross. John shouldn’t assume he knows what I think on the subject. I don’t believe Genesis teaches us anything about science or “scientific” origins. I don’t think some of what Hugh Ross does with the Old Testament text is exegetically defensible. Ditto for Gary Bates. Does that mean I don’t think they’re right at all? Nope. I think they’re both right on points. At other points I’m undecided since I’m not a scientist. I’m open to a number of views, and so I don’t like any of them completely. I’m not a scientist. I’m a Hebrew Bible scholar. That’s what I know. My view of Genesis is basically what John Walton describes in his new book (The Lost World of Genesis One), though I have some problems with certain things he says. We’re in basic agreement that Genesis has nothing to do with science or scientific origins. The cosmology laid out in the Old Testament is a pre-scientific one. However, I affirm a Creator and am a firm creationist in that sense. It’s logically, philosophically, and theologically necessary in my view. I also believe a Creator makes the most sense out of science, which has nothing more coherent to offer (I don’t believe in spontaneous generation of matter, and string theory is just an infinite regress – and so functions as an excuse for denying a Creator).

I came across this interesting article: “An Eastern Orthodox Perspective on Microbial Life on Mars” (Theology and Science 6:4, 2008). I’m not Eastern Orthodox, but I think this paragraph in the article’s conclusion is well written and well reasoned:

To be sure, there is nothing in Orthodox theological tradition that would affirm the possibility of life on other planets. In fact, to the Biblical writers, to the Church Fathers, and to the framers of the Orthodox liturgical texts, this would be a nonquestion. The geocentric attitude of the tradition essentially has no interest in life elsewhere, due to the actual portrayal of Creation in the Biblical texts and due also to the lack of knowledge in earlier ages about the extent, structure, and shape of the universe. This ‘‘structure’’ does not have a place for extraterrestrial life, mainly because it does not imagine, nor can it possibly conceive of, the possibility of such life. It must, however, be remembered that this is the result of ignorance about the wider universe, not a voluntary decision to reject such a possibility. At the same time—and very importantly—that same Biblical portrait of the universe, when combined with modern scientific knowledge, need not preclude the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Although all other knowledge beside the reality of God is of lesser importance for the Orthodox theological synthesis, scientific knowledge continues to reveal—even on a very rudimentary level—the secrets of a universe theologically apprehended as the work of the divine Creator. Eastern Orthodox theology can comfortably embrace that knowledge as a guiding light on its journey towards the Divine Source of all being. . . . This establishes, within an Eastern Orthodox mind-set, a much more flexible attitude, one that would be readily able to accept all extraterrestrial life-forms.