Minimum Viable Theology: We Are Not Alone
This is part of a series on a Minimum Viable Theology. The idea is to see if we can construct a minimal theological starter kit, using only reasonable assumptions. The first entry is about why good wins. You should start there.
The Theistic Premise
Almost every society in history, from ancient goat-herders to scientists on the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, have embraced what I call “the theistic premise”. This is simply the idea that there’s someone bigger out there.
Of course, these societies have held wildly different notions as to what these hypothetical beings would be like—the SETI researchers are looking for beings similar to the ancient Roman gods, while others are hoping to find something more like the God of the Greek philosophers.
But regardless of whether we’re talking about an alien species, mystical beings, the creators of a simulation, super-beings of the far future, or something we have yet to envision—all of these societies have taken it for granted that human beings are not alone at the pinnacle of existence.
This theistic premise has driven both great good and great evil. It has fueled the construction of cities and civilizations, it has pushed explorers and scientists past the limits of the known world. It was the original force behind our desire to understand the stars, and it was the philosophy that launched the space race.
Without it, humanity would not have come this far. As a result, its imprint is indelibly on us.
A Reality With No Ceiling
Even without adding any other details or assumptions, the theistic premise has huge practical ramifications. If we assume that there’s someone bigger out there, then our reality has no ceiling.
Intelligence, wisdom, and knowledge are not bounded by the world we know. Compassion, creativity, and imagination do not top out with the limits of our experience. Even what it means to be a person can no longer be defined by reference to human anatomy. Our limited experience is radically decentralized, and our ability to contemplate the possible becomes a dynamic force in human life.
In fact, it completely shapes what we believe we are capable of.
In a reality with no ceiling, it’s plausible that we could go from traveling on foot, to flying through the air at hundreds of miles per hour. In a reality with no ceiling, it’s conceivable that we could go from farming, to collecting rocks on the moon, in just generations. In a reality with no ceiling, it’s reasonable to think that we could double life expectancy in just one lifetime.
But if reality is limited, then none of these things seem reasonable. Without the theistic premise, we have no reason to expect that things can be fundamentally different than they are.
At its core, the theistic premise is simply the claim that reality is unlimited. If reality is unlimited, then there’s someone bigger out there. If there’s no one else out there, then reality is severely constrained.
The Fermi Paradox & The New Pascal’s Wager
This conclusion is nothing more than a simple consideration of the nature of time, space, and probability. If you have an intelligent designer around, life can be created non-randomly. But even chance gets around to things eventually—whether that’s monkeys churning out the works of Shakespeare, or the spontaneous emergence of super-intelligent life.
All chance needs is a big enough universe, and enough rolls of the die.
But we seem to have a big enough universe, with plenty of space and time. This means that if there’s no one bigger out there, then something else is fundamentally limiting the existence of life.
And that’s very bad news for us.
This is why the Fermi Paradox is so worrying. Reality appears to be very big in every direction we can measure. So if there is no one else out there, then it must be constrained in some other way we cannot measure. Which would have ominous implications for the future of the human race.
If there is no one else out there, it probably means all intelligent species, across all space and time, die out. Quickly.
This is the realization at the core of all the recent interest in the Simulation Argument, the New God Argument, the Transcension Hypothesis, and the Great Filter. This whole topic has been called the new Pascal’s Wager—because are we alone? is not idle speculation, it’s a key indicator of our own future potential.
So we return to our premise in yet another form. If we have a future, then there’s someone bigger out there. If there’s no one bigger out there, then we have no future.
We Are Not Alone
The theistic premise works just as well across religious, philosophical, and scientific contexts, because it assumes no metaphysics and no knowledge other than what we all experience.
When contemplating our own existence, we are inevitably led to question: Are we the greatest thing there is? Or is there something greater?
Our answer to that question leads us in one direction or another. It leads us to either seek out that which is greater, and to aspire towards that greaterness ourselves—or to seek meaning in a reality with hard limits.
For all of human history, those have both been live options. And there have been brave individuals who made both options work brilliantly.
But for the majority of human society, it was worth holding out for hope. It was worth believing in our own future. It was worth trusting that there was someone bigger out there.
And that’s true for me as well.
If God is possible, then anything is possible. If God is impossible, then nothing is possible.
I choose to believe in the future, in humanity, and most of all, in possibility. Therefore, I accept the theistic premise, that there is someone bigger out there. I choose hope. And because I choose hope, I choose to believe that we are not alone.