Saturday, 9 November 2013

ET Will Destroy Religion's Foundations

An editorial in today's New Scientist very boldly states:

The idea that there might be another living planet a few light years from home, orbiting a star visible with the naked eye, is a tantalising prospect. For better or worse, the odds are stacked against that. But we can be pretty confident that, if life is common in the universe, we will have found signs of it by the middle of the next decade. [My emphasis]

We'll have the tools to spot nearby aliens by 2030; New Scientist 9 November 2013 (No. 2942)

Unfortunately, the history of science journalism is littered with these sorts of bold statements which subsequently failed to prove correct. With a subject like science where the only certainty is that there are no certainties, it takes a brave journalist to be so confident.

However, another statement in the same editorial is less controversial.

We are now pretty certain that there are billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy - rocky worlds about the same size as ours, orbiting similar starts at similar distances. Ideal places to search for alien life. The nearest may be a mere 12 light years away, too far to visit but certainly close enough to take a look.

Op. cit.
This is based on data collected by the Kepler Space Telescope before it developed a fault last May. Kepler looked for periodic dimming of at the light emitted by stars, which indicates an eclipse as a planet passes between it and the telescope. Allowing for the relatively small area of the galaxy examined and for the fact that Kepler only detects one planet in three, a team led by Erik Petigura at the University of California has estimated that 22 percent of stars of similar size to ours have Earth-sized planets - which gives us about 40 billion in the Milky Way galaxy alone.

So how will the Abrahamic religions cope with it if and when we detect evidence of life on one or more of these other planets?

Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and all their offshoots and myriad of sects all agree on one thing: their god created the entire Universe as somewhere to put his special creation and we have a special place reserved for us if we just obey all the rules as revealed to us by the different priesthoods and their revealed dogmas. Most of them also have a belief in a specially nasty place reserved for us by this same 'loving' god if we don't obey the priest of course. This is useful for frightening children and keeping gullible people on side.

Moreover, these religions believe everything was created for us: all the animals and plants, all the minerals and fossil fuels. Even the minerals on other planets if only we could get them. All of it is there, provided by the Creator, who knew just what we were going to need and thoughtfully provided it just for us.

When you step out at night and look at the stars, some of those stars that you're seeing with the naked eye have Earth-sized planets with lukewarm temperatures. I think that's profound.

But, if life exists on another planet, what is it there for if we have no realistic prospect of ever making any meaningful contact with it? None of it is likely to be close enough to exploit in any way - which is probably fortunate because, if they have evolved intelligence and religions, they may well have concluded that the entire Universe, including us and our planet, is there for them. They may even have rationalised this greed and selfishness by inventing a god whom they can claim gave it to them, just like we have.

We will probably detect life by analysing reflected light, for example, looking for signature chemicals in the atmosphere. The advantage of this is that we would be looking at 'close' planets (a mere few dozen light years away) only a few years ago in their history and don't need to go there. Even 12 light years would prohibit manned travel which would still take several generations at realistic interstellar travel speeds.

There is simply no way that life on even the closest candidate planets could have any utility value to us, so how would this fit into the Abrahamic model of a universe all made just for us?

Of course, it couldn't be. It would become impossible for honest theologians to maintain that creation myth, even with the most generous re-interpretation of it as allegorical. It would be impossible for creationists to maintain the deception of the 'Goldilocks zone' argument which claims that the probability of the distance from Earth to the Sun being 'just right' for life (it actually isn't a constant distance anyway) is so small it can only be due to design, if there are very many other planets in which it was 'just right' too.

And it will of course become impossible to argue that the probability of 'life' arising spontaneously on Earth is too small to have been by anything other than design if we can see that it arose on other planets when the conditions were similar to those on Earth.

In short, just about all creationism's foxes will be shot by the discovery of any form of life on a single exoplanet and all the basic dogmas of the Abrahamic religions will be proved false.

It will take an extraordinary campaign of lies and disinformation, far in excess of what is currently wage against Darwinian evolution, geology, physics and cosmology, by anti-science political organisations like the Discovery Institute and the Institute for Creation Research to cling to the little power they currently have to influence politics in the USA and keep it resolutely on the side of the rich corporations who fund them and the unelected rich aristocrats who control these corporations.

Hopefully, that should be just about ten years away, if the New Scientist is right. I would expect the Christian creationist right to be working on their rebuttal strategy and disinformation campaign right now. We can certainly expect them to try to prevent funding of any research which threatens to find the information they are dreading.

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  1. I'd love to think that's true but religion has coped with many such "re-interpretations" before, unfortunately. Yes, through lies and disinformation, but those who have based their entire lives on something not demonstrated are quite often willing to swallow the biggest lies.

    As it says in Mein Kampf: "the principle & which is quite true in itself & that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily".

    Which means, effectively, the bigger the lie, the more it will be believed.

  2. I don't think we'll need to wait that long. I've posted about the theistic issues with a Mars mission, and that's slated for 2018.


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