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The Fermi Paradox

If evolution really happened all over our universe, where is everybody?


Enrico Fermi (1901–1954)

In the 1950s, Nobel prizewinner and pioneer of atomic energy, Enrico Fermi, while working at Los Alamos nuclear facility in New Mexico, raised some straightforward questions: Are we the only technologically advanced civilization in the universe, and if we are not, then where are they? Why haven’t we seen any traces of extraterrestrial life such as probes or transmissions? Why haven’t we found their artifacts on Earth or in our solar system?

But it is not for the lack of searching. In 1960, astronomer Frank Drake commenced Project OZMA (named after Princess Ozma in The Wizard of Oz), the first organized search for intelligent extraterrestrial radio signals. He also developed a binary coded message system, with the idea that a picture could be obtained through a proper decryption of the codes. Drake constructed the first interstellar message ever transmitted via radio waves by our planet for the benefit of any extraterrestrial civilizations. This message is known as the Arecibo Message of November 1974. His messages have also been incorporated on the plaques on the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 missions, and on a recording that was placed aboard the Voyager spacecraft—just in case alleged aliens should happen to intercept one of these craft.

In 1995, as a result of private funding, Project Phoenix was launched and SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) had its genesis. Since Project Ozma, and via 60 different projects, the SETI organization has been scanning the universe at a rate of millions of radio frequencies every second for over 50 years. And how many ETs have they caught ‘phoning home’ in that time? Zero!

The ultimate reason why so much time and money is expended on such searches is belief in evolution. If life evolved by chance here on Earth, then it must have evolved countless times given the alleged vast age of the universe. Furthermore, it is believed that at 4.6 billion years, our solar system is relatively young, about a third of the universe’s assumed age. So there could well be much older planets which might therefore have even more advanced alien races.

Oops! Sorry, neighbour … not!

Fermi (not unreasonably, based upon his evolutionary precepts) also suggested that intelligent aliens would be curious explorers just like us. In a 14-billion-year-old universe, he said, there should have been plenty of time for at least the very first advanced race to send starships to colonize planets. Even if the first colonizing expedition took a million years (assuming numerous generations of explorers), the new colony, once established, and the original civilization, could then both send out another expedition apiece to colonize other planets, doubling the number of new colonies every million years. After 10 million years, there would be 1,023 alien colonies, and after 20 million years, there would be one million. At that rate, in 40 million years, there would be one trillion civilizations. After 14 billion years, the number of alien civilizations in the universe would be tripping over each other—and this overpopulation assumes the evolution of only one race of intelligent aliens.1 The problem would be compounded further if intelligent life had independently evolved in more than one planetary system.

This is a nagging problem for those who believe in the big bang and the evolution of life on Earth. Modern space agencies admit that they have so far failed to find even the slightest signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life. As National Geographic magazine pointed out, in an interview with SETI’s senior astronomer, Seth Shostak, “He and his colleagues have never found proof [that] anyone … or anything … ‘up there’ is trying to make contact.”2

Of course agencies like SETI might argue that this is setting up a bit of a straw man. After all, the universe is a massive place. Despite looking for so many years, they might say, they’ve only scanned a fraction of the known universe.

An evolutionary prediction is waning

This failure presents a real challenge for SETI and other scientists. If the universe is billions of years older than the earth, then intelligent life has had plenty of time to evolve elsewhere. So why aren’t the airwaves filled with their communications? SETI’s Shostak suggested an answer:

“The usual assumption is they’re some sort of soft, squishy aliens like you see in the movies—just a little more advanced than we so we can find them. But the galaxy [our Milky Way] is two or three times that age [of the earth], so there are going to be some societies out there that are millions of years, maybe more, beyond ours.”

In short, Shostak believes that we may be a primitive culture trying to communicate with older, more advanced civilizations, similar to a jungle tribe that bangs on drums and is listening for return messages from yuppies who communicate with mobile phones. If this is the case, then Shostak believes it should be enough to find even the merest speck of life, past or present, on other planets.

He explains:

“If another world—[such as Mars] the next world out from the sun—is proved to have supported life, that would imply that the cosmos is drenched with living things. We could conclude that planets with life are as common as phone poles (emphasis added).”3

But this suggestion does not satisfy Fermi’s original question. This ‘lack of ETs’ idea has become known as the Fermi paradox—in short, “Where is everybody?” Even SETI enthusiasts admit that the paradox is a difficult one to ignore, because any advanced alien race would surely have developed technology in the electromagnetic spectrum to be able to communicate effectively as humans have done, and thus, we should be picking up their communications—even if sent from distant locations millions of years ago.

The ‘power of the evolutionary paradigm’ blinds people

There is a simple answer to why we have not found (or been visited by) intelligent, sentient life that is like, or even more advanced than, humans—there is none!4 There was no big bang and no billions of years, and it is no accident that the earth occupies a special position and appears unique. It is because it was uniquely designed that way by a unique Creator God. Isaiah 45:18 reminds us:

“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other.’”

References and notes

  1. The ET Quandary, The Canadian National Post, 8 December 2003, p. A13. Return to text.
  2. Aliens ‘Absolutely’ Exist, SETI Astronomer Believes,, 6 March 2004. Return to text.
  3. Life on Mars Is a Siren Song in the Human Drive to Know, The Australian (Features), 9 January 2004, p. 11. Return to text.
  4. Despite the huge size of the universe there are theological and Gospel implications with the idea that God may have created sentient life on other planets. See Return to text.

Readers’ comments

Fred H.
Thanks Gary Bates.Thanks too Lord for fulfilling all prophecy to that time on the cross when I took vinegar & said "It is finished". Learned from Ariel Ministries.
Thanks Lord for doing only those things God could do & saying "I Am". Thanks 4your love 4us.Fred.
John V.
I issued a $30k ET Reward in July and the evidence has been pathetic.
James H.
Excellent overview of the Fermi Paradox, and especially as it relates to the history in Genesis. A young universe clears up the paradox rather nicely (as well as a host of other problems). I have crossed paths with a number of astronomers and other people knowledgeable about space, and it is amazing how firmly the idea of billions of years is entrenched in their minds. It is mystifying how most of them won't even consider an obvious alternative, that the universe could be young and miraculously created.
John C.
While I don't wish to push Scripture too hard, it is interesting to note the language of Isaiah 45:18; he did not create it empty. This would seem to leave open the real possibility (to the chagrin of Trekkies everywhere) that God DID create some worlds 'empty', perhaps even ALL worlds except Earth. I don't see anything wrong in that interpretation of the phrase, though as I said, it may be pushing Isaiah a little hard.
Gary Bates
Hi, I'm not sure how you can gain that idea from Isaiah 45:18. I use this passage all the time because it specifically refers to the Earth being created for human beings. It is not warranted to extrapolate this to possible other worlds because the context of the passage is very clear it is only talking about the earth. Theologically speaking, the idea of intelligent, sentient life on other planets would be a problem for the Gospel of Christ. Please ensure you read Did God create life on other planets?
Nick M.
For me this is an immense relief. I always found the idea of extraterrestrial life very discomforting. Glad to know there's no sign of it, and that there never will be any, praise God!
Gary Bates
There is a good reason we should be uncomfortable with the idea of ETs. Please read Did God create life on other planets?
James H.
Regarding Isaiah 45:18, I think John C. meant that God could have created numerous "empty" planets throughout the universe that are devoid of life, which raises an interesting idea of what Earth would be like without any life. Modern astronomy seems to be showing us that planets are abundant around other stars, and I don't think having "empty" lifeless planets violates any orthodox theology. There is also the curious use of "worlds" in Hebrews. The other planets of our solar system certainly seem empty to me. Does CMI have any articles on what the biblical definition of "life" or "alive" means, as in bacteria vs fungus vs plants vs animals?
Gary Bates
Thanks James, I noted and initially thought that. But of course there are empty worlds; just look at our solar system. So, just to close the door of possibility I linked to the article Did God Create Life on Other Planets?
Mitch C.
The irony is that the odds of producing the simplest living cell are beyond astronomical. The chirality problem, along with the problem of sequencing the needed proteins, assembling and coding the DNA and providing simultaneously a cellular decoding mechanism that "speaks the same language", and that just happens to code for the very living organism in which it happened to occur are devastating to the notion that "life had to evolve multiple times elsewhere in the universe". The fact is, the odds are incredibly hostile to ever assembling a living cell in the universe even if it was billions of times older than evolutionists claim it to be. Had Dr. Fermi done his math, he would have realized that the real paradox is "Why does life exist at all?" And the correct answer, of course, is that the infinite, sovereign, all-wise, all-powerful God created it, just as He plainly says in his holy Word, the Bible.
Georges H.
I read some month ago a paper from a French physicist Gabriel Chardin in "CNRS News" ([link deleted per feedback rules]) about the topic of Fermi's paradox, and that in relation of an annual growth rate in the consumption of the universe resources of 2%. The time to consume the whole visible universe (in his assumption) is about 5000 to 6000 years. If this time is right is to be discuss (most probably wrong - remind the predictions about the end of petrol some decades ago), but it shows us that we are not speaking in millions of years about a hypothetical "natural extinction" of the human race. And among to the wrong belief of the "natural extinction" of the human race, this leads to remind us the return of the Lord.

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