That’s the verdict of astrobiologists on the MIT Technology Review. Now, despite the iterative hoopla on the web and in the popular media about how there *must* be ET life out there, this isn’t the first time mainstream scientists have argued that the possibility of life elsewhere is remote (see Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee).
My favorite part of the article has to be the smack-down of the Drake equation. I’ve blogged on it before (“Trusting in the Blessed Equation“), chiefly about how amazing it is that this literally contrived-out-thin-air equation has stopped critical thinking on this issue in its tracks. It’s really at the level of religious dogma for ET believers. But as the MIT piece notes (emphasis mine):
The Drake equation is one of those rare mathematical beasts that has leaked into the public consciousness. It estimates the number of extraterrestrial civilisations that we might be able to detect today or in the near future.
The equation was devised by Frank Drake at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1960. He attempted to quantify the number by asking what fraction of stars have planets, what fraction of these might be habitable, then the fraction of these on which life actually evolves and the fraction of these on which life becomes intelligent and so on.
Many of these numbers are little more than wild guesses. For example, the number of ET civilisations we can detect now is hugely sensitive to the fraction that destroy themselves with their own technology, through nuclear war for example. Obviously we have no way of knowing this figure.
. . . the fact that life emerged at least once on Earth is entirely consistent with it only having happened here.So we could be alone, after all.
Let’s please put the Drake equation fantasy to rest. Statistically, it has nothing to offer, and anyone who builds a belief (and a religious worldview) on the “statistical fact” that life must exist elsewhere derived from the Drake Equation is literally arguing from no data at all.
A fair comment, as far a critiquing those who make steep investments in such speculation.
On the other side of the coin are the people who argue (almost exclusively in comments sections) that aliens _must_ be on Earth because “It’s naive to think we’re alone in the universe.”
Great article and finally some logical thought processes to start to discount this insanity of E.T./panspermia dogma. Just deal with the facts and data as you have them and these believers in E.T. as the “gods” and their case holds no water at all.
Critical thinking aside, the drake equation has so many fractions that it seems more pessimistic than optimistic that intelligent life exists elsewhere.
I think you have a point; one could look at it that way.
You are mistaken. Look at the ubiquity of life – it is in undersea vents that are hundreds of degrees. There is a nascent discovery that it can use arsenic instead of carbon. Spectroscopy has found vast clouds of organic molecules drifting in space. We are finding more and more planets, many within the habitable zone. I would be amazed if life hasn’t evolved millions of times in the galaxy, and it has nothing to do with the Drake equation. Once life evolves it will become intelligent, since intelligence is a survival factor.
I’m not sure where you get an ET as Atheist religion connection. Most atheists are skeptics, and don’t believe in Either.
I’m not mistaken — I’m directing you to opinions of scientists. And you apparently weren’t listening while you were typing. I said on the show I’m betting there is life out there despite the Drake equation.
I get the atheist – ET religion connection from atheists (when I discuss that on the blog I link to atheists expressing that idea).
The four most common elements the human body is comprised of are the same four most common elements found throughout the Universe. Why is it so hard to believe we are nothing more than a mathematical certainty having been replicated a thousand times over? People want to argue for the sake of argument. That’s progress.
First, I always ask for documentation of assertions for readers. Can you post a credible scientific link to your “four elements” statement for everyone?
Second, your “evidence” isn’t evidence at all. It’s not the grocery list of elements that’s an issue. It’s how they’re together the way they are. We know in our case that is fundamental to life. Since so much goes into the combination (just think about the chemical composition of one gene – any slight variance or mutation can mean no life at all), you need a successful sample combination that isn’t human to prove another combination (a) exists and (b) leads to intelligent life. In other words, your comment confuses the question with evidence for the question’s answer.
Probability of ET life arbitrarily small? Relative to what exactly? Isn’t that like a woman saying she’s not pregnant but only a little pregnant? As if we have a finite answer to the depth, breadth and full content of the cosmos? Man’s arrogance is it’s greatest downfall.
Directed panspermia is the most logical conclusion for life on Earth or any planet for that matter. An astrobioloigist at NASA proved the findings of fossilized biological organisms over 4 billion years old discovered in a meteorite.
Directed panspermia is logical – on what basis? Let’s see that.