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Is Belief in Aliens a Religious Impulse?

Christopher O'Brien

Back in the Saddle Aginn
Staff member
Article HERE:

By Michael Shermer | Scientific American October 2017 Issue

In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Captain James T. Kirk encounters a deity that lures him to its planet in order to abscond with the Enterprise. “What does God need with a starship?” the skeptical commander inquires. I talked to Kirk himself—William Shatner, that is—about the film when I met him at a recent conference. The original plot device for the movie, which he directed, was for the crew to go “in search of God.” Fearful that some religious adherents might be offended that the Almighty could be discoverable by a spaceship, the studio bosses insisted that the deity be a malicious extraterrestrial impersonating God for personal gain.

How could a starship—or any technology designed to detect natural forces and objects—discover a supernatural God, who by definition would be beyond any such sensors? Any detectable entity would have to be a natural being, no matter how advanced, and as I have argued in this column [see “Shermer's Last Law”; January 2002], “any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence [ETI] is indistinguishable from God.” Thus, Shatner's plot theme of looking for God could only turn up an ETI sufficiently advanced to appear God-like.

Perhaps herein lies the impulse to search. In his 1982 book Plurality of Worlds (Cambridge University Press), historian of science Steven J. Dick suggested that when Isaac Newton's mechanical universe replaced the medieval spiritual world, it left a lifeless void that was filled with the modern search for ETI. In his 1995 book Are We Alone? (Basic Books), physicist Paul Davies wondered: “What I am more concerned with is the extent to which the modern search for aliens is, at rock-bottom, part of an ancient religious quest.” Historian George Basalla made a similar observation in his 2006 work Civilized Life in the Universe (Oxford University Press): “The idea of the superiority of celestial beings is neither new nor scientific. It is a widespread and old belief in religious thought.” REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE:

9C77869F-AB47-4EBD-9488441A4336E9B3.jpg
 

Randall

J. Randall Murphy
Staff member
Of course Shermer couldn't help but throw in:

"Given that there is no more evidence for aliens than there is for God, believers in either one must take a leap of faith or else suspend judgment until evidence emerges to the contrary. - Michael Shermer"​

That sort of statement is another attempt to equate the subject of alien intelligence with religious thinking in order to give the impression that they're both on the same playing field, thus relegating them both to the status of myth. It's a straw man argument. To see through it just ask a couple of relevant questions like: How many times has the Air Force scrambled jets to intercept God? Are SETI scientists trying to talk to God?
 
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Han

piscator ψ
I was annoyed by this myself:

"Given that there is no more evidence for aliens than there is for God, believers in either one must take a leap of faith or else suspend judgment until evidence emerges to the contrary. - Michael Shermer"

I can see the connection/pattern/similarity between ETI and God beliefs, but I want to know where that comes from?

And as for evidence of 'god' that is a logical failure, it is like trying to dissect someone to find their soul, and that kind of thinking belongs in the dark ages.
Maybe he would like to invest in my 'ladder to the heavens' scheme so we can go and check?????

An honest historian would tell you that there is evidence of 'religion/belief in god/s' on every continent and I would go as far as to say that there was religion before Homo Sapiens even evolved.

Personally I have issues with mindless following of religion, but respect for those that choose it.

The way I think about it is this:

If I set a challenge/race to a group of 'sceptics' and a group of 'religious' believers to build say a humongous stone pyramid, using only basic tools. I can almost guarantee that the religious lot would do a far better job than the sceptics. Whilst they are arguing about the point of the exercise, the devout ones will be moving stone, and when the sceptics see that, they will argue about why they are moving stone and we are not? all the while getting further and further behind....
And the funniest thing will be when the final whistle goes and they have to judge each others attempts........ ;)

"Given that there is no more evidence for aliens than there is for God, believers in either one must take a leap of faith or else suspend judgment until evidence emerges to the contrary. - Michael Shermer"

It is poor attempts at humour like this that expose lazy thinking.

I read it very differently than the author no doubt intended.

Even if taken at face value, saying that there is an equal amount of evidence for both, does not imply a lack of evidence at all, in fact it suggests that there is evidence..........

Don't get me wrong I am a cynic and a sceptic but I don't think it is fair to just dismiss what has obviously helped us get to where we are today. To be as clear as possible I am saying the act of 'belief' itself.

It is not about: I want to believe, or I need to believe, it is that I do believe. That goes for everyone including sceptics.

Anybody can point at a bird and say: LOOK IT HAS FEATHERS!!! that is easy, but to ask why it has feathers is another thing entirely.

It is interesting Newton gets a mention, I wouldn't let anybody describe him as a sceptic. He had some, shall we say 'interesting' beliefs, and even stuck a needle in his eye for god's sake :rolleyes:
 

Randall

J. Randall Murphy
Staff member
I was annoyed by this myself:
Funny how Shermer has a way of doing that. By now I'd say it's also entitrely intentional.
I can see the connection/pattern/similarity between ETI and God beliefs, but I want to know where that comes from?
Me too. That's why von Däniken's books became so popular. But the essential ingredient that's missing between religion and something like SETI is that SETI scientists haven't deified the subject. There's no altar at which they must kneel, no assumption that an alien intelligence represents some sort of supreme being, and no theological dogma relevant to the interpretation of the data. These are crucial differences.
And as for evidence of 'god' that is a logical failure, it is like trying to dissect someone to find their soul, and that kind of thinking belongs in the dark ages. Maybe he would like to invest in my 'ladder to the heavens' scheme so we can go and check?????
There's an idea for KickStarter ... LOL.
An honest historian would tell you that there is evidence of 'religion/belief in god/s' on every continent and I would go as far as to say that there was religion before Homo Sapiens even evolved.
Hmm. My thinking is that religion is a human construct, so curious as to how it could come about before we did, unless you suggesting that there are probably some other life forms out there that developed it before us?
Personally I have issues with mindless following of religion, but respect for those that choose it.
Hmm. Respect is something that is earned and that requires a good reason. All things being equal, religious people are believers in myths and nonsense. Why does that deserve respect? Add to that the horrible stuff still being done in the name of religion, and I see no reason to respect it. The world could be a better place without it. If there's any respect at all to be had for religious people, it's for their freedom to follow their path to the degree that it doesn't harm the rest of us, so that they can live their journey, and hopefully evolve their thinking while they're at it. Legislating disbelief would be as wrong as legislating belief.
The way I think about it is this:

If I set a challenge/race to a group of 'sceptics' and a group of 'religious' believers to build say a humongous stone pyramid, using only basic tools. I can almost guarantee that the religious lot would do a far better job than the sceptics. Whilst they are arguing about the point of the exercise, the devout ones will be moving stone, and when the sceptics see that, they will argue about why they are moving stone and we are not? all the while getting further and further behind....
And the funniest thing will be when the final whistle goes and they have to judge each others attempts........ ;)
Interesting way of looking at the issue. I wonder if in the end one could make the argument that simply having thought about the whole business of pyramid building and deciding it's a waste of time and energy, it's more advantageous not to bother?
"Given that there is no more evidence for aliens than there is for God, believers in either one must take a leap of faith or else suspend judgment until evidence emerges to the contrary. - Michael Shermer"

It is poor attempts at humour like this that expose lazy thinking.

I read it very differently than the author no doubt intended.

Even if taken at face value, saying that there is an equal amount of evidence for both, does not imply a lack of evidence at all, in fact it suggests that there is evidence..........

Don't get me wrong I am a cynic and a sceptic but I don't think it is fair to just dismiss what has obviously helped us get to where we are today. To be as clear as possible I am saying the act of 'belief' itself.
Yes. The claim that there's no evidence hinges on what one accepts as evidence, and the skeptics are notorious for moving the goalposts so far down the playing field that it's impossible to cross the line. Then they claim victory by default.
It is not about: I want to believe, or I need to believe, it is that I do believe. That goes for everyone including sceptics.

Anybody can point at a bird and say: LOOK IT HAS FEATHERS!!! that is easy, but to ask why it has feathers is another thing entirely.

It is interesting Newton gets a mention, I wouldn't let anybody describe him as a sceptic. He had some, shall we say 'interesting' beliefs, and even stuck a needle in his eye for god's sake :rolleyes:
OMG where do you come up with this stuff? That's why I love your posts Han. Bizarre interesting tidbits I'd never heard before: Theatre: The needle in Newton's eye : Nature : Nature Research
 
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Han

piscator ψ
My understanding is that Newton was looking for 'pure' light and it was during this he stuck the bodkin in his eye, that is why I thought it was relevant here.
My eyes are very important to me and I ain't sticking a needle in them for no-one, I would rather not know.... but I am grateful he had enough 'belief' to do it.
Also he didn't pierce the actual eyeball a Bodkin has a sort of flattened end and he used this to compress the eyeball which changed what he saw:

eye-drawing-1.jpg


I concede about how shall I put it: 'organised' religion, I should have said faith instead.

If you want to know something you have to have faith that you can find out, otherwise you would not bother.
Without being too treehuggy you have to believe that things can be better, in order to change them.
On reflection maybe I can't really argue for faith being solely good, because you can believe in bad things too, I think what I am trying to say is that I think that 'belief' is part of our fabric.

Also regarding Humans and religion (the age thereof) I understand that Neandertals practiced religious rites and ceremonies, possibly as far back as 300,000 years ago (three hundred thousand) but it could be even older still. That is a controversial subject to say the least, full of pitfalls and deceit on all sides.
Personally I wouldn't be suprised if Homo habilis and Homo erectus had some sort of religion roughly 2 million years ago.
 

mike

Paranormal Adept
I like this persons take on it

If I had some $$$ for every time the end of the world had been predicted, lets just say my bank manager and the tax office would both be pleased. I’m sure not a year goes by, probably not even a month, without someone (not always by any means UFO cultists) calling out loud and clear that ‘The sky is falling; the end is here; prepare to meet thy doom’. For those misguided beings who take one such ever ongoing prophecy seriously, it might, I guess, be more logical to put your salvation eggs in an extraterrestrial basket carried around by UFOs. There’s way more evidence for the UFO ETH (ExtraTerrestrial Hypothesis) than for God. God hasn't been seen (for at least 4000 years or so), tracked on radar, left physical trace marks on our environment, nor has He been filmed or photographed.

But some of these New Age Themed UFO societies can be hazardous to your health. The Heaven’s Gate group in 1997 were going to hitch a ride with this UFO concealed in the Hale-Bopp Comet as it swung around the Sun. There was one catch however - to get from terrestrial ground zero, to Hale-Bopp, you had to do yourself a fatal mischief. According to the “M*A*S*H” theme song, suicide maybe painless but it is still suicide. [There have been several other instances of mass suicide among the membership of religious cults – the Branch Davidians (Waco, Texas) and followers of Jim Jones and his People’s Temple (Guyana) – but these had nothing to do with aliens.]

Other New Age themed UFO societies are more harmless to your physical health (not sure about your mental health however), like the Unarius [Educational Foundation] Society; the Etherean Society; the Aetherius Society, and dozens more, both major and minor.

It has got to be said that bona fide UFO investigators dislike these cultists for muddying the UFO waters and turning what should be serious study into a joke within the larger general community. Riding with your racially pure white ‘space brothers’ in their UFOs to visit their home worlds (which either no one has ever heard of or which scientists have proven to be hellish enough, way beyond incapable of supporting complex life) and delivering their New Age words of cosmic truth and wisdom is going to generate a lot more column inches in the tabloids than serious investigations will in the major metropolitan press.

Fortunately, these contactees, and the New Age contactee movement were primarily a 1950’s fad. While there are those still around, they now have little real impact or influence today. However, their damage has been done, and the UFO field cannot totally shake off their immense contribution to the UFO ‘silly season’ ‘giggle’ factor.

In general however, serious UFO investigators who take the phenomena, well, seriously, most certainly do not worship whatever aliens, if any, that may pilot said UFOs. I've never seen any evidence that UFO investigators are any different from the general population in terms of religious affiliation or church attendance.

Would Intelligent Aliens Undermine God? | Closer to Truth
 
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blowfish

Whittingham
Religion is a formula which the individuals can decide what it wants to take from it . Your choice to join a mass. Agree it become a cash cow for many groups who don't pay any tax which should be and CEO/ top of the Church enjoy the benefits while the poor beg on the streets. Western or Eastern religious beliefs systems are great strengths for getting humans through historical events good or bad depends on which side of the fanatics your fall on. Morality is a human perception which has its heritage through evolution or spiritual (do we use only about 10 % of the Brain ? Do we really use only 10 percent of our brains? ) one example the dark arts/ the devil's work regarding Witch Hunting/ Burnings/ Drowning of innocent Men, Women and Children by the Church over subjects like herbal medicine Religious Aspects which today is a billions of dollars business. Like folks who play video games, golf, tennis,AFL, Football, NFL , fishing etc it's a form of religious / therapy to unwind let of steam etc. Is Sport a Religion? The the darker side of sport corruption, politics, gang warfare on the terraces. Yin and Yang. Humans need to feel some higher purpose it's an evolutionary or spiritual mechanism as animals we coexists with each other to learn and journey to the stars.
 
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Burnt State

Paranormal Adept
Is ufo belief a religion....well if we're talking about UFOs as alien craft from outer space then, yes, the field can only be considered as a faith based structure. While there is an enormous amount of very interersting data that tells us people see strange things in the sky, and that sometimes they land and leave trace evidence, or are confirmed as radar sightings, we have no real proof that flying saucers come from outer space. I'm not saying that it's impossible that this could be the answer, but the subculture that has evolved over decades has definitely formed not only specific religions around the idea of ET visitors, space brothers, and spiritual illumination, but the entire disclosure movement and the great convictions that many have in this subculture point to a religious ideology.

I'm all for believing in the sightings of anomalous objects as a reality but I think a more practical summary of what's going on in UFO history was heard listening to a recent RM episode featuring a roundtable of UFO luminaries who have worked in the field for eons, and I quote, "Shit's going on that I don't understand." I think that's probably the most accurate way of looking at the evidence.

When we lead with ideology before continuing to pursue and just ask more questions we find ourselves in the middle of a belief system that says UFOs are all about aliens from outer space. I really don't see the proof. And neither do many of the luminaries either. So there's a great disconnect in the field, and there are many theories. I think agnosticism is a better way to let this field unfold instead of putting the gosh darn alien cart before the horse.

There's a lot of stuff going on and we still don't have decent answers for any of it....just a lot of clues, infighting and belief systems. Theories should never stop a discussion of a mystery but hopefully lead to better theories so we can evolve something of a science to explore this conundrum as opposed to settling on I want to believe or I believe. I think I sorta believe makes more sense and I don't know what to believe is what is more accurate for me, personally.

I saw things that presented themselves as classic flying saucers that came from space but I still don't know what the hell they were or where they came from. I'm good with that. I'm good with seeing where the pursuit may lead. Many thoughtful folk repeat the phrase that goes sonething like, I'd be really disappointed if it's all just about aliens from outer space. It seems a lot weirder than that.
 

William Strathmann

Paranormal Adept
There's a lot of stuff going on and we still don't have decent answers for any of it....just a lot of clues, infighting and belief systems.

IMHO, one could say that the basis for paranormal--supernatural--ET worldviews stems from human interaction with:

non-human sapiens-class intelligent beings, and even
non-human super-sapiens-class intelligent beings.

In other words, humans recognize intelligent behavior and intelligent interaction in all kinds of contexts. Such interaction is what drives all the various kinds of reports.

People from ancient history to modern times report what seems to them as interaction with sapiens-class or super-sapiens-class beings. Interactions with so-called ghosts of dead humans is at least a sapiens-class interaction. Interactions with ufonauts is ususally described as at least a sapiens-class interaction, if not a super-sapiens-class interaction. Many historic "religions" are based on reports of super-sapiens-class interactions. From this perspective, the elusive ufo experience is similar to many so-called "religious"-based organizations.

On the other hand, I think Michael Shermer uses "religious impulse" in his title as a non-technical hot-button to trigger a reaction. The word "religious" is so overdetermined and vague that for most of his readers the only thing it does is to suggest association with semi-educated anti-science bigots. That, I think, is Shermer's intent, and thus connecting that idea with UFOs helps discredit reports that are actually very difficult to dismiss.
 

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