Consider the Ants- Aliens and The Dignity of Humanity

This post will be a little bit different from my usual format. The other night, I got into a conversation with some friends about alternate dimensions after watching Marvel’s Doctor Strange. Somehow, it morphed into a discussion about the possibility of sentient, alien life, and what that would mean for faith, religion, and the uniqueness of the human experience.

Alien lifeforms are a staple of science fiction, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Plan Nine From Outer Space. From the most thoughtful masterpieces, to the most mindless pop fluff, from the best to the worst.

At first glance, it seems almost certain that there should be other sentient beings in a universe so vast and unknown, especially after the recent discovery of the seven earth-type planets.  Some scientists are skeptical, though, based on the supposedly privileged position of our planet. As usual, though, I’m not here to talk about the scientific ramifications of this SF idea, but the philosophical ramifications.

Other scientists go to the complete opposite extreme from the “privileged planet” crowd, and say that there is nothing special about our planet, or our race, and that we are insignificant specks of life swimming around with thousands of other specks in an uncaring cosmic sea.

The debate over the meaning of life aside, would the existence of consciousness elsewhere in the universe take away from the significance, uniqueness, and  value of life on our world?

Some would say yes. Just last month, I wrote about alien creatures in science fiction who are so evolved that they make human civilizations look about as important as a bunch of ant mounds in a suburban backyard.

Then again, consider the sheer variety of sentient creatures dreamed up in the limited imaginations of human science fiction creators, from Jabba the Hutt to the Xenomorph to Q. The size and diversity of our universe make it seem unlikely that life would take the exact same form as humanity- or even a recognizable form to humanity- elsewhere.

What I’m trying to say is that I think a balance can be struck between the two extreme views on alien life, and its bearing on humanity. If other creatures exist out there, that doesn’t negate the fact that our planet is the only one to produce the particular lifeforms it has produced- you, me, Cleopatra, Rosa Parks.

We are the thing that makes Earth valuable, not whether or not we are alone in the universe.

And even if there are creatures out there that make us look like ants … well, maybe we ought to give ants a little more credit.