Apparently, Martin Cothran believes that there is no life elsewhere in the universe, and that this unimaginably vast emptiness is evidence that a god created us. I don’t understand the logic, but then I don’t understand most of his weird leaps in this post on how life on other planets is like believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
First, there is the naive scientific oversimplification.
We are told by many New Atheist scientists in particular (who like to mark their territory) that a belief can only be scientific if it is falsifiable. This is their demarcation criterion of choice and they use it to ruthlessly guard the borders of science. This is one of the reasons, they say, we must reject Intelligent Design. This idea comes generally from Karl Popper, a philosopher, who said that a theory cannot be considered scientific merely because it admits of possible verification, but only if it admits of possible falsification.
Oh, go away, Karl Popper. He seems to be the only philosopher of science the creationists have heard of. Falsification is one criterion; it’s part of a general effort to solve the demarcation problem, a problem I don’t think can be solved because the boundary between science and non-science is a grey murky haze. Personally, I think observation and evidence are more central to science than falsification.
How can a creationist even talk about applying falsification to science, though? They believe in so many things that have been falsified.
They don’t even get our jokes.
It is this general idea that is behind Richard Dawkin’s "Flying Spaghetti Monster." The Flying Spaghetti Monster exists just outside the range of the most powerful telescopes and the more powerful the telescopes, the further away the monster gets so that we are never able to actually detect him. There is therefore, no way in which belief in him may be disproven.
The Flying Spaghetti Monster is Dawkin’s send-up of the belief in a theistic God, belief in Whom has the same status as his imaginary monster: there is no evidence that can possibly count against his existence. God can never be disproven.
Dawkins didn’t invent it. Bobby Henderson did.
The flying spaghetti monster is a collection of absurdities intended to mock religious goofballs like Martin Cothran, so I guess it’s unsurprising that he doesn’t get it. It was clearly made up out of whole cloth, so it lacks any supporting evidence — just like religion. It makes ridiculous claims, like that pirates prevent global warming, with no mechanistic relationship and that are clearly false — just like religion. It makes untestable promises of an afterlife — just like religion. You can’t distinguish pastafarianism from Christianity on any criterion, not just the Popperian one, so Cothran’s single-minded focus on falsification is inappropriate.
But come on, let’s get to the claims about life in outer space.
Okay, now take the belief that life exists somewhere else in the universe. This is a common belief among atheist scientists. In fact, Dawkin’s himself conjectured that life on earth may have come from other planets. But how can that belief possibly be falsified?
There is a possibility that, if true, it can be proven true simply by finding it somewhere in our outside our own solar system. But if it is false, how could we ever know that it was false? If it was false and the universe were infinite, as many scientists believe, then would could never know it to be false even theoretically. And if it was false but the universe was finite, there is no practical way we could ever know it to be false even though it is theoretically possible–although there is some question whether it is even theoretically possible for humans to investigate a universe as massive as we know ours to be.
Once again, Cothran fails to grasp the argument or understand the science.
Here’s the key point: the hypothesis that life exists on other worlds is not about astronomy. It’s about life. It’s a religious premise that the purpose of the universe is all about us, and you’ll find that the most fervent opponents of the idea of life beyond earth are religious people who dislike anything that detracts from their geocentric view of the universe. That’s unscientific. To be fair, you’ll also find many science-fictiony types who populate the universe with aliens because they can’t write a drama that doesn’t involve interactions between sentient beings. That’s understandable, but also unscientific.
But no one came up with a scientific hypothesis of extraplanetary life because they looked outward and saw signs. The primary evidence for that derives from the study of biology. Life is just chemistry. There is no clear sharp boundary between what is alive and what is a chemical reaction. Chemistry is a ubiquitous property of the universe; it’s really just a subset of physics. So if you want to say no life exists elsewhere, you have to argue that there is something unique about Earth to only allow that chemistry to occur here.
The creationists are actually on the right track when they try to claim that life is a historical product of a design intervention; that would be a kind of event that could be restricted to a tiny subset of worlds. Unfortunately, their work to date has consisted of shouting assertions (COMPLEXITY ONLY ARISES FROM DESIGN!) that have been falsified (oops, hoist by your own petard, Cothran), or that rely on vague and poorly stated premises (what the heck is specified complexity?) or require distorting and lying about the actual evidence.
Biology has not found anything unique, supernatural, or exclusively dependent on exceptional properties present only on this one planet. Absent a restriction, the null hypothesis is that other worlds with similar physical properties are also likely to contain self-propagating, energy utilizing chemical processes. If creationists want to claim otherwise, that Earth is unique, they are obligated to provide the specific and unique property of life that confines its origin to one planet.
They have to make the falsifiable claim, not us.
This doesn’t count. It’s just stupid.
Even in this latter case of a finite universe theism would be less problematic since a theist could simply say "Well, we will find out after we die." And since everyone will certainly die, at least he has that to go on.
So there you have it. Belief in extra-terrestrial life. The Flying Spaghetti Monster. Theoretically indistinguishable. And taking this into consideration, how is believing in God any more or less scientific that believing there is life on other planets?
Again, the expectation of extraterrestrial life is based on studying life on earth and knowing its properties. No one has studied any gods, including the flying spaghetti monster, in any scientific way. That makes the claims trivially distinguishable.
So theism is a more scientific idea because it’s falsifiable, and it’s criterion for falsification requires testing it by dying? By ceasing to exist?
That violates another criterion for science. How will you publish?