Life Outside Earth: Ideas In Our Reenchantment & Rectification

Life Outside Earth:  Ideas In Our Reenchantment & Rectification

SF writes:

I’m reading Benedict XVI’s “In the Beginning” and he said something that has me thinking.

According to Monod, there is in the universe not only necessity but also chance. As Christians we would go further and say that there is freedom. In any event, Monod indicates that two realities in particular did not have to exist but could have existed. One of these is life. According to the laws of physics, it could have evolved but did not have to. Indeed, he adds that it was highly unlikely that it would have come about; the mathematical probability was close to zero. Thus one may well assume that this development—the occurrence of life—happened only once, and that this one time was on our earth.

Now, I haven’t thought about Monod since (probably) college. But, I have thought about questions (and have been asked by friends who know that I studied physics and am also Catholic) of life – its likelihood, how it came to be, etc. I’ve never thought (until this morning), that maybe there is zero chance of other life having been formed outside of our solar system. I thought that it seemed perfectly reasonable that there would be “aliens” out there. It just made statistical sense to me. And, there is nothing in Sacred Scripture that seemed to deny it. In fact, there are references to all kinds of “beings” outside of humans in Scripture (or at least, it, again, seems that there are).

What’s your thinking/view on this? This morning, it almost seems obvious, that even if it is statistically “likely” that there would be other beings outside of humans somewhere in our galaxy and universe, that it is totally possible that there aren’t.

Perhaps all of the possibilities of aliens is really the spiritual world a la angels and demons and we really are alone in the universe.

You will, I pray, forgive the pedantry of this question: What is the probability life evolved on earth?

There is none. Nothing has a probability, as I point out over and over and over again some more in the Class. Propositions only have probability with respect to evidence assumed.

What assumptions do we make?

No one knows how life originated on earth. Biogenesis. There are many theories, but no proof any of them are true, only guesses, more or less plausible. Yet I don’t believe any biogenesis theory has been proved impossible, either. Anybody that claims to know the correct theory is bluffing, or worse.

Biogenesis could have been entirely material, but we cannot calculate the probability without making the assumption that whatever theory we prefer calls to the right causes of creating life. Point is, each beloved theory eventually leads to life, so the chance life evolved here on earth given any of them is 100% (matched of course with the observed life).

Biogenesis could have been entirely miraculous, that first spark, preceding thereafter mechanistically. Many myths (in the old-fashioned sense of that word) say this. There is no empirical proof these are wrong. In any case, assuming any of them, again the chance life got here is 100%.

Notice very carefully that this does not invert. We get “the probability life evolved on earth given my favorite biogenesis theory is 1”. But this does not mean “the probability my favorite biogenesis theory is true given life on earth exists is 1”. The two are not the same thing. At all. We only get the latter by assuming all other theories other than our favorite are false. Which nobody knows.

Which we need to keep in mind as we ask this question: what is the probability life evolved elsewhere in the universe?

Again, there isn’t one. We have to work much harder on evolved and those theories.

It’s clear enough that religious theories have to have in them knowledge of the same causes elsewhere. I don’t know enough about them all to say anything. Christianity does not say anything definite, though arguments about impossibility or plausibility of extraterrestrial can be inferred.

If we go the mechanistic route, there are two paths: Theory by theory or vaguely.

Theory by theory. We start with a theory, which says this and that about material conditions. Probabilities that two chemicals come together in a certain milieu can be calculated, and the like. Enough premises about the theory and kind of world necessary for the theory to work can be gathered and then a probability for biogenesis can be calculated.

This can then be applied to information—more assumptions—on however many worlds that meet the criteria exist or have existed. There will be some uncertainty here. More probabilities on this number of worlds can be calculated.

The two probabilities can be joined (multiplied), to form a joint probability of, say, at least one other planet has had biogenesis. Or of two such planets, or whatever number you like.

But then there is that lurking third probability. Which is the chance the biogenesis theory itself is true, given whatever external evidence exists to judge it. Most who love a theory assume the theory is just plain true. But those who do not love it are willing to suppose it is not true.

Whatever this third probability is, it has to be multiplied into the others to form the probability that life evolved by my beloved theory of biogenesis on other planets, given the evidence I’m assuming.

Vaguely. This is much easier, but not as satisfying. Given a strictly mechanistic account of the universe, and given that we see life, then it had to arise somehow, who knows what way. Therefore it seems plausible to suppose that whatever this way was, it also worked on other planets. That there are other planets is another assumption, as before. Here you have to wave your hands: no numbers are possible, not without other tacit assumptions snuck in.

So much for biogenesis. What about other arguments?

Take UFOs (we’ll do this separately, as the topic is far too large to do here, too). Assuming these are piloted by other material-based creatures, i.e. aliens, the probability of other life is 1, whether it evolved or however it came about, including miraculously. But this relies on the assumption of alien life. Some say UFOs are demonic or angelic manifestations. Or just plain mistakes.

Or take things like Dyson Spheres, which are other-life-created objects built to surround stars to capture their energy. Some claim these exist, and give evidence for them. Supposing these are real—again, as we suppose all evidence is true in making probability—then the probability of other life is again 1, however it arose. Then the only probability to sweat over is whether the observations are correct, meaning the Spheres are real. Which does not seem over-large, given all we know about scientists making mistakes.

This leads us to the Fermi “paradox”, which says that if life did arise elsewhere, then where are they? We don’t see them, unless you accept UFOs or Dyson spheres. Assuming UFOs and Sphere observations are mistakes, then the paradox argues we are alone, or that other life is so minute that we cannot see it. SETI has been scanning the skies for decades with nothing to show for the effort. But life might be minute in the sense that it is not evolved to have a rational soul, equipped with intellects and wills, as we have, and so this other life is not readily noticeable.

That brings up evolution. Which again has various theories, some of which, like biogenesis, are hilarious bluffs. Like “random mutation”. One laughs. Evolution is too large to do here, so we’ll return to it, too. But see this. Whichever theory we enjoy, it has to account for how our non-material intellect and will can evolve, when these face no mechanistic evolutionary pressure. Perhaps only humans have that divine spark. Which is, of course, what I believe.

Another way to think of all this is to reverse the question, so to speak. We see we are here. Are there arguments, including theological ones, that forbid life outside earth? I know of no knock-out ones, but perhaps you do. Let us know. There are mechanistic theories that say biogenesis is so difficult that it is plausible that we are the first planet with life.

Maybe Peter’s new heaven and new earth fits the theological anti-argment:

Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of the Lord, by which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with the burning heat?

But we look for new heavens and a new earth according to his promises, in which justice dwelleth.

Seems harsh to destroy other rational life elsewhere because we’re so fractured. And Oderberg has argued that any extraterrestrial life that also had a rational soul would be human, in a sense. Which either rules them in or out as you interpret how the universe ends.

This was a lot, but only a sketch. The question is large. What are we left with? The hard, brutal labor of checking each individual biogenesis and evolutionary theory. And tracking down every report of extraterrestrial life, and ruling out whether the observations are mistakes.

No easy answer.

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  1. Dr. Weezil

    First mistake,

    “I was reading Ratzinger…”

    Just stop doing this.

  2. Incitadus

    I could go on and on on this contentious topic there there are literally billions of
    tons of utterly impossible granite monuments and statuary scattered across the globe
    that would require gem set points in tungsten carbide steel for manufacture which were
    not developed until the late 1800’s. Objects created before the Iron Age before 1000 BC,
    objects that one might even consider property markers. They are so out of place it’s remarkable
    there’s any debate as to their alien origins. If you want to see an alien look in the mirror and
    read your bible which explicitly describes 23 Elohim of which Yahweh was but one minor entity.
    Then there’s the much older Sumerian tablets which describe in detail these ‘creators of man’ who
    in all likelihood are still with us buzzing around in those highly contentious UFO’s…insane laugh

    Better that a fellow Catholic describe the misdirection:
    Mauro Biglino in English. The falling of the gods. Part 1.

  3. Cary D Cotterman

    “That there are other planets is another assumption”

    Quite a few have been detected in the past few decades, orbiting stars other than our own.

    “Seems harsh to destroy other rational life elsewhere because we’re so fractured”

    Harshness doesn’t seem to be an obstacle to God’s plans. So many harsh things take place right here on Earth (children suffering and dying from cancer, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc…), that many who don’t necessarily question the existence of a god do question whether He loves us.

  4. Wow – that’s some kettle of worms you’ve opened here.. ( ; donish humor? what’s that?

    1 – as usual there isn’t enough space in a comment to fairly respond to the text. Please take a look at:

    1.1 – – responding to your views on P(E). Basically: you’re right, except that something like 99% of the verbiage used to get to your views is unnecessary – there’s a much simpler and more comprehensive (ble?) approach possible.

    1.2 – responding to the life/evolution issue. (Written as a response to Dr. gelernter on ID and never used).

    2 – the question of alien life is endlessly fascinating. The problem, of course, is that we have no information – one interesting article i saw a week or two ago contained a list of possibilities including the idea that a human predecessor civilization survived on earth and some of them now live amongst us. Weird and (I think) absurd, but interesting – the study missed my own fav nutty theory: sol has a brown dwarf companion with a planet.. so UFOs etc are alien, but do not need FTL to get here. Sadly, there’s no evidence for or against this.

  5. NLR

    Even before the sheer size of the universe was apparent, people were speculating about life on other planets. Arthur O. Lovejoy’s Great Chain of Being has many quotes from such authors in Chapter 4.

    I don’t see why there can’t be life on other planets, of various sorts. Also, we see what happens on Earth with invasive species of plants or animals or even more, the disasters that came about from easy travel of human beings. Why shouldn’t planets be separated so that the beings on them can live without interference?

  6. Johnno

    Ackshully, as far as Christianity and specifically Catholism are concerned, there are dogmatic answers, or at least logical conclusions drawn from inerrant statements.

    There is the obvious account from Genesis. Not only plainly stating that God only creates life on Earth, but that the Earth itself preexists all other things, and that the stars and other heavenly bodies exist solely to serve a function with respect to Earth, a body at the center of the entire universe and is immobile and at rest.

    The alien life hypothesis lies on assumptions of ‘Long ages’ and the Copernican principle. We know dogmatically that both are false. And in the rationalistic perspective, we know that the first is grosdly assumed, the latter scientifically falsifiable. There was never enough time for evolution, even by the most generous guesswork estimates, and the more we map the universe, the more we discover how absolutely hostile it is out there to any sort of life, the universe has borders of radiation that are simply fields of fire, which are what will inevitably condense on the Day God willed it so and will burn everything.

    The Earth is fine tuned for life to an unimaginable degree, that I’d even venture to say, that it is more logical to assume that every star out there is a designated piece of circuitry on a universal motherboard all to keep and maintain the Earth and it’s climate so that you and I can live on it and read Brigg’s blog.

    ET sightings are therefore most likely natural or supernatural phenomenon that are terrestrial in this paradigm. ‘Craft’ recoveries are likely extraterrestrial junk metals floating in space that exhibited fantastic shapes due to plasmic electric discharges, some of which would find their way here.

  7. C-Marie

    Plus, Jesus Christ true God and true man, the only Begotten Son of God the Father, se retained His Divine nature, took on human nature, was born of Mother Mary , a virgin espoused to St. Joseph, lived, taught, suffered, died by crucifixion, and arose from the dead, was seen by many after His Resurrection, ascended into Heaven in full view of His Apostles, will never leave His followers, sent the Holy Spirit to reveal to us who receive Jesus as our Lord, our Saviour, our God, all that we need, and will return in full view of all who are on the earth, in God the Father’s timing and way.

    Does anyone really think that the above would happen again elsewhere in the universe??? That there are others on other planets, stars, etc. where life is/was created, which would require the above for redemption?

    So, I think that life is created by God alone, and that He has given to people, and nature the gift of procreation … which since the Original Sin of Adam and Eve, has been subjected to different biological errors at times, due to the fall from grace.

    Also remember, that the enemy can appear as an angel of light, and that we can exercise the gift of Holy Spirit Discernment so as to discern that which appears out of the ordinary, as to whether it is of God or not.

    God bless, C-Marie

  8. Gail Finke

    I loved this piece and find the comments hilarious because I agree there’s no way to know one way or the other. Of course God COULD create life elsewhere if He wanted to. Did He (or will He in the future)? There’s no way to know. None. Nada.

  9. BDavi52

    I’m reminded of countless conversations with very small children, who, being small children have equally small attention spans and but a microscopically small grasp of time and its infinite passage.

    “I can’t find my shoes!”, they tell me.
    “Did you look in your room?”, I ask.

    “Yes, and they’re not there. They’re not ANYWHERE because I’ve looked EVERYWHERE!”, the response.

    The Parent (or God, in this case) — all knowing, all seeing — walks into the child’s room and immediately pulls the shoes from under the bed, where they were kicked last night at bedtime. God, of course, knows they were under the bed because he’s God. The small child, being but a wee thing, not only does not know that his shoes were under there….he cannot construct any kind of rational system, or model, that would allow him to even begin to estimate such an inconceivable possibility that shoes might be beneath a bed.

    What he learns, of course, is that God, the Parent, does indeed KNOW where those rascally shoes are kept. The question will repeat itself tomorrow most likely.

    The point being — in an infinite universe, floating in an infinite timestream, the Whole known only by God — we are equally as lost and baffled.

    So naturally, we find it inconceivable that after Decades of Looking (decades / infinity = a very very very small number) we still can’t find our shoes….ergo: they’re not ANYWHERE.

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