Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Creationists Versus Aliens

As NASA continues to analyze data from bodies in our own solar system and distant stars, it is rapidly becoming clear that we are likely to discover alien life at some point in the relatively near future. Odds are that those organisms will be microbes of some sort rather than humanoids armed with lasers and battle cruisers, but still, the prospect of such a discovery is frightening to many creationists. The Discovery Institute opposes the search for alien life because the organization sees such research as a deliberate attempt to undermine their religious beliefs.

They place astrobiologists among the ranks of the “Darwin Brigades” who have always been “eager to undermine human exceptionalism,” since “the alleged ordinariness of the human race was vital in establishing common ancestry as a plausible theory.” Astrobiology, they argue, expands this line of thought, since it holds to the Darwinist belief that life started by accident and that—under the right conditions—it can emerge anywhere with a liquid solvent (preferably water), energy, and organic compounds. This delusion, the Discovery Institute adds, undermines human exceptionalism on a cosmic scale by proclaiming that the Earth is not particularly special, just one among billions of potentially life-bearing planets.

The Discovery Institute claims instead that, the more data we gather about the Earth and other solar systems, the more clear it becomes that the cosmos was designed specifically with us in mind: “Someone decided that life should exist in this universe and made sure that Earth received all the proper protection and environmental benefits it needed to become the home of humankind.” And, of course, scripture is always available to provide supporting evidence. “The Earth's uniqueness brings to mind what the prophet Isaiah recorded thousands of years ago: ‘For thus says the Lord—Who created the heavens, God Himself, Who formed the Earth and made it, Who established it and did not create it to be a worthless waste; He formed it to be inhabited—I am the Lord, and there is no one else.’”

Just as a point, Darwin's theory of natural selection says nothing about the emergence of life itself. It also does not state that anything happens "by accident." These are both common misconceptions held by creationists, who don't really understand how the theory works. Natural selection is a process that by definition requires living organisms. Likewise, it is not accidental or random, but rather a process that is highly driven by environmental conditions. Species always adapt to the conditions around them because it is the best-adapted members who survive and reproduce.

Even mutations themselves are not described as "random" because they follow precise statistical distributions, which is another strawman made up by creationists to attack evolution. Biologists know full well that there are plenty of environmental factors that affect how quickly species mutate and the kinds of mutations that will emerge, but the point of the theory is that even if mutations were completely random the mechnism of selection would still work. It says nothing about larger patterns that may be at work in nature, it just does not require them.

It seems to me that there's nothing in the Bible that precludes alien life unless you read the text in a highly literal, stupid fashion. The Bible doesn't mention aliens, so there can't be any. The same thing is true of cars and microwave ovens, so obviously those don't exist either, right? Obviously the books of Bible were written by particular people in the context of a time and place in which neither cars nor aliens had ever been considered. So applying the literal text to such foreign concepts makes little sense.

But then, neither does the rest of literalist creationism.

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