Don't know if anybody is aware of the Fermi Paradox, or ever thinks about it, but I do. And if you have an open mind it can truly be a fascinating idea to entertain.
This is a review of the paradox if you already know about it you can skip this next paragraph
First, let me give a quick review of what the Fermi Paradox is. About 60 years ago, with the technological advancements of power telescopes and our first exploration into space as a species, it quickly became evident that the sheer number of stars and planets in our galaxy alone, would suggest that, even at astronomically slim odds, life should be teeming throughout the Milky way. Our Solar system is about 4.5 billion years old, thus it has taken 4.5 billion years from its creation to produce intelligent beings such as ourselves. There are billions of stars with earth like planets that are much older than our sun, thus have had much longer to produce intelligent life. Using our own species as an example, once intelligence shows up on a planet it explores space in a relatively short amount of time (relative to the cosmological scale). The first modern humans appear around 100k years ago so in just 100k years we have gone from stone tools to iPhones and space-farring rockets. Very very short amount of time compared to the billions of years the universe/galaxy/solar system is. Taking all of this into consideration, it becomes evident that even an alien civilization only thousands of years older than us, would have technology completely unknown to us and if they explored space and left a mark like humans do it should be evident. This, the Fermi Paradox, "Where are they?"
There have been many solutions to the problem... Maybe we are truly unique and rare and life is really spread out too thin to ever make contact? Maybe all civilizations destroy themselves by way of new weapons, maybe intelligence is unlikely through natural evolutionary processes. This could be supported by the fact that it has only occurred once on earth. Intelligence isn't necessary to survive. However through the sheer numbers, even if intelligent life only evolves at a .001% rate on earth like planets, there would be thousands of intelligent alien civilizations in our galaxy alone.
As technology advances and weapons become exponentially more dangerous to the entire world, it is possible that religious fanatics and extremists could evolve their attacks from car bombings and hijackings to bombings of the nuclear/atomic kind. Most of the terrorists are well educated and once they can produce weapons of mass destruction, in line with their beliefs, I don't think its inconceivable to assume that one day a religious person would do irreversible damage to our species in the name of God. Of course, this is theoretical, but it makes sense that every intelligent species on any planet would initially create religions to explain the things that they couldn't understand. What if there is no evidence of any intelligent life because every civilization (once becoming technological) is unknowingly engaged in a race to irradicate religion, in favor of reason. It seems that as technology advances, it is inevitable that one day a nuclear attack in the name of a religion is imminent. What if this battle between reason and religion is so much more important than we even realize. Our very fate could be reliant upon it, though, it may be an unwinnable battle and we are already doomed.
Here is a good article I linked in a recent Sunday school that you may find interesting. Works best using Chrome. I think it will remain a paradox for a long time. When I look up at the night sky I am aware of my own insignificance. I am part of it all but it is not aware of me. The thought makes me smile. What would it mean if we found intelligent life on another world? What would it mean if we never do? One thing I never do is look up and thank some god for creating it all just for me :-). We are just specks of dust on a pale blue dot.
We are specks of dust on a grain of sand on a dirt heap spread through an empty expanse in but the forgotten blink of an eye.
Why would intelligent life want to make contact with humans?
The Fermi "paradox" is outdated.
Even if we count all the great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, orangutans), cetaceans (dolphins, killer whales, whales) and cephalopods (octopi, squid, cuttlefish) as intelligent with us that is an incredibly small percentage. Cetacean-like beings wouldn't have any easy way to manipulate objects in their environment so they are unlikely to develop technology (on a planet without beings like us). For cephalopods to develop further they would need a biological change allowing them to live significantly beyond genetic death (birth of the offspring). The differences between us and the other apes shows a subtle but distinct threshold so just intelligence is not enough; a certain minimum level of adaptability is required to develop further. So the development of intelligent life able to create a civilization is less than .0001%
Unfortunately the adaptability might require false agent detection (incorrect attribution of an event to an agent, often considered intelligent) which is the evolutionary basis for superstition - the source of religion. So you may be correct in that religion versus reason might be a more universal problem than we would first guess - I have also wondered about this for a while now.
Another problem is the assumption that evolution will naturally progress to develop an intelligent species able to create a civilization. This is a false assumption. Take the jellyfish for example. It is often described as "primitive" but that is very wrong. Everything alive today is the result of billions of years of evolution so even the life that appears simpler ("primitive") is advanced enough to be optimized for its ecological niche. Considering the increasing numbers of jellyfish in our oceans (they are okay with low-oxygen and warmer waters), they are very well adapted and advanced even if they don't look it. We could easily find that most planets have plenty of life just no advanced races.
I have not seen any serious consideration of the type of animal that would develop adaptive intelligence. Herbivores are the least likely to develop sufficiently. Predators are more intelligent than herbivores but that intelligence is specialized for hunting. Omnivores are the most likely to develop. Solo animals only deal with their environment on a regular basis. Social animals show more need for adaptability in addition to the potential for teaching – a crucial trait for advancing. So the top choice is a social omnivore like us with a social predator being next most likely.
A problem with the social omnivore or predator arises if the social bonds are not stronger than the predatory nature – like us. If the social bonds are stronger then the race is unlikely to destroy itself. If the predatory nature is stronger then the race has a fair chance at destroying itself.
Add religion and you get the human race – great potential for self-destruction and not so good prospects for being around in 10,000 years. Our messages to the stars could be a short blip in time which is easily missed by other races.
The advanced races which do leave their own planet? Even if they have disposed of religion in favor of reason, they might only have enough sociability for themselves and we would need to beware, after all, they're not likely to be herbivores.
But that 1 million is also spread out in time - about 10 billion years since the first generation stars would not have had planets at all (since it was the first stars which created the elements necessary for planets and life to exist). And as James points out below, not all planets have the same resources as Earth. I'm not sure but I think a lot of the second generation stars might have had planets with lesser heavy elements. Up to iron sure but those heavier than iron could be sparse which would limit those species. If that's correct then that's about 5 billion years worth of species unable to cross some technological boundaries - some finding other ways while others fail.
If an advanced race only lasts for an average of 100 million years - an incredibly long time - there could be many that have risen and fallen long before we became a species. If we use the figure of 10 billion as the time during which civilizations could develop and exist 100 million years / 10 billion years = .01 = 1% chance of existing now. If the average is less then a smaller chance and if more then a greater chance.
So we're down to a maximum of 10,000 possible civilizations in our galaxy right now. I'm not sure how many to knock off for not having resources - 20%? Down to 8,000.
There are quite a few natural extinction level events we face so other races would too: large asteroid, megavolcano, catastrophic climate change (whether too hot or too cold). Again, not sure what %age to trim by - maybe down to 6,000?
But all this assumes very Earth-like planets and conditions.
No land probably means no trip into space. Too frequent extinctions means they die before advancing high enough to avoid it. I've wondered if some extinctions are needed to insure sufficient diversity to give rise to intelligent species which means if there are too few extinctions then nothing develops.
As I mention above there are other intelligent species on Earth but none have our level of adaptability which allows us to achieve sapience/sentience. Why? Are the conditions for that combination very rare?
We understand far more about ourselves and our world but ironically that only allows us to realize we know too little to say that there should be intelligent advanced races out there travelling among the stars. Possible, sure. Definitely nearby, very questionable.
Ok I'm with you I see what you are saying it makes sense how maybe not even enough time has passed yet I didn't consider that earlier generation solar systems obviously wouldn't be composed of the same rich diversity of elements. And regarding the evolution of our own intelligence, as I understand it was driven by the combination of the drying environment, leading to bipedal form better suited for open plains, and the addition of the opposable thumb. The ability to make tools started our technological advancements so I could wrap my head around the idea that there really had to be a perfect storm of circumstances and adaptations, mutations, changes in climate etc. that we truly could be unique. I could only hope another species on some other planet would have experienced this perfect storm because boy wouldn't that be the argument of the ages for Theists lol.
I'm not sure you have to posit religion.
Perhaps every intelligent species eventually makes it to genetic experimentation and creates a pandemic that wipes itself out as a civilization.
Perhaps their particle physicists do one too many high-energy experiments thinking they know all the principles and inadvertently create a small, stable black hole which takes out the planet.
Perhaps it is inevitable that each race comes up with its own version of Justin Bieber and they all go insane.
Maybe the rate of cosmic disasters inflicted on planets is a lot higher than we think it is, and we've just been in an unusual lull in our solar system.
Or maybe it's just that eventually they all develop global economies, and then their financial class causes civilization-ending economic catastrophe followed by the usual war and pestilence.
"Perhaps their particle physicists do one too many high-energy experiments thinking they know all the principles and inadvertently create a small, stable black hole which takes out the planet."
Small and stable black hole? Not unless they deliberately tried and have more advanced technology than us.
Religion is much more likely than Justin Bieber.
I expect that not all planet are 'created' equal, any more than 'intelligent life' is.
What if your planet has very poor metal ores, or no good way to produce very high temperatures, or maybe your 'biology' makes it very hard to build tools, or manage toxicity of synthetic materials? What if you are hardly ever 'dissatisfied' with your lot, or the local predator/prey relationships make it very hard to protect any long term investment in technology? We take so much for granted having access to very hard materials to cut things with, and having tools that can extend our reach and grasp. There might be whole, vast populations of alien beings, in search of a single pile of good iron ore and the naturally occurring materials needed to smelt it.
I expect that Star Trek has something very wrong. It is not just knowledge, but also 'supplies' to build civilizations...