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Now that’s a title I’ve been wanting to write since…oh, at least my teenage years. In an L.A. Times op-ed, biologist (and outspoken atheist) Richard Dawkins comments on a topic I’ve been wanting to see him discuss for some time: the “advanced-aliens-as-gods meme“. His comments come in the wake of him broaching the topic in his interview for the controversial “intelligent design” documentary, Expelled – to his detriment…

Intelligent design “theorists” (a misnomer, for they have no theory) often use the alien scenario to distance themselves from old-style creationists: “For all we know, the designer might be an alien from outer space.” This attempt to fend off accusations of unconstitutionally importing religion into science classes is lame and disingenuous. All the leading intelligent design spokesmen are devout, and, when talking to the faithful, they drop the science-fiction fig leaf and expose themselves as the fundamentalist creationists they truly are.

Nevertheless, despite their notorious dishonesty, I sometimes hand an olive branch to these people by pretending to take their “space aliens” political ploy seriously. Unrealistic as the space alien theory is, it constitutes intelligent design’s best shot…

Creationists…never miss a trick. When I have raised the science-fiction olive branch to try to argue against them, they have twisted it — most recently in a movie scheduled to open this week — in order to proclaim loudly, “Dawkins believes in intelligent design after all.” Or “Dawkins believes in little green men in flying saucers.” Or “Dawkins is a Raelian.” It’s called “lying for Jesus,” and they are completely shameless.

As is usual, Dawkins’s article is a mix of the excellent – such as his clarification of evolution being down to luck (“In fact, natural selection is the very opposite of a chance process”) – and the not-so-good. In this latter group, you have disingenuous qualifications such as in the sentence “The distinguished molecular biologists Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel advanced a version of the notion, probably tongue in cheek, called ‘Directed Panspermia.'” (surely Dawkins knows that Orgel and Crick were deadly serious at the time, though decades later they may have had reservations in light of newer research on the origins of life on Earth).

Once again, also, the ‘God’ of Richard Dawkins appears to be some long-bearded dude with a flowing white robe. To be fair, that is also the conception of many of those that he is arguing against, so it is understandable to a point. But more intelligent people do have ideas about a ‘God’ as being more related to consciousness or energy, rather than some simplistic ‘mega-man’. And returning to the ‘aliens as gods’ argument, it may also be completely wrong to consider their development as being related to our own in any way. To say “they still had to have evolved like us” is a fallacious argument, if such creatures actually did create life and evolution itself…it would be arguing from a false premise. Furthermore, contra to Dawkins claims that such creatures would not really be ‘gods’ because they didn’t create the Universe, there is also the ‘Universe as a simulation’ argument (from people like Nick Bostrom) to consider…which basically does entail a “creator” of some description, however (relatively) ‘mundane’.

Anyhow, I’m glad that Richard Dawkins brought the topic up, because I find it fascinating. The commentary above isn’t meant as a rebuttal to him, or as support for ID proponents…more just a kicking around of some very interesting ideas. For more reading on the ‘aliens as gods’ topic, I definitely recommend astrobiologist David Grinspoon’s book Lonely Planets, which discusses some possibilities in the later chapters.