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SETI@home project closing down

The search for ET life suffers a body blow

by and

Published: 20 July 2020 (GMT+10)
alien-man

After two decades of crowdsourced research, the innovative SETI@home project is being closed down. For those not familiar with SETI, its name is an abbreviation for The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. For almost 60 years, they have used massive telescope arrays to search for signals of extraterrestrial life. Under various projects, they have been scanning millions of radio frequencies during this time. But they have yet to find a single coded message from space.

The SETI@home project outsourced computing power to home users by persuading them to analyze large volumes of raw data in hopes of finding information-containing radio signals from space.1 Think: eavesdropping on “ET phoning home.” According to them, “Scientifically, we’re at the point of diminishing returns; basically, we’ve analyzed all the data we need for now.”

Pulsars

We actually do receive radio signals from space in the form of pulsed signals. In 1967, there was a lot of excitement when a regularly repeating radio wave was detected and thought to be an alien transmission. However, this was eventually discovered to be nothing more than a rapidly rotating neutron star, called a pulsar. Evolutionists believe that this is the core of a star that has undergone gravitational collapse after a supernova. Its rapid spin is due to the collapse of a mass about 1.4 times our sun’s into a tiny size—about 20 km in diameter. Think about a spinning ice skater pulling her arms in and turning much faster. (In physics, this is an example of the Law of Conservation of Angular Momentum.) The discoverers Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish jokingly gave it the moniker of LGM 1 (short for ‘little green men’) although they didn’t really believe they had discovered an ET signal.

So, they can distinguish between simple radio pulses and the type of signals that contained information and, thus, had come from an intelligent source. Information, such as language, is an information code. In general, this is the key difference between order and complexity (see for example this chapter of Refuting Evolution).

A central double-standard

Before commenting further on the shutdown of SETI@home, it is important to point out the bizarrely obvious double standard this whole project reveals. According to the page at Berkeley’s website,

“One approach, known as radio SETI, uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space. Such signals are not known to occur naturally, so a detection would provide evidence of extraterrestrial technology.”2

These same scientists looking for coded information signals would never admit that such signals have already been found right here on Earth, encoded in the DNA of life! Yet, coded DNA is not known to arise from non-living matter either (it is simply assumed). A signal that contained a language code would be easily recognizable as coming from an intelligent source. So, it appears they have set the bar pretty low by looking for a metric of “pulsed signals”,3 as in regularly repeating blips for example. (But to avoid the false positive of a pulsar, the pulses would need to vary in time or frequency. Yet even this low bar has not been climbed.) By the way—we can say for sure that DNA does also include this (and obviously much more)!

Encoded information can be very simple or very complex; we have, for example, Morse Code, which transmits information over a simple series of timed pulses, or we have much more complicated systems such as alphabets or character sets. Since DNA includes information sandwiched between ‘stop codons’ (ending points), these would represent a ‘pulse’. Why would a pulsed signal in the form of a radio frequency represent intelligence, if one in the form of nucleic acids in a chain would not? This is the double standard. Of course, a minority of atheistic/naturalist scientists have realized this (in particular, the Hoylites), by claiming that DNA made its way here by chance or that life was seeded here by intelligent ETs in the first place. Others may view this as evidence of intelligent aliens having created life!

A foundation of shaky assumptions

However, none of these groups represent the mainstream of scientific thought, which is still bent on pushing the narrative that life evolved on earth with no intelligent guidance of any kind. It is, in fact, this exact mindset that has led to the formation of SETI to begin with. As one of us (Gary Bates) wrote, “If life evolved by chance here on Earth, then it must have evolved countless times given the alleged vast age of the universe.”4 This sentiment is echoed in popular media explaining the SETI project. For example, according to the popular website howstuffworks.com:

“The basic principles behind SETI rely on three assumed facts:
  1. There must be other intelligent life forms out there. The Milky Way galaxy alone contains billions of stars like our own sun, and the universe contains billions of galaxies. If intelligent life can evolve in one place, then presumably it can evolve in many other places as well.
  2. Any intelligent civilization would discover radio waves and begin leaking them into space. Humans, as an intelligent life form, discovered radio waves fairly early in our development, and we have been leaking radio signals in significant quantities for much of the 20th century. We leak signals in everything from AM and FM radio broadcasts to TV broadcasts to all sorts of satellite and radar broadcasts. Every time you open your garage door, you leak a radio signal into space! [Note that all of these types of communications contain a language form—Editor].
  3. Any intelligent civilization would realize that there might be other intelligent civilizations, and it might try to send high-powered signals right at us. Humans have, in fact, tried this in several different ways. If you can find a copy of Carl Sagan’s book entitled Murmurs of Earth, it offers a great introduction to what we have tried (everything from radio broadcasts to phonograph records attached to satellites!).
If either the first or second assumption is invalid, then SETI is a hopeless waste of time. If they both turn out to be true, however, then it is only a matter of time before we detect something!”5

Actually, as it turns out, these assumptions are extremely shaky (even from an evolutionary viewpoint), as one of us (Paul Price) has previously pointed out in an article, and the other of us (Gary Bates), has written about in Alien Intrusion. The idea that the universe must be teeming with life was based upon the famously assumption-laden Drake Equation—designed to estimate the number of contactable civilizations in the Milky Way— which led to the first SETI-type search for ET life called Project Osma. However, this historically significant equation has recently been strongly called into question on account of the sheer speculation present in each of its variables.6 Since the probability of evolution is unknown (in reality it is essentially zero!), it is very possible that we are alone in the observable universe. This is something scientists have been reluctant to accept, since it goes against the ‘Copernican Principle’, which states that the Earth is not in a special location. But what will they do with all this mounting evidence that Earth is, indeed, special? We are likely in the center of the cosmos. And after the many finds of extrasolar planets that are not suitable for life, we are also looking more likely to be the only inhabited planet in the observable cosmos. This points strongly to design, not chance!

What are the results of SETI@home?

The announcements so far have been vague, but one would assume that if anything had turned up, those behind the project would have been very quick to sound the alarm and wave their flags of victory. More so because SETI relies upon government and public funding and has for many years been struggling to justify its existence due to the lack of results. Indeed, this was one of the successes of the SETI@home project. It involved millions of home users around the world and was a fantastic public relations exercise for them. So, by any measure, closing it down must be considered a crushing blow. And because of their ready-made fan club, any find would, in turn, generate new revenue for them. Their silence speaks volumes here. Very likely this project has turned up nothing, just as their previous ones like Project Phoenix did (“No ET signals were detected”).7

Confirmation of the Bible?

There is no hint in Scripture that God created physical, intelligent life elsewhere in our cosmos, and there are strong theological imperatives that cast doubt on the idea that God would have done so. Therefore, this is exactly the result one would have expected if coming at the question from a biblical standpoint. We will continue to monitor the situation, however, as this was by no means the first of SETI’s projects and is not likely to be the last. The evolutionary worldview is a powerful motivator, as the myth that our universe should be teeming with evolved life is not going to release its hold on the public (or scientists) easily.

References and notes

  1. Mack, E., SETI@home to shut down after two decades of crowdsourced alien hunting, cnet.com, 4 March 2020. Return to text.
  2. The science of SETI@home, setiathome.berkeley.edu/sah_about.php, accessed 6 May 2020. Return to text.
  3. Hipschman, R., What is SETI@home Looking For?, seticlassic.ssl.berkeley.edu, accessed 7 May 2020. Return to text.
  4. The Fermi Paradox, 6 May 2020. Return to text.
  5. How does SETI home work?, computer.howstuffworks.com/question204.htm, accessed 6 May 2020. Return to text.
  6. Sandberg, A., Drexler, E., and Ord, T., Dissolving the Fermi Paradox, arxiv.org, 8 June 2018. Return to text.
  7. Project Phoenix FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions), seti.org/seti-institute/project/details/project-phoenix-frequently-asked-question, 6 July 2011. Return to text.

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