Editor’s Note: This one resulted from a confluence of news stories. I had noticed several items about water unexpectedly being found in various parts in the solar system, as well as stories about the number of planets being discovered around distant stars. Then I read an item about the 2014 federal budget that mentioned that NASA’s line item had been reduced. I wondered how this would affect the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), but when I looked it up, I found that it had already been terminated. Seemed sad to me that, at a time when alien life seemed more likely to be found, we’d stopped looking for it.
SETI Is a Bargain
all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes
– Carl Sagan
During budget crises, politicians often treat spending programs that have tiny budgets as sacrificial lambs. Slashing funding for PBS or the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) promotes the illusion they’re responsible adults dealing with the national debt, without touching the controversial, big-ticket line items that actually create the deficit.
goal is answering what’s arguably the second-most-important question man can
ask. Most people agree the most
important question is “Does God exist?,” along with its three corollaries:
“What’s He like?,” “What does He want from us?” and “Will He reward
us with an afterlife?” However, The Big Guy hasn’t made any effort to
provide us with the answers.
has made little, if any, progress in resolving the existence-of-god or the
nature-of-god debate during the past 4,000 years. If it had been settled, the
discussion would be over, and the competing faiths might have stopped killing
each other millennia ago. Forests have been depopulated printing books on an
academic discipline called “theology,” which hasn’t even been able to
prove that the subject (“theo”) of its study (“ology”) does or does not
He does exist, the one thing we do know about God is that He’s not terribly
interested in demonstrating His presence to us; it’s almost as if He doesn’t
really care whether we believe in Him or not. And the contradictory commandments
in the myriad primitive holy books indicate a lack of interest in letting us
know exactly what He wants from us.
world’s major faiths have barely changed since the Earth was flat, so
they’re unlikely to come up with anything new or convincing on God’s
existence or essence. Nor are the more recently developed sects, such as the
Mormons or the Scientologists, bringing new evidence to the debate. SETI’s
question, which is mankind’s second-most important, is similar to theology’s
— are we alone, or are we part of something bigger? The difference is that
SETI has a realistic chance of coming up with some answers.
would be awful to think that Shakespeare’s most nihilistic (and perhaps
greatest) lines could be true: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: It is a
tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (Macbeth V,
of years of technological progress have provided us with the tools for
discovering our place in the universe. It would be a sin against our humanity if
we failed to do so, just so we could remove one small line item from an enormous
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