The Question of Extraterrestrial Life (less than) Definitively Settled

I am inclined to think that there is no life on other planets. I have heard repeatedly the statements about the sheer size of the universe and the correlative theoretical quantity of planets, among which it is as near a statistical certainty as possible that many can support life and consequently that one does. Yet precisely this mathematical certainly disinclines me to believe that there is life beyond Earth. I am not saying that there isn’t or that it would bother me if there were; only that I am choose not to suppose that there is.

The reason is, therefore, clearly not rational. It is not, however, strictly speaking irrational, which would imply a failure to rationally derive an argument for a proposition. Instead, it is contrarational. Having divined and accepted the rational argument that there is life on other planets, I formulate my belief in conscious opposition to that. What justifies such a contrarational position? It is precisely that beauty, joy, sublimity (or some other vague and subjective term) exist in contrast to rationality.

Again, this is not to say that the rational cannot be beautiful or incite joy or embody the sublime. It merely acknowledges what has been a well recognized feature of art and literature and romance and life. The human spirit is enlivened more by the unpredictable, the unexplainable, and the impossible-but-actual than by the reasonable. Serendipity and providence. Mad, stupid, consumptive, doomed love. Fantasies and phantasmagoria and psychosis.

I believe in a beautiful God, one Who transcends and can therefore contradict reason. The notion that this foolish Deity could have created a cosmos which by its very nature speaks to the mathematical certainty of life on other planets and then refuse to populate any planet but this one fills me with an inexplicable joy in the mere possibility of it. I will rejoice in a God who creates and saves the inhabitants of other worlds as well, but until I know otherwise I prefer to be seized by the sublime belief in a universe that must and a God who flouts such necessity.

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3 thoughts on “The Question of Extraterrestrial Life (less than) Definitively Settled

  1. Steve says:

    Oh the unbearable and depressingly gray world of reason. That cold-hearted rationalism takes away mystery, joy, luck, happiness, and all that has been a theme ever since the enlightenment. I read a wonderful book a few years ago by a physicist who is a fan of Goethe and meditation and other fascinating things like ancient history, religion, poetry, great prose. (Say wasn’t it Goethe who said never trust in a God who doesn’t dance? Or was that Nietzsche? – That thought kind of squares with your post) The book is “Catching the Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind” by Arthur Zajonc. It is a kind of history of how we humans have perceived the nature of light since the time of the Greeks and it has nearly always been at that juncture between what we conceive of as the divine and the material. It is full of metaphor and unexpected turns of thought. I’ll give one example of something interesting that relates to your post. He discusses how several poets and artist types were depressed (my word) by Newton’s reduction of the phenomenon of the rainbow to a mere scientific explanation. He quotes a poem by a Thomas Campbell (not the Restoration Movement one) that captures their attitude

    “When Science from Creation’s face
    Enchantment’s veil withdraws,
    What lovely visions yield their place
    To cold material laws”

    And John Keats wrote also

    “…In the dull catalogue of common things,
    Philosophy will clip an angel’s wing’s,
    Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
    Empty the haunted air, the gnomed mine …
    Unweave a rainbow…”

    In my own thought experiments about life on other planets, I arrived at the opinion that yes, there must be. As I grew up there was no proof that other stars had planets. Now it is clear that there are many. There is now evidence though it is definitely not yet positively established that simple life may have once existed on Mars. Life evolved here, so, why should not there be evolving life out there? And if so, and there is sentient life on some of these planets then will they not evolve along the same paths? The capability for flight developed at least three times on earth here in the past. First insects, then reptiles (birds), and then mammals (bats). So then it was meant to be and therefore it must be God’s will. It is part of God’s plan that nature unfolds to achieve flying creatures. And the same could be hypothesized for the movement of sentient beings from being pack animals to, after verbal communication becomes possible, tribal culture. Will they not arrive at culture, religion, politics and the whole wonderful expression that brings. I cannot imagine that they will not have their Christ. This line of reasoning helps me to believe, to believe in the cosmic Christ.

    • “This line of reasoning helps me to believe, to believe in the cosmic Christ.”

      Which is fine by me. The beauty of beauty is that it strikes people differently. If you delight in the playfulness of a God who violates anthropocentrism, then my suspicion is that your God will get along fine with my God who is playful by violating statistical necessity.

      (Also, that quote about God dancing sounds like Meister Eckhart. But I just got done preparing a paper on him for a conference, so everything sounds like Eckhart.)

  2. Steve says:

    Funny how that works. Learn a new word or a new person and they start popping up everywhere whereas beforehand they never did. One day perhaps I’ll get around to learning more about him. He was a precursor to Boehme, one of whose books I waded through last year. Goethe said something to the effect that everyman becomes a mystic in old age. Maybe I’ll get there eventually.

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