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‘Sal, we gotta go and never stop going ’till we get there.”Where we going, man?”I don’t know but we gotta go.’  — Kerouac

For the first time in decades, the possibility of going to Mars has been brought forward and placed on the table for discussion and debate and now… funding. It’s beginning to look like that, given God’s grace, I may live –just barely — long enough to see Earth seeding Mars with the first humans. 

Arguments and plans made around the Mars gambit are still political and transitory even as the technology catches up with the dream. Current issues for and against going to Mars are of no more moment, really, than a primary election in a dinky state. There are larger issues that Mars illuminates.

Those issues came to mind this morning when an email from the friend mentioned in passing:

….if, indeed, life and intelligent life is as prevalent as we think it should be, why aren’t we (a) intercepting millions of alien broadcasts in the electromagnetic spectrum, and (b) positively inundated with alien landings?

One reason that is disturbing in a deep way is that we’re all wrong, and we’re all alone….What if, in all those billions of galaxies, we’re it. Gives me the shivers.

….Look at us, mankind. We’ve been given the gift of intelligence, and the ability to expand our ecosystem out into space, where, with some significant but not insurmountable effort, we could spread like a proverbial virus.

Heaven above. All we need do is figure out how to make a wheel within a wheel to take us away to the middle of the air.

But the Intelligent Life Is Everywhere (ILIE) Religion requires proof that our Extraterrestrial Civilizations (ETC) Gods exist and from that you get the High Church of SETI. All we need is one, just one, captured episode of some far-stars afternoon sit-com and we’ll know that “Intelligent Life Is Everywhere (ILIE)” is the one true religion. SETI is believed to be able to will show us that we are not, as mentioned above, a fluke of the universe; that we are not alone.

But I suspect that we are, indeed, alone. Or, if not exactly alone, alone enough that it makes no practical difference.

Many years ago I read a stirring and beautiful book by Guy Murchie called The Seven Mysteries of Life. It is a complicated bit of scientific romanticism and I won’t go into it here in detail. Besides I’m sure if I re-read it now it would seem antiquated, even quaint. But at some point in that book, Murchie began to take on the  Allstars – X stars = X Stars Supporting Intelligent Life proposition that forms the foundation for the ILIE Religion. The argument removes stars from the board of life for being in the center of galaxies, being multiple, being too big, too small, too young, too old, etcetera, etcetera, and turtles all the way down. This proposition yields you a much smaller number of stars with planets and then, through the application of other elements, makes that number smaller and smaller until you get to, well, the single planet on which we have found intelligent life, Earth. It’s at least as compelling as the arguments for ILIE.

But they are both still religions and we are returned, just when we thought we escaped into the one true faith of ILIE, back to a situation of dueling faiths each playing a slightly different tune even if the underlying harmonic blends. But let’s boost the all-alone track for now and dampen the ILIE part of the mix. Let’s say that we are all alone and that Murchie’s argument is correct. After all, the all-aloners do have a planet to stand on. The others need at least two planets to get going.

If we are alone and we are in the fluke category, then what we do will hardly matter to anything other than ourselves. Hence, we need to take responsibility for our actions as a race. If we are all that is we need to keep going — if only from the imperative that life must keep going even if it is to no purpose other than simple replication. To achieve that with any certainty we have to create, it seems to me, a second planet just as an insurance policy, a safe haven. This is, to my mind, the most cogent argument for Mars.

Of course, in technical terms, going to Mars in the near future with the technology on hand will probably be similar to launching balsa log rafts into the Pacific in the Kon Tiki era, but that doesn’t mean we won’t do it. (The only real limits to this are 1) the vehicles cost a lot more than balsa rafts and 2) a foolish desire on our part to make sure that everyone gets there safe and sound 100%.  

In the Home and Alone theory of intelligent life in the universe, Mars is key. If we can get there and establish ourselves then we will have transformed ourselves from fluke to seed. This is especially stimulating to the ILIE Religion because it will seem to be something we’ve done all by ourselves without any help from metaphysical realms or something named God. And keeping God out of the new ILIE religion is essential. It is more essential to ILIE than finding intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Keeping God out preserves the ILIE religion as the one true faith and a religion’s first imperative is that there can be only one.

I keep returning to the words God and Religion. The injection of these terms into a discussion of things scientific always makes people very uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable. Today, one seems to have nothing to do with the other. In fact, we did at some time in the 20th century come to a tacit agreement to keep science and religion in separate spheres where: Never the twain shall meet / Til Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat.

I am not a man of traditional religion. My church-going activities are sparse, to say the least. I’m what I call A Christian in Crisis Only. Make me fearful or make me terrified or make me hurt deeply on an emotional level, and you’ll find me on my knees praying in a church or even on a back lawn somewhere. Other times I go blithely about my business. But that’s not the state I’m talking about when I bring God into this discussion.

To my mind, limited as it is I’ve been noting a tendency at the extreme reaches of physics and the observable universe to touch the metaphysical. This is the phenomenon that’s called A universe not only stranger than we imagine, but a universe stranger than we *can* imagine. The high church of physics/astronomy/biology/mathematics has its high priests, and what they are preaching from their visions of the far edges of the microsphere and the macrosphere on a lot of levels boggles the minds of lesser mortals. But we take them on, well, faith.

Mine is a primitive mind driven by, to tell the truth, poetry, and romanticism with a veneer of pragmatism to get through the day. I tend to look at the whole of what is now known and know that right now all we know is just how deeply ignorant we are. Of late we’ve advanced at a great rate, but I think that all this advancement has gotten the Smart Monkey is only the vaguest inkling of what there really is to know. And because of this, I think, or rather believe, that what we are about to become, in a way we are too ignorant now to know, is a seed.

If we are home alone then, if we have any purpose whatsoever, we are a means by which the universe can not only know and perceive itself but also a way of whipping up a hot-fudge sundae for itself. (Not so trivial as you may think.) Were certainly a driven form of matter. You see that around you every day. And we are impatient. We want the stars and we want them now. We don’t understand the gap between desire and gratification, and that creates no end of trouble for us. We think we are doing so many things wrong because we can see what is wrong with what we do. We seldom think of all the things we are doing right, not the least of which is taking only about a century (an inch of time) to get out of the gravity well.

So, at the end of the day, I guess I’ll have to take Pascal’s wager and go with it until there is evidence of something other than absence. I’m on the side that believes we are here with some sort of purpose that we are not yet equipped to understand (Please recall that all we really are is a smart monkey.). We don’t really know why we do the things we do, but we will be driven outward, in time, until we do understand it. How, I do not know, but the hominid paddling a log across a river didn’t know about the Lunar Lander, did he? But it was the first step on the long stairway to Tranquilty.

Everybody needs something worthy of belief. I believe we have a purpose, and probably a purpose given to us by what I would call a non-interventionist God who just sets things up and lets them roll. But for the rollout to work out, free will has to be in the mix. Otherwise, this one planet would be hip-deep in slime mold and that would be the end of the story. Since it isn’t, it comforts me to believe that we have greater ends in store for us and that, as a race, we will somehow make it through our current difficulties. Measured against the sweep of time and the universe, our present problems are quite trivial.

Remember that the moon is already part of our story, if only for a golf shot. Mars? That will be added to the story soon. Beyond that, I can’t see, but I do like Our Story So Far.

And I like stories that don’t let you know the ending. Mars is one of them. I’ll might be gone before this chapter ends and the next begins. I like to think at some point we’ll be at the part of the story where somebody like Gully Foyle in Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination stands up in front of a crowd somewhere and rants at them, Blow yourselves to Christ gone or come and find me. I make you men. I make you great. I give you the stars.

Or, in perhaps a less dramatic way, somebody says: We are here. The stars are there. It is only a matter of going.

We’re either alone in the universe or part of a maddening crowd. Either way, man, you gotta go.
But what do we do? Like dung beetles on the last bolus of shit, we cling harder and harder to the Earth, multiplying and strangling it. We use resources that could go towards expansion and instead go to more weapons to ensure that we have firm control over our little ball of nutrients, all the while depleting it and making it more uninhabitable. Unlike the dung beetles, there’s no elephant above waiting around to drop us another one in the foreseeable future.

I think we’ve misinterpreted the slogan “Earth First.” Perhaps it really means “Earth’s first stop of many on the line”.

Are we alone? Will we, in the vernacular, blow it? I think the answer to the latter question is no. As for the former, well…

For quite a few years now, I’ve been a bit unpopular when I suggest that we need to consider the fact that we might, indeed, be all alone; that we might be a fluke or a seed or simply something of no purpose struggling to no avail and heading towards an ignominious ending in a backwater of a third-rate galaxy.

There is currently no real evidence that sentient life 1) exists elsewhere in abundant quantities or 2) exists but is rare. If intelligent life were at all common the electromagnetic spectrum should be awash in signals. And while the old saw Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence tugs at me, the phrase No information is no information also comes into play.

Another possibility is that What we have here is a failure to communicate. This would suppose that the electromagnetic spectrum is simply not the means by which communication between Extraterrestrial Civilizations (ETC) happens and something else that we are too primitive to understand is being used. We’ve certainly imagined such things just as we’ve imagined Faster Than Light drives. But so far these are devices that merely help our science fiction narratives along. It would be boring indeed to have to dunk around the same old solar system forever using chemical rockets. Pushing off to the stars in them would give new meaning to the lyric I want to get you on a slow boat to China.

Arthur C. Clarke reminds us that Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I’d bend that around to say that Any proposition asserting the existence of ETC is indistinguishable from religion.

I say religion for two reasons. The first is that, regardless of the many arguments advanced for it, there is still no proof that any ETC exists and thus it is purely a matter of faith.

The second reason that the ETC assertion is religious is that Technotronic types need to believe it because they need, in their lives, something that is worthy of belief beyond mentation and purposeless matter hovering in the dark. Any specific religion can be denied but the need to believe in something seems to be hard-wired into humanity.

One of the many curses of free will is that it can remove, at will, God from the equation of the universe. But removing God does not remove the need to believe. The result is a host of secular faiths of which the assertion of Intelligent Life Is Everywhere (ILIE) is central to the catechism.

No God means that Mind is God. No Soul means that Self is Soul. When the Kingdom of Heaven that is within is denied, then the Kingdom of Heaven must be lurking in, well, the Great Nowhere and we’re stuck on this ball of mud like dung beetles rolling our snowballing bullshit before us forever. It is the argument tailor-made for a race of losers’ choice.

Me? I’m going for the win. I’m going to believe that we will spread this freak show to the stars. That’s my catechism. 

Who really knows?

God knows.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Casey Klahn August 7, 2021, 10:41 AM

    Our five year mission, to boldly go…to spread this freak show to the stars!

    I love that.

    Perhaps the planets will allow us to get a better perspective, because I’m damned tired of the pettiness of mankind’s politics.

  • al_piano August 7, 2021, 11:25 AM

    I’ve really never believed in UFO’s and when cultists jump through hoops trying to explain why there has to be something out there my response is always “Why? Tell you what. If I allow there is a 1% probability they may exist will you do the same? That there is a 1% chance such things are figment of our imagination?” Never a taker. The very thought of us being alone in such a vast universe is unsettling to a lot of people.

  • gwbnyc August 7, 2021, 11:44 AM

    “Walking on water wasn’t built in a day.” -Kerouac

  • james wilson August 7, 2021, 11:49 AM

    Antartica is far more life sustaining than Mars and I see no rush to colonize Antartica. Mars is but an analogy for escape, for hope that presents no danger of being realized.

  • John the River August 7, 2021, 12:00 PM

    As she said, “If there is not other life out there, it’s a Hell of a waste of Space”.

    If by no other way we could send mankind to the stars by sending sublight seed ships. Robotic guided, with frozen embryo’s to be gestated and raised to adulthood by robotic ‘mothers’. Fairly sure that was the plot of a SF story I read many decades ago, the name and author escape me.

    If there is a will, there is a way.
    ps Send plenty of RAH books in the library.

  • Dirk August 7, 2021, 12:22 PM

    To even think We “ humans “ are the only life, in how many universes,,,, is interesting. I respect your right to an opinion. Simply can’t comprehend “ humans” as flawed as we are being the sole occupant of space and multi universes.

    That photo of Mars is stunning. We just got home from Reno,stayed in Lakevieworegon three days. I laided on the deck and just watched the greatest show around earth.


  • Jack Crevalle August 7, 2021, 12:47 PM

    I gotta second James Wilson on Antarctica, and say ditto also for the continental shelf. Arthur Clarke’s “Deep Range” never has quite come to pass, yet it’s way more feasible than Mars and there’s $$ to be made. As for being alone in the whole universe, or even this galaxy, who knows? But I’d take a modest bet that we’re alone in this particular spiral arm of the Milky Way. And absent any fantastically efficient FTL tech, that may mean alone for good.

  • Bones August 7, 2021, 12:56 PM

    As a Christian, I think that just maybe the Master of the Universe has for us to “go where no man has gone before” in the eternity following the end of all things. At that point there will not be a “freak show,” but humanity as God designed it to be before we wrecked it with our sin, which God had to fix.

    But that’s just me. I find no evidence for this idea in or out of the Scriptures. YMMV.

  • jwm August 7, 2021, 7:18 PM

    Maybe we have to be comfortable knowing that we simply can not know. WM Briggs is one of my daily stops, although statistics simply takes more horsepower than my brain produces. The same with theology. I try to follow his post on Aquinas every Sunday, but it goes over my head pretty fast. Recently he had a post on the filioque, which is some serious theological hair splitting. Why, I do not know, but I caught myself spending the better part of an hour reading it, whether I got it, or not. Now statistics takes a high level of math. I topped out at algebra. I realize that there are plenty of folks who get statistics, even though I don’t. But the theology seems to be investing similar amounts of intellectual rigor over things that are ultimately un-knowable. Same with the speculation about the afterlife. Bruce Charlton writes endlessly about heaven. But what is it? What are its characteristics? We simply cannot know. We have the Word, and we take the Word on Faith that heaven: *is*, or *happens*, if you will.
    And as for the E.T’s? As our esteemed author noted: no information, which is indistinguishable from “nobody’s home”. Takes either Hope, or Faith for one to give the flying saucers serious brain time. But Hope, and Faith in what? No information. No word at all.


  • Mike-SMO August 7, 2021, 9:47 PM

    Blah. I rather go with “special” instead of a “fluke”.

    The calculations were usually on the asumption of C-O-H chemistry and liquid water. The old comic books occasionally portrayed space aliens as gorgeous women with red hair and blue skin.

    We are more likely to be visited by a 600-700 pound “squash blossum” with anhydrous S-N metabolism who farts various forms of cyanide. His XO would probably be a creature of light, UV-C mostly. We would be of no consequence to a culture with trans-light speed drives, although they might collect a few specimens for their zoo.

    We have enough to accomplish without cyanide farts and/or UV-C irradiation. Just get to work.

    A few illustrations of lovely blue wimins in skimpy clothing might help my mood a bit. Or “Angels” if you are so inclined. Victrola’s Seekret seems to have come up with a few interesting designs with that sort of theme.

  • Steve in PA August 8, 2021, 4:09 AM

    Seems to me (a Biblical literalist and believer in All The Things Jesus Said as recorded in Scripture) that one of our problems is that we a creatures of a three, or possibly four dimensional plane, if you include Time, whereas it is now taken as gospel, if you pardon the phrase that there are at least ten, maybe twenty-six dimensions, none of which we can experience except by exercising the most strenuous mental gymnastics. Once you grasp this knowledge, everything else kind of falls into place if you let it. For most of human existence, life at the cellular level was unknown, and anyone who might have hypothesized about it would be ridiculed. Now we have begun to explore that level of existence and marvel at what we find. The more we know, the more we know what we don’t know. The complexity at the micro level rivals that which appears to exist at the macro, cosmological level. IOW, complexity and vastness of scale apply in both directions. Yet, God is vastly larger than the observed universe He created. He put all things where they are in order to show that His final creation, i.e., humanity, the soi dissant “Crown of Creation,” is of such unimaginable significance as to be of unequaled value. He created the world and all its beings, corporeal and otherwise desiring that they eventually learn their value and live in harmony with Him, yet He also provided the possibility of choosing otherwise. The Bible is quite clear on this. Genesis to Revelation is a complete cycle; we have come a ways from Genesis and are somewhere in Revelation. As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end and forevermore. Kind of makes going to Mars a minor, albeit interesting diversion.

  • ghostsniper August 8, 2021, 4:52 AM

    where my flyin’ car iz?

  • LadyBikki August 8, 2021, 5:09 AM

    Mars ?
    We’ve trashed not only our planet but the space around it with junk, hurtling around us in lowering orbits until it smashes back to earth, hoping the garbage won’t smash us like cockroaches.
    We are the planetary equivalent of Pigpen from Peanuts.
    ILIE ? Is there intelligent life here on earth ? At times I have my doubts.

  • ghostsniper August 8, 2021, 7:39 AM

    “We’ve trashed not only our planet…”
    Went to 2 diff big boxes yesterday for the first time in quite awhile.
    When you stay away from crowds for 6 months then plunge back into them you get a new perspective.
    The parking lots were littered with discarded masks. Medical waste. Biohazard. Laying there waiting for the rain to combine their filth with everything else headed for the catch basin.

    Came out of one place that had parking up close to the building and the number of cigarette butts everywhere was unbelievable. Now, trash and litter were on my mind so I took note. Driving around litter was every where, along the curbs, in the gutters, on the roadway, in the grassy areas, every where.

    When I was a kid both my parents smoked as well as everybody else it seemed back in the 50’s and 60’s. Every now and then my dad, who was ex-military, would line us 5 kids up in the yard and give us a coffee can and set us off on the “Litter Gitter” campaign. “If it ain’t growin’, pick it up.”

    Having been in the military myself I learned right away about the litter gitter and that stuff turned me against litter. I have NEVER knowing thrown anything out of my vehicles nor littered any where else. Ever. I don’t carry drinking material in my vehicles nor do I get food from fast food joint drive throughs, nor do I consume food in my vehicle.

    2 days ago I saw a cig butt in our driveway and wondered how it got there. Then I remembered that last week an amazon delivery driver had been out there. Arggggg…..

    No matter where you live in this world assholes will seek you out.

  • Vanderleun August 8, 2021, 8:16 AM

    My new motto that I think I shall print out in a broad and narrow banner and stretch it across my bumper brake light to brake light:

    “No matter where you live in this world assholes will seek you out.”

  • ghostsniper August 8, 2021, 10:01 AM

    Unfortunately it’s true. I could write a book.

    Remember when you were a kid, well, not even that far back. Say, maybe even up through the 70’s, when people would get the hell out of the way of an approaching vehicle? Once, when I was very young, maybe 5 or 6 (about 1960), my dad and I were walking across a parking lot to the hardware store and a car was coming. My dad stopped, but I was in my own world, and he yanked back on me. As the car passed he said to me, “Stay away from them things, pointing at the car, cause they will kill you.” 60 years later I still remember that. And I do always watch for cars and get out of their way.

    Yesterday I was reminded that that is old skool thinking and the fact that most people don’t do it any more. As I was traversing the lanes in a parking lot or street pedestrians would just walk right out in front of me, as if my 3000lb killing machine wasn’t even there, and taking their grand old time about it. Some of them staring at their little box of colors, others looking at me with contempt. How dare I infringe upon THEIR space? Harumph! Man I would love to shove my foot down and massacre every last one of them. One of these days….

  • Andrew R August 8, 2021, 10:15 AM

    My favorite quote from R. Buckminster Fuller is “sometimes I think were alone. Sometimes I think we’re not. In either case the thought is quite staggering.”

    My rough calculations say that our galaxy is around 24 trillion cubic light years in volume (I can get my mind around trillion, but I fail at cubic light years!), so we may very well be the only sentient life in this area of the galaxy and if there’s anybody else out there they may be very far away.

    That’s probably a good thing. We need time to go from being a fluke to a seed so we can expand outward as far as we can and don’t get wiped out by natural catastrophe or the other guys out there.

    I’ll let others screw around with the Fermi Paradox, Drake Equation and Kardashev Scale. I’ll be rooting for Elon Musk and anyone else who’s working on getting our species “out there”.

  • ghostsniper August 8, 2021, 2:50 PM

    In Genesis god doesn’t mention creating people in other parts of the universe, and according to JL Piccard, “A lie of omission is still a lie”, but the rumor is god is incapable of lying, right?

  • Dirk August 8, 2021, 4:23 PM

    Humans only life? Humorous, look around the evidence is everywhere. The eye does not see what it doesn’t want to see. Either way, makes zero diff to me.


  • BroKen August 10, 2021, 6:40 AM

    You are probably already aware of this, but just in case….. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXchXFfbAaQ

    And then, there’s this also by Lewis:

    Science-Fiction Cradlesong

    By and by Man will try
    To get out into the sky,
    Sailing far beyond the air
    From Down and Here to Up and There.
    Stars and sky, sky and stars
    Make us feel the prison bars.

    Suppose it done. Now we ride
    Closed in steel, up there, outside;
    Through our portholes see the vast
    Heaven-scape go rushing past.
    Shall we? All that meets the eye
    Is sky and stars, stars and sky.

    Points of light with black between
    Hang like a painted scene
    Motionless, no nearer there
    Than on the earth, everywhere
    Equidistant from our ship.
    Heaven has given us the slip.

    Hush, be still, Outer space
    Is a concept, not a place.
    Try no more. Where we are
    Never can be sky or star.
    From prison, in a prison, we fly;
    There’s no way into the sky.