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Afraid in the Cosmos — Our Strange Longing for Aliens


David Mills - published on 01/28/15

It’s a lot of money to spend to find a microbe. Why not just go exploring because that’s what man does or because we might find things we need out there? Landing on Mars is cool enough even if it’s a completely dead planet. I thought the part of the museum’s exhibit on terraforming Mars fascinating, and romantic too, and much more interesting than the parts about drilling through ice to find microbes. We find a microbe, we find a microbe. We terraform Mars, we found a new society in a new place.

Which brings me back to Blackmore’s closing question. Are people, and she means secular people, afraid of being alone in the universe? I don’t know why they would be, when we live in a world so rich in people. But apparently many are.

I suspect that this search for alien life is driven not so much by intellectual curiosity as by the desire to feel that we’re not alone in the ­universe. The religious believer knows we’re not alone even if man is the only species of his kind on all the billions of planets. And if God doesn’t exist, the fact that somewhere out there are other beings in the same situation we’re in isn’t really comforting. We’re still alone in the universe.

David Mills, former executive editor of First Things, is a senior editor of The Stream and columnist for several Catholic publications. His last book is Discovering Mary. For more on this subject, see his “Reading the Stars".

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