Skip to comments.Study Affirms Earth Is Uncommon and Perhaps Even Unique
Posted on 07/13/2018 9:42:03 AM PDT by Salvation
A new study has been issued from Oxford University that casts doubt on the notion that there is intelligent life in abundance elsewhere in the universe. More on that study in a moment.
Meanwhile, I have written from time to time on the question of whether there is other intelligent life in the universe. As a Catholic, I have no need for the answer to be yes or no; the Church does not teach on this one way or another. Neither do the Scriptures address the point directly or make any scientific declaration.
Generally, however, my own conclusion is that intelligent life and highly developed civilizations, like or more advanced than our own, are rare and perhaps even non-existent. I based this on past study of the matter.
Some have balked at my conclusion; and that is fine, it is only my conclusion, and provisional at best. I would easily abandon the conclusion if new evidence presented itself. But I have also discovered that many people who assume that intelligent and highly organized civilizations are out there, hold their view for largely or merely statistical premises. The thinking goes: in a universe of a billion trillion stars, chances are high, almost certain, that such life is out there.
But statistics are a funny thing. Simply looking at the number of stars and galaxies, sounds expansive in terms of possibilities. But statistics can cut both ways. For it is not just one or two things that make life possible on earth; there are hundreds, even thousands of factors which make life, and especially developed and diverse life, stably possible on earth to the degree that complex and technological civilizations could emerge. Multiplying these many factors together brings the statistical possibilities of advanced life substantially down.
I have written more on these factors (sometimes called Rare Earth Hypothesis) here: Earth is a Rare Jewel. But the essential point of the theory is that there are many factors that have made life possible on earth by providing a stable setting for life to arise and develop. Here are just some of the many:
It would appear that for complex life to be sustained, many factors must come together in just the right way.
In June, a team of researchers at the University of Oxford released a paper that casts doubts (but does not rule out) that intelligent life is out there in abundance. Here is a recently published summary of their research:
In 1950, while working at Los Alamos National Laboratory, physicist Enrico Fermi famously exclaimed to his colleagues over lunch: Where is everybody?
He had been pondering the surprising lack of evidence of other life outside of our planet. In a universe that had been around for some 14 billion years, and in that time developed more than a billion trillion stars, Fermi reasoned there simply must be other intelligent civilizations out there. So where are they?
We still dont know, and the Fermi paradox has only strengthened with time. Since the 1950s, humans have walked on the moon, sent a probe beyond our solar system, and even sent an electric sports car into orbit around the sun for fun. If we can go from rudimentary wooden tools to these feats of engineering in under a million years, surely there would have been ample opportunity in our 13.8 billion-year-old-universe for other civilizations to have progressed to a similar leveland far beyondalready?
And then, surely there would be some lingering radio signals or visual clues of their expansion reaching our telescopes.
Now, a team of researchers at the University of Oxford brings a new perspective to this conundrum. In early June, Anders Sandberg, Eric Drexler, and Toby Ord of the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) released a paper on the Fermi paradoxthe discrepancy between our expected existence of alien signals and the universes apparent lack of themonce and for all.
Using fresh statistical methods, the paper re-asks the question Are we alone? and draws some groundbreaking conclusions: We Earthlings are not only likely to be the sole intelligence in the Milky Way, but there is about a 50 percent chance we are alone in the entire observable universe.
Space is a large place, and the task of accurately estimating the likelihood of little green men isnt exactly easy.
In 1961, astronomer Frank Drake proposed a formula that multiplied seven parameters together to estimate the number of detectable civilizations, N, we should expect within our galaxy at a given moment in time.
The Drake equation was only intended as a rough tool to stimulate scientific discussion around the probability of extraterrestrial life. However, in the absence of any reasonable alternatives, it has remained astronomers only method of calculating the probability of extraterrestrial intelligence. This is problematic because while some parameters are relatively well-known, others remain hugely uncertain.
This enormous uncertainty leaves the Drake equation ultimately vulnerable to the optimism or pessimism of whoever wields it. And this is reflected in previous scientific papers whose results give values of N ranging anywhere from 10 to many billions.
Sincere attempts to overcome this vulnerability have previously been made via selecting a handful of conservative, medium, and bullish best estimates for each parameter value and then taking an average across them.
In their new paper, titled Dissolving the Fermi Paradox, the FHI researchers dispute this method by demonstrating how this technique typically produces a value of N far higher than it should, creating the illusion of a paradox.
[The researchers proposed a complex two-stage process of evaluating the Drake equation that] produced striking results: Based upon the current state of astrobiological knowledge, theres a 53 to 99.6 percent chance we are the only civilization in this galaxy and a 39 to 85 percent chance we are the only one in the observable universe [*].
As you may imagine, there are many who find the conclusion of the authors problematic. I, too, wonder if their conclusion is too strong given the scientific method used. However, I still thing that Earth is a rare jewel! Indeed, there is something almost enchanted about our world.
Of this much I am happy: we are moving beyond simplistic theories that simply rely on the large size of the universe and its trillions of stars and looking more to the complex interactions required for life on Earth to exist as we know it. These are part of the statistical analysis we need to make as well, and they add a sober appreciation to what has made us what and who we are.
From a religious standpoint, my response to the details that make life on Earth what it is, are wonder and awe. The more we learn, the more we should be amazed; life is indeed a great mystery! As a believer, I am grateful to God and amazed at the subtle complexity of what He does. Our life here is not a common thing. It appears to be carefully, subtly, and consistently fostered and guarded. Earth is not common. It is quite specialperhaps even unique.
Monsignor Pope Ping!
Yes it does.
I would say he left out #13 (which really should be #1) - God would have to decide to create life on those other planets, since life can’t just “happen” by itself.
That point makes the rest of these statistical arguments rather moot.
I agree with him. Since we are here, life elsewhere certainly is possible. However, it’s highly improbable.
Just one of many facts to consider: the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, but it took almost 4 billion years for life to appear on land, even though Earth is friendly to life.
There is a video on youtube that starts out with a pic of a mountain in India maybe then slowly pans out to around 13 BILLION light years away.
yea the odds of us being the only sentient beings are pretty slim...
Gee, it is as if someone intentionally designed the perfect planet for life.
We also could have stayed at the non-technological level forever. Hunter Gather or even Roman level of technology.
Our world and civilization is really a marvel and needs to be protected at all costs.
“There is a video on youtube that starts out with a pic of a mountain in India maybe then slowly pans out to around 13 BILLION light years away.
yea the odds of us being the only sentient beings are pretty slim...”
Lots of possibilities in all of that, Space and Time.
But yes, at some point in time and space in our known universe, there are, have been, or will be other planets with sentient life.
No doubt about that.
Of course its just us. Just look at the Bible. Its Adam and Eve, not Adam and Qiuznorx.
There could be 10+ billion earth like clones out there and it would still be unique.
Angels are sentient beings ...
Especially Mike Trout. I’m an A’s fan, but he’s a generational baseball player.