In his movie “Expelled,” Ben Stein challenged Richard Dawkins about the remarkable phenomenon of life on planet earth: how could life arise given the sheer magnitude of its improbability? Dawkins suggested aliens possibly deposited life on earth.
Dawkins, we recall, is an atheist, a scientist directed only by provable facts. Yet he’s willing to posit the source of earthly life to a concept lacking any evidence.
... So where are they?
Those were the conclusive words of physicist Enrico Fermi after quickly hashing out his own thought experiment one day at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Evidently, Area 51 was the hot topic of the day, and he and some colleagues were talking about aliens on their way to lunch. Fermi went silent for a time, until midway through lunch he proclaimed, “Where are they?”
During the intervening silence, Fermi calculated the high probability that a vast number of alien species should exist. Also, statistically speaking, a high subset of them would have evolved millions of years ahead of earth’s schedule. That means there should be a considerable number of alien species with a head start on things like cross-galaxy travel. The galaxy should be teeming with aliens. Yet there is nothing. Where are they?
Fermi’s thought experiment is dubbed “The Fermi Paradox,” a philosophically sterile phrase avoiding several very big and very pink elephants in the room.
... In the movie “Interstellar,” wormholes, black holes, event horizons, particle theory, and the theory of relativity conspire to make a situation where someone talks to himself from the future through his bedroom wall. Theoretical physicist Kip Thorne signed off on the scientific merits of the movie, to the applause of pop scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Thorne is an atheist and Tyson insists faith and science are irreconcilable.
Or again, the recent release of “Arrival” presents a seven-legged, tree-trunk-like alien species with a highly advanced method of communication. As if from a Jackson Pollock school of design, the odd look and transmundane behavior of the aliens are about what we’d expect given the random workings of evolution.
Putting it all together, theoretical science grants that an extraterrestrial heptapod could work through worm holes and the other vagaries of physics to transcend time and space in its quest to help humanity, a humanity it perhaps brought into existence in the first place. One imagines Dawkins, Tyson, and Thorne would say, “Sure, why not? There’s just so much we don’t know about alien life and what’s out there.”
... we suspect Dawkins et. al. would grant any alien scenario so long as it doesn’t involve a tri-conscious being making periodic manifestations among ancient Semitic peoples about 3,000 years ago, which in a rather singular case used as its avatar a first-century personage born in the days when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
... the aliens arising from the imagination of modern science fiction, because they have no affiliation whatsoever with the evidence at hand, have a little more than the whiff of blind faith associated with them. Unlike say, Christian faith, where powerful objective evidence creates an ongoing intellectual crisis calling one to abandon subjective thinking, blind faith in something lacking any objective basis leaves only the subject’s imagination as the focus of query.
... in the end, the phantasmic reality of aliens on the silver screen only serves as an escape from facing the Fermi Paradox, reminding us to what extent people will go to prop up the delusions of modernity.
Where are the aliens? They don’t exist, because if they did, they’d be all over the place. The fact they don’t exist tosses a huge Molotov conundrum into modernist epistemology.