Where is Everybody?

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Two summers ago more than two million people signed a petition.

They intended to storm Nevada’s ultra-secretive Area 51 so they could, in the words of one signee, “see them aliens.” 

Conspiracy theorists have long held that the American government is hiding evidence that extraterrestrials have visited Earth – and that we even have a few bona fide E.T.’s under lock and key.  Senator Bernie Sanders promised that if he were elected president, he would investigate the validity of such claims and report his discoveries to the world.

The search for extraterrestrial intelligent life has been an endlessly fascinating subject – for Hollywood screenwriters, late night college campus bull sessions, and the world’s most elite scientists.

In 1950, four renowned physicists had a memorable lunch conversation in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  As they walked toward their midday meal, Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, Herbert York, and Emil Konopinski chatted about recent UFO sightings and the possibility of traveling faster than the speed of light.  They agreed on several issues.  Since there are more than 100 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, it makes sense to speculate that there are myriad civilizations as advanced as our own.  And surely at least one of those civilizations has been sufficiently ambitious to have colonized the whole galaxy.  

Acknowledging those probabilities, Fermi famously leaned across the lunch table and asked, “But where is everybody?” 

It’s called the Fermi Paradox.  Since theoreticians assume there must be millions of alien civilizations out there somewhere, why haven’t we encountered any of them?

Despite six decades of listening to every corner of the night sky by means of SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), we have heard nothing.  Nor have astrobiologists yet discovered a shred of evidence of microbial life beyond Earth’s atmosphere.  Life thrives almost everywhere on our planet – in permafrost ice, seven miles down in the darkness of oceanic trenches, and in the boiling hot springs of Yellowstone’s geyser basins – but (so far at least) we’ve found no signs of life anywhere else in the cosmos. 

So how do we resolve the Fermi Paradox?

In his book Where is Everybody? Stephen Webb examines 50 of the more popular solutions – some of which blur the line between science and science fiction.

One possibility is that the aliens are already here.  Thirty-eight percent of Americans believe that UFOs are not of this world, and one in ten claim to have seen one.  About 4% believe in the conspiracy theory that alien lizard creatures secretly control the highest levels of human society – something to think about the next time you look around at a crowd of your fellow citizens. 

Another possibility is that aliens were here a long time ago but are now gone.  That’s the thesis of pseudo-scientific books like Chariots of the Gods, which claims that ancient works of architecture like the Egyptian pyramids could not have been accomplished except by means of extraterrestrial technology.

Perhaps non-human intelligent beings are amongst us but are not revealing themselves.  Or maybe they are watching us (the so-called Zoo Hypothesis).  Or they’re running an elaborate computer program and we don’t realize we’re just components within it (think The Matrix).  Or they are cooperating with governmental officials who are keeping this important information from us.  With regard to that last option, Edward Snowden had fairly wide access to America’s secrets.  When he searched for coverups concerning UFO’s, alien abductions, and the like, he found nothing.

Which of course leads some people to say, “Now we have proof that Snowden is part of the conspiracy.”   

More standard solutions of the Fermi Paradox are that advanced alien civilizations, if they really do exist, wouldn’t even bother communicating with Earth.  That would be like a hiker stooping to introduce himself to a pair of beetles.  The beetles wouldn’t understand, and the hiker would have no reason to care.  Some theorists suggest that advanced civilizations might be doomed to destroy themselves (a possibility that resonates with many humans), or that the unpredictability of the cosmos – with its asteroid strikes, supernova explosions, and gamma ray bursts – may make it impossible for any civilization to endure long enough to reach out. 

As astrophysicist Sarah Rugheimer reminds us, the Milky Way is also a very big place.  It’s 100,000 light years across.  If it’s impossible to exceed the speed of light (something which would be highly disappointing to science fiction fans), we shouldn’t be surprised that no one has dropped in for a visit. 

Or it’s just possible that the reason there’s not a single piece of incontrovertible evidence for extraterrestrials is that they do not exist.

Which would mean we’re stuck here alone on the cosmic stage. 

British author and theologian C.S. Lewis maintained that the real question is not whether extraterrestrial intelligent beings exist – he was quite open to that possibility – but which of three categories they would fall into:

Would they be unfallen – that is, creatures who had never strayed from being in healthy relationship with their Creator?  Would they be fallen and in need of spiritual rescue?  Or would they be – like the citizens of planet Earth – fallen but visited by a Redeemer who had begun to set things right? 

Lewis then floated an idea that is both disheartening and inspiring. 

What if our world is the only place in the cosmos where things went wrong?  What if we represent the only “civilization” of ruthless, self-centered, love-challenged rebels who dare to shake their fists at God?

That would truly be disheartening.

But what if, at the same time, that makes us the only place where the Creator has done the unthinkable and become one of his own creations?  The Bible claims that the Trinity itself has been forever changed because the second Person “took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14).

In light of human failures and God’s grace, our planet would simultaneously be the most dreadful and most glorious locale in the universe. 

Which might indeed make Earth a Must See destination for any UFO’s that happen to be exploring our neck of the galactic woods.