When we step out at night and look up at the stars, we can’t help wondering: Is there someone else out there? And if there is, would these extraterrestrials be benign and curious like the musical aliens in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” or would they be malicious and hostile like the Klingons of “Star Trek”?
Well, ever since stargazer Frank Drake conducted his first scan of the heavens in 1960, that’s the question he and other scientists have been asking. Drake, the chairman emeritus of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence or SETI, was one of the first to point a radio telescope toward space and listen for the tell-tale signals of intelligent life.
Like astronomer and “Cosmos” host Carl Sagan, Drake developed an equation for estimating the number of civilizations on other planets in our galaxy. And like Sagan’s estimates, his were astronomical: Billions of planets should have life, he reasoned, and of those, millions ought to have evolved intelligent beings. And so the researchers at SETI turned their radio dishes skyward, and listened.
Of course, as I write in my book “Miracles,” Carl Sagan (and hence Drake) got it wrong. The probability for life is astronomical all right—astronomically IM-probable, since we now know there are more than 150 absolutely-necessary and rare conditions that must be met to sustain life. So it’s no wonder that instead of a cacophony of radio signals from intelligent life somewhere out there, all we’re hearing is the silence of the stars.
But some scientists insist that just because we haven’t heard from E.T. doesn’t mean he’s not out there. So now they’re proposing a radical new strategy. It’s called “Active SETI,” and as Joel Achenbach explains in The Washington Post, its goal would be to “boldly announce our presence and try to get the conversation started.”
Rather than just listening for signals from space, scientists would beam messages at stars that they considered good candidates for life and they’d wait for potential civilizations orbiting those stars to respond. Maybe within a few hundred years, we would finally discover we aren’t alone in the universe.
But not everyone likes that idea. A petition signed by 28 influential scientists warns of the potential danger of Active SETI. They’ve seen the movie, or the movies, I should say, and they know it doesn’t end well for us earthlings. Their concern is whether these ETI’s will be benign or hostile: good point.
Frank Drake himself thinks Active SETI is a waste of time. We’ve been leaking radio signals into space since before the days of “I Love Lucy,” he points out. Anyone in our galactic neighborhood with an antenna already knows we’re here.
Hearing all of this talk of aliens, I can’t help but think of Walker Percey’s brilliant book, “Lost in the Cosmos.” In it, he observes that the more we learn about the universe, the lonelier we become. And he’s right. Even the most rational scientists have poured untold treasure, time, and talent into the hunt for extraterrestrial neighbors—with nothing to reward their efforts.
One thing we do know, we humans long to know we’re not alone. And the good news, as Christians know, is that we’re not! We aren’t “lost in the cosmos,” but we are the centerpiece of a grand plan that culminated in a visitation by Someone from beyond our universe.
So I’m sorry to say that, based on the evidence, any calls we make to little green men will likely go unanswered. Besides, even if extraterrestrials are out there, they’re probably too busy watching “I Love Lucy” to answer.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Publication date: March 26, 2015