Discoveroids Solve the Fermi Paradox

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!

Copyright © 2018. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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22 responses to “Discoveroids Solve the Fermi Paradox

  1. Wasn’t there an announcement in the press last week under the Science sections , of complex organic compounds identified on a moon which is believed to have geothermal energy heating an ocean beneath surface ice.
    A moon of Mercury as I recall.The lain wa that the environment would be similar perhaps to mid oceanic ridge geo thermal vents on earth that are thought to possibly have been the original locations of early life on earth?
    The tuts missed that one ? Does anyone know about this?

  2. Derek Freyberg

    It’s Saturn’s moon Enceladus (I don’t think Mercury has any moons), and there’s a Letter in Nature by Frank Postberg et al., “Macromolecular organic compounds from the depths of Enceladus”, Nature, volume 558, pages 564–568 (2018), published earlier this week. Derek Lowe’s “In the Pipeline” blog yesterday comments on it.

  3. With their evident fondness for paradox, I can just hear the Discoveroids crowing:

    Heads- we win
    Tails- you lose

  4. Michael Fugate

    More likely it’s Zeno paradox – no matter how long the DI is in existence, it will never come up with a theory of ID?

  5. Mercury and Venus do not have any moons. Planets with moons start with the Earth having one moon and all of the more distal planets having more than one moon. Even dwarf planet Pluto has at least five moons!

  6. “The problem is, none of these people cite papers or other writing by researchers on intelligent design.”
    Worse – they don’t cite papers or other writing by researchers on astrology either (Michael Behe, Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial).

    “Whatever is found out there, the Discoveroids’ “science” predicts it.”
    Or, as I never get tired to point out: you can’t beat creacrap.

  7. Eddie Janssen

    Well, what a coincidence. Today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day picture:
    https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap180701.html

  8. “that oceans under Enceladus’ surface could contain life.”
    After the publication of the analysis of those ice grains the IDiot design filter perfectly predicted that this is possible.

  9. skmarshall

    Here’s a question that I do not know the answer to but perhaps someone here has seen some research:
    Let’s presume there is a planetary system within, let’s say, 100 light years of so of us;
    And presuming on one of its planets there is an alien civilization of roughly the same technological level as ours;
    At our present ability to detect electromagnetic signals, would we be able to detect their emmissions, and they ours?

  10. skmarshall

    Of course now that I think about it some more, at a distance of 100 light years my hypothetical aliens would only now be possibly observing the pathetic radio emissions of the year 1918, Hmmmm…

  11. David Evans

    The truth is, as always, halfway between the two extremes. The aliens were intelligently designed. We, however, weren’t.

  12. I’m still here, by the way. It’s just that there’s really nothing to blog about.

  13. Does this confuse probability with likelihood?

  14. Michael Elzinga

    One story has it that Leo Szilard’s reply to “Where are they?” was, “They’re already here, but they call themselves Hungarians.”

  15. I’d love to have a moon of enchilada. I mean, ours is made of cheese which gets boring pretty soon.

  16. How about the image of the newly- formed exoplanet of PDS 70? Is there evidence of its age > 10,000 years?

    There is so much science news all over the place, stuff which only makes sense in the light of evolution in an old universe and a heliocentric Solar System etc. Nothing at all like the Ancient Near Eastern image adopted by the Bible.

  17. The writers of the Bible had no qualms about accepting the image of nature (science) developed by their neighbors as the framework for their theology.

  18. Our Curmudgeon reports:

    I’m still here, by the way.

    Other readers of this blog might not properly appreciate that note without the explanation that “here” means “on my Home World, a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri.”

    But I do not know if he has already been recruited as a cadet in the proposed US Space Force…

  19. Michael Fugate

    What makes me laugh is many of the people claiming an originalist interpretation of the Bible claim the same for the US Constitution. It is phony in both cases, but authoritarians love it; it gives them cover or keeps them from needing to think and understand the world as it is.

  20. Make Creationism Great Again!

  21. Eric Lipps

    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.

    Ah, yes. If ID quacks, er, “researchers” say life can’t arise without “design or guidance,” it must be true.
    It couldn’t be, of course, that actual scientists don’t cite papers by creationist cranks for the same reason they don’t cite astrologers: that they’re total nonsense.

    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.

    There goes our privileged-planet status.