An Awful Lot of Wasted Space

I wrote: “But someone who takes it as an article of faith that Earth cannot be unique because there is no God, and therefore life must be an accident — aha! — he will be shocked if the universe is empty. But his belief is an article of faith, not a conclusion of science, and not a conclusion backed by evidence.”

Robert J Wizard writes: “I’m not sure whether your last sentence was directed at me. Here is what I meant: Empirically ruling out other life in the universe is impossible due to distance, travel restrictions, and the sheer mass of the damned thing.”

My comment: nossirreesir, my comment was directed at Carl Sagan. In the unfaithful movie adaptation of his SF book CONTACT, Jodi Foster’s character learns from her astronomer father that if we are the only people in the universe “that’s an awful lot of empty space!” They chuckle and are confirmed in their faith.

But this is hardly a scientific bit of reasoning; it is an aesthetic bit of reasoning. The idea that we are alone seems ugly to Carl Sagan (and to me) but where he allows his character to conclude that ergo we are not alone, I am too skeptical to permit myself that conclusion. We have a saying here in Virginia: I am from Missouri. Show me.

I can just imagine an ancient Greek talking to a skeptical academician. “But there must be mermaids and drayds in the vast expanse of the ocean! If only land people existed, that is an awful lot of wasted space! There must be nymphs and satyrs in the endless reaches of the forest! If only human beings exist in the woods, that is an awful lot of wasted space! There must be Centaurs in Scythia, or the endless plains of Asia! If only human horsemen exist, that is an awful lot of wasted space! Surely the holy gods dance atop Olympus and Ida and Cithæron and Helicon! If there is nothing but rocks and snow on Mountaintops, what a waste of space! There must be Macrobes in Taprobane and Cynocephalics in the Antipodes and one-eyed Arimaspians in the Riphaean mountains! The globe of the world is unimaginably vast and infinitely old! If there are not intelligent beings aside from humans, that is an awful waste of space!”

Skeptic: “What makes you believe Nature is not willing to waste space?”

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As a matter of fact, we have discovered no other intelligent civilizations aside from human ones here on the vast expanse of our vast globe, and not even on the globes nearby. Missions returned from the moon without any evidence of a single Moon Maid of Va-Nah; the Grand Lunar of the Selenites has not shown himself. Mars seems not to have tripodal war-machines taller than church steeples stalking across the ochre-covered dead sea bottoms of Barsoom. The ancient Greek skeptic would have been correct.