Last December, on Christmas Day, the Wall Street Journal printed a commentary by Eric Metaxas entitled “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God”. It detailed a startling recent history.
Back in the 1960s, he notes, astronomers arrived at full confidence that the discovery of extraterrestrial life was about to happen. We had the technology to collect the evidence, and scientists had determined that the odds were high. Carl Sagan laid out the parameters for the creation of life, and the first conclusion was that fully one septillion planets (1 followed by 24 zeroes) were candidates for it.
Projects were launched, some private and some public, to canvass space for signs of intelligence such as signals that followed a pattern.
The results have been disappointing. Metaxas: “As of 2014, researchers have discovered precisely bubkis0 followed by nothing.”
The silence doesn’t count as evidence for the existence of God, but it certainly works against the expectation made by scientific atheists that extraterrestrial intelligence explodes any supernatural beliefs.
A prime case of that attitude popped up on Georgia Public Radio a few weeks back. It was on the Bill Nigut Show, the January 17th episode. You can listen to the entire conversation. The last segment of it has an astronomer from Georgia State University, Rachel Kuzio De Naray, discussing life on other planets.
The final exchange touches directly on our theme.
Nigut: Is there life out there on one of those planets in your estimation?
De Naray: There probably is. The universe is very large, and for only our planet to be the only one that has lifethat would be kind of special, and there’s nothing special about where we are. Our particular sun is not any different from most stars out there. It’s just an average star . . . Our galaxy is not particularly special. There are many, many galaxies just like ours . . . To think that our one little earth around this one little star just in this one little place of this one little galaxy in the whole universe is the only one to have life, that would make us special. So I don’t think we’re that special.
Got that? We’re not special.
It’s an odd repetition, suggesting that De Naray is more worried about anyone believing in our special nature than she is about the 40-year absence of evidence for extraterrestrial life.
A more open-minded attitude would acknowledge that silence in some way, but instead we get a reassertion: It’s out there, we just haven’t found it. We’re not special.
There is a simple response to the scientist: So far, yes we are.
Until we have evidence of intelligence elsewhere, then this one little planet in this average galaxy has a unique constituent. Until the evidence of another such being shows up, assertions of our un-special nature aren’t scientific. They are speculativeor ideological.
Mark Bauerlein is senior editor of First Things. His previous posts can be found here.