Earlier this week Stephen Hawking, the famed cosmologist and black hole expert, was quoted as saying that we should not attempt to contact civilizations outside our world. While he conceded that alien races almost certainly exist on far away planets, he worries that contacting them may lead to an invasion of Earth.
Professor Hawking was quoted as saying "If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans". His reasoning is simple; an examination of how our species has evolved, and how we have approached colonization of our world, should serve as a lesson for how a more advanced alien species might consume our tiny planet and its resources.
While I have the upmost respect for Professor Hawking, I am afraid that I must disagree with his presumptions and therefore his conclusions. First of all, the foundation of his argument is that these alien beings would behave similarly to how mankind has behaved during is torrid past. While this is not an irrational position, I think it is short sighted. First of all, as man has evolved, he has become more environmentally and socially conscience of his actions (see the environmentalist and social justice movements). Now, imagine the state of social convention in this world once we have advanced ourselves to the point where we can travel across the galaxy. I believe that may be a more accurate picture of how an alien race might behave. Specifically as we (or they) advance, we become more self-aware and conscientious of our surroundings.
But arguing the social side of alien contact is contrived at best. We really have no basis on which to evaluate the ethical or moral behavior of an alien race, being as how we have never interacted with one. So let's move on to a more pressing point. Hawking argues that given their likely desire to simply accumulate resources (again, strangely assuming they behave as colonial Americans), they would likely come to Earth only to rape the planet of its natural resources and move on to another world (my sensationalist paraphrasing of his comments). In spite of my objection to his position on their social nature, let's, for the moment, assume that he's correct and that an alien race would only be interested in accumulating natural resources. It still would not make sense that an alien race would venture across the galaxy simply to consume the resources of our solar system.
Natural resources are abundant across the entire galaxy, and we are actually located in a rather lonely, isolated area within it. An alien race would have to go out of their way to bother us. Simply put, there would be much better places (with denser concentrations of raw material) in the galaxy to search out natural resources than our solar system. Besides, as I mentioned in my recent article on interstellar travel, the necessary technology (namely, the control of negative energy) needed would have the ancillary benefit of harnessing virtually unlimited energy. My guess is that such an alien race would not be in such desperate need of resources given their necessary grasp of technology.
Perhaps my biggest problem with Hawking's view is that it supposes that any aliens that we contact would have the technology to come visit us in the first place. This is quite unlikely. But, again, let's suppose he's correct and that an alien race has devised a way to leave their world and travel across the galaxy. That would mean, based on our current understanding of physics, that they have obtained knowledge and engineering prowess beyond what we have even imagined. And, more importantly, they have gained control of types of matter that we have yet to observe anywhere in the known Universe.
Now let's take it a step further. As we already established, they would not need to travel to Earth to consume our natural resources as there would be easier ways. So the only way Hawking's doomsday scenario is correct is to assume that these aliens would have some other reason to come and wipe us out. This only seems possible if they are simply evil (which I suppose is possible) or they feel threatened by us. But given how advanced their technology would need to be compared to ours, I can't see how the latter scenario holds water.
So when all is said and done, it seems that the only reason we have to fear annihilation from an alien race would be that we contact beings that both have super advanced technology and have a desire to erase any race they come across from the Universe. While I must concede this is possible, it seems incredibly unlikely. The vastly more likely scenario, in my mind, is that we make contact with an alien race that is in the same position that we are in -- able to measure and explore the Universe from the comfort of their home world, but unable to venture far from it due to the limits of the physical Universe (at least as we currently understand the laws of physics). In this case, I think there would be much we could learn from them. The likely enrichment that would come from such an encounter seems to me to far outweigh the unlikely possibility that the alien race is out for Universal domination. But that's just my opinion. What are your thoughts?