The Discovery Institute, like all creationist outfits, has been obsessed with the fear that there may be life on other worlds. It would be like the shock experienced as a result of Galileo’s work with a telescope, which showed that Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, orbited by the Sun and everything else. Instead, and clearly contrary to scripture, it was merely one of the planets orbiting the Sun — see Galileo affair.
Although creationists have reluctantly accepted the idea of the Solar System, and the recent discovery that there are thousands of other planetary systems, they nevertheless insist that Earth is unique, having been created especially for us by Yahweh or, as the Discoveroids prefer, the intelligent designer — blessed be he!
We’ve been tracking the, ah, evolving position of the Discoveroids regarding the possibility of life on extra-solar planets. We described their latest position, which is rather fuzzy, four months ago — see Discoveroids’ Latest View on Alien Life.
Now they’re tackling the issue again with this post at their creationist blog: Are We Alone in the Cosmos? Here’s a Real Paradox for You, which has no author’s byline. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:
Astrophysicist Ethan Siegel writing at Forbes [No, We Haven’t Solved The Drake Equation, The Fermi Paradox, Or Whether Humans Are Alone] delivers a bracing chastisement to seemingly scientific efforts to estimate the probability of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) in the cosmos. The case in point is a preprint paper by Sandberg, Drexler, and Ord of the Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University, claiming to “dissolve the Fermi paradox.” [Dissolving the Fermi Paradox, no subscription required]
You know about the Fermi paradox. If the universe is full of life, some of it intelligent, then — as Enrico Fermi is said to have asked — “Where are they?” The paper the Discoveroids are discussing examines the variables of the Drake equation. The Discoveroids say:
The Fermi paradox represents the problem of why ETI ought to be abundant yet gives no sign of itself. We appear to be living alone. The paper “dissolves” the paradox by rethinking the Drake equation:
They purport to quote the paper, which we haven’t checked:
We examine these parameters, incorporating models of chemical and genetic transitions on paths to the origin of life, and show that extant scientific knowledge corresponds to uncertainties that span multiple orders of magnitude. This makes a stark difference. When the model is recast to represent realistic distributions of uncertainty, we find a substantial ex ante probability of there being no other intelligent life in our observable universe, and thus that there should be little surprise when we fail to detect any signs of it.
[W]e find a substantial probability that we are alone in our galaxy, and perhaps even in our observable universe (53%–99.6% and 39%–85% respectively). ’Where are they?’ — probably extremely far away, and quite possibly beyond the cosmological horizon and forever unreachable.
Lots of papers have thrashed around in the Drake equation. The one the Discoveroids cite is just the latest. But they like it and say:
Those are large ranges, but if credible would indeed seem to solve the difficulty of why we appear to be solo.
Then, to our surprise, they give the other side:
Siegel [with his article in Forbes] candidly points out, however, that the values of a couple factors in the equations are utterly unknown.
Quite so. The Discoveroids quote from the Forbes article:
This equates to two (in the Drake equation) unknowns that are absolutely necessary to reach the ultimate goal of intelligent aliens:
1. the likelihood of creating life from non-life on an Earth-like world,
2. and the likelihood of that life evolving into an intelligent, communicative, and possibly interstellar species.
In terms of raw probability, we have no idea how likely or unlikely these events are. … Until we have more information, don’t be fooled by the headlines: these aren’t brilliant estimates or groundbreaking work. It’s guessing, in the absence of any good evidence. That’s no way to do science. In fact, until we have better evidence, it’s not science at all.
Why are the Discoveroids presenting both sides? That’s unusual for them. Be patient, dear reader. All will be explained. The Discoveroids attack the Forbes article:
“Not science at all” may be a bit harsh. … True, the paper is more statistical than it is scientific. However, its conclusion, the “we are indeed alone” answer to the Fermi paradox, is a reasonable and defensible conclusion to reach given our current evidence and current knowledge.
Of course they think it’s reasonable — it agrees with the creationist dogma in The Privileged Planet, the Discoveroid-authored “fine tuning” argument applied to Earth. Let’s read on:
The problem is, none of these people cite papers or other writing by researchers on intelligent design [Hee hee!] … . So, they are always more optimistic than they should be. The probability of the origin of life without design or guidance is not unknown. It’s effectively zero.
BWAHAHAHAHAHA! The Discoveroids’ conclusion is the best part:
Yet here’s a real paradox for you. Allowing design as an option actually increases the chances of extraterrestrial intelligence, [Huh?] since there is then a way to overcome the extremely remote probabilities. If there is ETI out there, it’s thanks to ID.
Now you know why the Discoveroids’ post seems to fairly discuss both sides of the issue. They’ve decided that it doesn’t matter. Whatever we find out there — life or no life, abundant or not, intelligent or not, — it doesn’t matter. Whatever is found out there, the Discoveroids’ “science” predicts it. Problem solved!
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