A Wizard Did It

Atheists lack imagination. Every once in a while, sci-fi nerds get their panties in a bunch when trying to figure out why we haven’t met other intelligent life.

First and foremost there’s the Rare Earth Hypothesis (REH), the suggestion that the emergence of life was extremely improbable for a confluence of reasons. The theory essentially suggests that we hit the jackpot here on Earth. This argument, which was first articulated by geologist Peter Ward and astrobiologist Donald E. Brownlee, turns the whole Copernican Principle on its head. Instead of saying that we’re nothing special or unique, the REH implies the exact opposite — that we are freakishly special and unique. What we see here on Earth in this solar system and in this part of the Galaxy may be a remarkable convergence of highly unlikely factors — factors that have resulted in a perfect storm of conditions suitable for the emergence of complex life. It’s important to note that Ward and Brownlee are not implying that it’s one or two conditions that can explain habitability, but rather an entire array of happy accidents. For example, stars might have to be of the right kind (including adequate metallicity and safe distance from dangerous celestial objects), and planets must be in a stable orbit with a large moon. Other factors include the presence of gas giants, plate tectonics, and many others. But even with all the right conditions, life was by no means guaranteed. It’s quite possible that the Great Filter involved the next set of steps: the emergence of life and its ongoing evolution.

“Happy accidents?” Just say it. Maybe God did it.

Many religious people never exclude the possibility of a scientific explanation. But by definition, all atheists must always rule out the possibility of the theological. Who is more limited in their ability to learn the truth? Maybe the universe is teeming with intelligent life, and maybe it isn’t. The question is a fun but useless exercise other than how usefully it demonstrates how far people will go to avoid the possibility of God.

Wherever you stand, humility is always in order. Whether it’s religion and God or science and advanced life forms, knowability has its limits: