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The Extraterrestrial Hypothesis – Objections and Counter-Arguments

Author : Colin Biggs

“We have an adequate amount of evidence today to clearly establish that some – I emphasise some – UFOs are alien spacecraft, and I would take on anybody who says we don’t.” (S Friedman, in M Lindemann, 1991, p. 16)

“The real question is, does the spacecraft hypothesis explain to our satisfaction the facts of the UFO phenomenon as we know them today? The answer is a definite and resounding NO.” (J Vallee, 1979, p. 29)

Since the dawn of the modern UFO era, the Extra-Terrestrial Hypotheses (ETH) has held pride of place as the likeliest explanation for the UFO phenomenon. Indeed, “UFO” and “extraterrestrial spacecraft” are virtually synonymous terms in the public mind. Briefly, the ETH in its original formulation, asserted that most genuine UFOs were artificial constructions of interplanetary origin designed to travel through space, piloted by intelligent aliens. This scenario has met with fierce opposition and ridicule from the scientific community, and in recent times has come under increasing attack from the ranks of UFO researchers themselves, most notably the irrepressible and erucidite Jaques Vallee, who accords short shrift to the ETH has naive, simplistic an outdated. It behoves us, as members of a UFO group, to at least be aware of the principal objections to the ETH posted by serious researchers like Vallee, as most of us, presumably, would subscribe to the ETH in one form or another. The purpose of this article is to outline some of the main criticisms levelled at the ETH and suggest, albeit very briefly, some responses to those criticisms. My principal sources are J. Vallee’s book Revelations, (1991), in which he obligingly lists his arguments (Appendix I, p. 261-278), and D Seargent’s UFOs, A Scientific Enigma, (1978, pp. 92-97). Between them, these authors have marshalled nine main arguments against the ETH which deserve serious consideration. Most are easily refutable, but others are less so. A separate article could be devoted to a critique of each of these points, and doubtless the few counter-arguments I have raised could be multiplied many-fold by the readers of this Journal.


The first objection to the ETH is an old favourite of scientists and members of the various Sceptics Associations. It concerns the vast distances and time necessarily involved in interstellar travel, given the constraints imposed by currently known laws of physics. The main flaw in this argument is the unjustified assumption that said laws represent the last word in our understanding of the universe. When one considers the incredible advances in human technology within the last century alone, it does not require a great leap of imagination to consider the technological level attained by societies a few centuries ahead of our own, let alone millions of years. Already, our own scientists are beginning to theorise in terms of bypassing the vast distances of interstellar space entirely by means of “wormholes”, hyperspace travel etc. The perceived ability of some UFOs to instantaneously materialise and dematerialise strongly hints at just such advances. What if, as also seems likely, many UFOs are of other dimensional origin? In that case, their worlds would literally be right next door, or even occupy the same ‘space’ as our own Earth, thus negating the distance factor entirely.


Landings and close encounters are far too numerous than would be required for a simple Earth survey, according to Vallee who, extrapolating from reported known landings, estimates that up to 14 million landings could have occurred within the last 40 years (J Vallee, 1991, p. 268). With Earth clearly visible from space and constantly beaming out radio and television broadcasts, Vallee argues that enquiring ET’s could obtain all they wanted to know about Earth, its resources, lifeforms and civilisations without the need for so many touchdowns, and the few required landings could be conducted quietly and unobtrusively in sparsely populated areas. The main flaw in this argument is Vallee’s false contention that the ETH necessarily postulates an exploratory survey as the sole or at least the main aim of ET visitations. The ETH states that nothing of the sort. We have no idea of their mission. If, as seems increasingly probable, UFOs hail from a wide variety of different places, times, dimensions and realms of being, the possible number of missions and motivating agendas is enormous. Vallee’s argument derives from a simplistic and outdated assumption as to the nature of ETH that would be upheld by very few UFO researchers today. Far from being damaging to the ETH, the plethora of landings only indicates the comparative ease of travel to our world, and the huge volume of ‘traffic’ currently interested in our activities. Finally, Vallee’s estimates could be vastly inflated if most UFO landings and close encounters are not random events, the assumption implicit in his estimates, but rather staged for the benefit of particular witnesses, whether individuals, small groups, or entire communities.


“The saucer evidence reveals more different types of objects and beings that the physical spaceship theory can logically account for.” (Clark, Coleman, 1975, p. 182) This argument closely parallels the above, but focuses on the sheer variety rather than the numbers of reported UFOs and occupants. Despite general similarities of type, few of the thousands of observed objects and beings could be classed as identical. There seems to be a near infinite variety shapes, colours, sounds, speeds, manoeuvres, effects, etc, prompting some to argue that intelligent life could not possible be as widespread throughout the cosmos as this near infinite variety would seem to imply. We can approach this objection on two fronts: firstly, much of this apparent diversity may simply arise form objects being observed under a multitude of different conditions, be they of light, weather, or the psychological state of witnesses. How many witnesses to a crime or accident describe their experience in exactly the same way? The UFOs themselves may contribute to this confusion through the perceived ability of some to change shape, probably indicating successful manipulation of ‘solid’ matter in ways undreamed of by our current science. Coral and Jim Lorenzen even suggest that the UFO entities themselves, in an effort to sow confusion in our ranks for whatever reasons of their own, may deliberately manifest to us in a multitude of varying forms to prevent us from detecting meaningful patterns in the data (C and J Lorenzen, 1976, p. 395). On the other hand, if the endless multitude of UFO shapes, types of being etc does in fact represent real diversity, this need not have any bearing on the reality or otherwise of the ETH. As Michael Talbot observes, we can turn the objection on its head and use this infinite diversity to illustrate “just how unfathomably abundant with intelligent life” the universe really is (M Talbot, 1991, p. 282).


The next objection concerns the apparent ability of many UFOs to materialise and demateralise, change shape, divide into two, merge with other objects, and otherwise seem to partake of properties more characteristic of non-material apparitions than solid objects. Allied with this is a host of psychic phenomena often associated with a UFO sighting or its aftermath, prompting the suggestion that the UFO phenomenon as a whole belongs more to the realm of the paranormal. Instead of being spacecraft, muses Brad Steiger, UFOs are more likely “multidimensional mechanisms or psychic constructs of our paraphysical companions” (B Steiger, 1992, p.10). There need be no inconsistency here. We need only postulate the existence of ET civilisations which have successfully learned to manipulate the fabric of space and matter (possible time as well) in order to produce the observed effects. Most UFO related psychic and paranormal effects could be explained thereby. Ellen Crystal suggests that many alien species could best be described as “psychotronic” societies (as opposed to mechanical or electronic) with the capacity to produce a variety of phenomena we usually label psychic, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, astral projection, teleportation etc, all on the basis of technology (E Crystal, 1991, p.132). Another approach is that of G Andrews – “Some UFOs behave like machines, others like living organisms, having both mechanical and biological features. Others are more like light shapes or energy patterns… perhaps some UFOs have the ability to shift from the mechanical to the protoplasmic to the etheric and back again as we shift gears in a car.” (G Andrews, 1986, p.236) UFOs could partake of all these properties and more, and still fall within the purview of the ETH.


The above group of objections relates primarily to he UFOs themselves. The next cluster relates primarily to their observed occupants. The first of these and the most easily refutable, is raised by D Seargent, and I have not encountered it in any other source. According to him, the rare observation of extremely tiny UFOs complete with miniature humanoid occupants militates against the ETH, in that intelligent life needs a certain brain size “to allow for the myriad of complex nerve connections through which intelligence functions” (D Seargent, 1978, p 96). I lack the expertise to evaluate this assertion, but it is not difficult to mount a counter argument. Such sightings are extremely rare, and could just as well be robotic devices or genetically engineered androids. The capacity to manipulate shape and size, mentioned in connection with objection Number 4, may also have bearing on the issue of mini-entities.


We are now entering the realm of more serious ‘heavy duty’, potentially damaging objections to the ETH. The sixth objection concerns the apparent absurdity of the behaviour of both UFOs and occupants. S Holroyd, for instance, notes that such actions as chasing cars, playing tag with our aircraft, stealing plants and animals, asking ridiculous questions of witnesses etc are hardly the hallmark of higher intelligence. Much UFO activity, he maintains, is silly and mischievous, irreconcilable with the notion that they are interplanetary spacecraft on an exploratory mission to Earth (S Holroyd, 1979, p.198). Robert Temple is even more blunt – “I do not believe that spacecraft would behave in the erratic fashion in which UFOs behave… if we went to another inhabited planet, would we waste either time or resources on such apparent nonsense? What seems to be lacking in UFOs is purpose of any kind which could conceivably fit into a framework of ET visitation.” (R Temple, 1976, p. 210) How fair are these assessments? Aime Michel, for one, notes that whenever something of a superhuman nature manifests itself, the apparently absurd is what you should expect. (A Michel, in C Bowen, 1969, p. 255) Absurdity, in the case of behaviour, is a term relative to a standard or norm set by the usages of our own culture, and to state that ET’s could not be involved in the UFO phenomenon because the latter fails to act in a normally prescribed manner approved by our scientists is anthropomorphic in the extreme. Even widely different cultures right here on Earth find it difficult to understand each others actions at times. It must be stressed that we are dealing with probable aliens. We have no idea concerning their missions, motivations, psychology’s etc. The apparent absurdity of their dealings with us could represent communications at a highly symbolic level. For all we know, aliens could be patiently waiting for the day when we finally ‘get it’, when our theoretical knowledge has advanced to the point that what was once perceived as purposeless or trivial is now seen to have meaning after all.


Vallee is severely scathing of the apparent ‘medical’ procedures performed on unwilling human victims during the course of a typical abduction, describing them as “crude to the point of being grotesque,” more reminiscent of medieval encounters with demons, which make no sense in a framework of supposedly sophisticated technology (J Vallee, 1990, p.13). Human scientists, claims Vallee, could easily obtain samples of body tissue, sperm or ova without inducing trauma, leaving scars, or creating any kind of intrusive disturbance whatever. If obtaining samples of human genetic material is the aim, aliens could easily achieve this by raiding fertility clinics, blood banks, research hospitals etc without the need for taking a single human subject. What we see in the argument is yet another example of the shaky assumption to which Vallee and others are so prone to resort: namely, that because our visitors fail to act in the way we would expect them to act, therefore they cannot be what they seem. It must be emphasised again and again that we have no idea what UFO entities are after. It has been suggested by one group of abduction researchers, for example, that the ‘genetic programme’ represents only one, possibly minor aspect of a vast multifaceted mission to humanity at this time. Our visitors seem extremely interested in every aspect of our being. Perhaps our minds, subtle bodies, or souls could be of far more interest to them than our physical bodies. Perchance the onboard ‘medical’ procedures are not what they see, serving as a mask to camouflage activities of a nature beyond our ken. Vallee sees only a grotesque mimicry of our own medical practice, but one practicing physician, at least, has noted a major difference. ‘Aliens’ often inspect the entire skin surface minutely, he observes, but sometimes ignore the whole cardiovascular system so important to human functioning. These and other procedures are fundamentally different from human practice and actually argue in favour of ET reality. (C D B Bryan, 1995, p.44) On a related theme, French researcher P Guerin regards the widespread practice of animal mutilations as offering material proof for the reality of alien intervention in the form of evidence for extremely sophisticated surgical skill. These operations on animals, he concludes, “associated as they are with the passing overhead of silent machines coming from the skies, and improbable as they are for us to perform in the present state of our surgical techniques, cannot be anything else but a manifestation of the activities of ET visitors. (T Good, 1987, p.134) One man’s opinion, perhaps, but it offers a useful counterpoint to Vallee’s dismissal of alien medical procedures as “crude and grotesque.”


The following argument contains Vallee’s most biting criticism against the ETH, strongly reiterated in nearly all of his books. The UFO phenomenon, he maintains, far from being peculiar to the late 20th century, is actually a permanent, ongoing feature of human history, manifesting to every culture in all historical periods in the form most readily comprehensible to the particular society involved. Vallee bases this assertion on a detailed study of modern close encounters with a host of non-human entities variously recorded in ancient and medieval literature as gods, angels, demons, fairies, elves, and a plethora of other names. “It is difficult to find a culture on earth that does not have an ancient tradition of little people that fly through the air and abduct humans… sexual and genetic interaction is a common theme in the body of folklore.” (J Vallee, 1991, p.275) He postulates a kind of hidden, universal control system, a vast non-human intelligence, most likely Earth based, able to alter its manifestation to suit the expectations and requirements of particular cultures for the purpose of direction our social and cultural evolution. Therefore, he claims our interpretation of this current crop of non-human visitors as ET’s is no more likely to be correct than previous generations’ interpretations as fairies or demons. This argument is more difficult to refute than any of the others encountered thus far. Vallee’s claims are based on an assumed identity of our modern visitors with the creatures of ancient tradition, and if viewed from a certain perspective, there does appear to be, superficially at least, a certain generic similarity between the two. However, seeing connections of this kind is a very subjective process, and I have argued elsewhere in previous journal articles that the similarities are not sufficient or convincing enough to assume actual identity. There is every likelihood that angels, fairies, and other beings of ancient traditions have an independent existence of their own, and these may have at times masqueraded as ET’s or been misinterpreted as such by modern witnesses, thus contributing to the totality of UFO and occupant sightings. The majority of modern close encounters in my opinion, seem to belong to a class of their own. There exist sufficient references in ancient art and literature to indicate that certain key features of the modern UFO phenomenon, such as the disc of cylindrical shape of observed aerial vehicles, were perceived in exactly the same way in former times. What the people of former times lacked, however, was an appropriate conceptual framework of ET visitation, leading them to interpret their sightings and encounters within the context of pre-existing folklore and tradition. In the final analysis, there is more than enough room for any number of non-human entities in an infinite universe comprising a multitude of worlds, dimensions and realms of being. Contrary to the views of many critics, the ETH does not insist that every single UFO is an alien spacecraft, which brings me to my final point. Most of the arguments outlined above actually refer to an outmoded, 1950’s version of the ETH which viewed UFOs as solid, ‘nuts and bolts,’ interplanetary machines, capable of travelling through space on long voyages of exploration. In other words: physical, three dimensional craft in a corresponding universe. In such a context, some of the above criticisms have validity, but few ufologists worth their salt would adhere to such a simplistic, outdated concept today. To be honest with the evidence of recent decades, ufologists must incorporate the possibility of instantaneous travel, near magical technologies, manipulation of matter, space and time, and a multidimensional universe in any model of UFO origins. Some of the proponents of arguments against the ETH seem to have a major problem with the word ‘extraterrestrial’. The prefix ‘extra’ simple means ‘outside of’, and I for one have no problem in classifying denizens of alternate realities, parallel worlds, or psychic realms as extraterrestrial, existing as they do ‘outside of’ our everyday, Earthly space-time continuum. To insist that the term ‘extraterrestrial’, as understood in the older version of the ETH, should be restricted to three dimensional, physical entities from our known universe smacks of semantic quibbling. Perhaps, though, there is a case for the term ‘spacecraft’ to be replaced by ‘craft’ alone, given that many UFOs probably do not travel ‘through’ space at all. Everything considered, the ETH is still the best model we have to account for the UFO phenomenon, as long as it is clearly understood that an updated, revised version of the ETH is meant. To his credit, even Vallee has to acknowledge towards the end of his book Revelations, that a revised version of the ETH is still a viable explanatory model. (J Vallee, 1991, p.278)

The astute reader may have noticed that I originally mentioned nine main objections to the ETH, whereas only eight appear above. I have omitted from this article what is potentially the most damaging criticism for ETH: namely, the almost universal humanoid appearance of UFO occupants. I consider this objection so important that I shall reserve a more lengthy discussion of its possible ramifications for a future article.

George C Andrews, Extraterrestrials Among Us, Llewellyn, 1986
C Bowen (Ed), The Humanoids, Neville Spearman, 1969
C D Bryan, Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind, 1995
Jerome Clarke, Loren Coleman The Unidentified, Warner, 1975
Ellen Crystal, Silent Invasion, Paragon Home, 1991
Timothy Good, Above Top Secret, Grafton, 1987
Stuart Holroyd, Alien Intelligence, Reed Books, 1979
Michael Lindemann (Ed), UFOs and the Alien Presence: Six Viewpoints 2020 Group, 1991
Coral and Jim Lorenzen, Encounters with UFO Occupants, Berkely, 1976
D A J Seargent, UFOs: A Scientific Enigma, Sphere Books, 1978
Brad Steiger, The Other, Inner Light, 1992
Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe, Harper Collins, 1991
Robert Temple, The Sirius Mystery, Futura, 1976
Jaques Vallee, Messengers of Deception, And/Or Press, 1979
Jaques Vallee, Confrontations, Ballantine Books, 1990
Jaques Vallee, Revelations, Ballantine Books, 1991

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