Scott Pierson has kindly called my attention to this article from today’s Jerusalem Post about an important recent research discovery. I was already aware of the discovery and will probably write something about it for Meridian Magazine, but I had not seen this particular article, which provides a very accessible summary of the find: “Written records of biblical King David discovered by researchers: The stele was discovered in fragments in 1868 roughly 15 miles east of the Dead Sea and currently resides in the Louvre museum in Paris.”
For some background information about a separate but related find, please see this short blog entry of mine from 31 May 2019: “Tel Dan tells a lot.”
And, quite unconnected, this too is worthy of a look: “Biblical site where Jesus healed blind man excavated for public view: ‘Affirms Scripture’: ‘The Pool of Siloam and the Pilgrimage Road are among the most inspiring archeological affirmations of the Bible'”
Good grief: “The USC Trojans Come Out of the Locker Room and Line Up on the Practicum” And “The Death of Words” and “You Can’t Say That at Stanford” and “Stanford’s Silly Effort at Language Control.” And — well, why not? — “Critical Essays: The Purpose of Newspeak.” Double plus ungood, in my atavistic and reactionary opinion. “Ancient Dan,” indeed.
Intriguing: “James Webb Space Telescope discovers its first exoplanet. Here’s why that’s significant”
And, while that subject is on my mind, I think that I’ll return briefly once again to creating some draft notes based upon or, at some points, inspired by my recent reading of Michael Guillen’s Believing is Seeing: A Physicist Explains How Science Shattered His Atheism and Revealed the Necessity of Faith (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Refresh, 2021).
The Italo-American scientist Enrico Fermi, who had received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1938, is probably best known for demonstrating the first human-created, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction at the University of Chicago very near the end of 1942. In 1950, though, he famously asked an important question, which is now remembered as the “Fermi Paradox”: The Universe is inconceivably vast — astronomers’ current estimates put the number of stars or suns in our Milky Way Galaxy alone at somewhere between 100 billion and 400 billion, and estimate the number of galaxies more or less like ours to be around 100 billion or 200 billion. Given numbers so incredibly large, surely there must be intelligent life forms out there, somewhere. It seems only reasonable. So, Fermi asked, where are they? Why haven’t we heard from them? Why have we seen no sign of them?
Michael Guillen earned his doctorate from Cornell University, where he studied under, among others, the once-prominent astrophysicist, astronomer, science writer, and television star Carl Sagan (1934-1996) and the astronomer and astrobiologist Frank Drake (28 May 1930-2 September 2022). Professors Sagan and Drake were both deeply involved in SETI, the “search for extraterrestrial intelligence.”
Frank Drake is particularly associated with what is often called “the Drake Equation,” which some have described as the second most famous equation in all of science after Einstein’s E = mc2:
- N = the number extraterrestrial of civilizations with which communication might be possible (i.e. which are on the current past light cone);
- R∗ = the average rate of potentially life-sustaining star formation in our Galaxy
- fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
- ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
- fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point
- fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations)
- fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
- L = the length of time oveer which such civilizations release detectable signals into space
Professor Drake created the equation not so much to derive a precise actual value for N as to generate discussion.
The fact is, though, is that we seem to be no closer to the discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life — or even, perhaps, to the discovery of extraterrestrial life in any form at all, though some tantalizing hints arise from time to time — than we were nearly three quarters of a century ago when the “Fermi Paradox” was first publicly asked.
In an article for the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, a group of researchers at the University of Oxford argued that people have been assigning overly optimistic values to the variables in the Drake Equation, probably out of a desire for an encouraging result. (Some had estimated no fewer than 1,000 — and perhaps as many as 100,000,000 — intelligent civilizations per galaxy.) So the Oxford team assigned what they regarded as more realistic values to the seven factors in the equation and came up with a median predicted number of as low as 0.00000000000000000000000000000000008 — put into words, an eight preceded by thirty-four zeroes. Dr. Guillen comments as follows:
[T]he authors concluded, “We find a substantial probability that we are alone in our galaxy, and perhaps even in our observable universe.” If any LGM [Little Green Men] do exist out there somewhere, the authors add, they’re somewhere over the rainbow — “quite possibly beyond the cosmological horizon and forever unreachable.” (155)
Dr. Guillen believes that our failure to contact or be contacted by intelligent extraterrestrial life forms suggests the sheer improbability of random abiogenesis in the first place:
“Biochemical systems are exceedingly complex, so much so that the chance of their being formed through random shufflings of simple organic molecules is exceedingly minutes, to a point indeed where it is insensibly different from zero,” explains British astronomer and Atheist Sir Fred Hoyle, whom I had the pleasure of getting to know. “For life to have originated on the Earth it would be necessary that quite explicit instructions should have been provided for its assembly.”
“The probability that at ordinary temperatures a macroscopic number of molecules is assembled to give rise to the highly ordered structures and to the coordinated functions characterizing living organisms is vanishingly small,” concurs the Russian-born Belgian physical chemist and Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine, whom I also had the pleasure of knowing. “The idea of spontaneous genesis of life in its present form is therefore highly improbable, even on the scale of the billions of years during which prebiotic evolution occurred.” (153-154)