It has become very common for the religious, especially those willing to call themselves Young-Earth Creationists, to make the claim that atheists believe that life was seeded on Earth by extraterrestrial beings. It pops up all over the internet, and even in question sessions following the debates and speeches of prominent atheists.
Of course, atheism is not a centralized doctrine, and atheists can believe anything they choose. Some, we can be sure, do believe in extraterrestrial intelligence. Most, however, do not. And no sophisticated atheist thinker has ever expressed any belief in the idea that extraterrestrial beings exist. To be sure, atheist scientists like Carl Sagan have expressed openness to the possibility of UFO visitation; however, these atheists are always quick to point out that there’s no good evidence in either direction. At any rate, there is no evidence whatever that atheists have a tendency to believe in UFO visitation.
From whence, then, does this perception concerning ET-gullible atheists come? The most common source seems to be a quotemine perpetrated against the evolutionary biology and atheist Richard Dawkins. Quotemining is the practice of quoting lines out of context to misrepresent what a speaker or writer is saying. In the case of atheists and UFOs, there was indeed an instance, in Ben Stein’s travesty “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” in which Dawkins, asked about the odds of creationism being the correct explanation for the origin of the universe, bends over backward to give creationism its best chance. He indicates that it is just possible that life on Earth was seeded here by beings from some other part of the universe (carefully noting that those beings would have themselves come into existence by means of Darwinian natural selection, or at least something closely resembling it). However, he never embraces this hypothesis, and he presented it merely as a way of admitting the obvious fact that we can’t ever disprove a universal negative.
Of course we don’t know whether or not alien life exists or if we come from natural selection or selective breeding. The next observation we make about the universe could very well be the one that indicates the presence of alien beings. Dawkins referenced the fact that there is a remote and unsupported chance that we are not only visited but farmed by aliens, the creationist community went wild, claiming that Richard Dawkins believes in alien visitation. What piffle.
The effects of this unfortunate quotemine are now reverberating throughout the evolutionist/creationist and theist/atheist debates, as many forums and videos make the claim that atheists believe in UFO visitation. We must be clear on this issue: there is not a shred of good evidence in favor of the hypothesis that intelligent beings from beyond the solar system have ever approached the Earth. Further, as Carl Sagan beautifully demonstrates in his masterpiece “The Demon-Haunted World,” every aspect of the UFO-mania that has gripped much of the world since the middle of the 20th century is easily explained by well-known psychological, sociological, anthropological, and neurological principles that deal with the tendency of human perception to misfire.
In short, atheists don’t believe in UFOs. Buffoons do. Some buffoons, undoubtedly, are atheists; some are theists. One’s views on the origin of the universe have little to do with belief in intelligent extraterrestrials. Belief in visiting ETs is, given the current body of evidence, merely correlated negatively with the power and discipline of one’s reasoning faculties.