If I announced that I was going to make telepathic contact with extraterrestrials, many people would label me as crazy. If I asked for a donation for my efforts, I’d doubtless be condemned as a charlatan and a fraudster. The mainstream media would probably attack or ridicule me, and at best, the government would ignore me. What if I changed the wording a little? Is there a way to make any of this sound a little bit more respectable? As it happens, there is.
If I stopped talking about advanced beings with knowledge that went way beyond that of humanity, and replaced it with talk of a single, all-powerful entity, things would suddenly become rather more acceptable. I’d have to drop the phrase “telepathic contact”, of course, and use the word “prayer” instead. Finally, I’d need to avoid terms like “extraterrestrial” and “alien”, and replace them with the word “God”. If I did this, large parts of the Establishment would suddenly regard me not as some sort of nutjob, but as a fine, upstanding pillar of the community. And if I handed around a tray after a religious service and sought donations, I’d probably avoid accusations of fraud too.
It seems to me that there are some double standards here. Believing that there might be extraterrestrial civilizations elsewhere in the Universe is regarded as a fringe belief (and expressing the view that some of them might actually be visiting us here on Earth is deemed to be even worse), but believing in an immortal, invisible, all-powerful entity who created the Universe in six days (when all scientific evidence suggests otherwise) is somehow OK. It’s certainly frustrating for the UFO community. After all, they can bring forward not just eyewitness statements, but physical evidence such as photographs, videos, radar data and the occasional forensic analysis from a landing site, where it can be shown that high heat sources have been present and where radiation levels are significantly higher than average background. None of this is definitive, of course – if it was, we wouldn’t be talking about the UFO “mystery”. But while there isn’t definitive ‘you can take that to the bank’ proof, there’s some pretty compelling evidence. As for religious folk, the actual >evidence they can produce might legitimately be regarded as being pretty scant; essentially, it comes down to faith.
The above is an over-simplification, of course. After all, religion >doesn’t get a free ride and these days there are plenty of people who regard is as nonsense and lump it in the same category as ESP, ghosts and spoon-bending. But while religion doesn’t get an entirely free ride, it >does get favorable treatment and a degree of official endorsement in a way that other beliefs unsupported by scientific evidence don’t. As an example, in America, “In God We Trust” is written on coins and banknotes, while in the UK, the Church of England is an officially established church where, for example, bishops sit in the House of Lords – one of the two Houses of Parliament. I’m sure that ufologists in most nations can think of examples of ways in which their subject is ridiculed, while religion is given official or quasi-official endorsement.
But it’s worse than that. How many times have you seen a UFO-related story on the TV news, prefaced by some jocular comments, funny lighting effects and maybe the theme music to >The X-Files, >Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or >The Twilight Zone? Can you imagine this happening with a religious story? Imagine if TV news coverage of the papal conclave that elected Pope Francis in 2013 had been prefaced with jokes, and the theme music to Monty Python’s >Life of Brian. Firstly, I can’t see it ever happening, at least on a mainstream news network. Secondly, if it did, there’d probably be an outcry. The mainstream media, in other words, feels that it’s OK to mock one set of beliefs, but not OK to mock another. Moreover, the set of beliefs that gets mocked arguably has more convincing evidence to support them than the set of beliefs that gets the free ride.
I’m not arguing that ufology should be treated as a religion (interestingly, some skeptical ufologists categorize it as a >new religion), nor would I suggest that we put the slogan “In ET we trust” on the next issue of US government banknotes. But perhaps we should at least recognize the double standards here. As things are, the evidence bar is not set evenly. Extraterrestrial life would, after all, have arisen and developed by means of the same chemical and biological processes that exist here on Earth. Similarly, extraterrestrial visitation would take place within a framework determined by the laws of physics. Sub-light travel (say at .7 or .8 of Lightspeed) from a nearby star system would be achievable within the laws of physics as currently understood. There is, in other words, no need to construct a special set of imagined laws in order to conceive the existence of alien life, or even extraterrestrial visitation. The existence of God, however, >does need some set of laws beyond our conception. That’s because concepts such as immortality and omnipotence are contrary to everything that science tells us about the nature of the Universe.
None of this should be seen as incitement for ufologists to attack religion. But perhaps it should be regarded as a plea that the evidence bar be set at the same level. That’s hardly unfair, is it?
. . .
Nick Pope is a former employee of the UK Ministry of Defense. From 1991 to 1994 he ran the British Government's UFO project and has recently been involved in a five-year initiative to declassify and release the entire archive of these UFO files. Nick Pope held a number of other fascinating posts in the course of his 21-year government career, which culminated in his serving as an acting Deputy Director in the Directorate of Defense Security. He now works as a broadcaster and journalist, covering subjects including space, fringe science, defense and intelligence. Nick Pope’s latest book, Encounter in Rendlesham Forest, co-written with John Burroughs and Jim Penniston, was published by Thomas Dunne Books on 15th April and is available via Amazon and all good bookstores.