ET, God, and Monsters
By Will Revis
SPACE.com is known as a reliable clearing house for space-science news. So I was bummed the other day when I read an article titled, ET Visitors: Scientists See High Likelihood. The article was based on a recent paper published in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (JBIS).
“Now a team of American scientists note that recent astrophysical discoveries suggest that we should find ourselves in the midst of one or more extraterrestrial civilizations. Moreover, they argue it is a mistake to reject all UFO reports since some evidence for the theoretically-predicted extraterrestrial visitors might just be found there.
Haisch along with physicists James Deardorff, Bruce Maccabee and Harold Puthoff make their case in the JBIS article: ‘Inflation-Theory Implications for Extraterrestrial Visitation[.pdf]’.”
SPACE.com’s sloppy journalism aside, the JBIS seems to be a legitimate technical journal that is essentially concerned with space exploration. But the article by physicists James Deardorff, Bernard Haisch, Bruce Maccabee and Harold Puthoff is heavy on pro-UFO rhetoric and light on hard science. Indeed, the researchers spend a significant amount of text explaining why previous scientific investigation of the UFO subject is bogus but ultimately don’t deliver in any meaningful way on why modern research in physics lends any new creditability to the idea that aliens are visiting our planet.
Essentially the paper is rehashing a pained Star Trek-ism of UFOlogy, as the SPACE.com article states, “Given billion-year advanced physics, might not buzzing around the galaxy be possible?” It’s a compelling question backed up with absolutely no data from either the article or the JBIS paper.
The JBIS paper actually takes the idea one step further allowing for alien visitations not just from other planets, but from whole entire other dimensions. What the researchers are presenting – poorly – is sort of a ‘buck-shot’ theory of alien visitation. Their recipe calls for advanced physics, multi-dimensions; let simmer for a billion years and viola!: our world is smack in the middle of a galactic civilization and aliens are cruising out skies. And of course, they don’t want to fully reveal themselves to us because they are benevolent and doing so would cause chaos here on earth. Rather the aliens are plotting to gradually introduce the notion of life beyond earth to us before bringing us into the galactic federation. Or whatever. It’s all in the paper. Star Trek’s “Prime Directive” is alive and well in the pages of the JBIS. Gene Roddenberry would be proud.
As we all know if you’re trying to develop a meaningful set of statements or statistics you need to examine as much data as possible. Unfortunately where life is concerned we only have one piece of data: ourselves. But what does that show us? As a species we’re closer to extinction today than at possibly any other time in our history. But even forgoing our propensity toward self-annihilation the window available to us during which we could become a space-faring civilization seems narrow at best and possibly closed all together. Are we just unlucky, or is civilization’s fleeting presence common on planets where evolution gives way to thinking beings?
Presented with these very pessimistic points, UFO buffs have followed in the footsteps of religious creationists in that they have softened their hard-line stance and have begun to embrace more exotic explanations for their beliefs.
Creationists have found new credibility (in America at least) by abandoning a direct biblical account for creation. Today, many on the cutting edge of religious origins subscribe to the Intelligent Design theory – essentially that all of creation, from the big bang to the evolution of life has been set in motion and guided by an Intelligence which is of course a codeword for God. ID proponents shy away from the non-school board friendly G-word, but the point is the same. In other words, the Biblical creation is allegory and we’re all living in the Matrix.
Just as the Enlightenment undermined Biblical history, the seriousness with which the scientific community viewed the Fermi Paradox undermined the notion that other civilizations – if they even exist – would be zipping around the galaxy in flying saucers. This in addition to non-UFO friendly advances in life sciences, physics, astronomy, and the exploration of our solar system has led to a scientific environment where many feel that life, while prevalent in its most simple forms, is exceedingly rare in its more complicated manifestations. And while many credible scientists are not willing to rule out the possibility of other intelligent life within our galaxy or the larger universe, almost no one who seriously values their credentials will commit to the possibility that the Earth is being visited by aliens.
In this environment, UFO buffs have found few friends. Even the admittedly long-shot Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute is constantly trying to distance itself from the UFO crowd. Thus, to generate even a modest amount of creditability the UFO buffs have had to retool their theories.
The shift in how UFO proponents view their subject is no where more apparent than in their case studies. Throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s aliens and their craft were more likely to be of the metal saucer and little green men variety. With the onset of the 70s and Hollywood’s invention of the ‘good alien’ the cases changed. No longer were little green men piloting metal craft. Now benevolent, highly evolved ‘Grays’ were traveling in glowing balls of light, clean crafts of pure energy. The aliens had become glowing interdimensional Buddha’s here to save us from ourselves. Their craft had gone from discs to disco.
Where once our planet was being visited by Martians and Venusians in metallic flying discs today the aliens are more likely to come from another dimension of reality rather than any physical planet in our galaxy or beyond.
In trying to draw parallels between the shifting views of creationists and UFO buffs I realized that there is a third – albeit more distant – example of true believers coping in the era of science.
In the past one or two decades the paranormal study of Cryptozoology – the study of unknown or mythical animals – has seen the rise of one of the more kooky theories (even by paranormal standards) in recent history. As if the belief in Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and Spring Heeled Jack wasn’t strange enough some proponents of mysterious animals have a quasi-magical explanation for unexplained encounters. Their quandary arises out of a logistical problem. With the encroachment of mankind on habitat it is increasingly obvious that there simply isn’t room for large, strange animals to exist unnoticed in this modern world – particularly in the developed west, home to Skunk Apes and Chupacabras and where nearly everyone has a video camera and a cell phone.
So, some proponents have fallen back on a more metaphysical explanation. In his recent book, Three Men Seeking Monsters : Six Weeks in Pursuit of Werewolves, Lake Monsters, Giant Cats, Ghostly Devil Dogs, and Ape-Men, paranormal and conspiracy researcher Nick Redfern posits the Tupla theory. Essentially he claims that sightings of Bigfoot and other scary monsters aren’t physically real, rather they are “thought projections” – manifestation of fear from some other realm of consciousness or reality.
Redfern’s theory is preposterous, and many in cryptozoology circles fully reject it all together, but it does play well among the Magic-with-a-K crowd of Wiccians, Neo-Druids and Pagans. And it jigsaws neatly into the new-age quackery of Redfern’s readers.
But is it fair to lump creationism, UFO research and cryptozoology together? I think so, simply because of their shared theme of trending away from concrete statements for their beliefs to more esoteric explanations.
Thus where once the Earth was believed to be only a few thousand years old, aliens were thought to visit us in flying saucers and Bigfoot was simply a undocumented large primate – now the Earth is old and life evolves, but everything is “designed” by an “intelligence,” aliens are real, but transcend space and time through dimensional manipulation instead of physical space ships and Bigfoot is a phantom mental projection.
Of course the irony is that while explanations for monsters and UFOs have actually gotten stranger, Intelligent Design – the bastard child of Creationism – is compelling in a sort of Plato’s cave kind of way. Especially among its religious proponents who have had some success in challenging secular origins in public schools throughout red state America.
In this respect, the Cryptozoologist and UFO buffs would do good to take a page from the ID proponents’ play book. In the public realm at least ID has won support among a modernized religious set that see intellectual problems with the traditional seven-day biblical creation myth. For these Christians of convenience ID allows for faith in God’s creation without the messy problems presented by the fossil record.
Perhaps Haisch’s attempt at wrapping alien visitation in the cloak of advanced physics and as yet incomplete theories such as Super String is just such a move by the UFO buffs. As the success of ID has shown, making a theory digestible by the masses is in its own way a success even if it doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.
Recieved via email, 10 March 2006.