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Dissolving the Fermi Paradox

Life is unique after all: Copernicus, Enrico Fermi, and Elon Musk weigh in


Where are the aliens? Are we alone in the universe after all? The prevailing academic worldview is based around the secular humanistic, materialist premise that natural causes explain everything, and the universe is devoid of any over-arching meaning, purpose or design. Since life is asserted to have evolved here on Earth through unguided natural processes, it would seem to follow that we should expect to find it elsewhere in the universe also (because the alternative would imply that Earth and humanity are somehow special and unique, which is antithetical to the secularist worldview).

In cosmology, this secular viewpoint that humans are not special in the universe has been named the Copernican Principle, though the man himself would certainly not have agreed with its modern formulation. We are assumed to have a randomly-selected vantage point on the rest of the universe which does not reflect any privileged view.1

The Fermi Paradox, on the other hand, is an application of the Copernican Principle to the realm of ‘astrobiology’ (which is defined as the search for, specifically, ‘the evolution of life’ in the universe). Since we are assumed to be in a non-special location, and since we are assuming that evolution must be sufficiently probable to have occurred here on Earth, the question arises: where is everybody else?2 Modern academia is loath to admit to anything that would imply that evolution is improbable, because this inevitably points in the direction of purpose and design! But Enrico Fermi, an early pioneer of atomic energy, looked at some basic variables using the assumed evolutionary history of the universe, and concluded that our universe should be literally teeming with intelligent life by now.3 It is called a paradox because we observe the exact opposite: a total lack of any sign of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

New, ‘disappointing’ calculations

A team of researchers from the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University recently evaluated this so-called paradox using more realistic assumptions, however. What they concluded was a major shocker to many in the secular world: there is no paradox! They write:

“When the model is recast to represent realistic distributions of uncertainty, we find a substantial ex ante [predicted] probability of there being no other intelligent life in our observable universe, and thus that there should be little surprise when we fail to detect any signs of it.” 4

One of the most crucial variables in any discussion of life in the universe would be the original formation of life from non-living matter, called abiogenesis. Naturally, the paper stays far away from ever questioning the validity of abiogenesis in the first place, taking it as a given that life forms spontaneously from non-life in direct violation of the established Law of Biogenesis.

The authors make reference to the ‘RNA world’ hypothesis, saying, “There is substantial evidence that a so-called ‘RNA world’, in which both genetic and metabolic roles were filled by RNA, preceded the current genetic system of DNA, RNA, and ribosomally translated proteins.” However, there are many immense scientific problems with that speculation, and objections by biologists to this idea have never been sufficiently answered.5 In fact, the article they cited, written by Harold Bernhardt of the University of Otago in New Zealand, is actually titled, “The RNA world hypothesis: the worst theory of the early evolution of life (except for all the others)”!6 You know things are desperate when even the proponents of a theory are bashing it, and I don’t think that Bernhardt’s carefully-guarded speculations could reasonably be taken as “substantial evidence” of the RNA-world hypothesis. There is one ‘theory’ that Bernhardt is unwilling to entertain: God created life fully-functional from the outset! In reality, philosophical assumptions and prior beliefs guide much of what is called ‘science’ in the world today, something that on rare occasions even the scientists themselves will admit.7

No one knows how the remarkable structure of DNA could originate by naturalistic processes from non-living matter.

Uneducated guesses

The authors admit that there is too much uncertainty to pinpoint an actual probability for abiogenesis in their equations, so they charitably chose an extremely high figure of one ‘abiogenesis event’ per planet. Even so, they concluded:

“When we update this prior in light of the Fermi observation, we find a substantial probability that we are alone in our galaxy, and perhaps even in our observable universe (53%–99.6% and 39%–85% respectively). ’Where are they?’—probably extremely far away, and quite possibly beyond the cosmological horizon and forever unreachable.”8

Popular culture, including the realm of ‘popular science’ has gravitated recently towards greater and greater enthusiasm for the idea of alien life, including directed panspermia—the idea that aliens ‘seeded’ life on earth. Besides making for very eye-catching (and therefore profitable) headlines in science periodicals, the idea helps resolve the ‘problem’ of the overwhelming appearance of design in life.9 Since this is the case, papers such as this one are going to be very unwelcome news indeed. This is likely why popular science writers were quick to downplay their conclusions and reassure the audience that we can all still safely believe in ETs:

“In the end, the team’s conclusions do not mean that humanity is alone in the Universe, or that the odds of finding evidence of extra-terrestrial civilizations (both past and present) is unlikely [sic]. Instead, it simply means that we can say with greater confidence – based on what we know – that humanity is most likely the only intelligent species in the Milky Way Galaxy at present.”10

Even so, the comment section of that particular news article is abuzz with people livid about the prospect that we may be alone, with comments such as, “Totally ridiculous, and, quite frankly, an embarrassing perspective. Oh, because [we] can’t see or hear or detect any form of intelligent life out there, there must be none??”11 Belief in ETs has become a fast-growing religious faith that need not depend on any actual facts whatsoever, apparently.

Space colonies: being alone is as good an excuse as not being alone

Elon Musk

Elon Musk, famous billionaire CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, responded differently, saying:

“It is unknown whether we are the only civilization currently alive in the observable universe, but any chance that we are is added impetus for extending life beyond Earth … we must preserve the light of consciousness by becoming a spacefaring civilization & extending life to other planets.”12

Being the head of a private company dedicated to space exploration, it is obviously in his interests to make such statements, but nonetheless they reveal the consequences of an atheistic outlook. Without God’s guiding hand over history, who is to say that an asteroid might not hit Earth at any moment, destroying all life? Musk feels his efforts might be the key to one day saving the “light of consciousness”—something which, by the way, is totally inexplicable from a materialist worldview. What Musk seems to be naively unaware of, however, is that due to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (entropy), no amount of human effort will ever be able to ultimately stave off the effects of the winding down of our universe. We can run, but we cannot hide. Only the Creator—God Himself—can save us from the effects of the Curse on His creation!

Despite some claims that views about extraterrestrial life are tangential to the creation issue, such beliefs are underpinned and motivated by a belief in cosmic and biological evolution. CMI has been a pioneer among Christian ministries in highlighting the evolution connection to beliefs in alien life. One can visit the Alien/UFOs qa section of our site to access a huge range of articles. Also note the related resources at the bottom of the page, and particularly CMI’s major motion picture that aired in cinemas around the world. It included a beautiful special effects treatise on the Fermi Paradox. The DVD and Blu-ray are now available.

Published: 10 July 2018

References and notes

  1. Peacock, J., Cosmological Physics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998, p. 66. Return to text.
  2. Bates, G., The Fermi Paradox, Creation 38(4):53-55, 2016 Return to text.
  3. See Ref. 2. Return to text.
  4. Sandberg, A., Drexler, E. and Ord, T., Dissolving the Fermi Paradox, arxiv.org, 8 June 2018. Return to text.
  5. Mills, G. and Kenyon, D., The RNA World: A Critique, Origins and Design 17(1):9-16, 1996. Return to text.
  6. Bernhardt, H., The RNA world hypothesis: the worst theory of the early evolution of life (except for all the others), Biology direct, 7(1):1, 2012. Return to text.
  7. For one example, Cosmologist George Ellis is quoted as saying that scientific models are either accepted or excluded often on philosophical grounds; see: Gibbs, W., Thinking Globally, Acting Universally (Profile: George F.R. Ellis), Scientific American 273(4):55, October 1995. Return to text.
  8. See Ref. 4. Return to text.
  9. When the issue was pressed to famous atheistic ‘evangelist’ Richard Dawkins in Ben Stein’s documentary Expelled, Dawkins admitted he would have no problem with the idea that aliens designed life on earth, showing that design is only a problem for the scientific community as long as God is the designer. Return to text.
  10. Williams, M., New Model Predicts That We’re Probably The Only Advanced Civilization In The Observable Universe, universetoday.com, 21 June 2018. Return to text.
  11. See ref. 9; Comment by user DALLASGOON. Return to text.
  12. Mosher, D., Elon Musk says a new study about aliens gives humans even more reason to colonize other planets, businessinsider.com, 26 June 2018. Return to text.