Is there anybody out there? Or are we alone?

January 1st, 2015 in clues. Tags: , , , ,

Galaxy next door

I suppose most of us have looked up at the night sky and wondered at some time – is there any other life out there?

Another way of framing the question is to ask – is the earth unusual in supporting (supposedly) intelligent life?

I have investigated this question in the past (see A rare earth?) and I thought it was time to catch up on the latest thinking and update that page.

You’d think there’d be life out there

It is estimated that our galaxy contains maybe 300 billion stars and possibly the same number of planets. It is estimated by some that maybe 100 million of these might be capable of supporting life. With an estimated 100-200 billion galaxies, there are an enormous number of planets that might support life, even if most of these are way beyond our reach.

Many scientists believe microbial life might form on many of these planets, though many disagree, but the big question is whether intelligent life has evolved on any of them.

In view of the numbers, you’d think so.

Conditions necessary for life

However it isn’t that simple. Scientists have identified more than 200 parameters that need to be satisfied at the same time for intelligent life to form. Planets need to be in the ‘habitable zone‘ – their solar system needs to be located in stable location in a stable galaxy, and planets must be located in a life permitting zone within the solar system – and then a whole raft of conditions must be met to permit life.

The Drake Equation vs the Rare Earth Equation

Various attempts have been made to estimate how likely all these conditions are. The Drake Equation uses estimates for just 7 parameters to calculate the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilisations in our galaxy, but is so simplistic and gives such a wide range of answers (depending on the values of the parameters, which are largely guesswork) that it is generally recognised that its answers are not very meaningful. But it suggests that such civilisations should be common.

In opposition is the Rare Earth Equation, which uses 9 parameters to estimate the likelihood of complex life within our galaxy. Its aims are a little more modest and it seems to have a better physical basis. It suggests that complex life in our galaxy is extremely rare, and perhaps we are alone.

If there’s life out there, why don’t we know about it?

The Fermi Paradox (named after physicist Enrico Fermi) is based on the thought that if there are many other civilisations out there, we’d expect many of them to be more advanced than us and have conquered interstellar travel. We’d expect to have detected electromagnetic signals from them, or that they might even have visited earth already. But despite decades of searching for such evidence, we haven’t found any – unless you believe some conspiracy theorists that aliens have visited and governments have kept this quiet.

But statistical models suggest that civilisations are likely to be only short-lived and rare, so any intelligent life out there is likely to be too far away to contact us or not existing contemporary with us.

And the winner is ….?

It seems to me that the rare earth proponents have built the stronger case. Life is rare and intelligent life even rarer. It is probably unlikely that we will ever contact an alien race. It sort of feels a little sad to conclude that – it would be much more fun if there are aliens out there.

Or would it?

Stephen Hawking has reminded us that if our history is anything to go by, visiting races are generally colonisers, exploiters and invaders, and indigenous people are the losers. So unless they are way more moral and peaceful than we are, it might be best if there is no-one else out there, or at least that they are too far away to find us.

What has this got to do with God?

The existence of a universe that is “just right” to allow life to form is the basis of strong arguments for the existence of God. If the earth is the only inhabited planet in the galaxy, or even in the universe, wouldn’t that point more strongly to God?

I’m not sure. I think a rare earth could be evidence that God set things up specially for us. But an abundance of life in the universe would be just as consistent with a creative God.

Believing in God may add an extra factor into the equation. Perhaps we are right to conclude that, naturally, intelligent life is rare, if not unique to earth. But perhaps God has set things up so that life appears against the Rare Earth Equation odds. Perhaps.

We can always hope …. or at least imagine.

Read more

Read some more detail, and check our a ton of references, in A rare earth?.

Picture: NASA.


  1. Yes, of course there is intelligent life out there, silly! He is God!

    Without the intelligent Designer, there would be no intelligent life or intelligence at all. Just think what our brain is! Just think that one sperm and one egg unite to form us humans! WOW! How in the world can two cells grow into an intelligent life force without the intelligence behind it to do so?!

    You say that there might be millions or even billions of galaxies, stars, and planets. Well, if the universe goes on forever, it is endless. I know, I know…this is hard for our little “intelligent” brains to handle. That’s why we are so limited and God is so incredible.

    One thing that has always amazed me is the atom: the electrons go around the protons and neutrons at light speed, 186,000 miles per second. They do not create heat or friction. They do not burn out. They do not slow down. They do not take up any energy to keep going, for millions or even billions of years, so far. How did they come into existence in the first place?!

    I truly believe that if God failed to exist for one single second, the whole universe would crumble and fall apart. I believe that this amazing entity we call God is running the whole show. Again, go back to the sperm and the egg: two cells reproduce to make all life. How in the world do these two cells know how to make eyes, ears, arms, legs, skin, nerves, muscles, hair, and all the other stuff that makes us? How did DNA form in the first place? The mere existence of life and intelligence demands something and/or someone much much higher than us and our intelligence. We call this amazing One, God. Thank You, God for creating us and for giving us enough “intelligence” to even read and write to each other, to be able to speak, listen, see, feel, taste, and be able to put simple thoughts together.

    Yes, God’s ways are much higher than ours! Can you even imagine being God, the Creator of everything, for a day or a year and running the whole universe. Can you imagine how He hears our prayers and works miracles still today?! Yes, He is amazing.

    So why doesn’t everyone get the obvious? Why doesn’t everyone want to believe in God and do what our Creator designed us to do? It usually comes down to this, “I want to do what I want to do. Don’t tell me what to do. I can do it much better on my own.”

    I met a man out in Phoenix while out evangelizing at our usual Sunday “Bus Stop” ministry. He said that he wanted nothing to do with all these laws or commandments that are written in the Bible. He said it must be like a 200 pound bag of weights on your back, carrying them around for your lifetime. He told me that he would rather burn in hell for all eternity, if there was such a place, than to keep all these “laws and commandments.”

    I told him that the law in Hebrew is “Torah.” The true sense of this word means “teaching.” God designed us. God knows how we are made, because He made us. He knows what makes us work at our optimum performance. He knows what is good for us and what is bad for us. So, if we keep all the laws, as Jesus did, we have total freedom, instead of being in bondage of our sin and our way of life that hurts us. It’s so much easier to do it God’s way, the right way, the way that we were designed to live in the first place than to fight with an addiction for years and then try to kick it.

    In closing, this man was homeless, had dirty clothes, didn’t have much at all to call his own, but he still didn’t want to do it God’s way. I asked him if he was happy with his life…no response.

    Have a happy, healthy, and blessed new year y’all. Please remember that all believers in God are still sinners, and, yes, bigger sinners than lots of people who don’t know, believe in, or have faith in God. The difference is that we are forgiven or pardoned of our sin by the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. No, this does not give us a license to keep sinning. It gives us hope for eternity in Heaven with God. If we live in sin and are not forgiven, we have made our eternal choice…Hell. As I tell people, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that everyone lives forever and ever. The bad news is that those who die in sin and are not forgiven still live forever but in Hell and not Heaven. God sacrificed his Son for us on the cross. Jesus willingly went to the cross for each and every one of us. He will forgive you for anything and everything, but we have to turn to Him and away from our sin. It is a choice that we all make. If we do not choose Jesus and forgiveness, we automatically choose Hell.

    The only sin that is unforgiveable is to reject God and Jesus. When you reject the only power that can forgive you and save you from your sin, then you can’t be forgiven. Can you see how that works? It’s a simple plan. It works, and God still works miracle after miracle for us. I know. I see God in action through me all the time. It is truly an awesome life. I pray and wish it for all of you this year of 2015! Peace and love to you and yours! Dave

  2. I suppose we will never know for sure. But my faith in God is grounded deeper than a “rare earth” concept, so this isn’t a question that occupies my mind (much).

  3. No, I don’t think the rare earth argument carries a lot of weight. But I do think the question is interesting.

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