In 1663 the Inquisition sentenced Galileo for indefinite imprisonment because he did not agree that everything in the universe revolves around earth. Looking back at this sad historical event it might be tempting for us to think that we overcame our prejudice regarding science and philosophy; “we are always open to new discoveries”. Most of us don’t only tend to believe that today scientists and philosophers work and express their ideas in a completely free manner, but we also believe that society is completely open-minded towards the most fundamental metaphysical questions such as, does God exist? Is the evolution a fact or just a “theory”? But are we really ready to absorb revolutionary new discoveries when they will knock on our door? Unfortunately, I doubt that any nowadays society is ready for that because in the last century science evolved too fast.
Humanity has made a great step forward since the days of Galileo, but scientists are not working in a social vacuum. Scientists are part of society and their ideas appear in certain social circumstances that might or might not be ready for them. In 1663 the world was not ready for the ideas of Galileo. In the same manner most of the world today is not ready to accept the fact that it is almost impossible for us to be alone in the universe. I for example am almost sure that we are not alone and I guess that we are in a historical phase that demands us to ask how is it still possible that so many believe we are alone when scientists found out that only in our Milky Way we have billions of earth like planets. It is not only society as such: schools, workplaces etc. that did not start to deal with the question, but it is also us who refrain ourselves from rethinking about it.
So is it still possible to believe we are alone? The belief that we are alone in the universe has many psychological benefits. These benefits make it hard for society to accept a new metaphysical belief.
First, it helps us to conceive ourselves as unique and special. It glorifies the meaning of our appearance on earth.
Second, accepting the possibility that we are not alone might suggest that evolution is not only a theory but a fact. Therefore, it will obligate many to agree with Darwin’s conclusion that the difference between humans and animals is only a difference of degree.
Third, these who still dismiss evolution and claim that it is only a theory will find it hard to agree that under certain conditions life can appear everywhere. But is this not exactly what evolution has proved us?! In a social reality in which it is hard for many to accept evolution as a fact, how can we expect them to believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life?! Therefore, we need to ask the question again: Is our society really ready for new discoveries?
Fourth, humans always defined themselves according to their past, our history defines us and it is part of who we are. We even define our identity according to our history, tradition etc. Accepting the idea that we are not alone might cause to many societies an identity crisis because at the new conjecture point the focus of humanity will be mainly dedicated to the future while ancient histories will appear as completely irrational and irrelevant.
So are we alone?! No, but as a society we are still not ready to grasp it. As individuals we might be already, but as a society we still are not.
Philosophy and science have made huge steps forward, but they have progressed too fast and it will take time for our society to catch up with their discoveries.