The Instigator
Pro (for)
0 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
7 Points

THW: Avoid contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life

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Voting Style: Open Point System: Select Winner
Started: 9/8/2016 Category: Society
Updated: 1 month ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 372 times Debate No: 95277
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (7)
Votes (1)




Round 1: Acceptance, definitions and rules only.
Round 2: Main body of argument.
Round 3: Rebuttal and reiteration of previous arguments. No new arguments may be presented- any new arguments presented in R3 should be ignored by voters.

Full wording of the motion: "This house would avoid contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life".

"THW": the following action should be done.

"Contact": Any form of interaction.

"Intelligent": Has a reasoning ability approximately the same as, or considerably higher than, that of a human.

"Extraterrestrial life": Organic bodies capable of the MRS GREN processes outlined in biology which originate from planets other than Earth.

I will be defending the motion, and therefore my opponent must criticise the motion. 4,000 character max per round. The winner shall be determined with a "select winner" system. Any sources used may be included within the main body of text or within the comments section, at the debater's discretion. No need to ask for permission to participate: I will debate with whoever is first to accept.

Good luck and have fun!


I would be happy to accept the challenge. The resolution - "Avoid contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life" - has been submitted by Pro. I (Con) will criticize the resolution and argue that contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life should not be avoided. The definitions offered by Pro are acceptable to me.

I look forward to the debate!
Debate Round No. 1


I will begin by briefly outlining my main points:

1) Pathogenous organisms could be transferred between our species, resulting in an epidemic either on our planet or on theirs.

2) Intelligent extraterrestrial life is likely to be aggressive and highly technologically advanced, and would therefore pose a considerable military threat.

3) There is little to be gained from interacting with extraterrestrial life.

Firstly, the most prominent risk is of pathogenous infection; throughout human history, whenever we have encountered isolated groups of humans, there has always been an epidemic of disease; the sheer number of native Americans who died as a result of cold or flu is a horrifying example of this. The devastating impact of a flu or cold epidemic can be seen in human history, and these are for diseases which we know for a fact humans can be immune or resistant to. There exist some diseases which it is impossible for a human to be immune to: prion diseases, primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, and fibrodysplasia ossificians progressivia to name a few specifics. The human immune system has only evolved to cope with those pathogens it regularly encounters; any extraterrestrial pathogens brought to us by intelligent visitors would almost certainly be lethal and extremely contagious, resulting in a devastating epidemic. Just as this horrifying scenario could play our here on Earth, so too would it be possible to infect a visitor with flu and to cause a similarly devastating epidemic on their native planet.

This is, of course, only a problem with greeting the extraterrestrials in physical proximity. The motion clearly forbids all kinds of interactions, and this would include communicating through radiowaves. The biggest reason we shouldn't communicate with extraterrestrials even remotely is the possibility of a military invasion: intelligence is only selected for in carnivorous or omnivorous creatures, as these are the organisms for which is is most crucial to be able to think tactically in order to outwit and kill prey. This means any intelligent extraterrestrials would have evolved a predator's killing instinct and aggression. In order for an extraterrestrial to be able to receive our communications and to send a reply, it would have to be from an extremely advanced society. This would presumably also include an advanced military presence; if we were to go to war with them, they would likely win. If pathogens didn't wipe us out first, the extraterrestrials themselves likely would.

There is less to elaborate on point 3, and it is, admittedly, more of a refutative point than a positively argumentative one. I challenge my opponent to suggest some kind of gain humans could make from interacting with extraterrestrials which it would not either be considerably safer or considerably more efficient to pursue by other means.

So, it is clear that interacting with intelligent extraterrestrials would have the considerable risks of pathogenous epidemics and military invasion, and quite what we would gain from doing so is not yet established. It is for that reason that I urge the voters to side with the motion to avoid contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life. Thank you for your time.


Let me start by thanking Pro for allowing me to participate in this debate. This is a very interesting topic.

Pro brings up some potential risks of making contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life (IEL). I fully acknowledge these risks, but I believe they are outweighed by the potential benefits to humanity. First let me address the points raised by Pro:

"1) Pathogenous organisms could be transferred between our species, resulting in an epidemic either on our planet or on theirs."

This would indeed be a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. As Pro herself acknowledged, contact with IEL does not necessarily have to be within physical proximity. We could communicate through radio waves or some other long-range communication medium. Once a certain level of understanding is achieved, we could work out the details to study the biosystems of each species in a controlled, sterile environment, away from each population. This would allow us to determine precisely what the pathogenic risks are without endangering either population. And if it is determined that the pathogenic risks are too great for physical contact, we could still safely maintain contact through other long-range communication technologies.

"2) Intelligent extraterrestrial life is likely to be aggressive and highly technologically advanced, and would therefore pose a considerable military threat."

Pro asserts that IEL is "likely to be aggressive," but this is based on the violent evolutionary history of life on Earth. We have no idea how life could have evolved on another planet. It could be that natural selection on another planet favors non-violent, peaceful co-existence. Or maybe natural selection has nothing to do with the evolution of IEL - maybe there is another mechanism we don't know about that necessitates peaceful societies. Now, I don't know if this is actually the case, but neither does Pro know if the opposite is true. There is no way to evaluate how "likely" it is that IEL would be aggressive or violent, so this isn't an overwhelming reason to avoid contact with IEL.

"3) There is little to be gained from interacting with extraterrestrial life."

The risk associated with contact with IEL are outweighed by the tremendous benefits in increased knowledge. By contacting and interacting with an extraterrestrial species:

- We can learn more about how life evolves outside of Earth, and whether life on Earth is unique or a variation on a larger theme played throughout the universe.

- Assuming IEL is more technologically advanced than humanity, we could learn how to create new tools to improve our society, perhaps unlock free energy, end poverty, or cure all diseases.

- Our two species could exchange resources that the other might lack. With humanity's current consumption habits, it might be wise to open extraterrestrial trade relations to meet our material needs.

- Learning about extraterrestrial culture has the potential to offer new ways of living and thinking about our place in the cosmos. Throughout human history, cultural interaction has often enriched each culture individually.

These are some benefits that I think make contact with IEL a worthy endeavor.

It could also be the case that contact with IEL is inevitable. Humans have been pumping radio waves into space for over a century, so any moderately advanced society nearby will eventually know of our existence. It may be too late to avoid contact with IEL. Therefore, I submit that we should prepare ourselves and carefully consider the many benefits of alien contact.

In sum, while there are risks to making contact with IEL, they are outweighed by the potential species-altering benefits that could be gained from interacting with an extraterrestrial species. And in any case, contact with IEL may be unavoidable if they are sufficiently advanced, so the resolution may be moot. For these reasons I believe we should not avoid contact with IEL.

Debate Round No. 2


I would like to thank my opponent for his eloquent remarks, and will commence, immediately, with my final comments for round 3.

He began by suggesting we first communicate remotely and then make close contact in a controlled environment. While this is, of course, a much more sensible idea than just landing on their planet and shaking hands (if they even have hands) with their leaders, it is still incredibly risky, and has a number of logistical issues; firstly, how do we communicate with them at all? Languages are incredibly sophisticated systems of code. It takes years to learn a language that we already have established translations for. Think how many years longer it will take to learn to communicate with a species which may not even be physically capable of producing the same sounds we use to communicate, and with which there is no one capable of speaking both their native tongue and any Earth language.
Secondly, even if we, by some remarkable means (that it would very much be in my opponent's favour to establish) managed to find a way to translate between languages remotely, there is the issue of implied meaning. Imagine a native German speaker hearing the following sentence:

"I went down the local rag with my mates, got very pissed and pissed off the bartender by pissing on the floor, so I rang the rents to pick me up".

They have learned English to the extent that they can understand the literal meaning of individual words, but without the sociological context and implied meanings of words, the sentence becomes gibberish. The many different meanings a word can have (e.g. "pissed"), the use of slang (e.g. "local rag") and the use of sayings (e.g. "pick me up"), can give ambiguity to sentences even when one is capable of translating the sentence literally.

Therefore, communicating with the IEL would be nigh on impossible. We couldn't meet in a sterilised environment because we wouldn't be able to communicate the message:

"Board this ship at this time in this location to be placed in a quarantine so that we may study each other's biology"

Without first having prolonged contact. One misinterpretation of one message could result in a war, or in the IEL landing on Earth and a pathogeneous outbreak. Consider also the possibility that the quarantine fails, or the IEL is unwilling to co-operate with us and decides to land on Earth anyway.

I feel my opponent's refutation of my second point was less thorough, so I will spend fewer words responding to it.

Evolution is evolution. It is the only way to get to complex life. That which is efficient at surviving and reproducing does so. That which is inefficient does not. This would be as true on another planet as it is on Earth. Carnivores and omnivores will always be under more pressure to develop intelligence because it necessarily requires more reasoning ability to corner and kill another organism than it does to evade one.

Even if one were to somehow doubt the above claims (and one shouldn't), one would have to concede that it's at least a possibility that they would be aggressive. At that point, why take the risk?

This brings me nicely to my third and final point:

As expected, all of the examples of benefits my opponent presented are better pursued by other means. How life evolved on other planets is necessarily the same as on earth. Evolution is evolution wherever it happens. We'd be better off studying it here.

Unlocking "free energy" is a violation of thermodynamics and simply can't happen.

Curing diseases is difficult but something we can do on Earth without risking introducing a whole bunch of new diseases.

We have the capacity to both improve our society and to solve poverty, but we don't because it wouldn't suit those in power to so so.

We'd be better off harvesting resources from uninhabited planets; all the reward for no risk.

It is for the reasons outlined that I once again urge the voters to side with the motion of avoiding contact with IELs. Thank you.


I would like to thank Pro for this exchange. Her comments have been thoughtful and articulate, and she has been respectful throughout the debate.

Once again, I acknowledge the logistical difficulties Pro raises regarding communication with IEL, but none of the challenges are insurmountable. It may take decades to learn a new communication system, but that need not be a reason to avoid contact with IEL. Our own history on Earth shows that through years of various methods and persistent effort very different cultures are able to figure out the nuances of each others' language. There's no reason to think we couldn't at least attempt that with IEL.

Pro asserts that "communicating with the IEL would be nigh on impossible," but without knowing the capabilities of IEL, this statement is unsupported. There is no way to categorically rule out all possible forms of communication. I have just showed that it would be possible under the right conditions. Neither Pro nor I are in any position to assign absolute likelihood to any methods of communication IEL might use, so we must reject Pro's claim that communication with IEL would be nearly impossible. Risks abound, but we have no way of determining that they are so overwhelming as to avoid all contact.

Pro goes on to argue that IEL would be more likely to be aggressive or violent, but again bases her reasoning on how life evolved on Earth. Pro claims that evolution "is the only way to get to complex life" and that the dominance of aggressive beings "would be as true on another planet as it is on Earth." But how can Pro make this case? Has Pro categorically ruled out every single possible mechanism for the development of life in the entire universe? If not, then Pro is not justified in applying the rules of natural selection on Earth necessarily to the entire Universe. All we know about life is limited only to Earth, so we should be humble about our knowledge of how it can manifest itself.

I do concede the possibility that IEL could be aggressive, but Pro must concede that there is no evidence that evolution would necessarily work the same way everywhere in the universe as it does here. We simply don't know enough to assign a realistic probability either way, so we can only say that IEL with malicious intent would be possible, not likely or necessary.

Why take the risk?

As I mentioned, we can't say we know everything about life just from studying Earth. Evolution is so dependent on environment and biological history that studying IEL would almost certainly show us new ways that life can develop.

Yes, humans might improve society through other means, but that, in and of itself, shouldn't be a reason to avoid contact. No cultural exchange has ever been without risk, and we have been enriched as a species as a result. We shouldn't choose to pass up an opportunity to improve our species because of a risk that we can't even fully assess.

In summary, Pro argues that communication (to avoid pathogenic infection) would be nearly impossible; I argue that our own history shows that learning to communicate between different cultures is difficult but not unachievable. I also pointed out that we don't know enough about IEL to say what is impossible.

Pro reiterated that IEL would most likely be aggressive because evolution of life necessarily favors aggression and violence. However, I reject this assessment because it is only based on Earth's evolutionary history. We just don't know enough about how life evolves outside of Earth.

The potential, society-wide benefits of knowledge from the IEL would be worth the potential, unknown risks. Discovery always has risks, but it has served the human race well; there's no reason to think it can't in this context.

Pro did not address the possibility that humanity's output of electromagnetic signals and radio waves has made contact with IEL inevitable. I would love to know her thoughts on this, but we are out of space.

Thank you for your time.
Debate Round No. 3
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by PsychicPhysicist 1 month ago
@Exitan: Yeah, thanks for the debate!

@Warren42: when would you like us to message you?
Posted by warren42 1 month ago
Can one of you message me in a few days reminding me to vote on this? I'd love to because the resolution seems interesting, I hope the debate lives up to it. Just don't have the time at the moment.
Posted by extian 1 month ago
PsychicPhysicist, thank you for the debate! I really enjoyed it.

I just wanted to drop off a citation regarding cultures learning new languages for the first time. (I didn't have any space for it in the debate.).

Thank you again!
Posted by Yarn 1 month ago
Rock it Extian. :)
Posted by PsychicPhysicist 1 month ago
Source for diseases humans cannot be immune to:
Posted by PsychicPhysicist 1 month ago
Sorry, looks like they beat you to it! I'd be happy to debate with you some other time, though.
Posted by GoogooGaga 1 month ago
Please challenge me to this, I clicked accept just now but someone else did
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Trombonist 1 month ago
Who won the debate:-Vote Checkmark
Reasons for voting decision: I believe that Con won this debate because they could refute most if not all of Pro's points. It seemed as though every time Pro made a claim without any evidence, it seemed as if Con had to reel them back in questioning the claim since Pro didn't use evidence or sources. Aside from that, Con did have the better argument on there being a better benefit from learning from them that Pro did attempting to explain how it may be risky.