David Gelernter, the well-known professor of computer science at Yale, grew up believing Darwin’s theory of the origin of life. Well, he doesn’t believe it any more: “There’s no reason to doubt that Darwin successfully explained the small adjustments by which an organism adapts to local circumstances: changes to fur density or wing style or beak shape. Yet there are many reasons to doubt whether he can answer the hard questions and explain the big picture—not the fine-tuning of existing species but the emergence of new ones. The origin of species is exactly what Darwin cannot explain.”
It is not uncommon for scientists to believe that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. After all, if “the ingredients for life are everywhere, and there are astronomically large numbers of stars and planets where it’s possible for life to have arisen, then we’d expect many instances in which intelligent aliens rose to prominence well before the advent of human life on Earth.” But maybe that’s all wrong. Maybe life is extremely rare, Ethan Siegel writes, and maybe it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the complexity that it exists on Earth:
“While we certainly owe it to ourselves to look for their presence with all the resources we can muster, we must confront the possibility that perhaps we’ve got it all wrong about just how common life in the universe is. Perhaps the ingredients and conditions on Earth don’t inevitably lead to life arising on a potentially habitable world beyond our planet. And even if life does arise elsewhere, it may be the case that it frequently fails to thrive. Maybe it’s the case that even successful life only rarely becomes complex, differentiated, or intelligent as we understand those terms. Or, quite possibly, it’s exceedingly rare that even intelligent life becomes technologically advanced. In all of space, as far as intelligent life goes, perhaps humanity is truly alone.”
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