“Any civilization on any planet will be nothing more than an expression of its home world’s creativity. We are no different from those we would call “alien.”

This quote comes from Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth by Adam Frank. Dr. Frank is a professor of physics and a successful science communicator. In the context of astronomy, his latest book tackles big issues like climate change. As astronomical observations indicate, there are lots of planets orbiting many of the stars in the sky. And if there are lots of planets out there, maybe there is a lot of life out there too. The phrase “worlds without number” comes to mind.

For an interesting experiment, re-read the above quote, changing the word “civilization” to religion and the word “alien” to non-Mormon. What thoughts do you start having?

“In the public debate about sustainability, the focus is often on switching our civilization’s energy source from fossil fuels to something with less of a planetary impact. There is nothing wrong with such a goal, but the message often gets mangled in public debate from ‘less impact’ into ‘no impact.’”

The driving issue in Adam’s book is the possibility that climate change, rather than nuclear holocaust, may be the thing that trips civilizations up. In other words, maybe the lack of visitors to Earth is the result of alien civilizations going extinct from climate catastrophe before they can become spacefaring masters. It’s a subject we should all contemplate, but if you prefer…

Never mind the scientific context of the above quote. Let’s zone in on the phrase “the message often gets mangled in public debate…” Change the word “message” to any given statement made by your church’s leaders. How did the message become mangled? Who was harmed and who was helped?

“After our paper was published in the journal Astrobiology, I wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about our result. The Times ran the piece with the headline “Yes, There Have Been Aliens.” Within days, I was inundated with requests for interviews from outlets ranging from the large and established, like CBS, to small websites run by avid UFOlogists. Some of those folks might have been discouraged from contacting me if the headline had been closer to what we really meant, which was “Yes, Aliens Probably Existed.” (emphasis added)

I’m generally a fan of professional science journalism. However, I feel science journalism routinely fails us. The failure occurs when editors slap attention-harpooning headlines atop otherwise insightful, well-balanced articles. This same criticism could be made of other categories of writing, including religion blogging. Take this post for example.

My post’s headline reads, “…Adam’s Message.” I also considered these variations:

  • …Frank’s Message
  • …Adam Frank’s Message
  • …Adam Frank

Of my 4 possible headlines, “Adam’s Message” seemed both the most effective and the most disingenuous. The writer in me balked at using it. After all, put the name Adam in the headline and Wheat & Tare’s readers are likely to get a certain idea of where I’m headed. The editor in me believed it was the best title to get the most readers clicking on my post.

Really, the most honest headline I could have written would be, “Don’t have my next poetry post ready, so here are quotes from a book which validates my personal convictions.” Not quite as catchy, huh? Oh well, the struggle to get people’s attention while also saying worthwhile things continues.

We are creative living beings on a planet orbiting a star. We have messages which deserve to be read and shared without being mangled. The world is deeper and more complicated than our headlines.

Oh, and thank you for the pageview.

For another installment from my “Out of the Best Books” series, try a post prompted by reading Craig Ferguson’s book Riding the Elephant.