Do Gods, Aliens, and Assorted Woo Serve Similar Functions?


Suppose there really is intelligent alien life out there in the vast universe somewhere. The possibility doesn't seem that far-fetched. Perhaps there are even a few alien species sufficiently advanced that they are capable of traveling through space. It seems fair to describe a species that advanced as being intelligent in ways we can only imagine. They would have to be so far beyond us that I can't help wondering why they would ever mess with Earth.

The people claim to have been abducted (and probed) by aliens are routinely characterized as gullible, suggestible, and insufficiently skeptical. I wonder if "narcissistic" shouldn't be added to the list of adjectives. What makes them think they are so special that alien visitors would come all the way here to insert things into their bodies? Wouldn't an alien species capable of getting here have better things to do? Would such a species be able to tell from afar that we weren't worth their time?

There are more parallels between belief in aliens and belief in gods than I can claim to track. The fact that both have a human-like form and characteristics points to our lack of imagination. Efforts to use both to explain what science has not yet explained reflects a combination of ignorance and impatience. We stubbornly cling to these wild theories even as the scope of our aliens and gods shrink as science advances. We struggle to get past our tendency to think that wanting something to exist makes it more likely that it does exist. And most of all, we can't seem to overcome out self-centeredness, assuming that aliens and gods would be as fascinated with us as we are with ourselves.

It no longer surprises me that some people leave a traditional religion behind and embrace a new one that is not as easily recognized as being a religion. Some embrace extreme political ideologies and their associated conspiracy theories. Others embrace various forms of woo that are largely secular (e.g., homeopathy, crystals, ghosts and other paranormal phenomena, "ancient" aliens). I fear this stuff will become increasingly popular in the near future as more people find traditional religions lacking and look elsewhere for reasons that have little to do with reason or skepticism. After all, promoting this stuff makes a hell of a lot of money for some people.

Then again, I have a feeling that the real appeal of all of this is similar to what has drawn people to traditional religions for as long as they've been around. All of this woo, religious or otherwise, places us at the center of the universe and helps us convince ourselves that we are special. It all fuels our fantasties of having some control over the uncontrollable. It all feeds our escapist fantasties. It is all about believing things we want to believe regardless of where the evidence leads. It is all about keeping our heads deeply rooted in the sand.