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An Open Letter to Evolutionary Anthropologist Cadell Last

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Cadell Last is an evolutionary anthropologist, science journalist and blogger and creator of The Advanced Apes. He has written for Scientific American, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, the Jane Goodall Institute and the American Humanist.

He has a superb essay in the Huffington Post titled "Are We Observing Extraterrestrial Intelligence Without Realizing It?"

He writes:

... there are certain binary star systems that astrophysicists have had difficulty explaining with conventional astrophysical models. These binaries are semi-detatched stars that exhibit an energy flow that is irregular, but not out of control... instead of an astrophysical model, we need an astrobiological model to describe these strange systems. 

[Perhaps] these systems are not typical binary stars, but rather civilizations that have advanced well passed a Type 1 civilization on the Kardashev scale and are now actively feeding on their parent star...  

Surely this idea is worthy of scientific attention and empirical testing.

Last describes a way to test the theory:

Perhaps, the necessary test is related to understanding the nature of the binary systems' "metabolism." Metabolism is one of the fundamental and necessary conditions for complex living systems because it allows them to draw and sustain order from the surrounding non-living chaos. So if these binary systems are actually intelligent civilizations feeding on their parent star then we should expect a degree of energy flow control that cannot be described by the laws of physics alone.

Last's essay is great, and he raises fascinating scientific questions. Has evidence for intelligent life in the universe been under our noses for decades, but we didn't recognize it as such? How can we test such a hypothesis?

This, of course, raises other questions. Here's my open letter to Last:

Dear Mr. Last,

I am intrigued by your recent essay in the Huffington Post titled "Are We Observing Extraterrestrial Intelligence Without Realizing It?" The questions you raise are fascinating, and the novel theory you present -- that certain binary star systems may be artifacts of intelligent agency rather than natural artifacts -- is worthy of serious scientific investigation.

On a related matter, on your blog this is what you have said about intelligent design theory:

"... the pseudoscientific concept of Intelligent Design... I instantly realized that Intelligent Design was a pseudoscientific attempt to legitimize creationism. But the point of this article is not to provide another redundant analysis of why Intelligent Design is pseudoscience..."

But in your essay you used William Dembski's explanatory filter. You concluded that physical law did not explain the energy flow in the binary stars, and chance doesn't either, so you inferred design.

Even more remarkable is that you endorse rarified design -- design inferred only by the fingerprints left by intelligent agency, without any knowledge of the putative designer.

You could write a chapter in Dembski's next book on the explanatory filter.  
If the dynamics of binary stars that are not adequately described by physical laws or chance justifiably raise the question of intelligent agency -- and they do -- why doesn't the dynamics of millions of information-rich sequences of base pairs of nucleotides in DNA raise the question of intelligent agency? 

Why is the inference to rarified design in binary stars valid, but the inference to rarified design in the genetic code "pseudoscience?"

Are we observing intracellular intelligence without realizing it?

Sincerely,  

Mike Egnor 

Image credit: NASA