Attitudes Toward Interstellar Communication:
An Empirical Study

William Sims Bainbridge

Journal of the British Interplanetary Society
Vol. 36, pp. 298-304, 1983.

Communication with extraterrestrial intelligence depends as much upon social support for the project as upon appropriate engineering design and upon the actual existence of a nearby extrasolar civilisation. The results of a sociological survey of 1,465 American college students provide the first detailed analysis of the social and ideological factors which influence support for CETI, thereby suggesting ways that support might be increased. Linked to the most idealistic goals of the space programme, notably interplanetary colonisation, enthusiasm for CETI is little affected by attitudes toward technology or militarism. Few sciences or scholarly fields encourage CETI, with the exceptions of Anthropology and Astronomy. Support is somewhat greater among men than among women, but the sex difference is far less than in attitudes toward space flight in general. Evangelical Protestantism, represented by the "Born Again" movement, strongly discourages support for CETI. Just as exobiology begins with an understanding of terrestrial biology, exosociology on the question of how interstellar contact can be achieved should begin with serious sociological study of factors operating on our own world.

1. Introduction

Over the past few years, a powerful wave of technical and popular publications has asserted the feasibility and desirability of a search for extraterrestrial civilisations. While it is recognised that we need to understand the social sources of support for this great project [1], discussions of them have tended to be purely conceptual [2-5], and the few empirical studies have been historical essays [6]. Since space flight was achieved by a social movement, rather than as the inevitable consequence of technical progress [7], it is quite possible that the decisive factors in achieving communication with extraterrestrial intelligence (CETI) will be social as well. This article will use data from a specially designed survey of nearly fifteen hundred American college students to take the first steps toward an understanding of the sources of support and opposition which exist today. Such understanding is a prerequisite to serious analysis of general factors which might shape interstellar interests in other civilisations.

Sometimes, major national polls include a question on extraterrestrial intelligence, typically as part of a human interest survey about flying saucers. In April, 1966, 34 per cent of the 1,500 respondents to a U.S. Gallup poll [8] said "yes" when asked, "Do you think there are people somewhat like ourselves living on other planets in the Universe?" While 20 per cent had no opinion, fully 46 per cent said "no." By November 1973, the "yes" response had risen to 46 per cent, while only 38 per cent said "no." Members of the higher social classes were more apt to believe in extraterrestrials. Among college-educated respondents in 1973, 58 per cent said "yes" compared to only 29 per cent of those who had not even attended high school. Differences by annual income were similar, 57 per cent of those whose families earned $20,000 per year believing in ETs, compared with 34 per cent of those earning under $3,000. Only 30 per cent of those without jobs believed, compared with 47 per cent of manual workers, 52 per cent of those in professional and business careers, and 58 per cent of those in clerical and sales jobs.

Males were slightly more positive than females, 48 per cent versus 45 per cent, and Catholics slightly more than Protestants, 46 per cent versus 43 per cent. Residents of rural areas, and of the Old South, were less likely than the average citizen to believe in ETs. The most potent variable of all was age. Fully 66 per cent of respondents under age twenty-five said "yes," compared with only 31 per cent of those fifty or over. Thus, acceptance of the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence was a characteristic not only of the dominant classes in society, but also of the younger generation who will guide the course of civilisation in the near future.

While much can be learned from occasional national poll questions, a full understanding of the sources of support for CETI can come only from a series of projects specifically designed to explore public opinion in depth. Because social science budgets are very lean these days, and CETI has a low priority on the societal agenda, it is far too costly to conduct several national polls devoted to the subject. However, the chief advantage of a national poll is the possibility of predicting precise response percentages in such mass behaviour as federal elections, and surveys of less extensive populations can often be used to good scientific effect.

This report is based on findings from a lengthy questionnaire administered in 1981 to 1,465 students in introductory sociology classes at the University of Washington, dominant educational institution in the American Northwest, training ground of the future elite of an entire region of the nation. While this is not a true random sample of the student population, questions designed to measure non-representativeness indicate there are no serious biases [9]. If anything, persons likely to concentrate in the social sciences are under-represented, as these sociology classes were among the most popular ways an undergraduate could fulfil the social-science distribution requirement for graduation. Not only has good previous research been based on this same population, but a large 1979 study of 1,439 Washington undergraduates examining ideological orientation in depth found the same pattern as for a random sample of youth in the San Francisco area [10]. Thus, the results reported here do express the views of a large segment of American youth. Furthermore, correlational analysis can be performed validly on such a dataset, even if somewhat different levels of support for CETI might be found in other subpopulations of the United States.

Throughout, we shall compare attitudes toward CETI with attitudes toward the general space programme, and will find again and again that factors which predict support for NASA funding also predict pro-CETI sentiments, but do so much more weakly. Ideological factors we shall examine include opinions about the space programme, the military, technology, various academic fields, and religion. We will introduce the four CETI items in the survey while considering sex differences in opinions about this subject.

2. Gender as a Factor in Determining Attitudes Toward CETI

Table 1 shows the patterns of response to two policy statements which advocated CETI and the search for life on other planets. Many of the questionnaire items were phrased as statements, and the respondent was asked to check one of five replies: "strongly agree," "agree," "neutral," "disagree," or "strongly disagree." Since some students failed to answer one or more questions, the number represented in each column of the table falls slightly .short of the maximum possible, but is always quite large. While about a third of the respondents are "neutral" toward each of the statements, it is encouraging to see that over 40 per cent feel, "We should attempt to communicate with intelligent beings on other planets, perhaps using radio." An equal number agree that, "Space exploration must continue so we can learn if there is life on other planets." Certainly, these questions treat CETI in a simple manner, ignoring the speed-of-light limitation on two-way communication by radio, for example, and the question of how the space programme can actually reach extrasolar planets where life is possible. But we leave to later studies of better-informed populations the subtle issues of exactly what CETI should seek to achieve through precisely which technical means.

TABLE 1: Responses to Two Policy Statements (per cent)

We should attempt to
communicate with
intelligent beings on
other planets,
perhaps using radio.
Space exploration must
continue so we can
learn if there is life
on other planets.
Response:792
Women
639
Men
1431
Total
742
Women
615
Men
1357
Total
Strongly
Agree
6.1%13.6%9.4%5.9%10.7%8.1%
Agree28.0%37.9%32.4%37.2%33.5%35.5%
Neutral38.3%26.4%33.0%38.3%31.7%35.3%
Disagree21.0%16.9%19.1%16.7%20.3%18.3%
Strongly
Disagree
6.7%5.2%6.0%1.9%3.7%2.7%
100%100%100%100%100%100%

Opinion surveys often find a larger "undecided vote" among women than among men, and markedly greater percentages of the women responded "neutral" to our two ET policy statements. While 38.3 per cent of the women were neutral toward CETI, only 26.4 per cent of the men could not take a stand pro or con. And men give greater support to the attempt to communicate than do women, just over fifty per cent in favour compared with under thirty-five. Expressed as a correlation between being male and supporting CETI, however, the difference is not huge, achieving a tau of only .18, statistically significant beyond the .0001 level because of the large number of cases analysed.

For contrast, there was a much bigger sex difference in support for the general space programme, as measured by a question drawn from the General Social Survey [11] asking whether space appropriations should be increased, kept the same, or reduced. While 45.1 per cent of the men wanted NASA's budget increased, only 18.6 per cent of the women did so, resulting in a tau of .30. The second item in Table 1, about continuing space exploration in order to find life, does not show greater male than female enthusiasm, the tau being exactly zero. The difference here between the sexes is that men are more polarised than women, showing greater negative as well as positive responses.

The two other CETI items in the survey do not ask for policy judgements but opinions about facts, yet they also measure attitudes toward the subject. One was drawn from an elaborate earlier study of the ideologies of pro-space activist groups [12] and summarised what many people feel might be the cultural benefits of CETI: "Communication with intelligent beings from other planets would give us completely new perceptions of humanity, new art, philosophy and science." The sex difference in responses to this statement is not large, 66.5 per cent of the males agreeing compared with 57.9 per cent of the females (tau = .12).

The final item was phrased negatively, so we could be confident our findings would not merely be the result of positive response biases, and it refers to the assumption underlying CETI: "Intelligent life probably does not exist on any planet but our own." Overwhelmingly, students rejected this statement, only 8.4 per cent of the men and 12.0 per cent of the women checking the box for "agree" or "strongly agree." However, distribution across the five response categories was not so badly skewed as to compromise correlational analysis, and the modest tendency for men to reject this anti-CETI item more often than women did resulted in a tau of -.16.

It is easy to construct a CETI-scale out of these four statements, arriving at a more general measure of attitudes than any one item taken alone. This scale awards a respondent one point for each pro-CETI attitude - that is, for agreeing to some extent with each of the first three CETI statements and for disagreeing with the fourth. Respondents who skipped any one of the four statements were dropped from consideration, and a total of 1,350 both have a valid score on this CETI-scale and told us their gender. With the sexes combined, 15.0 per cent have a score of 0, expressing pure anti-CETI opinions. The distribution is quite even, with 18.9 per cent having a score of 1, 22.7 per cent a score of 2, 21.3 per cent a score of 3, and 22.1 per cent a score of 4 which represents the extreme in pro-CETI sentiments. Here, again, the males are slightly more pro-CETI than the females (tau = .16, significant beyond the .0001 level). With these five measures, we can proceed to examine the connection between CETI attitudes and various social and ideological factors.

While the male and female patterns of response to the CETI measures differ noticeably, analyses not worth reporting here indicated it was seldom necessary to use statistical controls for the sex effect when examining other factors. Therefore, we shall mention gender differences in attitudinal patterns only when they become especially interesting. Already we have seen that sex differences are greater in attitudes toward general funding for the space programme than toward extraterrestrial communication. Certainly, the next question we should answer concerns the connection in respondents' minds between CETI and the space programme in general.

3. CETI and Attitudes Toward The Space Programme

Table 2 reports the connections linking the five CETI measures with each other and their associations toward support for the space programme. The four CETI statements correlate strongly with each other, the taus ranging from .26 to .37, and the anti-CETI item naturally achieves negative correlations with the others. Since these four are incorporated in the CETI-scale, autocorrelation gives them astronomically high coefficients with it, but it is interesting to note that they contribute rather equally to it, the taus ranging narrowly from .54 to .61.

TABLE 2: Correlation Matrix of CETI and Space Programme Support Items.

Correlation (tau) with:
Statement: We
should
attempt
CETI
CETI
would
give
us...
Learn
if life
is on
planets
ETI
does
not
exist
CETI
scale
We should attempt to communicate with
intelligent beings on other planets, perhaps
using radio.
 .35.33-.37.61
Communication with intelligent beings from
other planets would give us completely new
perceptions of humanity, new art,
philosophy and science.
  .31-.31.58
Space exploration must continue so we can
learn if there is life on other planets.
   -.26.54
Intelligent life probably does not
exist on any planet but our own.
    -.54
The United States is spending too much money
on space, so appropriations for the
space program should be reduced.
-.30-.25-.25.31-.34
Space exploration should be delayed until we have
solved more of our problems here on earth.
-.25-.20-.26.24-.29
In the long run, discoveries in our space program
will have a big payoff for the average person.
.28.23.26-.25.31
Funding for the space exploration program
should be increased.
.31.22.28-.29.35
All correlations are significant at the .0001 level.

At the bottom of the table, we see two anti-space items and two pro-space items, which give satisfyingly consistent correlations with the CETI items. They support the value of the CETI-scale by achieving higher coefficients with it than with the four component items. Altogether, only 17.6 per cent of the college students agreed that, "The United States is spending too much money on space, so appropriations for the space program should be reduced." Of course, the 60.6 per cent who disagreed must have included many who felt current appropriations were at the right level, as well as others who wanted funding increased. A minority of the students, 22.6 per cent, felt that, "Space exploration should be delayed until we have solved more of our problems here on earth." And an absolute majority, 52.7 per cent believed, "In the long run, discoveries in our space program will have a big payoff for the average person." The table concludes with the item on space funding taken from the General Social Survey, a measure we shall use in several of our later analyses to provide comparison with the CETI measures.

Table 2 confirms our expectation that attitudes toward CETI are linked with attitudes toward the general space programme, but the large coefficients may conceal more subtle truths. Some aspects of the space programme may draw social support from the same constituencies as does CETI, while other aspects may arouse strong feelings in quite different segments of the public. Thus it would be useful to consider a wider range of space opinions, to see which aspects of space flight are ideologically tied most closely to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Table 3 reports the correlations between agreement that we should attempt CETI and agreement with 18 other opinions on various real or potential benefits of the space programme, and it includes information on the percentage of men and women who held each of the 18 opinions.

TABLE 3: Support for CETI and Opinions About Space.

Correlation
with CETI
Percent agree
StatementFemalesMales
.35Space travel will lead to the planting of human colonies on new worlds in space.43.8%57.4%
.30Society has a chance for a completely fresh start in space; new social forms and exciting new styles of life can be created on other worlds.41.0%54.4%
.30Space will be of value in ways we cannot yet imagine.76.9%83.7%
.26Space technology produces many valuable inventions and discoveries which have unexpected applications for industry or everyday life.71.8%85.1%
.26The space program can help maintain and improve the overall quality of our technology63.7%82.9%
.25Space exploration adds tremendously to our scientific knowledge.81.0%89.3%
.25Spaceflight enlarges the mind and the spirit of mankind, so that our ideas become universal rather than earth-bound.54.9%62.4%
.23Raw materials from the moon and other planets can supplement the dwindling natural resources of the earth.39.1%58.1%
.22If we abandon the space program, we will be giving up on the whole idea of humanprogress.55.7%58.3%
.21We have always needed the challenges provided by a frontier, and space is the new frontier.61.5%70.9%
.20Earth resource satellites allow us to monitor the natural environment of the earth and help locate valuable natural resources such as minerals or water.62.5%79.0%
.17Electric power generated in space and sent down to earth will help solve the energy crisis.39.3%56.0%
.16Space exploration is a natural expression of innate human curiosity.79.2%84.1%
.15The space program provides an essential stimulus to the whole economy by investing money and paying employees.41.3%57.3%
.15Meteorology satellites aid in making accurate predictions of the weather.66.6%85.9%
.12Military reconnaissance satellites (spy satellites) further the cause of peace by making secret preparation for war and sneak attacks almost impossible.36.7%60.6%
.10Radio, telephone and TV relay satellites are vital links in the world's communication system.90.4%95.8%
.08Space has military applications, and we must develop space weapons for our own defence.22.8%45.9%
All correlations (tau) are significant at the .0001 level.

The pro-space ideological statements have been arranged in Table 3 in order of decreasing correlation with the CETI item, so those at the top of the list should express values similar to those behind CETI, while those at the bottom of the list should express much more remote ideas. The first three statements place CETI in an idealistic and expansive context. People who support CETI are especially likely also to favour interplanetary colonisation, as described in the first two statements (tau = .35, tau = .30). They also express a deep, open-ended faith in the potential of Mankind's exploration of the Universe: "Space will be of value in ways we cannot yet imagine." At the opposite extreme, the four statements at the bottom of the list refer to mundane benefits of current near-Earth space exploitation, meteorology and communications satellites, and to potentially threatening military activities. Thus, communication with extraterrestrial intelligence is, as might expect, connected in students' minds with the great long-range goal of colonisation but not significantly with the most mundane current economic and military space activities. The lack of much connection to space warfare is a happy finding, because it indicates that the impending militarization of space is not likely to discourage public support for CETI, as it may do for other peaceful space activities.

These findings suggest we next consider attitudes toward militarism, advanced technology, and the sciences, topics clearly connected to space flight as to CETI, comparing their influence on support for the space programme as well as for extraterrestrial communication.

4. The Military, Technology, and Science

Gradually, the general public is becoming aware that the Soviet Union and United States are moving towards greater militarization of space, and one might be concerned that this development will place a very heavy public relations burden on NASA and on the movement to achieve CETI. Table 4 gives us further insight into the degree to which people mentally link CETI with war.

TABLE 4. Support for CETI and Opinions About the Military.

Correlation (tau) with:
Statement: Increase
space
program
funding
We
should
attempt
CETI
CETI
would
give
us...
Learn
if life
is on
planets
ETI
does
not
exist
CETI
scale
Funding for the military
armaments and defense
should be increased
 .17* .00 .04 .09*-0.01 .03
In war, it is right and
moral to kill the enemy
 .10* .02 .00 .06-.01 .03
No one would survive a
nuclear war between the
United States and Russia.
-.18*-.06-.10* .05 .13*-.08*
*Significant at the .0001 level.

Modest correlations (tau ranging from .10 to .18) connect space funding to approval of increased defence spending, to acceptance of killing in war, and to rejection of the idea that a nuclear war would mean the end of humanity. Thus many people do tend to think of the space programme in terms similar to those of national defence. But only four of the fifteen CETI coefficients achieve a high level of statistical significance, and indeed for a survey with well over a thousand respondents it does not take much of an association to achieve the .0001 level. Perhaps the most interesting coefficient is the dead zero correlation between favouring the attempt to achieve CETI and approval of increased defence spending. Clearly, militarism is tied very weakly if at all to attitudes toward CETI, certainly far less than it is to support for the space programme.

Both CETI and space flight depend upon advanced technology, and there is reason to believe that a counterculture of anti-technology ("Luddite") sentiments currently erodes popular support for progress as it has been known in recent centuries. The very weak negative correlation (tau = -.08) between the CETI-scale and the belief that no one would survive a nuclear way may represent ideological linkage of CETI with advanced technology rather than with war. In other research we have found opposition to civilian nuclear power to correlate highly with the nuclear war item, and both may partly represent distrust of advanced technology in general. In Table 5 we consider five anti-technology attitudes, none of them directly concerned with militarism.

TABLE 5: Support for CETI and Anti-Technology Opinions.

Correlation (tau) with:
Statement: Increase
space
program
funding
We
should
attempt
CETI
CETI
would
give
us...
Learn
if life
is on
planets
ETI
does
not
exist
CETI
scale
Machines have thrown too
many people out of work.
-.19*-.06-.07 .02 .17*-.09*
It would be nice if we
would stop building so
many factories and go
back to nature.
-.16*-.07-.05-.07 .08-.08
Technology has made life
too complicated.
-.17*-.11*-.08*-.07 .12*-.11*
All nuclear power plants
should be shut down or
converted to safer fuels.
-.20*-.10*-.09*-.05 .13*-.11*
People today have become
too dependent upon
machines.
-.16*-.07-.04-.05 .12*-.08*
*Significant at the .0001 level.

Students who agree with these indictments of modern technology and of industrial society do show some tendency to oppose CETI, although their opposition to increased funding for the space programme is greater. The weak associations in Table 5 suggest there is both need and opportunity for stressing the open, humane, non-technical qualities of CETI. This has been done in some very effective pro-CETI propaganda, the movies Close Encounters and E.T. When the stranded E.T. assembles a CETI contraption out of common household junk in order to "phone home," he places CETI in a familiar, humanistic context. Interstellar contact and communication become expressions of friendship rather then being the special dreams of a high-technology elite. Thus, while the search for extraterrestrial civilizations does require the use of advanced technology, it may be possible to present it to the public as a triumph of humanism and of the spirit, rather than as an arcane technical breakthrough which might antagonise technophobic segments of the population.

Previous research has shown that science fiction encourages pro-CETI attitudes, even examples of this popular genre emphasising mystical rather than technical values [13, 14]. One theme in both Close Encounters and E.T. is that ET contact is for the ordinary people of the world, not just for technical and political elites. And the people loved these movies. Unlike the Space Shuttle, where only experts may go, the messages possibly beamed toward us from other stars can be shared by all the citizens of Earth.

The fact that attitudes toward technology play a role, albeit a minor one, in determining attitudes toward CETI suggests we ought to look for other measures of intellectual value-commitment. Since our respondents are college students, the most salient ideological orientations are probably expressed through their preferences for college subjects. The questionnaire included a series of 32 items asking students how much they like particular fields of study, using a seven-point preference scale from "0" (do not like) to "6" (like very much). Table 6 shows how several of these subjects correlate with the space funding and CETI items.

TABLE 6: Support for CETI and Preferences for Academic Fields.

Correlation (tau) with:
Preference for: Increase
space
program
funding
We
should
attempt
CETI
CETI
would
give
us...
Learn
if life
is on
planets
ETI
does
not
exist
CETI
scale
Astronomy  .26* .19* .17* .08*-.23* .23
Physics  .22* .09* .07 .02-.09* .10*
Mathematics  .10* .01 .03 .01 .00 .02
Engineering  .20* .06 .06 .06-.07 .08*
Botany  .05 .01 .07-.02-.08* .06
Biology  .03-.03 .01 .00-.07 .02
Zoology  .03 .02 .05 .01-.06 .06
Anthropology  .08 .09* .12* .10*-.11* .14*
Communications -.09*-.03 .00 .06 .03 .01
Foreign languages -.09*-.03 .04-.03 .01 .00
Sociology -.10*-.01-.02 .04 .00 .02
Social work -.19*-.10*-.08*-.01 .11*-.08*
The sciences, in general  .18* .09* .09* .05-.14* .12*
The humanities, in general -.11*-.01 .01 .00-.04 .03
*Significant at the .0001 level.

There should be no surprise that appreciation of Astronomy predicts support for the space programme and for CETI, but again the correlation for space funding is the strongest. For Physics and Engineering the associations with space funding are much stronger than those with CETI, and for Mathematics the CETI associations collapse. The strength of Astronomy suggests that support for CETI is encouraged specifically by interest in the Universe around us, and only weakly if at all by a positive orientation toward the physical sciences as such.

The second group of college subjects in Table 6 consists of three life sciences, allowing us to test whether support for CETI is encouraged by an interest in the miracle of life and thus by a desire to seek out life in all the forms in which it is manifested, off the Earth as well as on. But the correlations are extremely disappointing, averaging dead zero in the case of the statement about continuing the space programme to see if there is life on other planets. There are very weak but marginally significant associations with rejection of the idea that intelligent life does not exist on any planet except our own. But positive support we do not find.

One might think that support for communication with extraterrestrial societies would be encouraged by interest in the social sciences. For example, people who like courses in the Communications Department ought to like this kind of communication as well. But the five social fields do not reveal a solid pattern of encouragement. Yes, appreciation of Anthropology is significantly linked to support. Apparently, people who love alien terrestrial cultures are prepared to extend this enthusiasm beyond the Earth. But this factor does not operate for Communications, Foreign Languages or Sociology, because these subjects have no correlation at all with the CETI items.

One clue may come from overt opposition to CETI by those who like the subject of Social Work, and in the negative correlations with support for the space programme. While one may imagine reasons why Communications students might like CETI, the fact is that their field narrowly focuses on communication with other members of their own society and is a training ground for professionals in broadcasting and the press. Sociologists study Americans, and even those learning Foreign Languages are generally reaching only as far as European cultures, hardly different from our own. Of course. Social Work is concerned with solving problems of our own Society, and it may see investment in extraterrestrial projects as a diversion of resources and concern away from the home where they would wish them to be invested. Only Anthropologists seek out and appreciate the alien.

At the bottom we see two summary measures, the students' responses to items on "the sciences in general" and "the humanities in general." While the coefficients are not large, clearly the sciences support the space programme, while the humanities oppose it. This finding would have been predicted by C. P. Snow's theory that modern intellectuals are divided into two opposed cultures, the sciences and humanities, with contradictory values [15]. Analysis we shall not detail here shows that students mean physical sciences when they say "sciences," and they consider Sociology to be one of the humanities. Interest in the sciences aids CETI, while the humanities are neutral to it.

Thus, except for Social Work, we do not see sources of opposition in the value systems expressed through scientific and scholarly fields. We do find support in Astronomy and Anthropology. The fact that continuing astronomical discoveries are assured by the new generation of telescopes being built (and, in some cases, launched) indicates that CETI may continue to gain popular strength through the connection to Astronomy. If Social Work represents opposition, we may worry that other social, political and cultural movements may do so as well. A future study will have to analyse the political factors, which undoubtedly are complex. The opposition from Social Work suggests that the political left rejects CETI, but other measures suggest weak rejection from the political right. A question drawn from the General Social Survey asked respondents to indicate their political orientation on a seven-point scale from "1" (extremely liberal) to "7" (extremely conservative). The CETI-scale correlated negatively with Conservatism, for each of the sexes achieving a Pearson's r of -.11, significant at the .003 level. One possible explanation for this complexity may be found in conservative religious faith.

5. Religious Opposition to CETI

While the possibility of contact with extraterrestrial intelligence derives from recent developments in science and technology, it reminds us of age-old questions of a philosophical or religious nature. Where have we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? What is man in relation to the cosmos? Are there forms of consciousness vastly superior to human beings? What hope can there be for the distant future? Traditional Christian religion provided answers for all these questions, answers which have been shaken already by discoveries in the sciences and might be completely shattered by successful contact with extraterrestrial civilisations. Thus, CETI serves motives which border on the religious, yet it threatens particular religious doctrines and values which have been important in the Christian tradition.

Our questionnaire included several well-tested religion questions, permitting us to look deeply into the relationship between traditional faith and support for CETI. Of the 597 students who could be identified as Protestants, 38.0 per cent felt we should attempt to communicate with intelligent beings on other planets. This contrasts with 41.8 per cent of the 55 Jews, 43.8 per cent of the 368 Catholics and 50.3 per cent of the 266 who said they had no religion. Clearly, there is something in Protestantism which reduces support, and perhaps something in irreligiousness which encourages support. A difference of 12.3 percentage points is not to be ignored, so in Table 7 we examine the religion effects further.

TABLE 7: Support for CETI and Religion.

Correlation (tau) with:
Preference for: Increase
space
program
funding
We
should
attempt
CETI
CETI
would
give
us...
Learn
if life
is on
planets
ETI
does
not
exist
CETI
scale
ALL RESPONDENTS:
Being "Born Again" -.10*-.16*-.16*-.13*.16*-.21*
Belief in miracles -.13*-.17*-.15*-.09*.18*-.18*
Beliefs are important -.14*-.16*-.14*-.11*.15*-.19*
Church attendance -.12*-.16*-.16*-.08*.18*-.18*
MALE PROTESTANTS:
Being "Born Again" -.15-.37*-.31*-.32*.35*-.45*
Belief in miracles -.13-.33*-.26*-.21*.33-.37*
Beliefs are important -.14-.30*-.19*-.24*.27*-.35*
Church attendance -.11-.27*-.22*-.21*.30*-.34*
FEMALE PROTESTANTS:
Being "Born Again" -.11-.14-.18-.10.19-.19
Belief in miracles -.18*-.17*-.15-.11.19*-.19*
Beliefs are important -.12-.19*-.16-.12.18*-.20*
Church attendance -.11-.14-.14-.10.17*-.17*
*Significant at the .0001 level.

While several religion questions gave very much the same results, we have chosen four in Table 7 which span the range of aspects of religion. The first question was drawn from the Gallup Poll: "Would you say that you have been 'born again' or have had a 'born again' experience - that is, a turning point in your life when you committed yourself to Christ?" Of the 1,421 students who answered this question, 22.2 per cent admitted to being Born Again Christians, compared with 34 per cent nationally [16]. The second item was one of our standard agree-disagree statements: "Miracles actually happened just as the Bible says they did." Fully 46.8 per cent of the respondents gave some measure of assent to this fundamentalist opinion. The third item was part of a collection of miscellaneous questions: "How important to you are your religious beliefs?" Respondents were asked to check one of four boxes: "very important" (32.5 per cent), "fairly important" (33.4 per cent), "not too important" (22.6 per cent) and "not at all important" (11.5 per cent). The final religion question inquired how often the student attended religious services, answers being given on a six-point scale from "once a week or more" to "never." While 16.0 per cent never attended church, 41.5 per cent did so at least once a month.

The first part of Table 7 looks at correlations based on all respondents to the survey, and here we do indeed see significant associations. Religious students are less likely to support increased funding for the space programme, and are perhaps even less likely to support CETI. Indeed, the consistent negative correlations between the religion items and the CETI-scale indicate that traditional religion is a real force working against this great project to discover other civilisations in the Universe. While the three previous tables showed bigger correlations for space programme funding, here religion reveals itself as an especially potent influence on attitudes toward CETI.

The fact that the denominational groups differed in their mean level of support for CETI required that we run these religion computations for each group separately. The most interesting findings were for Protestants, the group with the lowest level of support, so in the middle and bottom of Table 7 we repeat the correlations just for the Protestants. Since gender is a prime topic of research interest in the sociology of religion [17], here we do the computations for males and females separately. Correlations for the Protestant women are almost identical to those for the entire set of respondents, while those for Protestant men are vastly stronger. Indeed, the tau of -.45 between being Born Again and the CETI-scale is majestic, about as big a tau as we would ever expect to find in questionnaire opinion data.

Previous research found that the Born Again movement was the most powerful religious force on the university campus [18]. And here, again, being Born Again has a decisive impact. While 33 per cent of the Protestant Born Again men have a CETI-scale score of 0, and only 10 per cent have a perfect pro-CETI score of 4, the figures are almost exactly reversed for Protestant men who are not Born Again. Only 6 per cent of them have a CETI-scale score of 0, while 35 per cent have a score of 4. For all Protestants, the Born Agains are half are likely as ordinary students to want us to attempt CETI, 23.3 per cent versus 46.1 per cent. Our other research showed a strong link between being Born Again and holding fundamentalist beliefs, holding these beliefs strongly, and attending church very frequently.

Computation of the same correlations for Catholics failed to reveal a strong religious effect. That is, there was very little difference in support for CETI among Catholics who were very religious compared with those who were not at all religious. Also, there was little sex difference in the impact of the very weak religious effect which did appear. Clearly it is the evangelical Born Again movement which pulls the Protestant support below that for other groups.

The sex difference among Protestants is difficult to explain. Religion normally is more salient for women than for men, and space projects are more salient for men. But it is hard to understand how these facts fit together to produce the coefficients we see. Examination of the actual crosstabulations for each pair of variables does not reveal any quirks in the distributions which might be at fault. For the 334 female Protestants who answered the relevant questions, only 21.6 per cent of Born Agains support the attempt to achieve CETI, compared with 35.4 per cent of those not Born Again. Among 250 male Protestants, 25.0 per cent of the Born Agains support CETI, compared with 59.7 per cent of those not Born Again. Thus, for Protestants, being male does increase support for CETI, while being Born Again greatly reduces it. The religion effect is so powerful that it deserves not only the notice of the aerospace community but also the attention of future sociological research projects.

One possible explanation for fundamentalist religious opposition to CETI is that the existence of extraterrestrial life and civilisation would tend to refute Biblical notions of the origins of the Earth and its people. If this is true, then one would expect a strong connection between opposition to CETI and opposition to Darwinian theories of evolution. In fact, there is a significant negative correlation (tau = -.22 for all students) between the CETI-scale and feeling that, "Darwin's theory of evolution could not possibly be true." Unfortunately, close inspection of our data does not permit us to conclude that religion undercuts support for CETI because it promulgates opposition to scientific theories such as Darwin's which harmonize with the possibility of extraterrestrial life. As we have found in previous research, Darwin questions simply measure religious traditionalism [19], and do not represent a cognitively independent attitude. Statistically, the Darwin question is so highly correlated with straight religion items that it cannot be manipulated independently of them. The fact that favouring biological science was not connected to support of a CETI project (Table 6) testifies to the weakness of any explanation which makes the theory of evolution an effective intellectual link between fundamentalism and attitudes toward CETI.

Another approach is to note the large body of literature suggesting that sectarian, conservative Protestants (but not necessarily Catholics) exhibit a general xenophobia, a hatred and fear of outsiders. For example, one famous study found that rejection of Jews was especially common in fundamentalist Protestant groups, among the same population which opposes CETI [20]. The reasons for this xenophobia may be theological, as the original study said, or more social as asserted by recent commentators [21-23, and cf. 24, 25]. Members of fundamentalist Protestant groups tend to suffer a variety of social and economic deprivations, and they vehemently assert their religious righteousness as a balm for their bruised self-esteem. Aliens, whether Jews of ETs, may thus be disvalued as a way of elevating the subjective status of the fundamentalist who claims that only his kind of people are truly exalted. One may interpret being Born Again as nothing but the arrogant assertion of special honour. While the theological teachings of fundamentalism affect devout men and women equally, it is possible that the men in the Born Again movement feel more acutely than women an unreasoning hostility toward outsiders, because achievement of high status is a traditional goal for men. Clearly, this important topic should be targeted for future research.

6. Conclusion

We have just seen that the CETI movement is opposed implicitly by another modern social movement of great force:

evangelicalism or the Born Again phenomenon among Protestants. Perhaps, propagandisers for CETI can find a way to couch their hopes in terms more congenial to traditional religion, perhaps on the model of C. S. Lewis [26, and cf. 27]. But if social deprivations and xenophobia are behind the evangelical opposition, there may be little that mere words can accomplish. The possibility that new religions just being born may be more supportive of exploration of the cosmos cannot affect things on the historically short run of a few decades, and thus near-term CETI projects cannot expect much aid from this exotic direction [28]. However, future research may give us an understanding of the religious opposition which suggests an effective remedy.

The findings reported in this paper clearly indicate that CETI gains strength from the general space programme, and thus should be furthered by successes such as those of the Space Shuttle. But CETI gains also from the fact that it is not equally tied to all aspects of space flight. The lack of a strong connection to military applications means that CETI need not be opposed by anti-war movements, for example. Furthermore, the fact that social factors predicting support for the space programme generally are markedly weaker predictors of CETI attitudes suggests that the extraterrestrial contact movement can grow far beyond the limits of NASA's political constituency. While only 30.2 per cent of our respondents feel funding for the space exploration programme should be increased, 41.7 per cent want a new programme to achieve CETI. Indeed, all our results indicate that enthusiasm for the search for extraterrestrial civilisation is a powerful independent idea capable of achieving a strong positive consensus among educated young Americans.

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