Dec 16 2010
"Evidence for ET Is Mounting Daily, but Not Proven”
Is the evidence for extraterrestrial life “mounting daily”? It’s the first we’ve heard of it!
The idea that life exists beyond earth is no trivial claim. Like many other grand claims, if true it would in many ways change humans’ perception of our place in the universe. And also like other grand claims, it requires a clear verdict of the evidence to be judged true.
To the contrary, little more than a century ago, many thought Mars was inhabited by intelligent life; but in a half-century of space exploration, the solar system has turned up only a smattering of hotly debated evidence that life may have once existed elsewhere--a far cry from actual extraterrestrial life, let alone intelligent life.
Yet for Associated Press science writer Seth Borenstein, that smattering has become “mounting” evidence. “Lately, a handful of new discoveries make it seem more likely that we are not alone,” he writes. The discoveries include:
- Scientists tripled previous estimates of the number of stars in the universe--we reported on that last week.
- Other scientists discovered a microbe allegedly able to subsist on arsenic--we also reported on that last week, and we report further this week (see below).
- Finally, astronomers have found a “potentially habitable” exoplanet--we reported on this news two months back.
While Borenstein quotes several scientists who are optimistic about finding extraterrestrial life, the leaps in logic--and blind faith--are more glaring than the supposed evidence. While the report notes in passing that most of the above discoveries are still contested in scientific circles (for example, that “potentially habitable” exoplanet may not even exist), far more space is given to researchers like NASA’s Carl Pilcher, who enthuses, “The evidence is just getting stronger and stronger. I think anybody looking at this evidence is going to say, ‘There’s got to be life out there.’”
“Got to be”? Does that sound like an endorsement of cautious, conservative, scientific skepticism? To us it sounds like something else is going on. A clue may be found in Borenstein’s relation of comments by SETI astronomer Seth Shostak, who “said that given the mounting evidence, to believe now that [e]arth is the only place harboring life is essentially like believing in miracles.” Shostak added wryly, “And astronomers tend not to believe in miracles.”