The Fermi paradox is neither a problem nor a paradox, so it’s always baffling to me when it’s brought up. It’s like those annoying trolley problems: they’re stupid and unrealistic and pointless, except that they make you think about your assumptions. It’s only when people focus on the minute details of the question, rather than thinking about what the answer says about yourself, that you want to yell at people to shut up, they’re missing the point.
The Fermi ‘paradox’ was only fascinating to the physicists and engineers who were sitting around wondering about how they were going to get into space and explore strange new worlds because they assumed those strange new worlds were populated with other physicists and engineers who were thinking the same thing. In a rational world, they would have simply said, “Oh, my assumption must be wrong, let’s move on.” But no, instead they started inventing excuses for the absence of aliens, instead now assuming that there must be hordes of frustrated scientists and engineers out there who are pinin’ to visit Earth, but are stymied by the speed of light or their predilection for building nuclear weapons first and exterminating themselves or that they’re using some super-duper communications technology we haven’t invented yet. All their rationalizations seem grossly anthropocentric.
As a biologist, we have a collection of assumptions, too, only our assumptions all seem to default to making the absence of aliens an entirely ordinary conclusion. Life is probably common in the universe — all it seems to require is redox chemistry (universal, obviously), proton gradients as an energy source, which can be easily generated in lots of ways, and time, which the universe has lots of. We don’t expect a multiplicity of engineers, because they’re not common even here on earth. We tend to expect bacteria-like and algae-like organisms, because those are ubiquitous here. But we’re unsurprised that they aren’t hailing us, because we similarly do not expect an algal population in Australia to launch a transcontinental probe, land it on my desk, and slither out to plant a flag and claim it in the name of their colony.
My assumptions could be wrong, but because they’re grounded in known science, I don’t expect them to be. To me, the Fermi paradox is simply confirmation of a reasonable inference.
Where this gets troublesome, though, is that some creationists use it as confirmation of what they think is a reasonable inference — that life exists nowhere else in the universe, but is the product of a unique creation event here on Earth.
In a sense, Christian presumptions and its claim of historicity for biblical miracles is more consistent with what should be happening given the premises of evolutionary science. A complex and powerful Godhead with anthropomorphic habits, dimension-jumping beings doing God’s bidding or working against it, frequent interventions in history accompanied by bizarre occurrences in nature—isn’t this what we’d expect in a universe given all the oddities of physics in the context of evolutionary randomness?
I’d grant the guy one thing: the absence of aliens is an observation compatible with the hypothesis that life only exists on one planet, ours. However, he’s wrong that we should accept the possibility that any outlandish scenario could occur in the history of the universe — there are natural laws that seem to be pretty consistent in their operation, which is going to constrain the range of possiblities — and he is even more wrong when he suggests that one particular bizarre scenario that just happens to coincide with his religious preconceptions ought to be “expected”. He really reaches to turn his mythology into a science-fiction story.
So, given the sheer magnitude of theoretical possibilities granted by known science, to say nothing of the unknown science waiting to be discovered, what is really so random and strange about, say, an alien being flooding the earth in order to destroy a genetic perversion of humanity bent on destroying the original species this same alien had crafted?
The answer, of course, is “nothing.” Yet, we suspect Dawkins et. al. would grant any alien scenario so long as it doesn’t involve a tri-conscious being making periodic manifestations among ancient Semitic peoples about 3,000 years ago, which in a rather singular case used as its avatar a first-century personage born in the days when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
I have to raise two objections to his fantasy.
When Richard Dawkins and others suggest that they are open to the idea of aliens having intervened in the history of life, that acceptance is general — they are not inventing a convoluted, contrived series of events — and contingent on evidence for such an intervention being found. Are there phenomena we don’t understand yet? Yes. Could they have been important in the origin of life? Sure, but you have to be specific about the mechanism you are arguing for, and provide good evidence that it happened.
Your scenario must be compatible with all of the reliable, available evidence. There was no global flood in the history of humanity, so a model that depends on a significant event that has already been falsified is garbage. We also know that humanity had a founder population much larger than 8 people, and that the young earth creationist timeline is incompatible with physics and geology and paleontology and even recorded human history.
Another revealing thing about this article: it purports to complain about science’s interpretation of the Fermi paradox, but it doesn’t cite any science — instead, the only sources the guy mentions are science fiction, and even at that he doesn’t mention any SF books, but only SF and horror movies.
I guess this should be no surprise, that someone who mangles logic and misunderstands a hypothesis doesn’t read any books (except, maybe the Bible) and definitely doesn’t read any real science. He doesn’t seem to recognize irony or projection, either.
Meanwhile, the aliens arising from the imagination of modern science fiction, because they have no affiliation whatsoever with the evidence at hand, have a little more than the whiff of blind faith associated with them. Unlike say, Christian faith, where powerful objective evidence creates an ongoing intellectual crisis calling one to abandon subjective thinking, blind faith in something lacking any objective basis leaves only the subject’s imagination as the focus of query.
If that was intentional, it’s kind of funny — “powerful objective evidence” for Christianity? Hah. I fear he’s being serious, though.