The Search for Life: Are We Alone?

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The Search for Life

Are We Alone?

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The Search for Life: Are We Alone?

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As human civilization advances and we reach out into the cosmos, we are met with a deafening, reverberating silence.

Nevertheless, the dramatic, headlining article from the March 2019 National Geographic magazine boldly proclaims, “We Are Not Alone.” From such a matter-of-fact title statement, one might gather that evidence of alien life forms has finally been found! The article boasts, “New discoveries reveal it’s almost certain we’re not alone in the universe.” However, the opposite is in fact true. Not one scrap of material or observational evidence indicates the existence of other physical life in the universe.

The article, for its part, focuses on the various attempts to find alien life, giving an insightful look at the amazing precision technologies developed to that end. Over the last 60 years, governments and scientists have invested billions of dollars in hundreds of experiments, generating a staggering amount of data that has been pored over, consuming untold hours of human and computing resources—all with the possibility of detecting alien life as a primary motivator.

These endeavors have yielded a great deal of scientific knowledge revealing the wonder and majesty of God’s creation, and have also resulted in rapid advancements in consumer technology as a side benefit—but they’ve been fruitless in finding physical life outside of our planet.

In the total absence of evidence, why does the scientific “certainty” of alien life persist undaunted? Where does man’s fascination with life outside of our planet come from? Does the Bible inform us at all concerning other life forms in the universe? The Word of God holds surprising answers!

What makes a planet “habitable”?

The discoveries touted by National Geographic are based on conclusions from the Kepler Space Telescope’s mission to identify exoplanets—planets outside of our solar system. Over the last decade, the mission has yielded impressive results. Kepler’s analysis focused on a small area of space containing 150,000 stars, and discovered about 4,000 exoplanets. This is tremendous progress, considering that the first conclusive exoplanet discovery was in 1995—just 24 years ago!

Scientists now widely agree that our universe is fine-tuned for life—that physical life wouldn’t be able to exist at all if certain constants like the relative strengths of the different forces or the rate of the expansion of the universe were different to even the slightest degree. In the study of exoplanets, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the earth itself is fine-tuned for life.

Life on earth is tenacious, often appearing in even the most impossible habitats our planet can muster. But in comparison to the harsh environments of space, it becomes clear that life in fact needs just the right conditions to survive. No one expects to find living organisms in the empty vacuum between planets and stars, or on the unimaginably hot surface of a star or within the crushing gravity of a black hole. Life is only considered viable on planets within a narrow range of characteristics.

There is widespread disagreement over these characteristics, and the classification of currently known exoplanets as “habitable” is highly speculative. The word itself conjures up the image of an earth-like environment, but in its current astronomical usage it is based on rough parameters that by no means guarantee life could actually survive.

These, by necessity, include only quantities we can measure from earth via telescope, including the distance of a planet from its star and the intensity of radiation and heat coming from its star. Other relevant factors include the size of the planet, the nature of its orbit and the composition of the planet. For example, some planets are tidally locked to their star as our moon is to earth, meaning only one side of the planet ever receives light. This would result in wild extremes of hot and cold as opposed to the much milder seasonal temperatures across the earth’s surface.

As scientists further evaluate the question of habitability, more and more specific earth-like criteria are added. It’s also speculated that the best chances for life will be on a planet with a rocky surface, an atmosphere that’s neither too thick nor too thin and that has liquid water on the surface.

Applying all of these factors to the 4,000 or so exoplanets we know of dramatically reduces the number of “habitable” planets to about a dozen. But even this is deceptive, because there may be any number of currently unknown factors preventing a planet from actually being capable of nurturing life.

Why the insistence on aliens?

The dramatic contrast between the number of stars in the observable universe (billions of trillions!) and the number we actually have the time and resources to point a telescope at is staggering. Due to this limitation, we have no choice but to look for general patterns to extrapolate from. As a result, many definitive-sounding statements about the great unseen expanses of the universe involve massive leaps of speculation.

With that in mind, the best available interpretations of the Kepler telescope’s analysis of a relatively tiny corner of the universe suggest that there should be billions of habitable planets in our Milky Way Galaxy alone—and our galaxy is one among trillions of galaxies in the universe!

Evolutionary thinking dictates with certitude that there will be other life in the universe. If human life is merely a cosmic accident, a biochemical byproduct of a complex physical system, then it is inevitable in a large-enough universe that this accident must have recurred countless times over on many different planets. Not only that, but there should be many civilizations that have advanced far beyond our own.

As the thinking goes, human intelligence, just as human life, is not uniquely designed and imbued by a Creator, but is a product of random chance over time. Starting from this assumption, it’s regarded as absurd to think that human beings were the first intelligent species to develop in the long eons of an incomprehensibly expansive universe!

Consider the rapid advancement of our own civilization, whether on the scale of the last 200 years since the industrial revolution or even the last 20 years of the digital revolution. It becomes impossible to imagine what an alien race might be capable of with a developmental head start of just a few thousand years—let alone millions of years. Yet, according to the typical secular viewpoint, the inescapable conclusion is that this should be the norm throughout the universe, and that we should find widespread and highly advanced civilizations everywhere we look.

The immense material and human resources dedicated to the task of finding such life are acts of faith—faith rooted in the false belief system of evolution.

Where is everybody?

It is only in very recent times that powerful telescopes have unveiled the vast glory of God’s creation. For those entrenched in a godless view of the universe, however, this led to an agonizing question: “Where is everybody?”

This question was famously asked in 1950 by astrophysicist Enrico Fermi, earning it the title “the Fermi Paradox.” As deeper exploration into the heavens revealed an innumerable amount of stars in every direction, the secular scientific world realized that, if evolution is true, there is no logical reason for intelligent life to be limited to the earth. In fact, it is virtually unthinkable under that assumption!

This realization was formalized by another astrophysicist named Frank Drake. In 1961, Drake developed an equation that captures the numerous variables affecting the probabilities of alien life. Specifically, the Drake Equation, as it came to be known, aims to predict how many intelligent civilizations we should expect there to be in the universe. It includes such parameters as the rate of star formation, the percentage of stars with planets around them, the percentage of those planets in the habitable zone and so forth.

By Drake’s original calculation, at a time when many of these parameters could only be guessed at, scientists proposed that there should be between a thousand and a million advanced civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy alone!

Drake had almost no observational evidence on which to base many of those parameters. After all, that was 34 years before the first exoplanet would be discovered! But projects such as that carried out by the Kepler telescope have enabled more refined estimates that still result in the equation yielding a great many millions. Yet various estimates remain highly conjectural.

Since the heydays of Fermi and Drake, the estimated number of stars in the observable universe has increased by orders of magnitude, raising the stakes even higher, with no answer to Fermi’s Paradox—and not for lack of trying!

Searching for life in all the wrong places

Drake was a pioneer of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence project (SETI) and conducted the first experiment to listen for alien radio-wave transmissions at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia. According to the SETI Institute, more than 100 such experiments have been carried out by astronomers throughout the world, including a 20-year SETI project at NASA that was ultimately cut by Congress in 1993.

The Berkeley SETI Research Center recaptured the public imagination with their “SETI@home ” application, available since 1999, that became famous for allowing individuals to contribute the power of their personal computers at home. The software has more than 1.7 million users worldwide and utilizes their computers’ idle time to help analyze the mountains of data being collected.

In 2015, billionaire Yuri Milner breathed new life and excitement into the game by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in his Breakthrough Initiatives, a diverse collection of projects all aimed at discovering alien life.

A commitment of $100 million over 10 years was made to the Berkeley SETI group and other participating institutions for a project named Breakthrough Listen. Dedicated to the traditional SETI goal of detecting an alien signal, it represents one of the most sophisticated efforts to date. The project now uses the Green Bank Observatory—a former part of the same National Radio Astronomy Observatory utilized by Frank Drake nearly 60 years ago.

Given the unfathomable distances that would separate us from other civilizations even within our own galaxy, only such signals, traveling at light speed, are considered a viable means of detecting them. While the signals would originate from thousands, millions or even billions of light years away and take as many years to reach us, it’s believed these are much more likely to reach us than any physical alien presence.

The original SETI project scoured the airwaves for deliberate alien broadcasts via the electromagnetic spectrum, including radio frequencies.

Radio signals are primarily known for their use in broadcasting music and television, so we may take for granted that they are actually a form of nonvisible light, part of the electromagnetic spectrum. When used on earth, their transmission feels instantaneous since they travel at the speed of light. But they take far longer to reach the stars.

Our own intraplanetary broadcasts are increasingly being supplanted by fiber-optic cables, which also use light as an information vehicle but with far less interference since they travel through a dedicated cable rather than over the air. Nevertheless, for interstellar communication, radio transmissions are the best method humanity has discovered, and we use them for sending signals to and from the various spacecraft we send out.

As the search drags on with a disappointing lack of results, other ways to use light signals have been imagined and developed. Previous efforts focused on searching for a deliberate signal from an advanced alien society, but scientists now search for signs of even rudimentary alien microbes by examining the visible and infrared light reflected from distant planets for hoped-for telltale signs of life.

But it’s no easy task. There is a reason it took so long to discover distant planets, and it continues to impede progress: Stars are much brighter than the planets that surround them. Imagine trying to make out the details of a postage stamp that is stuck to a bright floodlight from a distance. To even notice that it’s there is quite a feat!

To make out any detail is difficult. To capture images of planets therefore requires high-precision techniques for blocking out the light from a distant star to make the light from any surrounding planets visible. In most cases, even our most advanced telescopes are not up to the challenge. Scientists are developing theoretical approaches in eager anticipation of the next generation of telescopes currently being built in hopes of finally capturing better images of exoplanets to analyze.

From these images, the light captured can be analyzed against the spectral patterns known for particular atoms and molecules. It can thus be determined if a planet might contain large amounts of methane gas, for example, or water. This kind of analysis of exoplanets leads to them being characterized as “earth-like” or “super-earths” and other vague language intended to subtly reinforce the idea that they harbor life, despite the lack of evidence.

One hope is the detection of planets containing significant amounts of oxygen. Oxygen is vital to many life forms on earth, though not all of them (as there are many anaerobic organisms that don’t require it). From the standpoint of detecting alien life, oxygen is a highly reactive element that does not typically accumulate without a driving force. If the presence of both oxygen and methane gases were identified in the atmosphere of a planet, it might indicate the presence of biological activity.

Yuri Milner’s other Breakthrough Initiatives focus on yet more ways of exploring the universe with the express goal of making contact with intelligent aliens. He has given another $100 million to Breakthrough Starshot, aiming to develop a spacecraft capable of interstellar travel at 20 percent of the speed of light (nearly 1½ times around the earth per second!). He also offered a $1 million prize to Breakthrough Message for the best design of a signal that could be sent out into the universe, additional millions to Breakthrough Watch to aid in the discovery of more exoplanets, and most recently Breakthrough Enceladus, a collaboration with NASA to privately fund an exploration probe to Saturn’s moons to search for life.

A lot of money, time and brainpower are being put to this massive undertaking. Such a heavy investment must reflect great confidence that there will be positive results.

Yet, without saying so, these increasingly deep and exotic ways of searching for alien life are an admission of failure to meet the predictions of the theory of evolution as applied to our universe. The search for extraterrestrial life has, in the last 60 years, transformed from expectation of discovering signals from an advanced civilization to desperately hoping to detect even the most minute trace of rudimentary life hidden in some distant abyss!

What these continued efforts will eventually unveil remains to be seen, but we are certainly not bumping into intelligent alien species left and right on every intergalactic corner. On the contrary, we can’t even seem to find them scraping the bottom of the cosmic barrel! And this causes a disturbing unease in the minds of secular thinkers, scientists and philosophers alike.

Excuses, excuses

Speculations abound in glossing over the embarrassing lack of evidence of alien life after so much enormous effort and expense. Instead of conceding that Earth may in fact be the only planet in the universe that hosts life, most remain convinced that there must be some other reason we can’t find what we’re looking for.

A recent Forbes article by Ethan Siegel titled “What If It’s Just Us?” takes a far more objective view of the scientific evidence—or, more accurately, the total lack of it—and discusses the proclivity of scientists and average citizens alike to romanticize and fantasize the issue: “When it comes to the question of extraterrestrial life, humans optimistically assume the Universe is prolific … If the same ingredients are everywhere and the same rules are at play, wouldn’t it be an awful waste of space if we’re alone?” (April 3, 2019).

Are other civilizations just so advanced by comparison that they simply don’t bother with our meager race, the same way that we wouldn’t attempt to “make contact” with ants on our own planet? Or have more intelligent species recognized that interacting with others in the universe is dangerous and should be avoided? Or, on a more fatalistic note, do advanced cultures tend to create technologies that lead to their own destruction, as mankind appears intent on doing?

According to Siegel, “These proposed solutions usually leave out the most obvious option … that when it comes to intelligent life in all the Universe, it’s just us.”

However, there is yet a far more obvious option that is rarely considered in this light!

Is anyone out there? And why are we here?

We are continually in awe of the beautiful images of the universe that come to us every time a telescope is pointed in a new direction. Mankind is not obsessed with finding alien life forms merely for the sake of trying to confirm evolution. While that may be the surface rationale, the deeper, unexpressed desire is a search for meaning and purpose that is simply aimed in the wrong direction. There is a need to know we are not alone in the universe—that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. But where is it to be found?

Looking out into the heavens, we ask the question: Is anyone out there? And the clear and unmistakable answer is yes —the Creator God who made us all, and for a great purpose!

The ancient Israelite king Solomon wrote that God has “put eternity in [man’s] hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 Ecclesiastes 3:11He has made every thing beautiful in his time: also he has set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God makes from the beginning to the end.
American King James Version×
)—we can feel there is something more to life than what we see. We have an inherent longing for a connection to it, but we’re not able to find it by our own efforts, scientific or otherwise. The Bible is a revelation of knowledge from God, and its truth is the only source able to properly fill that longing!

So many are desperate to encounter an advanced alien race, but few consider that God is, Himself, an extraordinary extraterrestrial life form of supreme intelligence! Not only that, but He has made deliberate contact with mankind in numerous ways!

God appeared to individuals—known as prophets—throughout history. They recorded His words and incredible personal interactions with them. He did miraculous works for the nation of Israel that terrified the world of that time. He sent other spirit beings known as angels to the earth to carry out His will in various ways.

The Creator of the universe even came to earth eventually to communicate in person when Jesus, “the Word” who existed eternally as God with God the Father and through whom all things were made, “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1-3 John 1:1-3 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
American King James Version×
; John 1:14 John 1:14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
American King James Version×
). What we today call the New Testament is the irrefutable eyewitness testimony of His life, death and resurrection—yet it largely falls on deaf ears.

In stark contrast to our search for nonexistent alien signals, we as a species have refused to hear the glaring, repeated and undeniable transmissions of our loving Creator.

The truth of man’s existence is at the heart of the search for extraterrestrial life. From the Bible, we learn that human life is not the cosmic accident of a cold, uncaring universe, but the unique, intentional creation of a loving God who is reaching out to communicate and form a relationship with you!

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