Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Sad, really

Article: Chances of aliens finding Earth disappearing� (New Scientist - David L. Chandler - 9 Aug 2004)

A pioneer of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) has warned that for any intelligent aliens trying to search for us, "the Earth is going to disappear" very soon.

Frank Drake's point, made at a SETI workshop at Harvard University on Friday, is that television services are increasingly being delivered by technologies that do not leak radio frequencies into space.

But he added that in some ways the observation is good news for SETI, as it means that the failure of Earth-based observers to detect aliens so far may be less worrisome than it would otherwise seem. ...

So from the point of view of being detected through such inadvertent broadcasts, the longevity of humanity's detectability may be just 100 years.

And longevity may be the most important figure in Drake's famous equation for estimating the number of detectable intelligent civilisations on other worlds. The best estimates show that all the other crucial factors nearly cancel out, so that the number of such civilisations in our Milky Way galaxy is roughly equal to their average longevity of detectability in years. ...

Note that last line very well. It's effectively admitting the only relevant element of Drake's notoriously arbitrary Drake equation is time. In other words, Drake's entire monstorus equation is left as an scaffolding of symbols and parentheses tottering around the tenuous child-like claim that we're just bound to find other life forms if only we wait long enough! Drake is no less than admitting his search for extraterrestrials now has a good reason for being so embarassingly fruitless: we're not making enough noise! Such a sad thing. In the supposed attempt to be scientific about a wildly evolved universe, Drake simply can't relinquish the idea that we are alone. Scratch that: he won't drop the idea that our not being alone means having ET neighbors, but will, presumably, scorn as a silly, arbitrary conjecture the notion that our not being alone actually derives from the self-revelatory presence of God. Oh, the irony.

At least in the case of religious faith, the grounds of that belief are determined by the fidelity of God, not by the makeshift hypotheses of each new scientist. You may say both a Christian and Drake are being equally fideistic, cheerfully superstitious even, and you may be right. But at least a Christian is not violating his own confessed means of knowledge; a Christian is expressly amnd actively limited by divine revelation -- much like a diamond minder is "limited" by holding the lantern given him by the Foreman. Drake, by contrast, is violating his own rationalist worldview. Pure observation has left him and SETI with nothing. But on he plunges into a self-deluding tale about diminishing radio waves. (I admit I don't know his own outlook in any depth, but it's safe to assume he's a typical materialist rationalist. I'd love to be corrected on this point.)

Certainly, a Christian is entitled -- and even commanded, as a discipole of the Truth Himself -- to explore the created world as vigorously as any curious nonbeliever. But unlike the latter, the Christian has the added assurance that the world is orderly and basically nomologically sound since it derives from the mind of a consistent, holy, and good God. The nonbeliever has no such assurance. Any protests to the contrary need a long, slow marination in the work of David Hume and George Berkeley.

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