SETI – Context Matters

As we have seen, the science of archaeology and forensics rely extensively on our knowledge about humans, so they are not analogous to ID.  But what about SETI?  We have no extensive knowledge about ETI.  We don’t even know if any exist.  That’s the whole point of SETI – a search for the existence of ETI.

While SETI is an investigation that formulates a hypothesis and tests its hypothesis, I do not consider SETI science anymore than I consider a search for Bigfoot to be science.  And recall that I have argued that just because we are talking about an investigation that generates testable hypotheses does not mean the investigation is science.

Yet as Bilbo says, “even if Mike wouldn’t consider SETI to be science, I think most scientists would.”

As an aside, we might note most scientists don’t think ID is science either.  We can’t say that SETI is science because most scientists think it is, but ID is science despite the fact that most scientists don’t think it is.

But do most scientists think SETI is science? I have not seen any survey data to support this claim.  SETI enthusiasts often promote and defend this view, but that is to be expected.  In our culture, we are conditioned to think if it is not science, it is not intellectually worthy. But without some solid survey data, I can just as easily state that most scientists don’t think SETI is science and end the whole argument here.

Yet let’s imagine that most scientists, when asked, would be willing to label SETI as science.  At that point, we would have to consider the possibility that most scientists were being charitable, while not giving much thought to their answer.  Why say this?  One could say that most scientists see no problem with the possibility that ETI exists and have no problem with SETI trying to come up with a way to detect its existence.  Yet for the most part, they don’t think about the issue much and really don’t care about the issue much.  So, since SETI is behaving a responsible manner exploring a granted possibility, they get the science designation from other scientists as a matter of charity.  In other words, context matters. To see this, let’s change the context of SETI.

Imagine that SETI insisted that ETI did indeed exist.  They do this because of SETI proponents spend a lot of time reformulating the Drake equation in ways that convince only the SETI proponents.  Their search is now just an attempt to confirm what they already believe.

Imagine further that SETI has many connections to the UFO movement as part of some big tent approach.  And, as it turns out, the UFO movement is actively engaged in getting SETI taught in the science classrooms of public schools.  To support this lobbying, the UFO movement relies extensively on the SETI people’s arguments.  And, as it turns out, many of the SETI researchers also accept the existence of UFOs and attend UFO meetings.

Then, a document is leaked from the UFO group which shows that once they can get SETI taught in the public schools, they plan on using this as a wedge  to introduce UFOology into the science classrooms.

Imagine further that all of this is played out in the mainstream media.

Now, go back and poll your scientists against this backdrop – is SETI science?  So you still think most scientists would consider SETI science?

Remember, the survey data is about a group perception and as with all perception, context matters.

One response to “SETI – Context Matters

  1. Hi Mike,

    My argument isn’t “SETI is science, because most scientists believe it is science.”

    I was responding to what I believed to be your argument, that scientists rule out design explanations, when there is no independent evidence of a designer. My argument was, in effect, “They don’t rule out design in the case of SETI, which means when they rule it out in the case of ID, they are either being inconsistent or basing it on other reasons.”

    I don’t know of any survey of scientists regarding SETI. But then I haven’t heard of any scientists objecting to SETI’s line of reasoning, have you (other than yourself)? What I do hear them object to is the probability of ever receiving such a signal.

    I agree that if SETI became a politico/religious movement as ID has, then scientists would be much more hesitant to acknowledge SETI as science. But then their hesitancy wouldn’t be based on scientific reasons, but on sociological ones.

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