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Should We Advertise That We Are Here?

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Advertise What to Whom?

I watch a fair amount of science fiction.  I practically memorized the original Star Trek series in syndication.  Then I did memorize Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan.  I mean every character’s lines.  I’m in for about any sci-fi movie or series.  One thing that many of these shows have in common is the optimism that humanity will be able to hold its own in the future amongst other beings.

The interesting question is, is that view warranted?  There is a decent sized debate in the scientific community about this issue.  There are probably more scientists on the side of sending out signals and searching for life on other planets.  Yet, the opposing side has one mega star who said don’t, Stephen Hawking.  Hawking thinks that aliens do exist, and it would not go well if they came here.  I’ll look at this in a minute.  Next week I’ll look at the so-called “Fermi Paradox” that examines the question that if there are aliens why we haven’t heard from them. 

For now it is enough to try and figure out whether we should want to contact aliens, assuming they exist.  It may already be too late as there are a variety of signals that have already been sent out into space.  In fact, scientists are getting more focused on the types of messages they are sending out.  Instead of Beatles songs or other artifacts of our popular culture, which would likely be seen as gibberish, scientists are sending out more universal binary information.  They are directing their effort at possible alien scientists who might understand the language of science.  Either way there is already a fair number of signals that have emanated from Earth and that number will continue to grow. 

The Pro Case:

On the pro side there is the real possibility that we could gain immeasurably from contact with an advanced life form.  I say advanced because any species able to traverse such distances would be, by definition, far above our level of advancement, at least technologically.  There is the real possibility that such an advanced species could transfer an enormous amount of their learning to us.  That argument rests upon the notion that if they could decipher our signals then there is the real possibility that they could communicate with us in some fashion.

It is quite possible that the arrival of an alien species in orbit around Earth would serve as the impetus for this planet to unite itself.  This is the theory put forth in the movie Star Trek: First Contact.  In that film, it is the Vulcans who make first contact with Earth, and humanity unites and it’s off to form the Federation of planets from there.  The presumption would be that a species sophisticated enough to conquer the distances of space would have evolved past its likely period of barbarism, and would be a species we would benefit from meeting.

The great risk for humanity, for proponents of this view, is to not reach out and seek contact with what would likely be a more advanced species.  We would never know what we would miss, and would be greatly poorer, if not perhaps extinct because we failed to make the effort.  In the end the pro case rests upon the presumption that if we contact a new arrival that they will be benevolent.

The Con Case:

The case against does not take any such benevolent disposition to be a given among aliens.  Hawking in his argument against uses the analogy of the arrival in the America’s of Christopher Columbus and the Europeans.  This should be a disturbing possibility.  The level of advancement between the Europeans and the indigenous population of the America’s in 1492 was sizable, although less a disparity than would be likely between Earthlings and aliens.  This interaction did not go well for the indigenous people’s after 1492.  First, there was the malevolent attitude of many who arrived.  They were rapacious, greedy, and power hungry.  They without thought depleted the resources and either killed the people or enslaved them.  They did this until both the land and the people were exhausted.  It was the kind of thing the aliens in the film Independence Day were out to do; use up all the resources and move on. 

The higher thresholds of complexity that had been crossed by the Europeans made this easy to do.  The force size was totally asymmetrical, with the numerical advantage clearly on the side of the Indigenous peoples.  So much so that it is almost not a bad joke to point out that the Spanish took down the Aztec Empire with 3 conquistadors, 2 donkeys, and a cannon.  If an alien species showed up at our door with that kind of attitude it would likely be over very quickly.

On the other hand, there does not even need to be especially base motives for great damage to be done.  Again, using the Columbus analogy, the arrival of Europeans exposed the indigenous peoples to a range of diseases they had never encountered, and for which they had no biological immunity.  The results were nearly genocidal, without there even being intent, as the germ theory was about 400 years away.  Who know what alien microbes would do to humanity.

Then there is the possibility of cultural imperialism.  The Europeans were not particularly evil in foisting their culture upon the indigenous peoples of the Americas.  They simply figured it would be a good thing, they thought themselves more advanced.  No one stopped to ask if the conquered peoples wanted to keep their culture, it was simply  destroyed.  That is a possible fate that may await Earth in the face of an overwhelming alien power.  This case rests upon the notion that creatures are as venal and arrogant all over the universe, so any encounter between disparate levels of development won’t go well for Earth.

The God Case:

I don’t know which presupposition to rest a case upon.  My hunch is that if a civilization survived long enough to make it far out in space, then they are likely to be peaceful.  Yet, I could be wrong, and there is always the possibility that an alien species inadvertently destroys us.  So, what are we to do?  Should we hunker down and keep low until humanity makes it out of its barbarous period (we are not so far removed for the caves as we like to imagine)?  Or should we “boldly go where no one has gone before”?

At the risk of encountering a species that is as far above us as we are above the amoeba, I say go for it!  This is who we are, and how God made us.  We are inquisitive, exploring, and risk taking.  This is bound up in our DNA.  To hunker down is to deny our essential humanity, and God sent Jesus here to show us how to be fully human.

In fact, it is this forward moving ethos that lies at the heart of our humanity that has propelled us this far.  This gave us the wheel, the plow and well…all of civilization.  True, it gave us the sword too, but we can learn.  Only by pushing out has humanity ever learned.  Yes, we will faceplant, so what?  That is part of the learning process.  Might we fail?  Yes.  We may never make it past the barbarity phase of our existence.  We may also run into, or bring to our door the engine of our destruction.  That may be how it all ends and how God wraps up this whole thing.  It is only through an embrace of our humanity that we find out.

One more consideration.  If in fact humanity is to survive, I mean for a really long time, then we will have to find a new place to reside.  I do not mean that just the Earth will give out, but that for sure the Sun will.  If humanity does not leave this solar system and find someplace else to live, then the jig’s up.  So, if we don’t at least try we are going extinct anyway.  We might as well go down swinging.  In any event, we do believe that there will be some kind of final consummation of Creation, so what is there really to fear.  If we as faithful people should not fear our individual deaths, then we should not fear humanity’s either.  In the meantime, trust God enough to be the humans He made us to be, and go forth and at least try to be as numerous as the stars.

Praise Be to God

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