A new study attempting to refine or update the Drake Equation, a simplistic formula for calculating the number of detectable intelligent civilizations in our galaxy, has concluded that if we pick up alien radio transmissions, “the transmissions arriving at Earth may come from distant civilizations long extinct, while civilizations still alive are sending signals yet to arrive.”
That’s not really that astounding of a conclusion. It’s not even a new idea.
Infamously, in 1978, Senator William Proxmire (D-Wis.) awarded SETI one of his monthly “Golden Fleece” awards identifying projects he felt were a drain on the US budget. He objected to SETI on the grounds that there was no definitive evidence that such life existed so we should just wait to hear from them (which, hilariously enough, is the entire point of SETI) and because even if we received an alien signal, they’d likely be long dead so we wouldn’t be able to return their call, as it were.
Frank Drake, responsible for the creation of both SETI and the eponymous Drake Equation, responded to this bit of special pleading in his 1992 book, Is Anyone Out There?, by noting that our inability to respond would make the reception of an alien signal no less significant; we would “know the answer to one of the grandest questions in human philosophy: Are we the only intelligent life in the universe?” (p. 192)
This tired objection notwithstanding, what’s interesting about the study is that it puts a minimum age for a civilization to be detectable and potentially still around when we discover them at 100,000 years (the time it takes light to travel across the Milky Way). Of course, this also means that if we send a message back, there might not be anyone left at the other end to hear our reply. The tyranny of communication across the vast distances of space are one of the reasons science fiction writers like myself employ “ansibles” that make instantaneous (or at least suitably shorter) communication possible to overcome this annoying detail and move our story along!
Of course, Answers in Genesis chose to comment on the study, but Ken Ham did so (with the assistance of AiG’s research team) in a post with the click-bait title, “Study: We Probably Won’t Hear from Aliens (Because They’re Dead).”
Classy. And very misleading as it turns out. The study said that if we hear from aliens, they’re probably dead by now. The AiG title implies something more along the lines of “Dead men tell no tales.” Or rather dead aliens can’t send signals.
That’s because Ken Ham doesn’t think they exist. Regarding the Fermi Paradox (the fact that we have, as yet, not detected any alien transmissions), Ham declares:
“What it means is that there aren’t any intelligent alien civilizations out there! And that’s exactly what we’d expect starting with God’s Word. The Bible tells us earth was formed to be inhabited, and it’s to earth that Jesus came to save us, not to another planet to save another race of beings.”
To say that an absence of intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations is “exactly what we’d expect starting with God’s Word” is a claim that requires the Bible to make a prediction or statement regarding the absence of extraterrestrial life. It does no such thing. The Bible never claims to be an Encyclopedia Galactica, containing knowledge of everything that ever existed. It doesn’t mention microbes, despite the fact that they are very important to our health, and yet they exist.
The Bible does tell us that the Earth was formed to be inhabited. It NEVER says that no other planets were likewise formed to be inhabited.
The Bible tells us that Jesus came to save us. It says nothing regarding the salvation of alien life that might exist elsewhere. Ken Ham seems to think that the anthropocentric message of the Bible implies the non-existence of alien life. The Bible also focuses on the history of the Jewish people; by Ham’s logic, this would imply that people groups not mentioned in the Bible (for example, Australians) do not exist!
“You see, Adam’s sin broke all of creation (Romans 8:22), so if there are other intelligent beings out there, they suffer the effects of Adam’s sin, but, because they aren’t descended from Adam, they can’t be saved. Jesus came to die for Adam’s race—not Klingons or Vulcans!”
Soteriological arguments against the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrial life were answered in the Middle Ages. If Adam’s sin was imputed to them, then the righteousness of Christ by grace through faith in His once-for-all sacrifice can likewise be imputed to them without the need for multiple incarnations and crucifixions on countless alien worlds. So, yes, aliens could be saved.
“The belief in aliens (which really comes from an evolutionary worldview) is a huge theological problem.”
One of the major problems of the exotheological discourse within modern creationism is their gross ignorance of the history of ecclesiastical thought on this subject. As I have pointed out a ridiculous number of times, a belief in evolution is not required for a belief in the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Several of the founders of scientific disciplines were creationists and many of them also believed in the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
“On top of that, all this searching for them is nothing but a waste of time and money, though discoveries about the universe along the way point to the glory of the Creator God if one just looks (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20)!”
So is it a waste of time and money or not? I’m sorry, but that kind of doublespeak irritates me. Ken Ham ends with a false dichotomy:
“Oh, that everyone would be obsessed with studying God’s Word and learning the true history of the universe and the truth that God created us, that we have a sin problem, and that God provided the solution in Jesus Christ—instead of being obsessed with finding nonexistent aliens.
Billy Sunday used to make this same argument against baseball, at the expense of Christian athletes and fans. We can be obsessed with both. The Bible leaves the question of extraterrestrial life open.
Ken Ham’s anti-alien rhetoric aside, it may be that this planet is the only one God created life upon, intelligent or otherwise. It may also be that the Creator chose to paint on more than one canvas and that the one who defined Himself as Life chose to spread life across the universe.
Time will tell.