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Extraterrestrial civilizations: Have we tried looking for their city lights yet?

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From “City Lights Could Reveal E.T. Civilization” (ScienceDaily, Nov. 3, 2011), we learn:

In the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, astronomers have hunted for radio signals and ultra-short laser pulses. In a new paper, Avi Loeb (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and Edwin Turner (Princeton University) suggest a new technique for finding aliens: look for their city lights. “Looking for alien cities would be a long shot, but wouldn’t require extra resources. And if we succeed, it would change our perception of our place in the universe,” said Loeb.

Yes! Just think! Someone else to blame for electricity waste, as in “THEY is worse than Us.”

As with other SETI methods, they rely on the assumption that aliens would use Earth-like technologies. This is reasonable because any intelligent life that evolved in the light from its nearest star is likely to have artificial illumination that switches on during the hours of darkness.

Unless, of course, eyes never evolved on that planet …

In that context, see this story by H. G.Wells, about a sighted man who thought he could rule over a society in which everyone else was blind. It didn’t work out because the society was adapted to sightlessness and people assumed he was delusional when he claimed to “see” stuff – just like Madame Baloney claims to “see” the future.

Hey look, it’s Saturday morning, folks. Serious science news later.

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36 Replies to “Extraterrestrial civilizations: Have we tried looking for their city lights yet?

  1. 1
    tjguy says:

    You are right in saying that SETI is NOT serious science stuff – if it even qualifies as science at all. In fact, I don’t think it does. I don’t see how anyone can call it science.

  2. 2
    News says:

    tjguy, the thing is, they DO! It would be a very interesting sociology of science study to determine why this stuff is considered science.

    Whereas if Mike Behe writes a carefully researched book on the edge of evolution – the limitations of natural selection beyond a certain number of point mutations – that’s not science or else it’s anti-science. Therein lies a huge number of unspoken cultural assumptions that are not in any meaningful sense science.

  3. 3
    Stu7 says:

    Why is it not science? Perhaps not serious science; but I would think attempts at detecting electromagnetic waves exhibiting complex, specific, repeatable patterns indicating design would count as a science of sorts.

  4. 4
    Eocene says:

    tjguy:

    “I don’t see how anyone can call it science.”
    ====

    It’s actually a faith of it’s own as an extension of another FAITH based on Evolutionism. If that Dogma was never invented by an angry bitter old man, would such science fictional searchings be around today ??? I highly doubt it.

  5. 5
    News says:

    Stu7, let’s think what we are thinking here:

    ‘Why is it not science? Perhaps not serious science;’

    How about we apply the same thin king to other areas of life:

    Why is it not religion? Perhaps not serious religion;

    or

    Why is it not politics? Perhaps not serious politics;

    or

    Why is it not medicine? Perhaps not serious medicine?

    Do you see the problem? We are perfectly happy to consider astrobiology as entertainment, and we have covered that entertainment beat here pretty regularly.

    If it isn’t serious science, it isn’t science.

    Perhaps it is serious entertainment. No problem with that, as long as it’s clear.

  6. 6
    Single_Malt says:

    SETI has long been touted as a textbook example of ‘design inferences’ in action. It appears in practically every popular ID treatment.

    Even the infamous Of Pandas and People states;

    Today we recognize that appeals to intelligent design may be considered in science, as illustrated by current NASA search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).

    If SETI isn’t ‘serious’ science then where does that leave ID?

  7. 7
    Single_Malt says:

    Just the briefest of internet searches uncovers overwhelming insistance that SETI and intelligent design are similar in both method and goals. A selection……

    Michael Behe:

    We apprehend design from the system itself, even if we don’t know who the designer is. For example, the SETI project (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) scans space for radio waves that might have been sent by aliens.
    However, we have never observed aliens sending radio messages; we have never observed aliens at all. Nonetheless, SETI workers are confident, and I agree, that they can detect intelligently-produced phenomena, even if they don’t know who produced them.

    http://www.arn.org/docs/behe/mb_brrespbr.htm

    Rob Crowther:

    Something is empirically testable when it is either falsifiable, confirmable, or both. Moreover, something can be confirmable but not falsifiable, as with the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) or the existence of a cosmic designer.

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....04366.html

    From Casey Luskin’s website:

    [A]ppeals to intelligent design may be considered in science, as illustrated by current NASA search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).
    (Kenyon & Davis, 1993)

    http://www.caseyluskin.com/id.htm

  8. 8
    M. Holcumbrink says:

    single malt, just curious, would you consider SETI science, then?

  9. 9
    Single_Malt says:

    Uncommon Descent has been just as enthusiastic to promote ID’s kinship with SETI.

    William Dembski:

    SETI and Intelligent Design.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....nt-design/

    GilDodgen:

    Are We Alone? Identifying Intelligence with SETI.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....with-seti/

    Recently, however, SETI appears to have fallen out of favour with the authors at Uncommon Descent:

    “SETI is dead; SET your I on ID.”

    It really is kind of sad to see weeds grow around the Allen Telescope Array, built, like one of the designers said, “in a time of irrational exuberance, [that] ended in the great recession.” For one thing, it is sad to see any money wasted. For another, it kept the SETI people busy on a project unlikely to succeed instead of employed in possibly more damaging work (like Darwin Party Enforcers). And lastly, the SETI hype gave us a lot of material for Stupid Evolution Quotes of the Week.

    SETI is dead; SET your I on ID.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....%E2%80%9D/

    Not much love lost there.

  10. 10
    Single_Malt says:

    I’d say no.

    I would define SETI as a search rather than a science.

    Which doesn’t mean SETI is therefore irrational or silly or a waste of time; but if we take a traditional view of science as theoretical, predictive, experimental and explanatory in nature then I really don’t think SETI qualifies.

  11. 11
    M. Holcumbrink says:

    Single malt, I suppose I’ll ask again, do you consider SETI science? I’m sure you have an opinion on the matter, and I was wondering what it was.

  12. 12
    Single_Malt says:

    See above!

  13. 13
    M. Holcumbrink says:

    Sorry, I don’t know how I missed that.

  14. 14
    Bruce David says:

    It’s interesting to me that most people ignore (cannot face?) the most compelling evidence there is that we have been in regular communication with ETs for decades, if not longer, and that is crop circles. Given the abundance of these formations (over 10,000 reported worldwide since 1980, over 8,000 in England alone), the fact that no known human technology is capable of producing them in the well document times in which they appear, that there are well documented, scientifically verified biological effects on the plants themselves that would not and could not be produced by any proposed method of constructing them (planks being dragged, garden rollers, etc.), and the consistent sheer artistry and mathematical sophistication of the designs throughout these huge number of formations, the “most reasonable explanation” for their existence is that they were produced by some non-human intelligent agent using technological capability more advanced than our own.

  15. 15
    M. Holcumbrink says:

    Would you not classify this search as design detection, then?

  16. 16
    Single_Malt says:

    In a broad sense, sure.

  17. 17
    M. Holcumbrink says:

    If you take SETI to be a legitimate application of design detection, why not apply it to biology as well?

  18. 18

    What is unscientific about SETI? I’m not defending any particular effort, such as the feasibility of seeing city lights with visible telescopes, as that is really a technology/capability question. But what about the idea of searching for signals from space and then comparing those signals for complex specified information is unscientific?

    Is it just the general idea that there might be life elsewhere that bothers you?

  19. 19
    Single_Malt says:

    I’m in no position to vouch for the soundness of SETI’s methodology so I am not going to make a call as to its legitimacy.

    Therefore there’s no way I can recommend applying SETI’s ‘application of design detection‘ to any other field such as biology, physics etc. And vice versa.

  20. 20
    Single_Malt says:

    Can any of the UD staff comment on why SETI has suddenly been ‘Expelled’?

  21. 21

    Single_Malt:

    SETI is clearly science. It depends on observations of detectable phenomena and an inference to the best explanation as to what can produce a pattern of complex specified information. It is design detection in action.

    Unfortunately, some ID advocates feel the need to trash SETI. As near as I can tell, it stems from one of two things: (i) a misunderstanding of the Gonzalez/Richards arguments in The Privileged Planet (i.e., thinking that The Privileged Planet demonstrates that there isn’t intelligent life elsewhere); or (ii) some kind of religious commitment to the idea that life was only created on this Earth. Neither of these is a valid reason for dissing SETI, and, as you point out, rejecting SETI is an indirect rejection of the design inference, so this is an inconsistent position for an ID advocate to take.

    Now, it may well be that life is rare in the universe. Further, it may be, given the distances and the times involved, that it would be unlikely to detect an extraterrestrial intelligent civilization. It may also be that the funds dedicated to SETI might be better utilized elsewhere. An ID advocate could certainly take these positions. But to reject SETI as inherently unscientific is incorrect.

  22. 22

    It hasn’t been expelled. Certainly none of the key ID proponents view SETI as unscientific (Dembski, Meyer, Behe, Wells, Gonzalez, Richards, etc.). Some less careful ID supporters, however, have concerns with SETI (probably for the reasons articulated in my comment above).

  23. 23
    goodusername says:

    What does the question “is it science?” mean?

    Is SETI testing a scientific theory? I would say no. With the size of the universe, and the great uncertainty of what to even look for, it’s kind of hard to falsify that there’s aliens.

    Research can be “science” even if isn’t testing directly testing a theory though. Research and experimentation are often done just for the sake of gaining knowledge, although they may lead to new theories or impact existing theories in ways unforeseen. I’m not sure if SETI even falls into this category though – pretty much, you either detect an ET signal or you don’t.

    So is SETI science? Not sure. Even if isn’t, I don’t think that that doesn’t mean that looking for alien signals isn’t a worthwhile pursuit though. If something is found, that would obviously be big news. And, eventually, if we keep looking and don’t find anything, that itself may be newsworthy (some would say we’ve already reached such a point). So, IMO, it’s interesting research.

    And I would say that the search is done in a “scientific” way. They are looking for things in the electromagnetic spectrum that one wouldn’t expect to find if emitted by a natural source.

  24. 24
    M. Holcumbrink says:

    By “legitimate”, I mean the SETI people are in actuality endeavoring to detect design and that there are methods being employed by which to do so, simply because there is a very real possibility that there might be someone out there besides us. They might be looking for the wrong kinds of signals, or in the wrong part of the sky, but whatever method they have determined is appropriate in detecting some sort of signal, can the same method be employed to detect design in biology? In other words, what is it exactly they are looking for, and whatever it is, why would it be unreasonable to look for it in biological life?

  25. 25
    Single_Malt says:

    ….but whatever method they have determined is appropriate in detecting some sort of signal, can the same method be employed to detect design in biology?

    I can’t answer that without assessing SETI’s method and determining whether it would be appropriate to use it on biological systems.

    In other words, what is it exactly they are looking for, and whatever it is, why would it be unreasonable to look for it in biological life?

    Assuming the thing they are looking for (CSI?) is in fact a quantifiable and reliable marker of intelligent design then it’s certainly not unreasonable, no.

  26. 26
    Single_Malt says:

    It has as far as Uncommon Descent is concerned.

    Drop SETI into the search engine on the right and take a look at a few articles. The more recent ones chronicle a severe parting of the ways.

    I wonder whether the years of SETI attempting to distance itself from ID has finally driven a wedge between them.

  27. 27
    Single_Malt says:

    And I would say that the search is done in a “scientific” way.

    I can agree with that.

    Even though I don’t think SETI qualifies as science, I have no problem in describing their work as scientifically sound.

    If that makes sense!

  28. 28
    bbigej says:

    I’d like to add that the difference between ID and SETI is that the theory of intelligent design purports to explain, like any scientific theory, aspects of nature (the complex, specified information found within the first cell, IC, etc) whereas SETI is based on the materialist faith of “well gosh, if all of biology is just a fluke, maybe it popped up elsewhere in the universe.” Though it seems that both do use a type of design inference.

  29. 29

    I agree with you that many enthusiastic supporters of SETI also hold to the idea that if life arose (materialistically) here, then it probably arose (materialistically) elsewhere. But that personal opinion on their part doesn’t disqualify SETI as science. Further, materialism doesn’t have a monopoly on the idea of life elsewhere.

    If life on earth was designed (by definition, by someone not living on earth at the time, i.e., by some intelligent being living extraterestrially), then on what basis would we think that life only exists here? Is there any reason to think that a designer acted only in one tiny little corner of the universe? How many painters paint more than one painting? How many songwriters write more than one song? How many engineers design more than one machine? There is absolutely no reason, under ID, for someone to think that life is unique to Earth.

    Both materialism and ID can accommodate the idea of extraterrestrial life (or the absence thereof). Bottom line: finding evidence of an organism on another planet won’t tell us anything more about whether life came about by materialism or design than would finding a new organism on this planet (which happens quite regularly).

  30. 30
    Bruce David says:

    You’re absolutely right, IMO. I think that the resistance to the idea of SETI one sees so often here arises from the Christian belief that the only intelligent beings God created were us, not from anything inherent in ID itself.

  31. 31
    M. Holcumbrink says:

    Bruce, traditional Christian belief does not assert that the only intelligent life God created is humans. You certainly can’t get that from the bible, anyway.

  32. 32

    You’re probably right, with one caveat: I’m not aware of anything in “Christian” doctrine that would support that idea. Maybe some Christan commentators, or Christian traditions, or something. But I’m not aware of any Biblical or foundational Christian doctrine that would categorically state life is unique to this Earth (not that I’d want to get into a discussion of Christian doctrine on this thread).

  33. 33
    M. Holcumbrink says:

    Assuming the thing they are looking for (CSI?) is in fact a quantifiable and reliable marker of intelligent design then it’s certainly not unreasonable, no.

    Do you not think that CSI is a quantifiable and reliable marker of ID? And if not, what would you consider to be so?

  34. 34
    ScottAndrews2 says:

    The Bible asserts that humans were not the only intelligent life God created. He first created Jesus and then the angels.

  35. 35

    Christian doctrine based on scripture does not assert that Jesus was created by God, but that He was (is) God “all things were created by him and without him was not anything made that was made…..and the Word became flesh.” John, chapter 1.

    But, regarding alien life, the Bible has little or nothing to say. There’s one small passage of scripture that some have interpreted as indicative of other worlds where there are other intelligent beings, but it doesn’t lead to the necessity of such an interpretation.

    I think the real Christian (or scriptural) position is neutrality. SETI just seems to be a waste of money; that’s where most objection lies, I believe. We could spend that money on something more scientifically beneficial. Leave SETI to private funding if they want to stare into space for decades on end with no results.

  36. 36
    Bruce David says:

    Ok. I won’t argue the point with respect to scripture. But what do most Christians today actually believe? I think that is a more relevant question, and one I don’t actually know the answer to. I’m asking.

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