Does SETI Have a Chance? Is it Science?

American newspapers have been filled lately with news of the revitalized SETI project (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). After decades of unfruitful searching, NASA has now instituted an extremely well-funded effort, using some of the best radio telescopes in the world, all in hopes of intercepting a message from intelligent life out there."

On Monday, October 12, 1992, a day symbolically selected to correspond to the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas; the telescopes and computers began monitoring billions of channels for any signal reflecting an intelligent source. The ten-year project will cost $100 million tax dollars.

Does this project have a chance of success? And is it a worthy scientific project, with worthy scientific goals? Is it a good use of money? Experts disagree on all these points.

Many scientists have now concluded that the laws of science and conditions on Earth preclude the possibility of life evolving naturalistically here on earth. In fact, probability calculations can show that the chances of life forming even once anywhere in the universe are vanishingly small, even given a whole universe of habitable planets in 20 billion years.

Yet how can these ideas be reconciled with those of Astronomer Carl Sagan and others, who glibly state there are probably billions of advanced civilizations in the universe. Clearly advocates are not speaking from a careful study of the probability of life forming by natural processes. This is a religious quest, not scientific.

But the issue doesn't just end with a waste of money on a quixotic quest. NASA has now designated $300,000, together with $700,000 from the National Science Foundation, to develop a SETI-based science-and-math curriculum for elementary and middle school grades. To do so, they have gathered a team of curriculum-writing scientists and educators, and have funded them for three years.

The existence of extraterrestrials will be implicitly assumed, and math-and-science projects will be designed around that theme. While increased interest among students in math and science is surely a worthwhile goal, this effort consists of nothing more than another example of state-mandated, government-funded indoctrination of students in the rationalistic mind set.

But what is the scientific basis for the assumption of extraterrestrial existence? Nothing at all. This religious view may masquerade as science and be promulgated in science classrooms, but it is not science. Students deserve better.

Students could have better, if curriculums acknowledged the presuppositional nature of all issues that deal with their unobserved past or the far away regions of space. We have very limited knowledge of these subjects, but there are two basic ways of interpreting the known data (i.e., the creation and evolutionary world views), and students would develop better critical-thinking skills in an open, non-dogmatic consideration of these issues. Indoctrination in a poorly supported way of thinking will not help.

*Dr. John Morris is the President of ICR.

Cite this article: John D. Morris, Ph.D. 1992. Does SETI Have a Chance? Is it Science?. Acts & Facts. 21 (11).

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