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Astronomer Jill Tarter discusses the search for intelligent life (Phys.org). Jill Tarter, one of the queens of SETI, was given royal treatment in a Harvard interview. The interviewer could have asked some hard questions, but one never treats royalty that way.
“For me, after millennia of asking priests and philosophers what we should believe, I just thought it was very exciting that right then in the middle of the 20th century we were beginning to have some tools—telescopes and computers—that allowed scientists and engineers to try to figure out what is, and not have to take somebody’s belief system. I thought that was really important and I got hooked.”
Without realizing, she was being treated as a priestess herself. She created a belief system with no evidence. The interviewer was now asking her what we should believe. Tarter had inspired a movie, but has produced not a single point of data to confirm her childhood imagination: “It just always seemed to me that probably walking along the beach on some other world there was some other creature with their father, looking and seeing our sun as a star in their sky.”
To Jjill Tarter, pretending to be a scientist but having no data doesn’t matter. “Even not finding it but trying to find it is important because it helps to give people a more cosmic perspective.” That’s a faith quest. It also ignores many theists who have a ‘cosmic perspective’ without ascribing to her cult based on her feelings about what “just always seemed to me.” David F. Coppedge, “SETI: A Fact-Free Occult Cult with Money” at Creation-Evolution Headlines
Some of us would say that calling SETI a cult is a bit harsh. It has always been given the red-carpet treatment by popular media, which means that its spokesfolks are heedless of criticism.
It’s not because media believe They’re Out There particularly. Rather, media pros know from experience that the topic boosts ratings. Viewers probably believe that they have kept up with science if they spend a bit of time watching stuff about extraterrestrial intelligences that is not clearly labelled science fiction. SETI provides the needed copy and footage.
As for the science community, Coppedge also tells us,
Case in point: at JPL, when my boss accused me of “pushing religion” with intelligent design DVDs I would occasionally share with co-workers, he shouted at me “Intelligent design is religion!” In response, I asked him point-blank about SETI. I asked him, “What about SETI? Aren’t they using intelligent design to infer intelligent causes from radio signals?” I couldn’t even finish the sentence before he interrupted me. He said, “That’s different. The scientific community has determined that SETI is science.”
Well, if they said SETI isn’t science (of course it isn’t, not in the sense that the Large Hadron Collider is science), they would be smacking pop media in the face. Wrecking The Narrative. They can’t afford to do that. First, no one is asking them to. Second, too many unopened closets, too many skeletons to risk that…
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See also: SETI finds more creative ways to keep looking
SETI reacts to the study that says not to wait up for the extraterrestrials
Researchers: We have dissolved the Fermi Paradox! (They’re Not Out There.)