Extraterrestrial Aliens on Earth has been a popular subject of science fiction for almost a century. The idea of invasion of monsters from other planets was once so realistic that some people listening to an Orson Welles' radio adaptation of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds on Halloween night in 1938 really believed that New Jersey was being invaded by aliens from Mars. Ever since then, the Red Planet has held special fascination for science fiction fans.
Because of a number of reported sightings of unidentified flying objects during and after World War II, the U.S. Air Force in 1948 began maintaining a file of UFO reports called Project Blue Book. The publicity surrounding a series of radar detections and unusual visual sightings near the National Airport in Washington, D.C., in July 1952 was followed by further sightings in the United States, western Europe, the Soviet Union, Australia, and elsewhere.
In the mid-1960s a few scientists and engineers, notably James E. McDonald, a University of Arizona at Tucson meteorologist, and J. Allen Hynek, a Northwestern University at Evanston, Illinois astronomer, concluded that a small percentage of the most reliable UFO reports gave definite indications of the presence of extraterrestrial visitors. Dr. Hynek coined the phrase "Close Encounters," divided into three kinds. The first kind was a sighting of an unexplained phenomenon which could be interpreted as evidence of visits by extraterrestrials. The second kind was physical evidence, which up to that time had never been obtained. A close encounter of the third kind was actual contact with alien visitors. Stephen Spielberg's motion picture Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, which was a remake of his 1965 movie, Firelight, explored this theme in detail.
The Air Force canceled Project Blue Book in December, 1969 after recording 12,618 sightings or events, only a few of which were unexplained. The Air Force concluded that, whatever the UFO's were, there was no reason to believe that they constituted a threat to the security of the United States. However, reports of UFO contacts and alien visitors, both verifiable and otherwise, have continued to excite public interest.
Since 1994, we have had very convincing evidence of a Close Encounter of the Second Kind. Briefly, the evidence for alien life and its discovery on Earth is found in a meteorite, ALH 84001, that fell to Earth from space. It was found in December 1984 in Antarctica by a U.S. meteorite-hunting expedition. When it was found, ALH 84001 weighed about 4 and 3/4 pounds. It was shaped like a rounded brick or a large potato, about 6 inches long by 4 inches by 3 inches, and was partly covered with black glass (like it was dipped in tar). The glass, called fusion crust, forms on all meteorites when they burn through the Earth's atmosphere. ALH 84001 looked green inside, which really excited the expedition. But back at civilization, ALH 84001 looks much grayer inside than green.
Most planetary scientists believe that ALH 84001 formed originally from molten lava, about 4.5 billion years ago, which is called its igneous age, possibly from an ancient Martian volcano. To a geologist, ALH 84001 is an igneous rock, similar to many that crystallized from lava inside the Earth. It is also similar to an important group of igneous meteorites (the diogenites), and was classified as one of them until 1994 when the argument for its Martian origin was first recognized.
According to this theory, long after ALH 84001 crystallized from molten lava and cooled, about 4.0 billion years ago, it was heated again and deformed by a strong shock. This heating and shock were probably from the nearby impact of an asteroid or meteorite. Some time after this impact, possibly about 3.6 billion years ago, some kind of liquid flowed through ALH 84001 and deposited rounded globules of carbonate minerals. The possible Martian fossils are in these carbonate globules. The only more recent event that we can see in ALH 84001 is another shock event. This shock may have come from the meteorite impact that lofted ALH 84001 off Mars.
It's nearly certain that ALH 84001 is from Mars, even though people have never been to Mars and no rocks have ever been collected on Mars. In fact, there are 11 other meteorites, called the SNCs, that are also almost certain to be from Mars. The strongest evidence for their Martian origin is that they, including ALH 84001, contain traces of gas that is just like the Martian atmosphere. We know the composition of the Martian atmosphere, because the Viking Lander spacecraft analyzed it, on Mars, in 1976. The Martian atmosphere is really different from the Earth's atmosphere, or Venus, or any other source of gas that's ever been found.
In their paper in Science magazine, Dr. David McKay and his co-workers gave evidence that Martian bacteria may have lived in the Martian meteorite. They presented evidence that ALH 84001 is from Mars, that it was infiltrated by liquid water while it was on Mars, and that the water infiltrated very long ago. Then, they described three sets of observations about ALH 84001 that all could have been produced by Martian bacteria. But, as they say, "None of these observations is in itself conclusive for the existence of past life. Although there are alternative explanations for each of these phenomena taken individually, when they are considered collectively, particularly in view of their spatial association, we conclude that they are evidence for primitive life on Mars."
McKay and his co-workers DO NOT claim that they found live Martian bacteria; they only claim to have found evidence of dead, fossil bacteria and chemical traces that might have come from bacteria. They have no evidence for Martian organisms more complicated than bacteria--no eucaryotes (cells with nuclei), no multicelled creatures, no plants, no animals, and no "little green men".
You can find the text of the existing reports on ALH 84001 in the notes from the 28th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference on the Internet at http://www.lpi.usra.edu/lpi/meteorites/mars_meteorite.html.
Unfortunately, the recent discovery of evidence of the past existence of life on the planet Mars, and the implied possibility that the earth is not unique as the abode of life is troubling to many because of its religious implications, particularly the apparent contradiction of story of Creation revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Book of Genesis.
Given this brief history of ALH 84001 and it's implications on biblical interpretation, in this talk I shall discuss the origin and evolution of the Bible, popular interpretations of biblical teaching as it relates to the proposition that we are not alone in the universe, and some conjectures about what we may expect to find "out there." I will also comment briefly on the question of the existence of God raised by the Movie Contact starring Jodie Foster.
I'm not trying to convert anyone. This isn't a religious service; we won't take up a collection or anything. But for those of you who may have wondered just where religion and science meet on this issue may find the discussion interesting and informative.
I'll leave a decision about the conclusions totally up to you.
First of all, let's take a look at the Bible. For a discussion on it, click here.
So where do extraterrestrials fit in? What does the Bible say about them?
Well, the Bible says about them precisely and exactly nothing. Although there are many stories of encounters between men and other kinds of beings, that is, angels, in the Bible, there is no suggestion anywhere that these beings came from other planets. If one takes the most restrictive view of Scripture, there are no extraterrestrials because the stars are exactly what they appear to be, little points of light in a "firmament." But even a slightly more liberal interpretation allows for all sorts of aliens, for once one allows that the Bible permits belief in the existence of stars and galaxies, the field is wide open. The Bible simply doesn't tell us what aliens might be, or where they might come from.
But the Bible does tell us things about ourselves which may be used as a gauge by which aliens can be measured. Nearly all Christians, Muslims and Jews believe that the universe was created by an uncreated maker whom we call God. The same God who made us, therefore made the aliens. While science tells us that there are some limitations on what they might be composed of, or where they might be found, it also tells us that the existence of made things requires an source (Cosmos). This works the same for aliens, intelligent or otherwise, as for us. If they are intelligent, they must of necessity come to an understanding that they are created beings, from which it is only a small intellectual step (from science to religion) to an acknowledgment of the supremacy of the Creator.
But there is a belief, common in science and science fiction today, which I think may be further illuminated by what is taught in the Bible, however one interprets it. This belief is expressed in the Drake Equation, named after Frank Drake of Cornell University who invented it. This equation purports to estimate the number of intelligent societies in the Galaxy by determining first the number of stars, and then paring down this number by successive multiplications based on various assumptions. The final product is N, the number of planets on which reside beings who are intellectually, if not physically, like ourselves.
The equation goes like this:
R is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy, a few hundred billion. Most of them are like our sun, not too massive nor too small for consideration. Let's estimate R at roughly four hundred billion.
Fp is the percentage of stars which have planets. In his book Cosmos, published in 1980, Carl Sagan estimated Fp as about 1/3. We have been finding a lot of evidence for the formation of planets since then, which seems to suggest that Fp may be larger, maybe even very close to 1. Let's make Fp equal to 0.7 or so.
Ne is the number of worlds in a solar system having planets in the first place which are suitable for life, at least life as we know it. These must lie in the "Goldilocks zone," in which the temperature is not too cold and not too warm, but just right. For carbon-based life forms, which appear so far to be the only kind possible, the Goldilocks zone is from slightly below the freezing point of water to slightly above the boiling point. This is actually a pretty wide range, 700 degrees Fahrenheit from a pressure of just above nothing to 3200 psi. (How far the zone extends depends not only on the luminosity and temperature of the star, but also on the atmosphere and internal composition of the worlds involved.) In the solar system, there are at least five; Earth, Mars and Jupiter are planets, and Europa, Enceladus and Titan are satellites of planets. The Goldilocks zone is below the visible surface of Jupiter Enceladus and Europa, and we don't really know about Titan. To be conservative, let's just count the planets, and make Ne equal to 3.
Fl is the probability of life arising on worlds which can support it. Sagan assumed Fl = 1/3, but I think that is too low. There are organic molecules, although simple ones, in intergalactic space. Norbert Weiner even suggested that some intelligent alien entity might be seeding the universe with the seeds of life, which, if you call the entity God, doesn't seem all that opposed to Scripture. I'm going to put Fl at 1/2.
Fi is the percentage of worlds on which intelligent beings evolve from lower life forms, and Fc is the percentage of intelligent beings that invent radio. Here we must depart the world of domesticated scientific thought and enter the world of the undomesticated donkey - the wild ass guess. Sagan didn't even try to estimate Fi alone, but assumed that Fi x Fc was equal to 1/100. The basis for his guess was that one percent sounded like a good round number for the percentage of living worlds that develop radio astronomy. This belief may have been influenced by the fact that Carl Sagan was a radio astronomer and assumed that radio astronomy has something to do with intelligence. The only thing he knew for sure was that this product has to be less than or equal to one.
But I think we can look at another way. Intelligence is such a successful evolutionary development that a planet full of brutish critters, given geologically long time periods, just doesn't make sense. I would assume that any planet on which life evolved would eventually be the home of intelligent scientists and religious believers. That would make Fi pretty close to 1, but I'll stick with 1/2 just to be on the safe side.
Fc, however, is an entirely different matter. We tend to think of intelligent beings as being like us, since we are the only intelligent beings we know of, and WE are like us. We are builders and tool users, who bend our environment to our own design and modify it to our pleasure, not always with desired results. But the Bible tells us that it was not meant to be so. We were created in harmony with nature, and our cousins in what we like to call the "undeveloped countries," and to an even greater extent our fellow animals, seem to get along pretty well that way. All our technology, all our great works, the monuments to our glory, all are the work of four trillion man-years, more or less, of human toil and sweat. And this toil, according to some religious beliefs, was the price of the disobedience of our first parents, whom the Bible calls Adam and Eve.
So technology is perhaps not the hallmark of an intelligent species. If our ancestors were all that intelligent, perhaps they would have listened to God instead of the serpent and done what they were told by a being obviously wiser than themselves. This supposes that, while we might assign a large value to Fi on the basis of Scriptural evidence, we have to assign a small value to Fc, maybe at most a few percent. I'll go with two percent, and end up with a Fi x Fc product which is the same as Carl Sagan's; one percent.
L, The final factor in the equation, is the probability that a civilization will survive the factors which have led us to two world wars, two nuclear attacks on cities, and the expenditure of trillions of dollars on weapons of mass destruction, not to mention the destruction of our planetary environment. Carl Sagan suggested that this number might be as small as a millionth of a percent. I think that rising to our level of technology and then destroying ourselves is not a very intelligent thing to do, so we might not want to count a species that does this as an intelligent one. Still Dr. Sagan may have been right. While it is beginning to look like humanity may just survive the invention of hydrogen bombs, we are today well on the way to doing some very stupid things regarding the invention of new diseases and messing with our genetic makeup. This could definitely prove fatal to our entire species. The probability of surviving the disparity between technology and ethics therefore may well be a millionth of a percent. On the other than, this still gives us a value of S of 42(!) other intelligent species now inhabiting the Milky Way Galaxy alone. And there are BILLIONS and BILLIONS of galaxies! If L is higher, the number of worlds now having intelligent alien life would be correspondingly greater.
But, as Sagan observed, there may be countless worlds on which the inhabitants are accomplished linguists or superb poets but indifferent radio astronomers. We will not hear from them.
Or will we?
Consider for a moment what we are talking about here. Carl Sagan's criteria for an advanced civilization was one that develops technology and radio telescopes. But, as the Bible observes, technology is not necessarily a product of intelligence. Intelligence involves self-directed activity, by which criterion Captain Jean-Luc Picard proved to the satisfaction of the local judge advocate general in the "Star Trek" episode, The Measure of a Man, that Commander Data deserved to be treated as a person.
But is self-directed activity the criterion of intelligence? Maybe, but how would we know. There is a story of an early Native American who was given a watch which eventually ran down because he didn't know to wind it. When he took it apart to find out what was wrong with it, he noticed a flea that had been accidentally trapped in and crushed by the case. "Oh," he observed. "No wonder watch not work. Engineer dead!" The idea here is that the Indian was familiar only with machines that had operators, and was unable to understand one that did not.
If we watch a man get up out of a chair to welcome us, introduce the rest of the people in the room with him, and then tell us a little about each one of them, we might be pretty sure that this is self-directed activity. But if the man is Abraham Lincoln in the Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World, we would be mistaken. Of course, the activity IS purposeful, but only in the sense that the machine is functioning according to human design. If the alien is alien enough, we might not be able to tell which is which.
I would suggest that the criterion of intelligence, at least as we define it, is ETHICAL activity. If the aliens are similar to beings we already know about, we might be able to watch them long enough and understand them well enough to make a reasonable decision about their ethics. We might make this decision on the basis of the way they treat us. Most purported alien abduction is ethical at least in the sense that the abductees have been put back, but on the other hand, we wouldn't have heard from any that were NOT put back, so this is perhaps not a valid criterion. The experiences related by alleged abductees suggests that the aliens are no more ethical than modern human animal experimenters, whose professional ethics I will leave to your judgment.
The Bible suggests that if Adam and Eve had not eaten the forbidden fruit, whatever that means, there would be no need for us to have developed technology. We would have had no need of radio telescopes. We wouldn't be wondering about aliens; we would be happy with what we already know. We wouldn't have to work. All we would have to do is eat, drink, sleep, exercise, pray, play, and make little copies of ourselves the good old fashioned way, without cloning or obstetric surgeons. We might not be able to tell when an alien is praying, but we could watch him do the other things. If the alien exhibited ethical behavior as well, such as coming to our aid if we were in danger, protecting his fellows, and watching out for our children while we are occupied elsewhere, we might well assume that the alien is intelligent, and that his ancestors, unlike ours, were true to their duty to their God.
There is a place where aliens from another world have demonstrated such behavior. They are similar to us, but unlike in many respects. They seem to be in harmony with their environment, which, while not exactly hostile, is nevertheless not Paradise either. They come in from wherever they live and investigate us, paying particular attention to our children. None of their species has ever been known to attack or harm a human being, and have many times saved humans who were obviously in distress. I don't know if they pray, but they have been carefully observed to eat, drink, sleep, exercise, care for their fellows and children, and play all day. They are accomplished comedians, and laugh heartily at practical jokes, which they play on each other as well as on us.
The other world is called the ocean, and the aliens are called dolphins. The place where they investigate human beings is in a shallow bay in Queensland, in Northern Australia.
These are not tame dolphins. These are wild, fresh from the ocean. One need only watch them for a few minutes to know for certain that they are watching us. They seem to be sharing some kind of joke.
Wouldn't the joke be on us if the nearest intelligent aliens were just a few miles from this very spot? Is an intelligent bipedal ape any more likely or noble than an intelligent sea-going mammal? What is man, that God is mindful of him? Might not He be mindful of the dolphins as well?
Are there Aliens on Earth?