Sunday, November 07, 2010

Apologetics: God and the Fermi Paradox

As a Catholic schoolboy in 1930s Quebec my father practiced a form of polemics known as Apologetics [1]. He argued through reason for the the existence of God.

Dad tells me he was good at Apologetics. As best I can tell he's an atheist, which probably helped his rhetoric.

I think I share the same gift. So I've long been surprised that theists don't use the Fermi paradox in their arguments. I suggested they pursue this back in 2003 ...

SETI, the Fermi Paradox and The Singularity: Why our search for extraterrestial intelligence has failed

... The universe we live in was designed so that we would be alone. There are a few variants on this idea, but they're fundamentally very similar. I list three here. In some ways the Fermi Paradox may be an even stronger "existence of God" argument that the usual "balance of physical parameters" argument.

  1. Some non-omnipotent entity created our universe (there are allegedly serious physicists who speculate about how one might create a universe) and deliberately tweaked certain parameters so that sentience would occur on average about once per galaxy. Maybe they lived in a crowded galaxy and thought an alternative would be interesting.
  2. God created the world in 7 days, and He made it for man's Dominion. He didn't want anyone else in our galaxy, maybe in the entire universe.
  3. Nick Bostrom makes a credible argument[9] that there's a reasonable likelihood that we exist in a simulation. If so, then perhaps the existence of an non-human civilizations does not suit the purposes of the simulation. (This could be considered a special case of "God created the world...")

Today, for the first time, a Google news search filter of mine found a Kevin Roeten post making an Apologetic argument ...

Atheists Beware--A Bona Fide Reason for God

... Assuming 10 billion years for the age of the Milky Way galaxy, there was at least 2000 chances for all additional civilizations (#16, p.48, Show Me God) to settle the entire galaxy. Italian physicist Enrico Fermi asks, "Where are they?" Hence, Fermi's Paradox...

...  For civilizations 15 light years away, they should be receiving signals from TV shows transmitted by earth, such as "I Love Lucy". Their signal to earth should be arriving back about now. We've received nothing...

I doubt this is really the first time anyone but me has made a connection between the Fermi Paradox and apologetics, but it's the first one my filters have caught. Congratulations Kevin.

This is why, though I'm functionally an atheist, I'm technically agnostic [2]. Personally I assign a non-zero probability that we're living in a simulation, which is just about the same as saying there somewhen existed one or more all powerful creators. Of course this says nothing about their attitudes towards us. Given the nature of reality I rather hope we're unnoticed mice in the walls, but I fear they're sadists.

Of course I assign a higher probability to the Fermi paradox answer that a "great filter" eliminates all biological civilizations. Still, I'm glad to see theists picking up on an interesting argument.

[1] The word "apologetics" is all but forgotten. It deserves a resurrection.

[2] It's impossible to truly disprove the existence of the supernatural, at best we can only prove it's not necessary to model what we measure. So, really, there are no rational atheists, there are only functional atheists. Incidentally, I'm very sympathetic to the religious inclination. Reality is overrated.


Zol said...

John, you might like the Goldilocks Enigma by Paul Davies. Does a pretty nice exhaustive set of arguments for and against the fine tuning argument.

JGF said...

Hi Mike, I'm a meta-skeptic, so probably not the audience you seek. Good luck with book though.