Are We Alone in the Universe?

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on July 1, 2018

Enrico Fermi was a brilliant Italian Jew. He was  one of those rare intellects that, like a comet, is so vivid and rare as to be unforgettable.

Fermi received his PhD in physics at age 21 and by age 25, with his friend Paul Dirac, had developed a whole new theory of particulate matter. In 1938, he won the Nobel Prize for physics (age 37), and then fled Mussolini’s fascist state. A nation that made a pact for world conquest with Nazi Germany was not a safe place for a son of Abraham.

In the United States, Fermi played a leading role in the Manhattan project, and after the war continued making discoveries and offering ideas too advanced for most of us mortals.

One of those ideas is called “the Fermi Paradox.” Put pretty simply, it’s this: The universe is so enormous that the human mind can’t comprehend it. It’s also, according to standard cosmology, around 14 billion years old.

So: Combine age with size and you have to ask, If there is other intelligent life in the universe, why is there no sign of it? As Fermi joked when he introduced his paradox in 1950, “Where is everybody?”

Scientists: Maybe We are Alone

Now scientists at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute have done some serious crunching of numbers and equations. “We find a substantial … probability of there being no other intelligent life in our observable universe,” they conclude, “and thus that there should be little surprise when we fail to detect any signs of it.”

Their proposal has led to major debate within the scientific community. One critic says the Oxford guys are just “guessing, in the absence of any good evidence. That’s no way to do science.”

Well, well. No scientist am I, but I come from a family where science is highly respected. Without getting to detail, it’s enough to say that some of my close relatives have done some heavy scientific lifting.

So, by background and (some) education, I’ve learned to be wary when one “expert” blows off the work of others who know a great deal about their field of study. Especially when that latter group uses a key phrase to describe their argument: No observable evidence. In other words, we’ve found nothing in all of our investigations to lead us to think that other beings exist who have the capacity for reasoned thought, space travel, or intelligent communication.

We are not alone in the universe. An eternal God Who cannot be contained in the space He created is everywhere. And if you know His Son, He lives in you.

The point: Some very careful researchers are arguing that there are no data indicating the existence of intelligent life outside our own planet.

What About Angels?

The Bible speaks of angels and demons as invisible beings who manifest themselves to us rarely. II Kings 6:17 records Elisha praying that his companions eyes would be “opened” that he might see the unseen host around him. “So, the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

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This is a glimpse, a peek into that which God hides from our eyes in all but the rarest occasions. Yet if the God of the Bible is real, then that which He reveals is also real. Because something is hidden doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. That’s a childish set of mind, and certainly one faithful Christians shouldn’t have.

Testimony of Scripture

What should Christians conclude about the apparent absence of life in the rest of the universe we can see (estimated at being about 47 billion light years — a number too big to fit into our brains, but there it is)? There are three things we should bear in mind:

  1. In Scripture, only human beings are described as being made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Even angels don’t have the capacity for a relationship with our Creator and Redeemed, as do we. This is true of all creation. So, let’s say there are other beings out there — smart, capable of communication, and so forth. They ain’t us.
  2. Being made in God’s image gives man dignity but also duty. We are to be like Jesus, the God-man (Romans 8:29). We are to make wise use of the incredible resources given to us by the Light and Life of the world (Genesis 1:27). We are to call all men into new life in Christ.
  3. How humble we should be before our God! Not only has He imbued us with His image, He became a man and, on the cross, experienced the punishment for sin that we so well deserve. “What is man, that You are mindful of him?” asked the David so long ago (Psalm 8:2). We are less than fractions of a single pixel in terms of our size in the universe but are so precious to the Lord Who made us that He Himself offers us the redemption He alone can provide.

Scientists will debate whether Fermi’s Paradox is now a dead letter or a live question is going to be debated for years to come. But followers of Jesus already know the answers that an intelligent and informed faith alone can provide.

We are not alone in the universe. An eternal God Who cannot be contained in the space He created is everywhere. And if you know His Son, He lives in you.

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  • Sad, really, that Rob doesn’t understand the depth and breadth of the reigning materialistic paradigm in modern academia (and basically everywhere else except the Christian subculture). Nowhere in any of his cited references is anything remotely close to IMmaterial life ever implied, defended or in any way even allowed as a topic worthy of scientific consideration. Neither critics of ET theorists or critics of ET-theorist critics can be cited as support for the existence of IMmaterial life in the same way that neither apples or apple-allergics can be cited as support for the existence of oranges. Apparently Rob has no significant education in the science of logic either. And one other point revealing Rob’s glaring inadequacy to speak publicly on a scientific subject. IMmaterial life is not now — nor has it ever been — “in” our observable, four-dimensionial universe as a normal part of its prescribed existential context. IMmaterial life — which Rob rightly acknowledges (at least he got one important point right in this essay) — is only *allowed* access to our four-dimensional space-time continuum when almighty God grants it to them — for His own reasons (not theirs). We hope Rob directs his future attention back to subjects on which he holds legitimate knowledge and training rather than mere familial familiarity.

    • Rob Schwarzwalder

      Hello –

      I find your response difficult to follow. I urge you to abandon unhealthy speculation and seek the living Triune God of the Bible, in whom we live and move and have our being. Christ died for you and is eager for you to come to know Him.

      All the best,

      Rob Schwarzwalder

      • I’m not surprised that you cannot “follow” either the science or the logic I offered above, Rob. As I have already shown (and you have already admitted) science is not your strong point. That you also missed my congratulation of your one success in this essay, though (that you rightly recognize the existence of immaterial life — a congratulation that could only have emanated from someone who recognizes likewise… i.e. a fellow Christian), reveals an even greater incapacity for logical analysis than I described above. You are simply operating outside of your league in this essay, Rob. I suggest you consider asking a scientist who has the time to start at the beginning with you to help you understand how embarrassed you would be if you understood how underequipped you are to write this piece.

        • As I was saying…

          The spirit half of creation and the material half of creation are the exact same place. Only humans cannot perceive the spirit half because of the thin veil between them.

          The last day will mark the day where God finally removes that veil.

        • Andrew Mason

          Except he’s really not the only one who struggles to follow what you’re saying – it seems complex for the sake of complexity. While some of us may be quite comfortable with post-grad level conversation, others are far more comfortable with high school level language. Perhaps try a rewrite, see if you can simplify it. Yes I’m aware that that can be very hard – it’s something I struggle with myself at times.. 🙂

    • Trilemma

      How did Rob try to use any of the cited references to support the existence of immaterial life? The only thing i see Rob citing to support the existence of immaterial life is the Bible. Rob wasn’t trying to answer the question, “Are we alone?” from a scientific perspective but from a theological perspective. Why do you assume God is immaterial?

  • Charles Burge

    One critic says the Oxford guys are just “guessing, in the absence of any good evidence. That’s no way to do science.”

    If that ain’t a case of the pot calling the kettle black, I don’t know what is.

    As for the question itself, I find the choice of wording.. “are we alone”… curious. The Bible isn’t 100% clear on the subject, but I think it strongly suggests that Earth has the only created, corporeal beings in the universe. But does that mean we’re “alone”? Not in my view. We are created by a God who loves us and deeply desires to have a relationship with us. That’s about as far from being “alone” as possible.

    • As I was saying…

      Only two creatures with rational souls (i.e. highest order souls that allows thought/free will) are spirits and humans.

      Humans are the only one with any material presence.

    • Kevin Carr

      You said it well.

  • Trilemma

    If there is other DNA based life out there, it would have needed a creator to get started.

    • Boris

      Ours didn’t.

      • Trilemma

        Abiogenesis is impossible by random natural processes.

        • Boris

          Prove it. LOL

          • Trilemma

            Look up Louis Pasteur’s swan-neck flask experiments.

          • Boris

            Look them up? I learned about them in Junior High School science class way back before they became middle school science classes. Those experiments do not disprove abiogenesis. Pasteur failed to get life to spontaneously generate in a lab. So what? It’s quite a stretch to take that experiment as proof that complex carbon-based molecules that occur in living matter were never produced by chemical reactions involving simpler substances. The Miller-Urey experiment did in fact prove this is not only possible, they actually did it.

          • Trilemma

            Only about 2% of the products of the Miller-Urey experiment were amino acids. So, it;s good evidence that any natural process that would produce amino acids will produce a lot of other organic molecules as well. That means there won’t be a high enough concentration of the molecules you need. The other problem is getting enough amino acids of the correct handedness to randomly form the needed proteins for a cell is impossible.

          • Boris

            So you would tell human origins researchers they are wasting their time because you know better. Fortunately scientists don’t pay attention to religious claims or theistic arguments or uneducated people like you.

          • Trilemma

            I’m not making a religious claim or theistic argument. Do you believe the Miller-Urey experiment proved abiogenesis is possible? What are the chances of a specific simple peptide of 32 amino acids forming in a primordial soup?

          • Boris

            Your last question is right out of the creationist playbook. So it is a theistic claim even if you’re pretending it’s deistic. And it is part of a religiously and politically driven anti-science agenda.
            Asking what the chances are that a certain protein molecule formed assumes quite incorrectly that the protein molecule must take one certain form. However, there are any number of possible proteins that promote biological activity. Any calculation of odds must take into account all possible molecules and not just proteins, that might function to promote life. Yes the Miller-Urey experiment proves life arose naturally. I should not have to point this out but over the centuries a lot of people have said this or that could not have happened naturally and so far they’ve all been proved wrong or are about to be. Including you.

          • Trilemma

            The Miller-Urey didn’t prove life arose naturally. It didn’t even produce a protein naturally. What it did prove is that natural processes produce sludge. When something alive dies, it naturally turns to sludge, also known as crude oil.

            Let’s say there’s one million peptides of 32 amino acids that can perform the same function. What are the chances that one of those forming naturally in a primordial soup?

          • Boris

            We don’t know which amino acids were needed for the most primitive life. Apparently the amino acids that form easily were sufficient and life evolved to produce and rely on others later. You’re problem is that you base your argument on backward reasoning. You look at examples of modern life and assume it must always have been as complex as it is now. Most of us know better, especially the scientists. There’s a very good reason why no one pays attention to you dogmatists and your anti-science agenda. Science will never accept a supernatural claim, again for a very good reason. The only way we could do that is by first eliminating all possible naturalistic explanations. However we could never be sure we’ve done that. The real reason you want scientists to stop looking for natural explanations is because you are afraid they are going to find them. You religionists are all alike. You hate science because it craps all over your religious superstitions.

          • Trilemma

            I know the first cell would have to have been much simpler than modern cells. I’ve read that a primitive cell would still need at least 200 different proteins. How many different amino acids do you think were needed for the proteins in the first primitive cell? What are the chances of one of those proteins forming in a primordial soup.

            I’m not anti-science and I don’t hate science. I go where the science leads. Why are you unwilling to see where the science leads? Do the math.

          • Boris

            There are researchers studying the origin of life on Earth right now. You’re claiming to know in advance that they are wasting their time. Why are YOU unwilling to see where the science leads? What are you afraid of? The first cells probably were not the first life. Prokaryotes, seem to have first appeared on Earth almost four billion years ago. These are microbes that don’t have a cell nucleus or cell membrane. So all of your odds making about the first cells is based wild guesses about things that didn’t exist anyway. I already told you why all your odds making is bogus. Instead of answering my objection you went right on ahead and repeated your claim over again just as if no objections were ever raised. Now there are more of them. Your tactics are right out of the Christian Creationist Handbook. Molecules increase in complexity when they naturally bridge the gap between the cold of space and the heat of a star. Our purpose, if you will, is to move heat. So the odds of life forming in this situation are probably 100 percent.

          • Trilemma

            A prokaryote is a single celled organism that does have a cell membrane as well as DNA. The first living cell may have been a prokaryote. What are the chances of its DNA forming by random processes? You don’t want to consider the odds because you know it leads to the conclusion that abiogenesis is impossible by purely random natural processes.

            You said, “So all of your odds making about the first cells is based wild guesses about things that didn’t exist anyway.” So far, I’ve only addressed the odds of proteins and DNA. Are you saying these didn’t exist or that the first living cell didn’t use these?

          • Boris

            “You don’t want to consider the odds because you know it leads to the conclusion that abiogenesis is impossible by purely random natural processes.”
            There is no room in science for your kind of dogmatism and absolutism and your kind of magical explanations, which explain nothing at all. I don’t consider baseless claims made by a scientific ignoramus on a site like this. Nobody does. You aren’t a scientist and you’re not a mathematician. Excuse me for ignoring someone who knows far less about this subject than I do. And someone with an obvious religious bias. The question is why scientists don’t consider your ridiculous attempts at odds making. Have any explanation for that? And of course I would never consider anything coming from you because you don’t respond to the objections to your claims. Like a true follower of Ken Ham you ignore all the objections to your idiotic assertions and just repeat them over and over and over and over as if no objections were ever raised. Again your odds making is based on a number of incorrect assumptions and fueled only by your religious superstitions. Address that point or go troll somebody else.

          • Trilemma

            Nice temper tantrum. Scientists do address statistical considerations. I’ve responded to all your objections that warrant a response and are not an attempts to distract from the fact that you know nothing about the subject. You’ve already shown your ignorance by claiming a prokaryote doesn’t have a cell wall when in fact it does. You have yet to demonstrate that you have any knowledge or understanding of this subject whatsoever. The Miller-Urey experiment did not prove life arose naturally. Miller and Urey didn’t claim that it did. All it did was prove natural processes could produce a small amount of amino acids.

            You said, “Molecules increase in complexity when they naturally bridge the gap between the cold of space and the heat of a star. Our purpose, if you will, is to move heat. So the odds of life forming in this situation are probably 100 percent.” Prove it.

            What incorrect assumptions have I made? What religious superstitions do you think I have?

            Take a solution of equal numbers of the 20 standard amino acids and let them polymerize . Pull out a peptide of 32 amino acids. What are the chances it’s RMKQLEEKVYELLSKVACLEYEVARLKKVGE? This is a simple calculation that you should be able to do on your smart phone.

          • Boris

            Creationist probability estimates that ignore the non-random elements that are predetermined by physics and chemistry are meaningless. Your calculations are based entirely on the probability of the formation of a modern protein, or even a complete bacterium with all modern proteins, by random events. Straw man alert! This is not abiogenesis theory. You creationists should learn what a theory actually states before you try to refute it. Your “calculations” assume that there is a fixed number of proteins, with fixed sequences for each protein, that are required for life. You “calculate” the probability of sequential trials, rather than simultaneous trials, trillions of them going on for hundreds of millions of years. Your “calculations” seriously underestimate the number of functional enzymes/ribozymes present in a group of random sequences. And finally you do not even know what is meant by a probability calculation. That is clear. You’re the one making the dogmatic assertion that life could not have arisen naturally. Yet you’re demanding I prove something. That isn’t how it works. Where is all the scientific peer-reviewed research that proves life could not have arisen naturally? The only odds anyone needs to calculate are the odds that you are correct and the scientists studying this subject are wrong. If you want to talk about something being impossible then THAT is it. How did life arise? From your deity which for no good reason you believe has a physical form. How did this physical deity arise may we ask?

          • Trilemma

            ” Creationist probability estimates that ignore the non-random elements that are predetermined by physics and chemistry are meaningless.”
            What non-random elements that are predetermined by physics and chemistry did I ignore concerning the polymerization of amino acids?

            ”Your calculations are based entirely on the probability of the formation of a modern protein, or even a complete bacterium with all modern proteins, by random events.”
            We’re looking at a tiny protein with 32 amino acids not a modern protein with thousands of amino acids and certainly not a modern bacterium.

            ” Your “calculations” assume that there is a fixed number of proteins, with fixed sequences for each protein, that are required for life.”
            That’s not what I’m asking you to calculate. I know many proteins can fulfill the same function.

            ”You “calculate” the probability of sequential trials, rather than simultaneous trials, trillions of them going on for hundreds of millions of years.”
            Simultaneous trials don’t change the probability of an event. They affect the frequency an event can be expected to occur. That’s a separate calculation.

            ”And finally you do not even know what is meant by a probability calculation.
            Yes, I do. It’s part of my job.

            ” You’re the one making the dogmatic assertion that life could not have arisen naturally. Yet you’re demanding I prove something.”
            You asked me to prove abiogenesis is impossible by natural processes. I expect you to participate in the my proof. If you like your ignorance, you can keep your ignorance.

  • What was it, again, that Jesus kept calling the Pharisees?  Something about doing the very things they condemned in others?  What is that word… ! ?
        That word is I, with a capital “Me”.  Rob, thanks to the other Commenters on this essay, I went back up and re-read what you wrote so I would be fully reconoitered and reminded of your intended main points before I spent more time exposing and dismantling them — this time for the sake of my critics rather than for you (I had expected a deluge of critics to line up behind me rather than in front of me and was quite surprised to see a couple of entirely lucid Comments aimed at me rather than at you).  When I reached the paragraph beginning with, “So, by background…” I realized I was reading words I had never encountered (at least in that particular order).  The entire paragraph, it turns out, I had managed to miss after being distracted from my original read (for quote a while, it turned out).

    Oh, the horror!  Good thing I offer online Comments anonymously (though not to avoid the embarrassment about which “I” warned you, but I won’t go into why here).  If you (or anyone else) wants to re-read your essay above w/o that paragraph (though it is impossible w/o the assistance of advancing age to unsee what has already been seen) it should become evident how I was able to completely misconstrue your intent in citing an ET-critic critic.  I thought — in the perceived  absence of the aforementioned paragraph — that your citation of Seigal was intended as reputable refutation of the Three Oxford Amigos.  Indeed, nothing else in your essay made any sense whatsoever when I came to that less-than-fully-informed conclusion.  Mea culpa, Mr. Schwarzwalder. I was out of line. Unintentionally, but out of line nonetheless.

    Thanks to the other Commenters for coming to Rob’s defense. Not that I enjoy slaps to my own face, but that I deserved one.

    • Rob Schwarzwalder

      I appreciate your comments very much. Admission of error is a rare thing and, therefore, all the more valuable. Thank you.

  • BoghosLArtinian

    Seti 2

    While you and I closely associate

    And you with ideas I inundate

    Your cells could be pondering if it was real

    That life did exist extracorporeal;

    And the more curious among them would wish

    To point to the outside through your skin a dish*

    *Dish antenna

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