Over the past few semesters there seems to have been an upsurge in interest in "fringe" topics and pseudoscience among my students. I’m not sure it is surge in interest so much as a maybe an increase militancy among some students to present challenges to the scientific opinion, and in some cases rather strenuously. (During the Fall semester one student became verbally abusive in class during a discussion on Earth’s atmosphere and the somewhat peripheral topic of global climate change). Just yesterday, 3 weeks after the Spring semester end, I received an email from a Spring student regarding the idea of extraterrestrial visitations to Earth.
Of course there is nothing new in my response, but I have decided to post the question, along with my response, here.
From: (Name withheld)
I wanted to say thank you for a great semester. Though my attendance wasn’t as good as I would have liked (I wanted an A in the class but my lack of attendance carried over to my knowledge on the subject matter, hence the B). This is my fault not my own. [?sic?]
I want to ask. I know I have asked this question before but I must ask again – this question may sound looney. Do you think this planet has EVER been visited by extra terrestrials? And if so, do you have any reliable sources that you could e-mail me? Please e-mail me back with your response at your earliest convenience! I intend for this e-mail to be light hearted
P.S. HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT WE’VE NEVER BEEN VISITED!?!?!?!?!?!?
I have never seen any good evidence, nor do I have any good reason to believe, that Earth has ever been visited by any extraterrestrials. It is a question that I have considered for more than 40 years and there simply is no good reason to believe that aliens have ever visited Earth. I have looked at it all (at least all categories, not all the specific stories and reports) from von Däniken’s "Chariots of the Gods" and claims about "Ancient Astronauts" to modern UFO reports, "close encounter" claims, crop circles and what have you. While it is not possible to categorically deny 100% any possibility that Earth has been visited by extraterrestrials, there are very good reasons to doubt.
For one thing, there is the rather impressive lack of evidence. True, there have been many photos, films, videos and claims, but none are outside the realm of fakery and hoaxing, and many have been clearly shown to be misinterpretation of mundane objects or events, or have been clearly demonstrated to be falsified. Despite conspiracists’ claims of government cover-ups, there has never been a sample of an alien material that could not be terrestrial, never a verifiable case of direct contact with aliens, and never a body or a live alien for science to study. Just as with Bigfoot and ghosts, TV producers and film makers grow rich with sensational stories and claims, but never produce any significant evidence. You may read reports in supermarket rags about some "expert" somewhere who claims to have evidence, but that "evidence" is never subjected to any kind of reasonable scientific process.
"Evidences" in the form of ancient monuments and artifacts, are sketchy by any standard, and a simple application of "Occam’s Razor" shows that there are far simpler explanations than that they are the result of extraterrestrials. Does it make sense, for example, to discount human ability and insist instead that the Egyptian Pyramids could only have been built with alien help and/or technology? Not by my brand of reasoning.
Photos and videos can be easily edited, manipulated or simply faked, especially today. If you have any doubts, just go watch any modern science fiction movie or TV show. In fact, there are those out there who are producing fake videos specifically to show how easily it is done. (Check out "The Faking Hoaxer" on YouTube, and in particular the video called "The Sydney Incident"). Some old photos and videos would have been harder to fake, but I can see no reason why it would not have been possible. A small number of photos and videos and incidents are difficult to discount, but that does not in any way mean that they are the result of aliens, present or ancient.
You must also ask why aliens would visit Earth, a small planet orbiting an unremarkable star in the outback of the Milky Way. Set aside the enormous problems Physics sees with the concept of moving close to the speed of light (not to mention the chances of going faster). Even assuming that travel through the Universe via warp drives or wormholes or star gates is possible, we still have to consider how unimaginably huge the Milky Way. And the Milky Way is only one of probably 200 billion galaxies in the Universe. We have been putting out radio signals for something like 150 years, which yields an amazingly small sphere of detectability in a very large galaxy. Any extraterrestrials, if they do indeed exist, would have to be within that 150 light year distance even to detect us in that manner, and in ancient times it would not have been possible at all. True, they could have lucked upon us, or could have detected some biologic marker in the spectrum of light reflected from our tiny planet. In fact, there is no telling what greater technologies will be able to do, nor do we have any guide as to how extraterrestrials would think or what reasons they might have to come here. But based on clear-headed human logic, there seems to be very little.
I like science fiction. I like speculation. No one would be more thrilled than I to find good, solid, incontrovertible evidence of alien visitation of Earth. Two of my favorite movies of all time are "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (original) and "2001: A Space Odyssey." Both involve alien intelligences whose presences are learned by incontrovertible physical evidence. In "2001" the alien intelligence visited Earth before the dawn of civilization, an ancient astronaut so to speak. I had the honor or meeting the author, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, and spending several hours with him at his home in Sri Lanka. He was an amazing man, a true visionary. But the book and movie are fiction. I would so like something like that to be true, but without solid evidence, to me the idea is no more than fanciful thinking.
I remain a confirmed skeptic…. an ancient astronaut agnostic if you will. I admit that I cannot completely discount the concept any more than I can prove or disprove the existence of Big Foot, ghosts, unicorns or Hawaiian Menehune. The bottom line is that without clear evidence, anyone can claim almost anything (and frequently do).
I see no good evidence for extraterrestrial visitors, ancient or otherwise. But I would be thrilled if any such evidence ever is found.
(P.S., I have no photos of extraterrestrials, but the closest I could come was some ominous looking clouds photographed from my front yard in Denver.)