SETI, religious dimension

It has been suggested that SETI, and pluralism in general, has some of the hallmarks of an alternative or quasi-religion. As pointed out by Frank Tipler,1 this tends to be supported by some of the statements made by leading researchers in the field, including Frank Drake and Carl Sagan. Drake, for example, writes:


I fear we have been making a dreadful mistake by not focusing all searches ... on the detection of the signals of the immortals. For it is the immortals we will most likely discover... An immortal civilization's best assurance of safety would be to make other species immortal like themselves, rather than risk hazardous military adventures. Thus we could expect them to spread actively the secrets of their immortality among the young, technically developing civilizations.


Sagan, too, although scathing of the messianic motives of some saucer enthusiasts, has suggested that the mere detection of an extraterrestrial radio signal would provide "an invaluable piece of knowledge: that it is possible to avoid the dangers of the period through which we are now passing..." Furthermore, according to Sagan, "it is possible that among the first contents of such a message may be detailed prescriptions for the avoidance of technological disaster, for a passage through adolescence to maturity."


If the search for other intelligent life has some of the elements of a religious or spiritual quest, then "first contact" is the closest equivalent of the sought-for epiphany. This idea is apparent, for example, in Sagan's novel Contact2 and, even more so, in the motion picture based upon it.3, 4



1. Tipler, F. J. "Additional Remarks on Extraterrestrial Intelligence," Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 22, 288 (1981).
2. Sagan, Carl. Contact. New York: Simon & Schuster (1985).
3. O'Malley, W. J. "Carl Sagan's Gospel of Scientism," America, 144, 95 (February 7, 1981).
4. Short, Robert. The Gispel from Outer Space. San Francisco: Harper & Row (1982).