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Alien Hypothesis

Suppose humans someday master interplanetary travel and discover a world that once had a million species but now it is lifeless. And let's say a huge crater is evidence that a meteor wiped out life on the planet.

The planet's backstory is that a civilization of advanced aliens from another galaxy seeded the planet with life a billion years ago. The seeds came in the form of a genetic code that was engineered to survive the harsh conditions of the lifeless world and even alter the planet's atmosphere over time. The aliens considered this project a safety valve for the day their own planet would become uninhabitable. The aliens seeded as many planets as they could reach with their technology. They had a million years to seed other planets before their home world was destroyed by its sun, so they spread a lot of seeds. They hoped that some percentage of the seeded planets would produce life. Unlike humans, they planned ahead.

Some of the seeds were designed to become bacteria and plant life, to serve as food for later species, and to regulate the atmosphere with the necessary balance of gasses. Other seeds were enclosed in protective capsules and programmed to release when the environment became hospitable, however long that might take.

The aliens engineered the genetic code in their creatures to produce variations in future generations the same way a car company might build several car models on the same chassis, using the same raw materials. Much of the engineering know-how and design ideas were shared among models. For example, most of the creatures might have two eyes and one brain, similar to the way auto makers design most cars with two headlights and one engine. Some designs simply work better.

The human explorers on this planet have no way of knowing that the aliens designed a dozen basic models of creatures suited for different environments. Some were designed for living in water, and some were designed for flight. Others were designed for cold climates while some were suited for warm weather, or a mix of both. At the planet's peak, each of the million species descended from the dozen original models.

The human explorers discover some fossilized bones and start digging around for more. They soon realize that useful fossils are hard to find. Still, the persistent humans manage to find examples from all twelve model lines. And they find lots of variation within models. For example, according to fossil records a creature the humans name the Graxil existed as a small creature in early times, but a larger version of the Graxil walked the planet near the time of the meteor strike. There are other cosmetic differences between the original and the newer Graxil too, such as cranium shape and hoof size. But it's obvious to anyone that the older Graxil and the more modern version are somehow related.

Regular readers of this blog are way ahead of me by this point. You know I'll say that Earth might be one of the planets seeded by aliens. One would expect any sufficiently advanced aliens with foresight of their own planet's demise to make plans for the future. If humans survive long enough, we'll surely seed other planets too. It's the logical thing to do. And if it's true that the universe is so large that other life surely exists, the odds are that any planet with life is a seeded planet and not one of the few that evolved entirely by chance. I would think that for every planet that evolved naturally to include advanced civilizations, a thousand planets were started by alien seeds.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we humans like to force competing ideas into a binary model. We're just wired that way. In the evolution debate, our two options for explaining human existence are limited to God versus nature. All I'm suggesting is that a third option (aliens) should be in the mix.

The only logical way to take aliens out of the debate is if we know there is no life elsewhere, or we know it's impossible for an advanced species to seed other planets. None of that is knowable. The absence of evidence for aliens is not evidence of absence.

I realize that the alien hypothesis simply pushes back the question of how the original alien life forms came into being. But for any particular world with life, such as Earth, the alien seed hypothesis is a legitimate option. It fits all of the evidence and even helps to explain the hardest-to-fathom leaps in evolution.

We also can't rule out the possibility that our reality is entirely imagined, in which case nothing is evolving but thoughts. We might be nothing but a computer program created by a long dead civilization that wanted to maintain some sort of record of its existence in case aliens discover the computer floating in space. Perhaps our so-called lives are nothing but the program running through its history loop.

By my count there are three non-God explanations for the observations used to support evolution. We have the traditional evolution model, the alien seed model, and the computer simulation (imagined reality) model. Interestingly, the explanation that is almost universally favored among skeptics is the one that paints humans as the most special. According to evolution theory, we humans are so awesome that we essentially created ourselves from nothing but primordial goo, like wizards that refuse to die.

I will stipulate for the record that evolution is a fact, having met all of the tests of science. I say that because my experience is that this sort of topic gets pulled out of context. My only point here is that one should be suspicious when there are multiple explanations for something and we favor the one that makes us feel most special. We should also be suspicious when any debate gets polarized into two camps. That usually means other ideas won't be taken seriously. This is a good example. Although in this case it's probably a good idea to ignore anything I say.

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+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 19, 2012
So aliens seeded our planet so they could come back and anally probe us? They're pretty f&*ked up, but I can see how we're related...

[Okay, I laughed out loud at that. Nicely done. -- Scott]
Jun 19, 2012

I have no problems in general with this entry, but the second half of the next to last paragraph suddenly goes way off base. I understand your point that most people ignore your other two non-supernatural explanations for our existence, which I accept as plausible if unlikely, but I would say that they do so simply because of Occam's Razor, not by any means because they think we're 'special'. In fact, many non-theists and post modern philosophers have concluded that we're anything but special, much to the chagrin of Theists.

In particular, it's a very common error, made even in many popular, nominally serious, writings about evolution, to fall into what I would call the "teleology trap", that of ascribing a purpose, goal, or any kind of end knowledge whatsoever to the evolutionary process. You do that in the last sentence of that paragraph. In fact, we created nothing at all.

By the way, are you familiar with the philosopher Nick Bostrom? If not, you'll love him.


[Occam's Razor is bullshit. In practice, the simplest explanation is the one you already decided is true. -- Scott]
Jun 19, 2012
What about the cliche sci-fi theory for life: humans from the future went back in time and created life on Earth? Yeay for cliche?

There's another possible God explination for evolution that I don't see too often: in seven days God created a universe that appeared to be 16 billion years old and had evolutionary processes built into the Earth because maybe he might have wanted us to know about these things. I mean if you look at Genesis, the story of creation roughly conicides with the modern theory of how the universe was created. IE let there be light is analogous to the big bang.
Jun 19, 2012
Since God is ill-defined, the alien theory and the intelligent design theory aren't really very different. And for any rational purpose, it's an irrelevant interjection, because all it does it push back the "real debate" on complex life to another world and another intelligent life form.

Like creationism, your version of Intelligent Design isn't testable or nullable and doesn't actually attempt to explain a natural process, so it isn't really science to begin with. In short, the alien seed hypothesis, while plausible, isn't a useful idea at all.

[I've never seen another shirt like the one I am wearing right now. Is it reasonable to assume the manufacturer only made one because I have no evidence to the contrary? - Scott]
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 19, 2012
Scott, you are wiser than you know. According to the Kepler telescope there are over 50 billion planets in our Milky Way galaxy alone. And scientists now estimate that over 500 million of them are (what we consider) life-cable planets. http://www.zmescience.com/research/how-many-planets-are-in-the-milky-way-over-50-billion/

To say that there is no other life (as well as intelligent life) out there is completely ridiculous. Some of the life on these other planets could be millions of years ahead of us in terms of 'evolution'. You bet your arse they can travel through space, are very aware of us, and have been watching humans since the dawn of our existence on Earth. Many may have even worked together to 'seed' our DNA to make us the most perfect for our Earth environment. It's not out of the scope of possibility.

Of course some of these aliens have made contact with humans, it's just a big ole secret. But I think the general public is just about ready to handle the truth coming out.

Check out YouTube. There are TONS of recent videos by multiple people of 'UFO' sightings. Much more in the last 3 years than ever before. I think they're getting us used to the idea that we're not alone in the universe. And I think PUBLIC benevolent alien contact will be made as soon as 2015. Probably in Europe since they're more open to stuff like this over there than us fear-mongering North Americans!
Jun 19, 2012
Scott: your argument that due to the infinite nature of the universe, that a likely possibility therefore mathematically edges towards 99% probably isn't entirely right. In an infinite universe there is also the possibility of an infinite amount of variations.

1. Matter evolves towards life, sentience and informational processing as a pre-existing condition due to the laws of physics of this universe
2. Life seeded by aliens for future use
3. Inside simulation

Variations. Life seeded by aliens involves a lot of aliens, and a lot of inscrutable alien reasons. Maybe every alien does this once with their species as a backup. Maybe every alien does this once as proof of worth in order to join the galactic alliance.
Maybe god is an alien, and he *eats* information from organics of a sufficiently advanced form. Maybe the second coming is a weird future echo of when God returns, settles down over the earth, and sucks the souls (information and life) out of 95% of the population, leaving behind 5% to re-stock. That sounds a lot like the "left behind" stories.
To a super-advanced alien who views humans as ants, a simulation of humans might just be for fun, like we view the Sims. Maybe we're a sim, racing against another sim, to see who invents bacon-flavored edible underwear first. Maybe we're a video game. Our sentience might seem like a big deal, but to someone a few orders of magnitude up, maybe not.
Maybe carbon-based biological life is in fact just the growth stage of a space-born entity. Like your "intelligence is destiny" concept, maybe protein/carbon life eventually always evolves into one big super-being who's last act is to spit a wad of dna into space at a planet. That's its' lifecycle.
Maybe the super-being's lifecycle is so vast, it punches a whole in spacetime, starts a new universe, and makes a baby in it.
I can go on forever, but the point is, there's a lot of reasons. Any and or all could be true. We're just experiencing one of them.
Jun 19, 2012
He essentially pointing out that any evidence you might see of design in earth life can just as easily point to aliens as it can to a God or gods.
Jun 19, 2012
You realize that your three scenarios aren't mutually exclusive. For example, even if reality really is just a computer simulation we still could have evolved within that simulated reality. Similarly, just because a Super-Advanced Alien Race ("SAAR" henceforth) seeded ancient Earth with bits of primordial DNA doesn't mean that evolution-as-usual didn't take over from there. Evolution is just an elaborate Rube-Goldberg machine. It works the same regardless of what sets it off, be it the Big Bang, the Big Simulation, or the Big SAAR.

Also, there's nothing within evolutionary theory that could be interpreted as giving 'special' status to humanity. Quite the opposite, in fact. As far as evolution is concerned we're just another species and not a very successful one at that (compare our numbers to the number of insects in the world, for example). How do you get 'special' out of that? Seriously, I'm genuinely curious - on the off chance that you actually read this would you mind elaborating?
+18 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 19, 2012
>The absence of evidence for aliens is not evidence of absence.

That's not technically true. Absence of evidence IS in fact evidence of absence, even if it's not necessarily conclusive evidence. The line you're thinking of is "Absence of proof is not proof of absence". Substituting "evidence" for "proof" in this context unfortunately doesn't preserve logical validity
Jun 18, 2012
It took humans 5 billions years to evolve here. That's a length of time that human have not evolved sufficiently to contemplate. I don't think the traditional approach to evolution means humans are special. There is no evidence extraterrestrial life exits. (SETI is looking). Stars are incredibly far apart. If the earth was a basketball sitting in Texas, the nearest star is a basketball on Africa. That's far apart. As advanced as we are there is no way we come close to traveling like that. Science has not ruled it out, it merely stipulates that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Here's some quantum mechanics: if Many Worlds is true (and no one has proved it isn't) then there are lots of Earths where humans never evolved. Isn't that better than saying "humans are special"?
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 18, 2012
Yes, all three are possible.

However, in such cases (that is, having several theories explaining the same things and making the same predictions), scientists decide, entirely arbitrarily, to run with the simplest one until they hit a wall. (Occams razor)

Currently, evolution, coupled with "we don't yet know how life started" seems to fit that bill. Since the other two theories would eventually arrive at exactly the same question, we might as well try first to figure out how it could have happened on earth.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 18, 2012
@DilgalLives- ..."4. You're not a computer program, but the elaborate dream of an alien on a different planet. You're 'death' will involve the alien waking up and going "I shouldn't have eaten that 2nd serving of Zoblegroth last night.""

According to Scott we're all just moist robots; what you describe is still a program, just running in an alien head.

I think more to the point is reasonable people accept the theory that is both plausible AND has some supporting evidence. While Scott's conjectures may have some plausibility, there is no supporting evidence except what he (and perhaps others) have spewed forth. While the point is well taken about confirmation bias and our feelings of specialness shading our outlook, I'm going to go with the currently accepted theory of evolution until there's some reasonable evidence that a competing hypothesis may be true. Also I'm not convinced that there is anything very special about being the result of chemical processes that happened because they could; it's just fascinating. I don't care if there is a creator or not, until there's evidence of existence it doesn't exist except as conjecture.

+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 18, 2012
I never liked that evolution is used as an answer to the question of "Why are we here?" (or, "how did life begin?"). Evolution simply states that species are not static over time, and that new ones can come to exist where they did not before. Darwin theorized that the process driving evolution is natural selection, which is almost certainly true for many aspects of life.

Evolution does not disprove the existence of God--it simply disproves creationism.
Evolution does not provide a hypothesis for how life on earth started.
Evolution is not synonymous with natural selection. Evolution states that species are able to adapt to their surroundings so that only those with the best adaptations survive (survival of the fittest is also a bit misleading). Natural selection puts for the process by which species evolve. Evolution is roughly 100% scientific fact, while natural selection is 99% scientific fact. There are some interesting theories in that 1% for alternative means by which species may have evolved.
Jun 18, 2012
I thought of another version:

5. A planet much like ours, has beings that develop bomb capable of planetary distruction before they develop the ability to play nice with each other. After they blow the planet into little pieces, those bits are sent off as meteors in all directions. Over many light years, some bits wind up on other planets, where they seed life and start the self-destruct cycle all over again.
Jun 18, 2012
We chose the only idea that is supported by something other than pure conjecture.

I think your religious followers would say this is not the choice that makes us feel most special.

(I'll bet you never realized you had religious followers! That makes you a prophet or something!)

[The evidence that life can be created by normal physics, and that it evolves toward intelligence, suggests that it's probably happening elsewhere in the universe. If each of those other advanced planets decides to seed additional planets at some point in their development, eventually there must be more copies than originals. Since we don't know how fast other planets developed compared to us, we can make no judgement about whether we are more likely one of the originals or one of the copies. -- Scott]
Jun 18, 2012
Watched 2001: A Space Odyssey again, eh?
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 18, 2012
I don't know Scott. Alien seeding just seems like a variation of the "Turtles all the way down" point of view. It *really* does not address the primer mover issue at all; it just sidesteps it.
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 18, 2012
On a different, but related thought: if there are other advanced life forms out there, is trying to contact them really a good idea? Judging by human history, being "discovered" by explorers isn't so desirable. Just ask any native populations (if there are any left) how that's worked out for them.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 18, 2012
Kudos for beginning with a premise of a planet that is now lifeless, but previously had advanced life. Our imaginations seem to assume that other potentially advanced alien species would exist at the same time as us - which is highly unlikely. Humans have been around for maybe 80,000 - 200,000 years (depending on how you count "humans"). Dinosaurs existed for hundreds of millions - which is still short compared to the billions of the universe. The odds of our existences coinciding are low.
Jun 18, 2012
>By my count there are three non-God explanations for the observations used to support evolution.

Hmm, I can easily come up with other variations and alternatives.

1. In addition to the standard evolution theory that life here evolved over the milenium on its own, one or more comets or meteors could have 'seeded' it with additional ingredients or DNA. For example, a meteor that wiped out the Dinosaurs could have also contributed the DNA that lead to man.

2. You've assumed aliens have intentionally seeded the planet with some grand plan in mind. However, just like we've left stuff on the moon and Mars, they could have left stuff here that accidentally seeded the planet

3. I can't remember the name of Spielberg's canceled TV show, but what if life developed very slowly on this planet and before the planet's demise man had evolved to exploring space, but hadn't found an alternative planet. However, they could send some people back in time, so the apes from the original timeline haven't evolved into humans yet, and we're decended from the seeded humans.

4. You're not a computer program, but the elaborate dream of an alien on a different planet. You're 'death' will involve the alien waking up and going "I shouldn't have eaten that 2nd serving of Zoblegroth last night."

I'm sure there are lots of other alternatives.
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