It’s no surprise that liberals and conservatives see our world in starkly different terms, but they also display contrasting views toward other worlds, generally disagreeing about the possibilities of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.
These clashing opinions on extraterrestrials amount to more than a trivial split on an arcane topic; they connect, in fact, both logically and emotionally to big conflicts over worldview, culture, politics and America’s role in history.
In Colorado, these conflicts erupted in a recent battle over a proposed Denver commission to investigate visitations from alien life forms. Initiative 300 won enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in November 2010 but lost in a landslide, with conservatives leading the derision of the “ET Initiative,” as a loony waste of taxpayer money. The chief support for “greater transparency” regarding sightings and encounters came from the city’s Bohemian left, with advocates proudly citing the interest in flying saucers from liberal icons like Jimmy Carter and John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff.
Polls show that Americans remain closely divided on attitudes toward extraterrestrials, with a 2008 Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll reporting 56% who believe it is “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that intelligent life has developed in other worlds. Self-described Democrats (according to the same survey) are far more likely to say they have personally seen “visitors from another world” than are their Republican counterparts, who remain distinctly skeptical.
These differences stem in part from religious convictions, with conservatives far more likely to uphold traditional approaches to the Bible and organized faith. While nothing in Scripture explicitly denies the possibility of life in distant galaxies, the Biblical account of directed creation makes it far easier to accept the notion that this small, inhabited planet is alone in the universe.
Liberals, on the other hand, profess wider acceptance of the idea that earthly life emerged through random forces and happy accidents; therefore, the existence of stars and potential planets into the billions suggests that that similar coincidences would produce advanced life forms somewhere else.
The differing views on extraterrestrial intelligence stem from a core argument about the presence (or absence) of higher purpose, of supernatural direction in our existence on earth.