Still Searching for SETI

Bill Fawcett (editor). Making Contact: A Serious Handbook for Locating and Communicating with Extraterrestrials. William Morrow, 1997.

A serious handbook? There were times when reading this book that I began to wonder if it weren't in part a huge put on, with its lists of equipment you need to have in order to meet aliens, including the string to make cats' cradles for communication. Overall it is a collection of pieces bringing ufologists and exobiologists together. There are naive pro-ETH summaries of well-known UFO cases by a William R Fortstchen Ph D, a useful summary of the history of the contact myth by Jerome Clark, the usual agonising by exobiologists as to why the aliens haven't long ago landed and taken over (obviously they're not impressed by the evidence presented by the ufologists).

Perhaps the highlight of the book are a couple of anonymous contributions from Michael Swords (though anonymous their authorship is not in doubt, they clearly have his style and beliefs) in one of which he explains that the reason why Stephen J. Gould (and I would guess at least 90 per cent of other evolutionary biologists) believe that aliens would be very different from ourselves, and would be the product of their biosphere's unique history, is because "They believe in a Darwinian model of evolutionary change ... [in which] evolution is a totally random process, with no guiding force ... How could such dogma have found its way into science ... Materialism is one of the fundamental tenants of Darwinian evolutionary science ... there can be no design or purpose to the universe. A thinker who has already accepted such a statement. .. cannot even imagine that ETs would show any similarity to humans." (p 205)

So Jerome Clark's pet expert on exobiology turns out to be someone who rejects the central paradigm of evolutionary biology on religious grounds, and adopts the sort of 'everybody's out of step but me' attitude that one comes to associated with 'unconventional thinkers'. Ho hum. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 64, August 1998.

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