Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Intelligent life out there?

I mentioned in my last post that I hurt a friend's feelings recently. It was in our small group fellowship that meets on Sunday nights, and somehow we got to talking about extraterrestrial life.

When I commented that I was almost sure there was lots of intelligent life in the universe, he was completely floored and said that if that was true, he'd lose his faith. His reasoning was that humanity is God's special creation, made in His image, and if we're not alone then we're not special and we might as well throw out the bible.

I did not have a good poker face. My friend saw that I thought his stance was ridiculous, and it crushed him. It was not one of my better moments.

So as a heart/spirit issue, I blew it! All that blogging I do about having an open mind, and respecting the opinions of others, and then I openly show condescencion to the feelings of a brother. Shame on me.

But besides the heart issue, a few of you were curious about my intellectual approach, and why I would be so sure that there is other intelligent life out there. Let me start by confessing my bias.

I grew up as a total science fiction nerd. Books, movies, short stories... I devoured them all and regularly read tales of alien species. I loved it, so in a way I really really want ETs to be real. Which of course has no bearing on whether or not they actually exist.

So biases aside, my logic is very simple -- the universe is so unbelievably massive that the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of there being other intelligent life. Not just one or two civilizations, but millions.

In the 1960s the "Drake equation" was formulated in an attempt to calculate the # of alien civilizations that might exist just in our Milky Way galaxy. They included multiple factors (chance of a sun having a planet like Earth, the chance of that planet having life, the chance of that life becoming sentient, etc...) and put the probabilities really low, like 1% and under for each factor. The final calculation came out to over 10,000 intelligent civilizations just in our galaxy.

And our galaxy is barely a blip in the universe. There are billions of other galaxies out there. If our sun was a grain of sand, then all the grains of sand on all the beaches of our planet might equate to how many stars are in the universe. Think about that one for a moment until it gets too big to fathom.

See this previous post for another illustration on how huge our universe is.

I actually think the Drake equation is a bunch of bunk as a final calculation, because we just have no clue what those probabilities are. And when you completely guess at eight different factors, then multiply those guesses together... you get crap. Statistically speaking.

But even if you set the probabilities at .000000001% for each number, there are still many intelligent species all over the universe. Unfortunately it's so big out there, we'll almost surely never meet any of them.

Perhaps first we should continue the search for proof that we have intelligent life on this planet! That gets more difficult every time I watch television. :)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Breaking the silence

Does it seem that most people interpret silence in a negative way? Seems that way to me, but I've always been the opposite.

When I was in college and would drive back to school after a holiday break, I would tell my parents, "If you don't hear from me in the next couple of days, it means I'm doing great." I felt the same about others -- if they didn't contact me I assumed everything was fine.

I have to remember that most people don't seem to be like that. And here I've been silent on the blog for a few months, and you may be wondering if I'm ill, divorced, unemployed, a Democrat or an atheist. No need to worry!

Sure, I've been sick a couple of times this fall just like everybody else, but the swine flu hasn't hit me. Yet. I'm certainly still married to Jamie and we're having more fun that ever now that we're outnumbered by children in the house (baby Luke was born September 5).

Not only am I still employed, I just got my second big promotion of 2009. I'm now running two separate teams and have pretty huge responsibilities. Best of all I'm finding that I love the work, and I happen to be good at it too. It's the first time in years I've truly enjoyed what I do and my life's energy is going to efforts that will do some good.

Politically I'm still as apathetic as ever. Didn't vote in any local elections and the only time I follow what's happening in Washington is on the topic of economics, since it's an interest of mine and it affects my company.

My faith's evolution hasn't slowed down a bit, and I wish I could've been available here to write more about it over the past few months. Rest assured I'll be writing about it shortly, and that this post is merely the first step to building some momentum along those lines.

Just so you don't think all is rosy and I have a halo over my head, I promise that I'm still causing trouble:

-- I frustrated a friend when I told him I was 99% sure there is lots of other intelligent life in the universe. He said if that's true, the bible is meaningless to him because we are made in His image and are God's chosen creation. I was stumped, surprised, and didn't have a good poker face.

-- I went to a speech/reading by a Jewish agnostic gay playwright (his self-description) who has won a Tony, a Pulitzer, and got an Oscar nomination for a screenplay a few years ago. I was probably the only straight white married male in the auditorium, listening to a brilliant man speak on oppression and social justice in 21st Century America. And I liked it.

-- I infuriated our minister in bible class by asking the question, "Isn't it presumptuous for us to say we know why Jesus had to die, and that God had no other choice?" I'm in a place right now where apologetics don't do much for me, and I'd rather explore the biblical teachings that I can actually test out right now in this life. And there ain't no way I'm figuring out penal substitution doctrine in this life. The minister raised his voice and said, "God doesn't deal in lunacy. Of course Jesus had to die, or else God is a butcher." I had learned my lesson by that point and stayed quiet.

-- If I had spoken up again, it would have been to ask, "So God is not a butcher... He's merely incapable of forgiveness without killing himself? Do we really have to choose between a butcher and a God who's backed into a corner by sin?"

See what I mean? I had learned my lesson and kept my mouth shut.

Some silences shouldn't be broken, I guess.