In my last article I commented on the differences in positions held by scientists and non-scientists on whether Earth had been visited in the past by intelligent extraterrestrials. I use the term scientists widely, not referring to an occupation but to a state of mind.
No matter what your occupation, I call you a scientist if you look for answers by studying the evidence; if you test to see if proposed explanations work; and if you assume that there are reasonable, physical explanations first, before resorting to magic or far-out justifications for an extraordinary claim.
I made a statement that there is near universal agreement among scientists on the big issues. Here is a list of what I consider those issues to be.
Earth is a speck in the cosmos. There are likely to be many small, rocky planets orbiting stars, some of which will be similar to our sun. There are so many stars, there are bound to me many Earth-like planets at suitable distances from their sun that conditions were similar to those on early Earth.
Earth is old and changing. Continents drift around and collide. Mountains rise. Rivers cut canyons. Lakes and oceans fill up with debris that eventually becomes sedimentary rock. As you dig down through layers you reach older and older rock.
Life processes follow the laws of chemistry and physics. There is no process that requires “magic”. We don’t know all the processes, but are confident that they are “knowable”. (Consider the opposite. If, for example, some magical process causes the heart to beat, then we might as well stop trying to understand how the heart works!)
Life evolves. Little changes in short periods add up to bigger changes over long periods.
The laws of mathematics and physics apply everywhere. The formula for a circle and value of pi is the same on Mars. Magicians don’t do true magic: they are still constrained by the laws of physics. (While watching a magic show, everytime you ask yourself, “How did he do that?” you are applying this concept. You feel that there was a physical explanation, a “trick”. You didn’t see true magic.)
Matter is particulate. Substances are made of atoms that join to become molecules. (Atoms themselves are made of particles.)
The properties an object possesses depend on the observer. (This claim, for which there is much evidence, arises from relativity and quantum physics. Relativity deals with the big concepts of time, space, gravity, matter and energy; quantum physics with the behaviour of matter and energy at the tiniest level.
I might as well mention the fringe items, too.
There are no ghosts, werewolves, vampires, living dead, mammoth spiders, King Kongs, Spidermen, invisible people, extraterrestrial aliens living amongst us.
Astrology is false.
There is no such thing as psychic ability. You can’t move objects by though alone. No one can actually read minds, see the future (rather than predict likelihoods), perceive present, past, or future events by other than the five senses.
Men HAVE landed on the moon (i.e. the landing in 1969 was not a hoax.)
Humans and dinosaurs did not inhabit the Earth at the same time.
I expect many to disagree with me on many of this last list. In particular, countless people will cite amazing occurrences, coincidences, anecdotes, and “facts”. I will leave it as this: I have seen no repeatable, non-controversial evidence that convinces me that, for example, ESP exists. A million dollar prize is available for ANY purported psychic who can demonstrate ANY psychic ability. No one has yet been able to do it.
As much as we, scientists included, might wish for exceptional abilities, extraordinary creatures, and assistance from the stars, there is just no good evidence for any of it.