The Fermi Paradox in Light of Moses 1:33-39

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Introduction / What is the Fermi Paradox?

The Fermi Paradox is a highly speculative scientific question that was famously elucidated in 1950 at the Los Alamos National Laboratory during one or several casual lunchtime conversations between physicists Emil Konopinski, Edward Teller, Herbert York, and Enrico Fermi. During one of these conversations, in which the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence had been discussed, Fermi suddenly asked the question: "But where is everybody?"

There was general laughter around the table at Fermi’s outburst, for all knew that he was talking about extraterrestrials. And all likewise knew that there was no evidence of any human contact with any extraterrestrial life-forms, either by physical visitation or by long-range communication. Yet, given the enormous age and size of the galaxy in which Earth’s sun orbits, in comparison with the young age of our solar system, there must have arisen many intelligent extraterrestrial species that were capable of at least radio transmission if not space travel. And if many arose, many still must have existed long enough for us to have detected the radio transmissions that they would have emitted since our discovery of radio communications. Yet nothing had been detected by 1950 when this conversation took place.

It gets worse, in fact, since compared to today, our capability of detecting faint signals back then was extremely limited. But even with our current sophistication, which enables us to detect and understand the vanishingly faint emissions of our furthest-traveled space probes , we still hear nothing of any intelligence from outside our solar system. Nor is there any evidence that the earth has been visited by any space-faring extraterrestrials at any time.

Since this paradox is not some officially recognized theory or puzzle, there is no “official” version of it. The paradox usually includes both physical visitation of intelligent alien species and at least one-way communication with them. Since the problems of interstellar travel are of a different and a couple of orders of magnitude more difficult than those of simple one-way communications (i.e. “Can we hear them?”), and there’s no evidence of physical visitation, we need only consider one-way communications via radio waves. Two-way communication would necessarily have to start with one-way, in any case.

The human race has been using radio for long distance broadcast communications for about 100 years. We’ve been listening for radio signals from extraterrestrials since shortly after the dawn of the Radio Era, at first occasionally, and in later years continuously. So far, nothing has been heard. There was one short signal that briefly ignited interest (this was called the “Wow! Signal”), but nothing ever came of it.

So, where are they all? And why haven’t we heard anything?

The Generally Proposed Solutions

Many solutions for the paradox have been proposed. Some of them are depressing. The following set of solutions is not exhaustive. In fact, there is no official list of solutions, simply because there is no scholarly agreement, or for that matter, much in the way of scholarship on the subject. But the following list does include at least the sense of most of the proposals that have been made.

It is worth pointing out that it isn’t necessary that only one solution solves the paradox. It is perfectly reasonable that multiple solutions co-exist, though of course some of them may be mutually exclusive.

Note that the grouping and reference numbers below are those devised by the author of this essay, and do not represent any generally-accepted organizational scheme. To refer to a particular solution in this essay the author uses the format of [Group].[Item]. For example, “3.1” refers to “Intelligent civilizations are too far apart in space or time, and human beings have not existed long enough to detect them.”

  1. Basic Solutions
    1. No other intelligent species have arisen, and we are alone in this enormous universe.
    2. Extraterrestrial life is rare.
    3. Periodic extinction by natural events, such as asteroid impacts, destroy most intelligent species before or not long after they arise.
    4. It is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself – all advanced civilizations tend to destroy themselves either by warfare or environmental degradation.
  2. Technological Solutions
    1. Civilizations broadcast detectable radio signals only for a brief period of time – after which their radio signals use much lower power, or use technological means that we cannot detect (e.g. “subspace” or ansible ).
    2. Few intelligent alien species develop sufficiently advanced technologies.
  3. Statistical Solutions
    1. Intelligent civilizations are too far apart in space or time, and human beings have not existed long enough to detect them.
    2. The intelligent civilizations that do exist in our galaxy are located too far from our solar system.
    3. Everyone is listening but no one is transmitting
  4. Psychological Solutions
    1. Xenophobia. Those civilizations which reach a degree of technological capability in order to be able to communicate over interstellar distances have chosen to stop doing so because of a fear of invasion/contamination.
    2. Intelligent alien species tend to isolate themselves, not necessarily because of fear, but because of disinterest in communication with alien civilizations.
  5. Political Solutions
    1. Earth is deliberately not contacted or is purposely isolated. The galaxy contains one or more Interstellar “Federations” who know of our species, but due to either some kind of Prime Directive or feelings of disgust, have chosen to keep us isolated and uncontacted.
    2. Earth is already a constituent of one or another interstellar empire or federation, and is being secretly guided by the leaders of this polity along a path that will eventually lead to full admission into that polity. In other words, we’ve already been contacted, but the knowledge of contact is kept secret for the time being. Or, in other words, there is no actual Paradox.

The Most Likely Non-theological Solution

Aside from the proposal being presenting in this essay, it seems to the author that the most likely reason why we haven’t heard from any communicating alien civilization comes from a recent paper coming out of the University of Nottingham, England. It suggests:

“…we find that in the most limited case, which we describe as the Strong Copernican Astrobiological limit, that there should be a minimum of 36 communicating civilizations in the galaxy today, assuming the average lifespan of these civilizations is 100 years. The nearest of these would be at a maximum distance given by 17000 light-years, making communication or even detection of these systems nearly impossible with present technology.”

This clearly falls within the arena of Fermi Paradox solutions 3.1 and 3.2, or, in other words, either intelligent civilizations are too far apart in space or time, and human beings have not existed long enough to detect them, or the intelligent civilizations that do exist in our galaxy are located too far from our solar system. There is, however, another, rather more speculative solution, one which is bound up in a specific theology.

A Theological Solution

None of the proposed solutions to the Fermi Paradox address the possibility that there is a Creator who has his own agenda. It happens that there is no biblical Judeo-Christian theological solution to the Paradox, simply because the Bible doesn’t concern itself with extraterrestrial matters at all, except possibly in connection with the creation of the sun, moon, and stars, and then only as a matter of mention without any deeper consideration. And there is likewise, so far as this writer is aware, no non-biblical theological tradition that concerns itself with these matters.

There is, however, a very singular theological tradition, a very recent one, that does so concern itself, at least tangentially. That tradition is the Restoration theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In order to better understand the context in which this answer to Fermi is found, it is necessary to take a brief detour to describe the origins of the Church, and the sacred text where the answer can be found.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, long known by the nickname “Mormon church” because of its sacred scripture called The Book of Mormon, has been on the scene since its founder, Joseph Smith, officially organized the Church in New York state in the United States in 1830. Smith’s reason for the organization of the Church, which is broadly Christian in doctrine, was commandments received by Smith via direct revelation from God. These revelations included God’s declaration that the then extant Christian churches of the world were in apostasy, and that His authorized servants, Smith and those whom he would call by revelation for the purpose, were to re-establish Christ’s fully authorized Church upon the earth. This Church would be a restoration of the original Christian church founded by the original twelve apostles after the death and resurrection of Christ, having all the power and authority of that original church.

In order to provide evidence of divine imprimatur for the new Church, Smith had been directed to bring forth a new book of scripture, The Book of Mormon. The source of this book of scripture was an ancient record, comprised of engraved characters upon metallic plates , whose place of burial Smith had been shown in vision by the last custodian of the record, now a resurrected being. It was to be Smith’s divinely-appointed task to translate the record into English so that it could be published to the world as a sign of God’s authorization.

Since Smith was a farmer’s son, with a farmer’s son’s education, there was no way he could translate anything into any language, let alone a book written in an extinct language using an unknown writing system. Accordingly, God provided to Smith divine means for the purpose. After the work was done and the English-language manuscript had been completed, the book was published in 1830 by a local printer in Palmyra, New York. A week or so after the book was made available to the public, the Church that Smith had been directed to established was officially organized, with Smith as president.

But the Book of Mormon was only the first scriptural work that Smith brought forth. Subsequent works included a number of revelations received by Smith for the purpose of guiding the Church in its early days (later published as Doctrine and Covenants), and a short record made by the patriarch Abraham. The latter work is nowadays published as the Pearl of Great Price in a single volume with a revealed scriptural account of the ancient prophet Moses, called the Book of Moses. For our purposes in connection with the Fermi Paradox, it is to the first chapter of this Book of Moses that we now turn.

The events described in Moses chapter 1 are portrayed as taking place sometime after God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush but before Moses had returned to Egypt to deliver the children of Israel. In this chapter Moses has a conversation with God in which God reveals His purpose for this earth and its inhabitants, and coincidentally tells Moses that this earth is not the only world that God created for this purpose. The most relevant part of chapter one of the Book of Moses are verses 33 to 39:

33 And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.
34 And the first man of all men have I called Adam, which is many.
35 But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.
36 And it came to pass that Moses spake unto the Lord, saying: Be merciful unto thy servant, O God, and tell me concerning this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, and also the heavens, and then thy servant will be content.
37 And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine.
38 And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words.
39 For behold, this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

A verse by verse analysis of this passage is interesting in itself, but for the connection with the Fermi Paradox, it is in verse 35 that we find a divine solution to the Paradox:

35 But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.

In this verse of the revelation it is revealed that many worlds God has created for His many children have “passed away”, and that many “now stand”. In Latter-day Saint theology, human beings will dwell upon this earth until a particular point has been reached, after which that “earth shall pass away”:

38 And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words.

It is in this verse that we learn that God will continue to create worlds, allow them to serve as homes for His children, and then they will “pass away.” What this passing away consists of we are not told, but it is easy enough to imagine that a great change occurs, presumably a change which does not involve a communicating civilization . This seems to coincide with general Christian eschatology, which envisions an “end time” in which global conflict escalates until Christ returns again in physical form, to bring a period of universal peace that will last for a thousand years, after which the earth has fulfilled its purpose and presumably “passes away.”

If the scripture in Moses 1 is true, which is to say that it expresses God’s true will and intent, we are likely to never hear an extraterrestrial radio signal, because very soon after reaching the technological capability to receive and broadcast such signals, all civilizations “pass away” to a higher plane.

The above solution to the Fermi Paradox obviously falls within the purview of Fermi Paradox Solution 3.1, but for an entirely different reason:

Intelligent civilizations are too far apart in space or time, and human beings have not existed long enough to detect them. [And in context with Moses 1:33-39, we will not exist long enough to do so.]

However, it also falls within the purview of Fermi Paradox Solution 5.2:

Earth is already a constituent of one or another interstellar empire or federation, and is being secretly guided by the leaders of this polity along a path that will eventually lead to full admission into that polity. In other words, we’ve already been contacted, but the knowledge of contact is kept secret for the time being. Or, in other words, there is no actual Paradox.

Of course it falls within this purview because for all practical purposes, God would constitute an intergalactic empire, and is guiding us secretly towards full admission into His kingdom as individuals as well as a species or race.