Intelligent Aliens Terrify the Discovery Institute

The discovery of intelligent life on worlds other than Earth would be extremely disconcerting for creationists. This is true not only for traditional creationists, who base their “science” entirely on the bible, but also for the crypto-creationists at the Discovery Institute, who claim — for litigation purposes — that their version of creationism isn’t based on the bible. Nevertheless, their “theory” proposes a transcendental designer (never named, because that would doom their educational efforts), who, like Yehweh, created the universe, the Earth, life, and us.

That’s why both flavors of creationism (honest and stealth) routinely post attacks on SETI, the Search for extraterrestrial intelligence, insisting that it’s a waste of time and money because they know — somehow — that we’re the only intelligent species in the universe. We wrote about such an effort by the Discoveroids six weeks ago — see Klinghoffer Thinks About the Drake Equation. It was an attack on a paper in Astrobiology 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.

Today the Discoveroids are at it again, with this new post at their creationist blog: Ice-Cold Water on Past Alien Civilizations Thesis. 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. We’ll give you a few excerpts from Klinghoffer’s essay, with bold font added by us for emphasis.

Astrophysicist Adam Frank at the University of Rochester and astronomer Woodruff Sullivan at the University of Washington have been getting some mileage out of their thesis that past alien civilizations are a near certainty.

It always bothers the Discoveroids that real scientists get a respectful hearing for their ideas, while creationists like themselves get virtually none. Klinghoffer then refers to his earlier attack on the same two scientists, which we wrote about six weeks ago, and says:

Ross Anderson at The Atlantic pours ice-cold water on that one (Fancy Math Can’t Make Aliens Real). The key lies in all the mega-assumptions that Frank elides concerning abiogenesis and evolution.

And the key to the argument of creationists is their assumption that both the origin of life and its evolution by natural means is somehow impossible.

Who is Ross Anderson, whose article Klinghoffer regards so favorably? We can’t find any information on his background, but the magazine says he is “a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Science, Technology, and Health sections.” Klinghoffer gives us a huge quote from Anderson’s article. A small sampling from that (which we haven’t verified) will be sufficient. We added some bold font for emphasis:

These arguments have their appeal, but it is an appeal to intuition. The simple fact is that no matter how much we wish to live in a universe that teems with life — and many of us wish quite fervently — we haven’t the slightest clue how often it evolves. Indeed, we aren’t even sure how life arose on this planet. We have our just-so stories about lightning strikes and volcanic vents, but no one has come close to duplicating abiogenesis in a lab. Nor do we know whether basic organisms reliably evolve into beings like us.

We can’t extrapolate from our experience on this planet, because it’s only one data point. We could be the only intelligent beings in the universe, or we could be one among trillions, and either way Earth’s natural history would look the exact same.


Frank compresses each of these important, billions-of-years-in-the-making leaps in evolution into a single “biotechnical” probability, which is meant to capture the likelihood of the whole sequence. For all we know, each step could be a highly contingent cosmic lottery win.

Klinghoffer seizes upon that “cosmic lottery” remark and says:

Or intelligent design.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Yes, if one wants to get really speculative, he could also consider that. Klinghoffer continues:

So much hangs on the question of human exceptionalism. … What human beings are — cosmic flotsam or creatures potentially in a designer’s image — is the background dilemma to all discussions of evolution.

He’s right. If we truly are created “in His image,” that would be a vital factor in discussing evolution. Klinghoffer concludes with this:

Intelligent aliens are a requirement for materialists since human existence must be unexceptional, not only on the planet but in the cosmos. If ETs already died out, that’s fine too.

Actually, intelligent aliens aren’t required. Some kind of life out there is probably inevitable, and the creationists could tolerate it if we found only microbes. But if intelligent aliens really do (or ever did) exist, that would be a wooden stake through the heart of all creationists — including the Discoveroids. It’s amusing to see that they are aware of their vulnerabilities.

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

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17 responses to “Intelligent Aliens Terrify the Discovery Institute

  1. “If we truly are created “in His image,” that would be a vital factor in discussing evolution.”
    Not even that. “To create” is unspecific enough that it can mean what you want it to mean.

  2. michaelfugate

    Didn’t, just this week, the DI extols the virtues of avian exceptionalism? Aren’t, according to their thinking, bird brains evidence of ID and aren’t said brains better than human ones in some respects?

  3. docbill1351

    Andersen is a science writer from what I can tell; he’s interested in science and technology. Aren’t we all. However, Andersen just reports. He doesn’t provide any insight as Klappertrapper would want you to believe. Of course, Klinkledinkle and the rest of the Tooter clown car rely upon amateurs to support their twisty little agenda, or crackpots.

    Speaking of which, the comment thread at the Atlantic picked up a nice crackpot troll of the thin-skinned variety who is flailing around in the best traditions of Krankertanker and the Tooters*.

    *coincidentally the name of my favorite Portland band.

  4. Or maybe Yahweh, being inscrutable, has created other beings in his image on other planets in each of the hundred billion galaxies or so to see whether they all turn out the same. Or … maybe there are other gods, one for each galaxy, and they are competing to see which of them can create the biggest mess or …

    (Can you imagine all of the Discovery Institutes on all of the parallel universes? Oh, my!)

  5. Let’s see if I have this right.

    (1) ID is not religious, because there is no claim that the intelligent designer is God. After all, the intelligent designer could be an alien from outer space.

    (2) There could not possibly be aliens in outer space.

  6. Attack SETI? Nonsense! ID is a big fan of SETI; although its attitude toward it is a bit nuanced so let me spell it out for you. We do think SETI the program is a waste of time and money. That’s true. If you want to call it an “attack”, well we can just chalk that up to today’s liberal lexicon for the squeamish. However, the rationale behind SETI is very similar to what ID claims to do: detect intelligence from artifacts regardless of who, how, when, where or why. Yet when SETI is brought up in conversation as a parallel to ID, then the objections to SETI start flying from your side not ours.

  7. docbill1351

    C-minus squeaked:

    We do think …

    So much wrong with just that! Look at little C-minus trying to be a big boy with his tribal “we.” As if even the Tooters give a rat’s what C-minus “thinks.” He’s sort of cute in his Attack Gerbil costume trying to be a spokesgerbil. Hey, good luck with the audition.

    Anyway, not rising to the chum, chum. Read my lips, not gonna happen.

  8. What human beings are — cosmic flotsam or creatures potentially in a designer’s image…

    Designer’s image. Where have I heard that before? Is Kling becoming a YEC?

    I though ID had no means of determining who the designer was, why it did what it did, when, how, or really, anything at all. It’s a theory that an unknown entity no one can describe did an unknown something in an indescribable way at an unknown time.

    But maybe humans were made in the designer’s image.

    I like the sound of cosmic flotsam… I’ll go with that one.

  9. michaelfugate

    “I though(t) ID had no means of determining who the designer was”

    cosmic flotsam = stardust?

  10. Ken Phelps

    I think their concern about intelligent aliens is well founded. Would you want a bunch of presumably very advanced aliens showing up and saying “You believe what?”

  11. Eric Lipps

    Intelligent aliens are a requirement for materialists since human existence must be unexceptional, not only on the planet but in the cosmos.


    It wasn’t that long ago, in fact (indeed, as late as 1990 or so) that some (real)scientists were arguing that life might be unique to Earth because (1) there was nowhere else in the solar system where life was likely to exist, and (2)–this is crucial–there was no evidence that any other solar systems existed. One theory of planet formation had it that star systems were formed (in pairs) when two stars came close enough to each other for their gravitational interaction to rip matter out of both of them which would then go on to form planets. If this were true, planetary systems would be fabulously rare and ours might be the only one with intelligent life.

    Of course, the discovery of growing numbers of planets around other stars since then has driven a stake through the heart of that idea, but creationists have simply retreated to a new position, that no matter how many planets exist none will ever be found which are truly earthlike. It’s the God of the gaps again. Yawn.

  12. Ken Phelps asks

    Would you want a bunch of presumably very advanced aliens showing up and saying “You believe what?”

    Decidedly not!

    And especially not if they are Missionaries from Mars, proclaiming that “Gort died for your sins” and forcing us, at the point of fearsome death-ray weapons, to engage in weird forms of religious worship involving animals, all the while praying “Klaatu barada nikto!”

  13. Oops! Olivia informs me that my parody in my previous post is in fact an accurate (though incomplete) sketch of our Curmudgeon’s own form of personal religious worship.

    Apologies; no offence intended.

  14. I now wish to retract my previous apology.

    Amongst great sobs and near-hysteria, Olivia has now fitfully but with enormous courage given me a more complete account of what passes for our Curmudgeon’s deviant and disgusting religious ‘rites’, which involve perversions that should never be publically catalogued, least of all in a family-friendly blog.

    All I can say is, Ewwwwwwwwwww!….

  15. Megalonyx has an imaginary conversation about me with his imaginary Olivia and announces: “All I can say is, Ewwwwwwwwwww!….”

    Upon seeing that, the real Olivia told me: “He put the Ewwwwwwwwwww! in Peee-yuuuwwwwwwwwwww!

  16. docbill1351

    I’ve heard tell of Curmie’s Zuul costume.

    Enough to make one swoon.

  17. DocBil, thank you for your comments. Always refreshing. When can we expect you to produce some evidence to back up your claim that the Dishonesty Institute rejects all definitions of information? C’mon Bill show me that this blog isn’t just a warehouse of strawmen, half truths and outright lies. Or you can just admit you made the whole thing up.