Are we alone in the universe? Are other beings like us out there?
Nearly everyone has contemplated this question, including many serious scientists. But after spending billions of dollars and devoting whole careers to the search, scientists refuse to admit there is no evidence.
The problem isn’t a lack of data—we’re awash in it. And the problem is not that we don’t have any good tests. Several great scientific minds have already suggested some solid ways to test for the existence of extraterrestrial life.
Let’s examine the three most famous tests, and we’ll discover that something more than cold, hard science is preventing them from reaching the logical answer.
Why Aren’t They Here? (The Fermi Paradox)
One of the most famous scientists to speculate on this topic is the physicist Enrico Fermi. Around 1950, he was having lunch with two colleagues when the topic of extraterrestrial life came up. At the time, most people realized that our civilization would soon be advanced enough to venture into space. But Fermi noted that, if intelligent life were common in the universe, it is unlikely that we are the most advanced civilization.
He reasoned that if there were alien civilizations, many of them would have already conquered space. If so, eventually those civilizations would have ventured through space, colonizing as they went. But none of these alien civilizations have shown up on earth yet. So where are the aliens?
After 70 years, the Fermi paradox, as this observation has come to be called, remains an enigma to those who believe that life is common in the universe.
Where Are Their Radio Signals? (SETI)
A decade after Fermi, the astronomer Frank Drake took a different tack to test whether intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe. By Drake’s day, humans had been broadcasting radio waves for several decades. Many radio waves pass through the earth’s atmosphere and into space, so it should be possible for alien civilizations to pick them up and become aware of our existence. Drake turned this process around—he reasoned that if other civilizations could detect our broadcasts, we ought to be able to pick up theirs as well.
In 1960, Drake conducted Project Ozma. He monitored the radio signals from two nearby solar-like stars, Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani. One hundred fifty hours of monitoring over a four-month period revealed no detections. In the 1970s, astronomers Ben Zuckerman and Patrick Palmer expanded Drake’s work in Ozma II. Over a four-year period, Ozma II intermittently monitored 670 nearby solar-like stars. Again, no detections of intelligent radio signals.
In the 1980s, the pace of SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence), as this initiative came to be called, expanded greatly. Advances in technology made the search easier and more efficient. Government and eventually private funding increased. One long-lasting program is SERENDIP (Search for Extraterrestrial Radio Emissions from Nearby Developed Intelligent Populations). Since large research telescopes are expensive, SERENDIP piggybacks on existing astronomy research programs, sifting through their data to find possible intelligent signals. To keep costs down, their project [email protected] has enlisted the help of hundreds of thousands of volunteers who allow their desktop computers to assist in the sifting process.
Another notable SETI project is the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory in northern California. Funded by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, the ATA became operational in 2007 and consists of 42 6.1-meter radio telescopes. Although it has suffered some budget problems, it currently operates 12 hours per day.
These are just some of the major SETI initiatives, and new ones are proposed all the time. Over the years the various SETI programs have generated terabytes of data without any hint of an alien transmission.
Where Are the Other Earthlike Planets? (Exoplanets)
Fascination with the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe has fueled a third test. Presumably, aliens, if they exist at all, must live on planets orbiting stars. From what we have learned about the other planets orbiting the sun, it is clear that we are alone in our solar system. But what about planets orbiting other stars?
Until recently, we had no evidence of planets outside the solar system. Most people assumed that planets must be common but we just couldn’t detect them. That changed 25 years ago. Since then, the number of known exoplanets has swelled to nearly 4,000. The driving force behind the search for exoplanets has been to show that planetary systems are common. And not just any kind of planet will do: they presumably must be earthlike to support life.
What has this treasure trove of exoplanets revealed? The data has shown that planets orbiting other stars, and even planetary systems, are indeed common. Moreover, reports claim that some of these exoplanets (though not many) are earthlike.
Yet when you look closer, there are problems with each one. What must be true for a planet to be truly earthlike? First, it must be similar in size. If a planet is too large, its strong gravity is likely to retain the wrong kind of gases to support life. But if a planet is too small, its weak gravity is unlikely to hold onto any appreciable atmosphere. Therefore, only a very small range of mass can claim the title “earthlike.”
Second, an earthlike planet must have a similar composition. The earth has a lot of iron and nickel, much of which is in its core. This produces a magnetic field, which is key for protecting life from deadly particles emitted from the stars they orbit and other sources in space. But other elements are necessary as well, such as silicon. Without silicon, any planet would likely be a gas giant like Jupiter or a watery world without land for life.
Third, an earthlike planet must orbit within a narrow range called the “habitable zone.” If an exoplanet orbits its star too closely, the heat will boil away any liquid water necessary for life. But if an exoplanet is too far away, all its water will freeze, making it difficult for life to survive.
But this brings up a fourth problem: orbiting the right kind of star. Even if a planet orbits within the habitable zone of its respective star, what good is that if the unstable star emits deadly radiation? Most of the “earthlike” planets that show up in the news are orbiting very dim red dwarf stars. These stars are notorious for their magnetic storms that release huge amounts of charged particles. Any exoplanet orbiting too closely will be bathed in radiation that is hundreds, if not thousands, of times greater than the earth’s.
Because red dwarf stars are so small, the habitable zone is very close to the star. That creates another problem: it likely eliminates the possibility of a protective magnetic field. How? Because such planets orbit their parent stars so closely, tidal forces probably slow the rotation of these planets, which would prevent any appreciable magnetic fields coming from a fluid core. Without a magnetic field, then charged particles likely strip any atmosphere from the exoplanet.
Fifth, such a strong tidal force would probably lock these exoplanets into synchronous rotation, with one side of the planets perpetually facing the star and the other side perpetually facing away. Half of the planet would be too hot for life, while the other half would be perpetually iced over. Only a narrow range along the boundary could support life, assuming the other problems weren’t an issue. At any rate, none of the supposed earthlike planets are like earth at all.
If you had asked most scientists 30 years ago how many earthlike planets they would expect to find among 4,000 exoplanets, few would have said none. Instead, most would have opined that we would find many earthlike planets.
Why No Negative Conclusions?
The three lines of evidence are compelling: all three point to the fact that we are alone in the universe. So why haven’t you heard any scientists (before me) say this?
The data does not support the evolutionary worldview.
Many scientists would complain that not all the data is in yet. But when is all the data ever in? We can always collect more data. Furthermore, scientists frequently make conclusions based upon far less data. So why the reluctance to reach a conclusion in this case? The conclusion that is warranted by the data does not support the evolutionary worldview of most scientists. There’s a term for that: bias. And extreme bias at that.
It’s not a matter of evidence or science. If you believe in evolution, then evolution must be common in the universe. Period. And this negative answer is out of the question, not because of what scientists find but because of their unwavering commitment to a belief.
If you believe in the Creator of the Bible, however, you have no qualms following the data to its logical conclusion. Biblical creationists understand that life doesn’t just happen (and good science agrees with that conclusion). God created it just 6,000 years ago.
The three lines of evidence presented here—the Fermi paradox, the null SETI results, and the lack of earthlike planets—amount to scientific data. And all three agree with the prediction from biblical creation: we’re alone in the universe. To reach the right conclusion, evolutionary scientists do not need more data about life elsewhere in the universe, but the right starting belief about life here on earth.
Playing the Probabilities
Almost all discussions about the possibility of life elsewhere rely on probabilities. Perhaps the best-known summary of the probabilities is known as the Drake equation, published in 1961, a year after Frank Drake ran his Project Ozma to detect alien radio signals. The Drake equation includes the seven factors we must consider when weighing the probability that life evolved on another planetary system somewhere in our galaxy.
Here are the seven commonsense factors, written up in formal symbols:
N = R × fp × ne × fl × fi × fc × L
N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy that might be able to communicate with us
R = the average rate of star formation in the galaxy
fp = the fraction of stars that have planets
ne = the average number of planets per star that could support life
fl = the fraction of habitable planets that develop life at some point
fi = the fraction of planets with life that develop intelligent life (civilizations)
fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space
Notice the evolutionary assumptions. The equation assumes that life arises spontaneously (fl). More than that, most scientists assume the chance of this evolution is high. Why? Because if life developed naturally on earth, then it must be common elsewhere too.
Since we have never observed life arising spontaneously, doesn’t good science lead to the conclusion that fl is equal to zero? We really don’t know any of these numbers, though information that we know so far about the exoplanets can give us some idea of a few of these numbers. That data seems to lead to the conclusion that ne is zero too.
Evolutionary scientists refuse to insert estimates that are vanishingly small because that would make life unique to earth. That would make earth and its life very special, supporting belief in creation. Most scientists reject the possibility of creation out of hand, which would make fl not just small but zero.
Yet we know from God’s Word, which infallibly documents how life came to be, that life didn’t evolve here or elsewhere. The product of the Drake equation is zero. Ergo, life doesn’t exist anywhere else.
This simple theoretical approach matches what we see in the world. Therefore, it’s time to call it: apart from God and angels, we’re alone in the universe.
FOR MORE: See https://creationresearch.org/extraterrestrial-life/