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Saturday, June 3, 2023

Creating Alien Aliens: Philosophy, Aliens, Galileo, and Other Stuff Necessary For World-Building

NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, CA in August 2018 (to which I be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I would jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. But not today. This explanation is reserved for when I dash “off topic”, sometimes reviewing movies, sometimes reviewing books, and other times taking up the spirit of a blog an old friend of mine used to keep called THE RANTING ROOM…

I know I’m a few years behind, but I just checked out a copy of LONELY PLANETS: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life by David Grinspoon. He does, of course, have a “doctor” in front of his name, but it appears that he doesn’t use it very often. He also has the endorsement of Neil deGrasse Tyson – the quintessential new face of astronomy and the immediate successor to Carl Sagan. Tyson wrote that Grinspoon’s book “…brings together what has never before been synthesized…he is a planetary scientist as well as dreamer, born of the space age.”

As is apparent to anyone who reads my blog, I LOVE aliens! I write about aliens! I do (guardedly) believe that there is intelligent life “out there, somewhere” – HOWEVER, I don’t believe that we have any real proof yet and that it is, at this point, an intellectual and philosophical exercise. Be that as it may, I’ve only read the first 20 or so pages of Grinspoon’s book and skimmed his website (, but I find myself looking forward to following this guy for some time to come!

My main reason for noting him today is that he fully and completely believes that science and faith don’t HAVE to be at war. In fact, he blithely pops the balloon that many, many, many, many science-oriented-Humans float use as proof that science is smart and faith is unintelligent.

Let me go back a few years (…well, more than a few), when I was an 8th grade Earth science teacher. At the beginning of my last two years and then for the next 11 years, I showed an old, old, old (1997) video tape called, "Junk Science: What You Know That May Not Be So", by “mild shock jock”, John Stossel. It was my attempt to get eighth graders (and later, ninth graders) to THINK and challenge their beliefs.

Later on, we also watched a movie called “Galileo: The Challenge of Reason” – it was frequently used when middle school and early high school science classes looked at the philosophy of science. "There are lots of things philosophers of science science differs from other human activities, what grounds its body of knowledge, what features are essential to scientific engagement with phenomena, etc. This means that...trying to find the line between science and non-science, the logic with which scientific claims are grounded...the relation between theory and empirical data, and working out the common thread that unites many disparate scientific fields -- assuming such a common thread exists." (

I'd also engage the kids in astronomy classes (all of which I taught at one point or another (“from 5th grade to physics” is what I would tell people, or “from astronomy to zoology”). The particular film I used, available through our school’s media department as a film (in the late 80s and through the 90s), was very hostile to the Church of the time and painted Galileo as a hero of reason and the Church the enemy of intelligence. I tried to point out that even in the movie, Galileo wasn’t tried just because he found planets. He was tried because he challenged the political authority of the political Church of the time.

I walked a lonely road for a long time, but Grinspoon offers some evidence that backs what I’ve always believed: “Galileo caught hell from the Church. In what has become a modern myth of science’s collision with biblical authority, he was brought before the Inquisition, forced to recant his Copernican beliefs, and lived out his days under house arrest (p 14)…Nicolas of Cusa, a German ecclesiastic, wrote OF LEARNED IGNORANCE, a widely celebrated book that exuberantly rejected Aristotle’s hierarchical, Earth-centered cosmology, advocating in its place, a universe bustling with life on every star…Cusa was made a cardinal.

So why did the Church celebrate Cusa and, 150 years later, condemn Galileo?

It's a problem that American politics has recently dealt with in our own government. So the Church faced something similar because, “Galileo was a tactless boor…he seemed to go out of his way to piss off the Church authorities with his know-it-all comments on Scripture…in his DIALOGUE CONCERNING THE TWO CHIEF WORLD SYSTEMS…the character who played the role of doubting the Copernican system was a pompous ass…name[d] Simplico…who gave voice to the views of Pope Urban VIII…[making] his claims when the Church was threatened by the Reformation…[and] before the ashes of…a Dominican friar monk…had cooled…[who] believed in an infinite cosmos filled with life virtually everywhere. He is often mentioned in the same breath with Galileo as another martyr for Copernicanism and science in general…[though that] was a minor offense compared to his sorcery, pantheism, and denial of Christ’s divinity…” (page 16)

All of this to make a couple of points.

First, there are a number of issues that currently appear to be science versus “stupid”. Among them, climate change, vaccination, organic foods, nuclear power, and “the opioid addiction epidemic”. I might tackle all of them if I decide to write a series, but for now I’ll stick with one.

For now, I want to point out that each of the subjects above have served to divide the people who live in a technologically advanced civilization and its scientists. I'll call them the "livers".

The engineers who regularly produce the scientific and technological advances that create the small slice of the world that holds a technologically advanced civilization inhabits, I'll call "creaters" (NOT creators in this particular instance.).

Grinspoon attempts to shine a bit more light on what at first seems to be a simple situation of the irrational Church lashing out against the Truth of Science in the issue of the centricity of Humanity in the universe.

I’m going to apply this attitude liberally to climate change. First, I will say that “Of course Humans have an impact on the planet, contributing to global warming. However…I don’t think Humanity has CAUSED it.” I think we give ourselves far too much credit. Fact: when in sunlight, there is no visible evidence of Humans on Earth from orbit. Night is a different story; and there is abundant evidence that “something” is here on the EM spectrum.

Many in the scientific community attribute the “livers” with stupidity, claiming that they must take the words of “creaters” as unadulterated Truth because "livers" don't know as much as "creaters" do. "Creaters" like Galileo, dismiss their own attitude as having any sort of impact on Science.

Proponents of AGW dismiss their own impact on climate change by repeatedly making the UN Climate Change Conferences indistinguishable from parties. They are most often held in world class cities (the list:

While I am sure that they are held in these cities because they are easily accessible, some of the places – Kyoto, Buenos Aires, Bali, Cancun, and Paris are ALSO well-known vacation spots. If I can ask this question (I’m no PhD, just a science middle school and high school teacher; and in case you were wondering, a labor union member since I was 16), I’m sure others can think of it: why is the IPCC holding its conferences in the vacation-spots-of-the-world? They could, for lower cost, hold them in Fargo, North Dakota; Mumbai, India; Hiroshima, Japan (what BETTER way to make a statement?)

Another question that leaps to mind is, “How did they get there and what was the carbon footprint of the COP/CMPs?” At a bare minimum, the Paris conference hosted two individuals who appeared there after flying in private jets. None of the participants addressed their own impact on the environment – it appeared (at least to me) that because they were so concerned about AGW, their actions were excused. Perhaps one of the challenges scientists face is similar to the challenge the Church faces as well: they believe their methodology and proclamations are unassailable by anyone outside of their group.

The fact that the creaters community has maintained and promoted the fiction that Galileo was persecuted by the Church for no reason except his evidence that the Sun was the center of the Solar System and not God/the Church, holding him up as a hero of science and identifying him with whatever cause they wish to.

It seems to me however, that we science TEACHERS have done our jobs too well. Whenever we did an experiment in my science class, I insisted that observation and evidence was of paramount importance. Speculation was welcome as far as it provided questions for them to answer. But once the experiment was over, EVIDENCE was supposed to either support or NOT support the theory.

If the creaters spent more time presenting evidence and less time suggesting that livers couldn’t understand the real evidence, we might have come a lot farther (I was told by a once-popular science fiction writer who also had a PhD, that because I wasn’t convinced that AGW was Science, and HE UNDERSTOOD THE MATH, that I was supposed to take his word that it was Science Truth, and that was that.)

Flying back to aliens, Grinspoon has taken the time to EXPLAIN and PATIENTLY TEACH, then asking readers to consider his information and draw their own conclusions. He is funny and relaxed; and at this point, he appears to be one of the best kinds of teachers. He seems to count himself as not ONLY a creater, but also a liver…he doesn't change that aspect of his presentation from first word to the last and as a result, his presentation is convincing.

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