Posted: July 7, 2006 in Astronomy & Space, Intelligent Design



I have joined the search for extra terrestrial intelligence (ETI), my desktop is currently working through data obtained from the Arecibo radio telescope in 1999.

There are 2 reasons why I joined:

1.The desktop looks pretty.

2.To look for ET/Dalek’s/Time Lords/Monoliths/Cybermen and Borg.

I have to admit I fully expect not to find any ETI’s, not now and most likely not ever. Our cosmic horizon is around +/- 13 billion light years in any one direction, that is our sample size. The criteria for life is so very very specific-that this sample size is not big enough to make the idea of contact with Intelligent off worlders, an idea that will fly.

So if I don’t expect to find any extra terrestrials why add seti@home to my pc?

For me there is a correlation between the amount of data returned as white noise from seti and the creeping sense that the Earth is not a run of the mill place in an out of the way corner of the galaxy but is incredibly significant and rare.

Carl Sagan said regarding a picture taken from the edge of the universe by a probe::

“… Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives… Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. “

This notion of the Earth as a not very important rock is known as ‘The Mediocrity principle’ it is based on nothing more than opinion and convenience.

It is convenient to believe we are not significant, it fits perfectly the dominant view of our time, that of metaphysical Naturalism. To impute significance to the Earth is to suggest that, intent could be behind the Earths characteristics including its galactic position and the nature of our local star, rather than merely accident. Naturalism frowns on the idea of agency, everything is reduced down to

My opinion is that the Earth is rare and unique. For this attitude most of the blame must be heaped onto the shoulders of Guillermo Gonzales and Jay. W. Richards, who had the audacity to have written  ‘The Privileged Planet’ and the gall to produce a crackin’ film based on the book!

Their main thesis is that contrary to the Mediocrity principle, conditions for life are very specific and far more rare than was/is supposed. Throughout the book they add layer upon layer of factors that need to be added to the mix in order that life can begin and continue. Each new factor added reduces the probability of finding intelligent life.

The minor theme of the book is for me as important-briefly the world and its location is ripe for discovery. There is data to be found everywhere; in tree rings, ice cores in Antarctica, sedimentation, solar eclipses etc.

This ubiquitous data is an invitation to look and see, to think, Kepler defined Science as “Thinking Gods thoughts after him”.

Isn’t it also possible that life flourishes where data is most accessible?

As a simplified example, our position with the milkyway galaxy is in a relatively dust free lane off of a spiral arm, within the Galactic Habitable zone. This has two implications:

  1. We are less likely to suffer the effects of a nearby star going supernova with all the radiation that accompanies which is deadly to life. One estimate is that any supernova exploding anywhere within about 30 light years of Earth could destroy most surface life on the planet.
  2. We can also see out toward other galaxies and, for instance, extrapolate what we see in these galaxies to our own

Within our own galaxy as the dust is much less dense and so does not absorb light to the same extent as dust in the dust lanes, we have a perfect view of space, which opens up the universe to discovery.

The bible says in Proverbs chapter 25 verse 2:

 “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter. ”

So where are the ETI’s? As Fermi says, “Where are they?”

  1. edarrell says:

    My opinion is that the Earth is rare and unique.

    That was Sagan’s view, too. The point of the Pale Blue Dot idea is not at all that we are insignificant, but that we must take care in our relations with people, and with the planet.

    Did you read the book? Did you see the series?

  2. Mike Godfrey says:

    Hi Ed,
    I confess to neither reading the book or the series.
    What I am reacting to in this post is the principle of mediocrity,which interprets our positon as nothing more than a accident of natural forces plus nothing else.The number of factors needed for our survival increase as science uncovers more detail this in itself points not to insignificance but significance.
    Carl Sagans famous quote seems to point to our insignificance:
    ‘…Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.’
    I think Gonzales and Richards have made a valid point that yes we are important -so we must be good stewards of what we have-if that was Sagans point too -then I support it.

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