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An increasingly popular belief, spurred on by the recent discovery of other planetary bodies, is that there are incalculable numbers of sentient creatures throughout the universe. I agree that if there is the slightest chance that such creatures exist, we must use every means to discover the evidence. Actual contact with extraterrestrial beings would be a momentous event in human history; all other matters that now occupy human attention would shrink to insignificance. But based on the history of the evolution of intelligent life on this planet, I believe it is very unlikely that there are creatures out there either listening for us or signaling their own presence. For decades we have been sending episodes of “Dragnet” and “I Love Lucy” (not to mention “Third Rock from the Sun”) across the galaxy and beyond. So far, there is no evidence that extraterrestrial fans are about to influence Nielson ratings.

As an aside, in the spirit of this volume, it gives me no pleasure at all to propose that we are unique and alone in the universe. The hubris of our species certainly needs no augmentation; we seem intent on destroying our own planet for ephemeral creature comforts, while at the same time murdering each other on an increasingly relentless scale. The history of the twentieth century, when wars expanded from contests between male warriors to include attacks on civilian populations, has resulted in a slaughter on a scale that exceeds any other in the blood-spattered history of our species.

Centuries of progress in moral philosophy seem irrelevant in the face of attacking armies. If, as believed by some, Homo sapiens is the ultimate goal and crown jewel of evolution, one might wistfully ask why the process of evolution could not have produced a kinder, gentler, less rapacious, less murderous species. Unfortunately, the answer to such a question is deeply rooted in the same processes of natural selection - processes driven by amoral, ruthless competition - that produced all species, including ourselves.G. G. Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,1949); Ernst Mayr, What Evolution Is (New York: Basic Books, 2001); George C. Williams, Adaptation and Natural Selection (Princeton,...Very few today believe that the “meek will inherit the earth.” If there truly are experiments in intelligence in progress on other planets, one hopes that at least some of these experiments will produce more benign and less rapacious creatures than ourselves. Sadly, even this thin reed of hope seems quite unlikely; the overwhelming evidence from the history of this planet is that the blind, uncaring, amoral processes of natural selection pit organisms against each other in a struggle for survival. Although this process has been documented in every species that has been carefully studied, the process could not be more manifest than in the history and prehistory of our own lineage.Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson, Demonic Males (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1996).Furthermore, no scientist has proposed a credible model for evolution other than by natural selection.

Contributed by: Dr. Irven DeVore

Cosmic Questions

Are We Alone? Topic Index
Not Likely


Is there other Life in the Universe?
Could E.T. Call Home?
Chance, Competition, and Catastrophe
The Rise and Near Extinction of Early Primates
The Improbable Path to Advanced Intelligence
The Origins of Human Intelligence
The Hominid Lineage


Irven DeVore

Related Media:

Is There Intelligent Life Elsewhere in the Universe?
Did the Universe Have a Beginning?
Was the Universe Designed?
Are We Alone?
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Hubble Deep Field Animation
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