Daily Growth in Evidence for Extraterrestrial Life?

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AP: “Evidence for ET Is Mounting Daily, but Not ProvenIs the evidence for extraterrestrial life “mounting daily”? It’s the first we’ve heard of it!

“Lately, a handful of new discoveries make it seem more likely that we are not alone.”

The idea that life exists beyond earth is no trivial claim. Like many other grand claims, if true it would in many ways change humans’ perception of our place in the universe. And also like other grand claims, it requires a clear verdict of the evidence to be judged true.

To the contrary, little more than a century ago, many thought Mars was inhabited by intelligent life; but in a half-century of space exploration, the solar system has turned up only a smattering of hotly debated evidence that life may have once existed elsewhere—a far cry from actual extraterrestrial life, let alone intelligent life.

Yet for Associated Press science writer Seth Borenstein, that smattering has become “mounting” evidence. “Lately, a handful of new discoveries make it seem more likely that we are not alone,” he writes. The discoveries include:

  • Scientists tripled previous estimates of the number of stars in the universe—we reported on that last week.
  • Other scientists discovered a microbe allegedly able to subsist on arsenic—we also reported on that last week, and we report further this week (see item "#2").
  • Finally, astronomers have found a “potentially habitable” exoplanet—we reported on this news two months back.

While Borenstein quotes several scientists who are optimistic about finding extraterrestrial life, the leaps in logic—and blind faith—are more glaring than the supposed evidence. While the report notes in passing that most of the above discoveries are still contested in scientific circles (for example, that “potentially habitable” exoplanet may not even exist), far more space is given to researchers like NASA’s Carl Pilcher, who enthuses, “The evidence is just getting stronger and stronger. I think anybody looking at this evidence is going to say, ‘There’s got to be life out there.’”

"There’s got to be life out there."

“Got to be”? Does that sound like an endorsement of cautious, conservative, scientific skepticism? To us it sounds like something else is going on. A clue may be found in Borenstein’s relation of comments by SETI astronomer Seth Shostak, who “said that given the mounting evidence, to believe now that [e]arth is the only place harboring life is essentially like believing in miracles.” Shostak added wryly, “And astronomers tend not to believe in miracles.”

That nugget of an idea, expressed sarcastically by Shostak, seems to be the driving force behind astronomers’ faith in ET: if the emergence of life is the consequence of essentially random processes (e.g., the formation of stellar systems, a planet in the “just right” zone of a star, chemicals organizing in just the right way on the backs of crystals or in clay bubbles—all leading to the first cell), and if we discover a seemingly infinite number of worlds with all manner of variation, it’s almost a statistically impossibility that earth could be the only home of intelligent life. It’s a sort of astrobiological corollary of the Copernican principle—that, whatever the evidence may be, the earth and its life just can’t be unique. Thus, evolutionists are painted into a corner because the philosophical consequences of finding no life beyond earth would serve a death-blow to their worldview.

It’s not that the latest evidence goes against the ET hypothesis; indeed, the discoveries are fascinating, and the empirical question of life beyond earth can’t be answered given how little of the solar system (let alone the galaxy, let alone the universe) we’ve explored. But the conclusions so vastly exceed the still-controversial evidence that it’s hard to imagine an objective observer calling the claims anything other than a leap of faith.

As we’ve written before, the Bible does not teach that God did not create life beyond earth; it is silent on that possibility. Yet, reading Scripture holistically, the implication is that earth (and especially humanity) is at the center of the cosmic stage. That view, combined with the lack of evidence for either evolution or extraterrestrial life, leaves us quite doubtful about ET—truly skeptical, unlike many modern scientists who have put their faith in evolution.

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