Klinghoffer Thinks About the Drake Equation

Everyone knows about the Drake equation, developed by Frank Drake in 1961 to estimate of the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. It depends on several factors: the number of stars in our galaxy that have planets, the number of such planets that can potentially support life, the number of those that develop intelligent civilizations which then generate signals we can detect, and how long such civilizations exist.

We found an article at PhysOrg yesterday, Are we alone? Setting some limits to our uniqueness, describing a re-think of the Drake equation by Adam Frank, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, and Woodruff Sullivan of the astronomy department and astrobiology program at the University of Washington. It was published in Astrobiology. Here’s a link to that paper: A New Empirical Constraint on the Prevalence of Technological Species in the Universe , which you can read online without a subscription. PhysOrg quotes Frank who says:

We’ve known for a long time approximately how many stars exist. We didn’t know how many of those stars had planets that could potentially harbor life, how often life might evolve and lead to intelligent beings, and how long any civilizations might last before becoming extinct. Thanks to NASA’s Kepler satellite and other searches, we now know that roughly one-fifth of stars have planets in “habitable zones,” where temperatures could support life as we know it. So one of the three big uncertainties has now been constrained.

Yes, we know that. The new approach the authors took was this:

“Rather than asking how many civilizations may exist now, we ask ‘Are we the only technological species that has ever arisen?'” said Sullivan. “This shifted focus eliminates the uncertainty of the civilization lifetime question and allows us to address what we call the ‘cosmic archaeological question’ — how often in the history of the universe has life evolved to an advanced state?”

That still leaves huge uncertainties in calculating the probability for advanced life to evolve on habitable planets. It’s here that Frank and Sullivan flip the question around. Rather than guessing at the odds of advanced life developing, they calculate the odds against it occurring in order for humanity to be the only advanced civilization in the entire history of the observable universe. With that, Frank and Sullivan then calculated the line between a Universe where humanity has been the sole experiment in civilization and one where others have come before us. [Emphasis supplied.]

Interesting, but still quite speculative. We weren’t going to write about it, but then we saw that the Discovery Institute has jumped in. The latest article at their creationist blog is Cosmic Archaeology: Taking the Sting Out of the Drake Equation. It was written by David Klinghoffer, a Discoveroid “senior fellow” (i.e., flaming, full-blown creationist), who eagerly functions as their journalistic slasher and poo flinger.

What could the Discoveroids possibly contribute to this topic? We’ll give you a few excerpts from Klinghoffer’s essay, with bold font added by us for emphasis.

Frank Drake’s work has previously been a stumbling block for materialist understandings of the cosmos.

What? Let’s read on:

If our habitable planet is common currency and life evolves so easily, with intelligent life and civilization following readily in its wake, then why do we record no evidence of such life out there — no contact from ETs, not a peep? Could it be that life is so unlikely as to require a designer’s guidance for it to come into existence? Hence the anxiety.

Uh huh — the “anxiety” — which we all know as the Fermi paradox. Klinghoffer continues:

Ah, but you see, it’s because all the previous alien civilizations have gone extinct! Just as — so fashionable opinion never tires of telling us — our own threatens to do.

Then he talks about the new article in Astrobiology and says:

Whether Earth’s intelligent life has or had parallels elsewhere all depends on how readily previously dead matter evolves such an astonishing pattern. If it does so relatively easily, then many other inhabited planets like Earth have probably gone before us … . If you select the Milky Way as your area of interest and then a likelihood of evolving intelligent life at 1 in 10,000 (10^-4), then the result is some 6 million civilizations, past or present. If you choose 10^-24, then “We are the first advanced civilization.” There are, and have been, no others.

Okay. That’s not very difficult to figure out. Here comes Klinghoffer’s valuable contribution to the issue:

[W]e do know that evolving a civilization involves hurtles downstream from a far more basic problem — getting a functional protein. No building blocks of life means, inescapably, no life. ETs don’t need to be designed precisely as we are for this to be true.

Then he quotes Discoveroid Ann Gauger (a/k/a “Annie Green Screen”), who is now Casey’s replacement in the blogging department:

Proteins exhibit exquisite design, with extraordinary specified complexity embedded in their sequences. Too much to be the result of random processes.

Well, that settles the issue — at least as far as Klinghoffer is concerned. His conclusion is very weird, but here it is:

To speak of intelligent life developing, putting odds on that, seems beyond calculation. But reckoning on civilizations having extinguished themselves is an ingenious move and grants evolutionists a tenuous handhold. How can anyone prove there aren’t scads of dead Earths out there? It also fits well with the ethos of the moment, an apocalyptic one that sees civilization and technology’s advance, human flourishing itself, as an exercise in self-destruction.

That’s it, dear reader. Now you know the Discoveroids’ best thinking about whether we’re alone. They’re confident that we are, so there’s no need for any further research. Instead, we should spend all our time contemplating the glory of their intelligent designer — blessed be he! — who miraculously created us and our privileged planet.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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12 responses to “Klinghoffer Thinks About the Drake Equation

  1. “Klinghoffer Thinks …”

    Your headline requires a total suspension of critical reasoning ability to even finish reading it, let alone the article covering what the Klinger said.

  2. The IDiots can’t get past their specified complexity argument and wrap their brains around INCREMENTAL changes over incomprehensible stretches of time…and the chemistry of life is everywhere in the universe.

    For his “no evidence” of other life or civilizations argument we humans only invented technologies capable of radiating electromagnetic energy some hundred or so years ago. Only beings 100 or so light years away or less could have “heard” us. It would take another 100 years for us to hear any potential reply. Same physics goes both ways. Carl Sagan, in the 1980 version of Cosmos, said something akin to, “Perhaps we’re the first. After all SOME technological civilzation has to be first. But I think another answer is that the universe is a REALLY big place.”

  3. “Proteins exhibit exquisite design, with extraordinary specified complexity embedded in their sequences. Too much to be the result of random processes.”

    This is total garbage. These people never look in the scientific literature. Back in the 1960s Sidney Fox made thermal proteins from a random mixture of amino acids. Guess What? Among the random sequences of the polypeptide chains there were specific enzymatic activities that could be detected. So doesn’t that blow a big hole in their “specified complexity” argument. “SP” should be labeled POOMA (Pulled Out Of My Ass).

  4. “If our habitable planet is common currency and life evolves so easily, with intelligent life and civilization following readily in its wake, then why do we record no evidence of such life out there — no contact from ETs, not a peep?”
    “Proteins exhibit exquisite design, with extraordinary specified complexity embedded in their sequences. Too much to be the result of random processes.”

    First, who would want to contact a backward society like ours, especially a world populated by Klinghoffer like denialist creationists.
    Second, random processes are all around us, and in our makeup. We are not made of little mousetraps of irreducible complexity.

  5. Klinghoffer says: “To speak of intelligent life developing, putting odds on that, seems beyond calculation….How can anyone prove there aren’t scads of dead Earths out there?”

    Can’t the same thing be said for Intelligent Designers?

  6. Klinghoffer should just come out and say the real reason he thinks there aren’t any aliens: Jesus wasn’t a Klingon!

  7. @Reflectory Maybe not, but Shakespeare was.

  8. “To speak of intelligent life developing, putting odds on that, seems beyond calculation….
    I agree with that.
    But why to the evolution-deniers keep trying to calculate odds on that?

  9. Everything a scientist does or writes about, every hypothesis, every speculative calculation or “what if” proposition – absolutely everything – has to do with materialists denying god intelligent design.

    The question is, does Kling actually believe this or is he just writing propaganda. I would guess that he is writing propaganda, but maybe I give him too much credit. Maybe he really believes it.

    This should not be an issue for ID. The Drake equation is simply a means of taking a difficult problem and reducing it to a series of potentially simpler questions that could be worked separately. We’ve made good strides on the initial questions. When we develop the technology to detect the products of biology in planetary atmospheres, we will answer another one, and so on. It is a way of approaching the ultimate question whether one believes in natural processes or a designer.

    The DI claim that they cannot identify the designer at all, or even investigate his identity. However they seem to know exactly how the designer thinks – and the designer created the universe solely for us. I wonder how they are able to read the mind of a designer they cannot identify. Must be magic.

  10. Mike Elzinga

    For the last fifty years all that ID/creationists have been able to demonstrate is that they have miserable understandings of math and science at even the high school level.

    The Drake equation is far, far beyond the comprehension of Klinkhoffer, William Dembski, Jason Lisle, David Abel, Michael Behe, Granville Sewell, and all other ID/creationists who pretend to do mathematical calculations and can’t even get units right when plugging variables into equations.

    All their assertions boil down to the logarithm to base 2 of Np is less than 1, and calling it “information.” They then tell us thatN = 2^500 and that the probability, p, of a specified molecular assembly is calculated by taking the reciprocal of K^L; where K is the number of ASCII character choices per position in a specified string of characters of length L. Then they ask the sneering question, “Where did all that information come from?” But, even though such a calculation is completely irrelevant to the formation of complex molecular assemblies, they can’t even do that calculation correctly.

    So why would any ID/creationist know what the Drake equation even means? Yet such ignorance of basic math and science never stops them from pontificating as though they are experts in all things. They just look stupid.

  11. Eric Lipps

    sonord sonord writes:

    For [Klinghoffer’s] “no evidence” of other life or civilizations argument we humans only invented technologies capable of radiating electromagnetic energy some hundred or so years ago. Only beings 100 or so light years away or less could have “heard” us.

    It’s actually worse than that. After all, detection depends not only about how long we’ve been sending signals but how long our hypothetical aliens have been receiving them. It also depends on how long an interval there is between the invention of broadcast technologies powerful enough to be detected at interstellar distances and their disappearance through either civilizational collapse or their replacement by non-broadcast technologies (cable, laser transmission, etc.) which could not easily be detected from so far away. For us, at least, that looks like perhaps 100 years. Supposing a civilization which doesn’t destroy itself soon after the development of nuclear weapons exists for 10,000 years that’s a pretty narrow window.

    The only civilizations much more advanced than ours we’d have a decent chance of detecting are those which leave huge signs of themselves, such as ultra-powerful signals of some sort or the existence of infrared giant stars whose radiation would indicate that they’re actually Dyson spheres. And if the closest such phenomena were thousands of light years from us, we’d be hard-pressed to spot them with current astronomical technology.

  12. Broadcast signals are most efficiently coded so that they are indistinguishable from random noise.