Science and Hot Tempers

Apparently there’s nothing like a post on UFOs and conspiracies to boost the number of comments on my blog. In response to this post on the burden of proof, one commenter says:

If you actualy believe that there is life on other planets, get out of your dream world and stop being such an idiot!


To believe that there is life on other planets, you need to believe in evolution. By the way…… there is no proof for evolution!! All evolution is is another religion, because you have to believe it, without any physical evidence! so stop acting like it is science…because its not!!

Everything he says is incorrect, though the implication in the third sentence that religion is something one believes without physical evidence is reasonable. Of course, one does not need to accept the fact of evolution to believe that there is life on other planets. Presumably the idea is that life was created on Earth by a deity, but to believe that deity created life only on the Earth in a universe with over 100 billion galaxies containing roughly 100 billion stars each is to have a very restrictive view of that deity’s powers as well as presuming it to be something of a wasteful, or at least mischievous, creator. I am sure there are many people who believe that some god or other created life on many worlds. Whether or not they also understand evolution is irrelevant.

As for proof of evolution, I refer the reader to any biology textbook as well as many fine museums. There is so much physical evidence for evolution, that to deny the existence of the evidence reveals a willful determination to ignore reality. As for life elsewhere in the universe, my expectation that it exists is based on scientific speculation, but certainly not on physical evidence, and perhaps this is what irked the person quoted above. In fact, when I reread what I wrote I expected to find that I had written that I “believed” there was life elsewhere in the universe. Instead I wrote

I would be thrilled by the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence, but so far there is no evidence…

In fact, I do believe that there is life elsewhere, but what I believe is irrelevant to scientific inquiry. That’s the whole point of science: to advance understanding through observation and experimentation, in short, through evidence. This is also why the word “belief” is irrelevant to the question of evolution. It is based on evidence, not belief. The evidence is also that the Earth is not unique and that life developed on it through natural processes and that the laws of physics are the same throughout the universe. It is therefore a reasonable hypothesis that life exists elsewhere, and that’s why we are looking for the physical evidence through SETI and exploration of our neighboring planets and their moons. The hypothesis will remain a hypothesis until we obtain evidence. A persistent absence of evidence would be reason to discard the hypothesis, but we are so far from being able to explore other Earthlike worlds that it will be a long time before we can reject the hypothesis that there is life elsewhere.

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Planetary Scientist and Asst. Professor of Physics at University of Central Florida; Movie Buff; Trekkie; Jethro Tull fanatic; part-time actor, piano player, writer; and full-time husband and father.

One thought on “Science and Hot Tempers”

  1. My own feeling re UFOs is to consider that this planet has been around for 4.5 billion years, and that many of its largest fossil beds are 600 million years old — and that, during that 600 million years, even if you assume that alien expeditions visit here only once every 200,000 years, that would still make for 3000 landings. And yet we have yet to discover one fossilized alien radio, screw, or Kleenex. One is forced to conclude either that star-travelling aliens are extremely rare, or that they’re awful tidy.

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