For years we have been deluged with science news stories about how this or that datum might finally be the breakthrough demonstrating that earth is not unique in the universe for harboring life. Why are some scientists so obsessed with ET? I was thinking about this the other day and it occurred to me that this phenomenon is essentially religious in nature.
Suppose you are a scientist with a strong faith commitment in atheistic materialism. Maintaining any faith commitment can sometimes be hard even for true believers. This is especially the case for materialists, who must grit their teeth and hang on to their faith in the face of overwhelming evidence that materialism is false. Consider their origin of life conundrum. No one has the faintest notion how inorganic matter could possibly have spontaneously organized itself into the technologically marvelous nanomachinery and hyper-sophisticated information processing technology that characterizes even the simplest life. Maintaining one’s faith in materialism is really tough in the face of such daunting obstacles. That creates psychological dissonance, which can be very uncomfortable.
But suppose we found organic matter somewhere else in the universe.* That would allow materialists to argue that the spontaneous emergence problem is not as tough as we think it is. If it happened at least twice, there is no reason to believe that life is not common in the universe. That relieves the uncomfortable pressure on the materialist’s faith commitment, which accounts for the frenetic search for organic matter and the endless evidence-free wild speculations we have seen over the years. It is all about keeping the faith.
Note that the reverse is not true for theists. I know of no doctrine of any religion that denies that life exists elsewhere in the universe.