Could we sit down with them and exchange notions of science and divinity?
Is intelligent life in the universe common — or do we live alone in the universe on this small, small planet? For most astronomers and cosmologists the answer, always confident, is that there must be intelligent life elsewhere. It is almost an issue of faith, presented of course as science.
Certainly if you follow the movies, we are neither alone nor spiritually bereft. Alien contact in much science fiction will change us, save us, fish us out of our humanity.
If I were asked this week for a science fiction screenplay, I think it would be more adventurous to assume there are no aliens lurking about, nobody ready to intervene in the human story from Out There. I wonder what it would mean to find that we are not only alone, but utterly alone.
There is science suggesting exactly that, but it doesn’t make a very good movie. My guess is cosmologists and movie makers would find this too depressing. Nearly every cosmologist wants something — somebody — Out There. They want intelligent life elsewhere, everywhere, because otherwise we are home alone in a very big and a very lonely universe. We want company.
In a world that has lost the idea of a God whose presence fills the void of space, hope has shifted to Somebody Else Out There, even if it is alien flesh and alien blood. It is simply too, too demoralizing to think that when we look out to the night sky there is no one looking back, or sending us coded messages our radio telescopes will detect.
Isn’t it supremely conceited for anyone to believe that this earth — located on a back alley arm of an average galaxy — should be the sole center of thinking life? That our earth is the only earth producing the only signs of intelligence in the universe, coming from this planet, this solar system, this galaxy, this one universe?