aliens

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Arrival: Your Life Matters – A Christian Perspective

arrivalI had the chance to watch “Arrival” this past weekend. It was excellent. I can’t emphasize enough how much good science fiction is steeped in worldview and forces us to reflect upon humanity. “Arrival” is just that: excellent science fiction. Here, I will discuss worldview issues the film brought forward from a Christian perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Your Life Matters

Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the film is one that could not be fully appreciated until the end. Once we see that Louise has been having not flashbacks but rather flash-forwards, we come to realize that she is seeing what will happen in the future. But that means the scene at the beginning, in which Louise has a daughter, Hannah, who eventually dies from cancer, will play out as she has seen it. And if that’s the case, then Louise’s decision to marry Ian and have a baby with him is something that leads, directly or indirectly, to her daughter’s death.

The question that arises, then, is whether such a life was worth living? The film presents what is one of the most beautiful ways of looking at such a question I have seen. The answer is yes. Without Hannah’s life, her poetry, joy, song, and dance could not have been part of the world. All of that would have been lost. Even the inevitable pain and tragedy that Louise and Ian will experience is part of that future world Louise saw: one in which love had a chance to play out in Hannah’s all-too-short life. It’s a message that says: Yes, your life matters, even if it is not perfect; even if it goes poorly.

And really, what right would Louise have to cut that life from the world? What right would she have to destroy that future life of Hannah, however painful it would become for herself and for her daughter? Would it really be better to cut off all the joy and beauty that her daughter would bring into the world just because Louise knew it would end badly? Such questions are monumentally important in an age in which choices of life and death are increasingly available.

Linear vs. Non-Linear Time

I found the theme of time to be quite engaging in the film. One may think that it was just a novelty to discuss non-linear time, but a number of major ancient cultures had non-linear views of time. I have much interest in studying Mesoamerica, for example, and basically across the board the Inca, Maya, Aztec, etc. had non-linear, cyclical views of time. Why does that matter? What does it have to do with worldview?

Well, in the film it was used largely as a way to tie the whole plot back together and show that one’s ideas about reality can be shaped by the way one conceptualizes of very basic ideas. But more importantly, one’s view of time impacts how one views reality itself. I have read time and again how a linear view of time helped to spur scientific discovery, among other things. A linear view of time allows for a logical A => B sequence of events in which causation is linked through time. A cyclical, or non-linear view of time would change that. In “Arrival,” it is unclear as to whether the ultimate non-linearity of time is viewed as cyclical (though the emphasis on circular imagery for the language might point in that direction). One wonders whether a non-linear view of time, taken to its conclusions, could actually ground such things as cause and effect. The movie provided a framework to think through such questions, and as someone who’s very interested in philosophy of time, I found that utterly engaging.

Time, Part 2

Another aspect of the discussion of time in the film is the implication that Louise sees the future, but also that she may be able to change it. Indeed, it seems pretty clear that Louise makes a conscious choice to allow the future she saw to play out. Does that mean the future is set in stone, or that her decisions actually will yield the future she saw? This may not seem very important for worldview, but a simple shift to examining divine omniscience might show how such a concept could impact worldview directly. If God knows the future, as I believe God does, what does that mean for human action? What does it mean if God does not comprehensively know the future, as open theists claim?

Such questions are not directly referenced in the film, but a moment’s reflection on how Louise responds to her own knowledge of the future makes these questions loom in the distance. I think it is important to think about how things like one’s view of time and God’s knowledge of the future impact things like human free choice, salvation, and the like.

Conclusion

“Arrival” is the best kind of science fiction: one that raises questions not just about the future but about humanity. I highly recommend readers go see the film. It’s phenomenal. Let me know what worldview questions were raised in your mind from watching the film.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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“Childhood’s End” – Utopia, God, and Science

childhoods-end

SyFy, the channel once known as SciFi (it should still be!) recently aired a TV miniseries adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s book, Childhood’s End. Here, I will examine the miniseries from a Christian worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Utopia? A transhuman “hope”

In the first part, dimensions of religion are found in the wings. Why didn’t God fix everything if these aliens can come along and fix everything for us? Where was God during all those wars and atrocities? Yet as the story progresses, it is clear that not is all as it seems. Where is Karellen, the alien who seems so godlike in his powers, when people are scared, sad, and afraid? Why do the children start to change, and what does it all mean? Why is Karellen so unwilling to let humans know about him?

Karellen and the Overlords are working for the Overmind to “change the world…” They follow its bidding and do what it says in order to reshape reality in the image that the Overmind desires. The Overmind claims to be “the collective consciousness of this universe” and, more simply, “all.” The Overmind takes the children of humanity to transform them into part of the collective consciousness of itself. So where is God? In the world of “Childhood’s End,” the Overmind plays the part of God, but a pantheistic type of being which is itself clearly not all powerful. Indeed, to call the Overmind pantheistic is itself a bit of an overstatement, as it can only bring certain people to itself and do so in certain ways.

The message of Childhood’s End is one of transhumanism- it is the end of humanity and humankind’s evolution towards some higher state of existence. It seems at points that this is supposed to be presented as something that is a great good, though perhaps with some sorrow. Yet What does this mean for humans? Ultimately, this transhuman hope–really the only hope that a pervasively atheistic worldview could offer–is the death of humanity. Earth is destroyed, in the end. Humanity is gone. All that is left of us is a beautiful piece of music, that whoever passes by will be able to hear.

The utopia that seems to be described as the Overlords come is a fiction. Thankfully, it is not the real world. The hope that we have can be found in Christ and the resurrection.

God and Science

The second part of the miniseries starts with the song “Imagine” in the background as the utopic state of Earth is described. One of the lines that comes through in the song is the line “and no religion too!” Yet the voiceover is by the young scientist, who is bemoaning the death of the sciences–they are no longer needed. Initially, it seems the implication is that if we just get rid of all the silliness of religion and stop trying to pursue useless knowledge in science, we would find ourselves in a utopia.

Another scene juxtaposes a character effectively praying to Karellan, the alien, while another goes into a church. Churches have largely been abandoned, for what use is religion in a world in which there is no injustice? It is intriguing to see the connections made between religion and science made throughout here. It seems that both science and religion are cast aside as people find suffering no longer exists. There are a number of ways this suggestion could be taken.

First, it could be taken as an assertion that science and faith are seeking answers to the same questions, though with different approaches. Faith is asking “why is there suffering?” and looking to God for answers; science is attempting to fix various problems such as disease through a direct approach. Yet this brief sketch oversimplifies things. After all, people expect prayers to be effective, and often think of scientific discoveries as being answers to those prayers.

Second, it could be taken as a broader commentary on the futility of either religion or science. If we could just solve all our problems, why try to figure out how they work? Again, this answer is too simplistic.

Instead, it seems a third option is more likely: the value of faith and the value of scientific exploration in and of themselves as ways to provide answers for what we observe in the universe. These answers may often overlap–and they do–but that doesn’t make them useless or invalid.

Faith

“Faith is on its last legs, only we don’t see it, because they give us ice cream,” says a man who is keeping a church clean.

“There is no such thing as evil,” a character snaps to a religious individual.

“I’m not sure God every helped anyone… only the Overlords answered.” Sandwiched between these two statements is an accusation that God gave us diseases and then sent more once we discovered how to cure some.

“All the world’s religions cannot be right… you know that… Your faith, beautiful and poetic… has no place now.”

What is particularly interesting about “Childhood’s End” is that all the people who are taken to be quacks–they are ridiculous, silly, superstitious, paranoid–turn out to be right, at least in part. The Overlords did come to change everything, but not in the positive, benign way they presented themselves. Instead, they came to reshape humanity in the image they desired. It led to the destruction of all humanity. One character may assert there is no such thing as evil, but that flies in the face of the injustice that the Overlords allegedly came to destroy.

The miniseries, whether intentionally or not, offers a view of the world which is both bleak and profound. It is bleak because it takes away all our hope. Even that which seems to offer hope ultimately destroys us. But it is profound in that it presents that world as fiction. It is not the world in which we live, which has hope, and in which we do not need to destroy ourselves. The price that humanity was asked to pay in “Childhood’s End” was paid in reality by God.

Conclusion

Ultimately, “Childhood’s End” is a story of humanity. It is a story of humanity giving in to deceiving itself. Humans sought an easy way to peace, freedom, and justice, and what they received instead was the death of humanity. The story itself does not have any final hope, apart from the hope that some transcendent humanity would live on. In reality, humanity does have the hope provided in Jesus Christ, our savior. It is interesting that the hope humans trusted in in Childhood’s End was something outside of themselves, and indeed the true hope for humanity is not found in ourselves, but in the Incarnate God, Christ.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Eclectic Theist– My other interests site is full of science fiction, fantasy, food, sports, and more random thoughts. Come on by and take a look!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Humanity on the Brink in Ben Bova’s “New Earth”

bb-ne

Ben Bova’s New Earth is a spectacular novel that mixes hard sci fi with a touch of space opera. I recently investigated a major theme of the novel: the notion that we may find hope in the stars. Here, we’ll explore some other major themes of the book, including exploration, the possibility of human extinction, and xenophobia. There will be major SPOILERS in what follows.

Exploration

A major theme found in New Earth is the urge to explore and possible benefits thereof. In a conversation between Anita Halleck–a wealthy investor, and Douglas Stavenger–the semi-retired leader of Selene, the independent sovereign nation on the moon, this theme is drawn out most poignantly:

“It’s a big universe,” said Stavenger.

“But what good is it [exploration of “New Earth”]?” she demanded. “What does it accomplish? So they explore another planet. Does that help anybody? Does that solve any real problems?”

…”There are always problems on Earth.[” said Stavenger. “]And here in Selene, too. That shouldn’t stop our push to explore.”

“Where will it end?”

“It won’t end. We keep on exploring, keep on learning. That’s where new knowledge comes from, the frontier. And new knowledge always leads to new wealth, new benefits for everyone.”

“Very philanthropic.”

“Very practical,” Stavenger corrected. (83)

There is some debate now over funding for NASA, for example. What good does it do to send people to the moon? Surely that funding could be better spent on, say, relieving world hunger. In fact, this exact argument is made within New Earth, because the planet Earth is itself suffering from catastrophes caused by global warming, among other issues.

Yet Bova, through Stavenger, makes an argument for exploration: the drive to explore, the imagination; these are things which drive invention and innovation. As Stavenger put it, the drive to explore leads to new wealth and new technology for everyone. It is interesting to see this debate play out in fiction, though this was largely where it dropped… However, one could argue that the ultimate revelation, that humanity was truly on the brink of destruction from the coming apocalypse from a local star, is itself an argument for the success of the project of human exploration.

Environmentalism 

Our home planet is in serious trouble in the time of New Earth. Global warming has devastated the environment, causing flooding across coastal regions, precipitation cycles to reorient and move. Drought and inundations of rain alternatively destroy their respective climate zones. Humanity flees the shorelines.

Through this bleak look into humanity’s plight, Bova issues a call for humans now to work against environmental catastrophe. Of course, some dispute the trend towards global warming, but even if global warming is some sort of myth, it seems to me that we must work toward caring for creation in such a way that we minimize our destruction of ecological systems. We are God’s stewards on Earth and so we should work to take care of the gifts of God’s creation.

Of course, in New Earth the consequences of forsaking this gift of God–our charge to care for the Earth–are put into fictional perspective. The destruction to the planet leads to destruction of human life.

Xenophobia

The resistance the human characters have in New Earth to the information presented to them by the “humans” on New Earth is interesting and, in my opinion, helps to characterize the reality of human nature. Many of the humans on the excursion to New Earth are deeply suspicious of the alien life they have found. Moreover, the way they react to the friendliness of the aliens reflects a culture that the aliens (and the sentient machine) view as deeply barbaric. The human tendency to be distrustful, it is said, is due to their evolutionary history and the way that such distrust helped survival.

However, I think this same portrayal has theological significance. Humanity is fallen, and our past is littered with the results of our fallen nature. It is not at all hard to imagine humans reacting just as those did in New Earth. The reality of human nature is such that one cannot but think that no matter how tactfully and amiably such aliens approached us, the reaction would probably be negative. To trust the aliens to tell us about a coming destruction for which we should prepare to survive is to take it to another level.

What does this say about human nature?

Conclusion

Bova’s work New Earth is one of my favorites from one of the masters of science fiction. I’ve already discussed how it explored the issue of hope from the heavens in materialistic literature. Now, we’ve seen how it explores other issues which are both current and historic. Let me know what you think of the themes brought up in the book!

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Caring for Creation: A discussion among evangelicals– I write about creation care from a number of perspectives offered at a recent panel of prominent evangelical thinkers in this area.

Book Review: “For the Beauty of the Earth” by Steven Bouma-Prediger– Several issues related to the environment and Christian theology are drawn out in this extremely interesting book.

I have discussed the use of science fiction in showing how religious persons act. Check out Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote: Aliens and Paganism?

sm-herrickEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Aliens and Paganism?

I’ve been entering notes into my computer and because of that I’ve been rereading a bunch of books. Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Beliefs by James Herrick has been on that list for a while, and I’m glad I finally got to it. So far, it’s been very interesting. Herrick’s thesis is basically that new mythologies are being created through science fiction and the mythologizing of science itself. Thus, people look to the stars for salvation from aliens, life is said to be seeded from benevolent aliens, etc. Herrick describes the phenomenon:

[W]e are witnessing nothing less than the emergence of new transcendent narratives–new myths–to answer our deepest questions. We appear to have entered a second pagan era, complete with a new mythology in which minor deities once again descend from the stars, seek intimate involvement in our lives, direct our course into the future… Our mythologies… have a way of shaping who we are and what we are becoming. (17, cited below)

Have you witnessed any kind of “new mythologies” being followed or created through science or science fiction? I think that sci-fi is a great way to convey a worldview, and I’ve commented often on various ways people have used it for just that purpose. What ways might new scientific mythologies shape our perceptions of ourselves and others? Do you think Herrick’s point is to be well taken, or is he wrong? Why/not? I encourage you to check out the fascinating book. Thanks to my friend Josh over at No Apologies Allowed for so long ago introducing me to it.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Materialists: Where is hope? Look to the stars!– I analyze one aspect of materialism: the way that some look to hope in the “beyond” of the outer limits of the universe. Hope, for materialists, may come from the stars. Our salvation may lay beyond our solar system, in benevolent aliens who will bring great change and advances to us.

Source

James Herrick, Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Beliefs (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008).

Ken Ham Rescinds Alien Damnation?

mars-1I wrote very recently about Ken Ham declaring aliens eternally doomed. Now, however, Ken Ham is claiming that headlines like my post (or those declaring aliens are going to hell) are mistaken. I just want to briefly look at this claim. In his most recent blog article, he states:

So, “is there intelligent life in outer space?” After reading the Huffington Post article and the other items on secular websites responding to my article, my answer is this: “there doesn’t seem to be much intelligent life left here on earth—let alone to find any in outer space!”

Well, that’s all well and good, but I’m curious as to how someone could say that I would be mistaken for thinking that this would somehow make invalid the analysis I made of his site regarding aliens being doomed. But it seems Ham is responding by simply saying that there are no intelligent beings elsewhere, and so we are supposed to conclude that that somehow means aliens would not be doomed (because there are none). But that doesn’t really meet the analysis of some of those who are critiquing Ham’s position.

What it comes down to is Ken Ham’s own words:

You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.

Thus, according to Ken Ham himself, if aliens do exist, “they can’t have salvation.” I’m not sure exactly what distinction is to be made between this and going to hell, but it seems that Ham’s only answer is that there are no aliens, so this doesn’t apply. Again, that doesn’t meet the critique I’ve already leveled against his view.

But, perhaps I’m mistaken and Ham is merely trying to assert that only certain headlines are mistaken. He cites these specifically: “Creationist Ken Ham Says Aliens Will Go To Hell So Let’s Stop Looking For Them”; “Creationist Ken Ham: Aliens are going to hell so just stop looking for them.” I think it’s fair to say that these headlines are not exactly accurate representations of Ham’s view. Instead, Ham seems to be saying 1) Aliens don’t exist; 2) Because they don’t exist, we shouldn’t bother to spend time looking for them; 3) a theological reason for thinking they don’t exist is that they “can’t have salvation.”

It is point 3 which I took issue with in my post, but the headlines Ham cites seem to combine all 3 points into one without any clarity. Thus, I appreciate Ham clarifying his position. The points I brought up in my critique, however, still stand.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Ken Ham Declares Aliens Eternally Doomed– I analyze Ken Ham’s statements about aliens and the possibility for their salvation.

Alien life: Theological reflections on life on other planets– I engage in some [highly] speculative theology related to the possibility of aliens.

Did God Create the Universe for Humans?-Some Thoughts on God’s purposes for creating–  I argue that God’s purposes in creating are needlessly limited when people object that God created the universe [only] for humankind.

Aliens that believe in God: The theological speculations of Robert Sawyer’s “Calculating God”– I reflect on a science fiction book, Calculating God, which has aliens that believe in God.

 

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Ken Ham Declares Aliens Eternally Doomed

Constellation_Fornax,_EXtreme_Deep_FieldKen Ham, a prominent young earth creationist and the founder of Answers in Genesis, recently lamented on his blog about the money being spent on the search for extraterrestrial life in space. Interestingly, part of his objection was that aliens probably don’t exist because they would not be saved:

I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel. You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.

That’s correct: according to Ken Ham, we can speculate about whether aliens may or may not exist (though both he and I agree that we think it is very improbable), but we can know for sure that aliens cannot be saved. Keep this in mind through the rest of my post: Ken Ham did not say that aliens may not be saved, but rather that they “can’t” be saved.

Space and Cost

Ken Ham was concerned with the notion that we’re spending so much money on space travel: “I’m shocked at the countless hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent over the years in the desperate and fruitless search for extraterrestrial life.”

I would first point out that the money being thrown at this is hardly exclusively dedicated to the search for ET. Rather, much of it goes to new technology like new telescopes, listening devices, etc. which actually bring benefits for the rest of society. Thus, the money is not being spent in a “fruitless” fashion.

One might come back and say: “What if all that money was instead spent on feeding the hungry, clothing the needy, etc.?” I think that’s a valid point and it is one with some initial force. One wonders, though, about the notion of division of effort. There is a real sense in which not all of human effort may be directed towards one end. As a Christian, I certainly desire to aid those in need, but I would not say that means every dollar I spend should be directed towards that end. There are other evils than need in the world (such as abortion) to direct effort towards, and there are also other goods to promote (evangelization would be one I would list). As such, my activity must be divided. Similarly, on a national level, there are numerous ends to pursue, and an argument which reduces national spending to a single issue is simplistic.

I’m open to disagreement here and would love to hear from those who are either pro-space exploration or con. I lean pro- but I think there is some force to arguments against.

153734main_image_feature_626_ys_4Doomed Aliens

The thrust of Ken Ham’s post, however, was that aliens would not be saved. He acknowledged that “[T]he Bible doesn’t say whether there is or is not animal or plant life in outer space.” Given his nod to the fact that the Bible is clearly not concerned with the broader universe, it is then shocking to find that Ham asserted without qualifications that “[aliens] can’t have salvation.” I wonder: where is that found in the Bible? Where might I find the notion that: “If aliens exist, they can’t have salvation” implied in the Bible?

Ham’s argument was an implicit one: because “The Earth was created for human life” (an example of the single-end fallacy regarding God’s creation which I discussed elsewhere), and “Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.”

The argument depends upon a number of hidden and explicit premises. First, one must ask in what way Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. Does that mean that intelligent aliens instantly became cursed and condemned by the Fall? It seems Ham’s argument depends upon that premise, but there is surely no bibical data to back that up. Rather, Ham is assuming that the Fall means that any other life in the universe would necessarily be sinful and in a state of rebellion against God. Although the Bible speaks of humans being in rebellion against God, and it speaks of “all creation groan”ing awaiting for God’s coming to reconcile all things, it is surely a massive inference to leap from that to the notion that any aliens anywhere are eternally doomed.

Second, the argument assumes that God did not or would not (can not!?) mediate between other sentient beings and God. Surely it is a major assumption to state that God would not operate in a certain fashion about speculative aliens who have speculatively been included in the Fall and are speculatively doomed for eternity! For Ham to turn around and just assert that God would not save these aliens (or again, perhaps cannot, because he states that they “can’t have salvation), is a major theological error.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the question of how Ham reconciles his first premise with his premise that “because [aliens] are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.” After all, the same proof-texts which may be cited to try to imply that all of creation groans under the Fall (Romans 8) could also be taken, when read with the same presumptions, to mean that aliens will be saved or at least have hope of salvation: “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God [Romans 8:20-21 NIV].”

Thus, Ham’s argument has a faulty conclusion: if it is true that all of the universe fell through Adam and is therefore doomed, then it equally follows that, according to the same text, it will all be saved through Jesus as the new Adam (not universalism, but rather the “hope of salvation”). There are no grounds for Ham’s assumptions.

Conclusion

Ken Ham has overstated his case to the extreme. Although he may have some force to his argument about the needless spending of money on various space exploration projects (and again, I think these aren’t needless but that perhaps his side has some a priori power), he has committed some major blunders when it comes to speaking of the possibility of alien salvation.

As always, I’d love to have your thoughts in the comments. What do you think about Ham’s statements? Be sure to check out his blog post to get his side of the argument.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Alien life: Theological reflections on life on other planets– I engage in some [highly] speculative theology related to the possibility of aliens.

Did God Create the Universe for Humans?-Some Thoughts on God’s purposes for creating–  I argue that God’s purposes in creating are needlessly limited when people object that God created the universe [only] for humankind.

Aliens that believe in God: The theological speculations of Robert Sawyer’s “Calculating God”– I reflect on a science fiction book, Calculating God, which has aliens that believe in God.

 

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

A Solar System and Cosmos Filled With Life? – A reflection upon Ben Bova’s “Farside” and “New Earth”

bb-farside

Ben Bova’s contributions to science fiction are monumental. A six-tme Hugo Award winner (!!), he is established as one of the most successful and entertaining authors of our time. I have quite enjoyed a number of his works, though I have at times been critical of his portrayal of religion. Bova’s major series, the “Grand Tour,” follows human exploration of the solar system (and at some points, beyond). The series is constructed in such a way as to not require readers to follow it chronologically. They are interlinked and interrelated, but not interdependent. Here, we’ll look at two recent books in this series which look at the discovery of an Earth-like planet. There will, of course, be major plot SPOILERS for both books in what follows.

Farside

After telescopes on Earth discover an Earth-sized planet relatively local to our own Solar System (ten light years away), the race is on to learn more about this planet. Farside portrays the struggles of a number of people in their efforts to build an observation base on the dark side of the moon. Jason Uhlrich seeks his Nobel Prize in his attempts to be the first to observe and chart the planet.

Life has already been found within the Solar System, and now two rivals rush to be the first to discover it in the great beyond of the stars. What is interesting is to note some of the assumptions that go into Bova’s characterization of life beyond Earth. First, one primary assumption seems to be that where there is water, there must be life. Second, life should be expected in all corners of the universe.

These assumptions are the subjects of much debate within the scientific community around the possibility of life on other planets and the origin of life. Regarding the former, there are those who do believe that life will be found in abundance throughout the universe. After all, given that we exist, life cannot be all that improbable, right? The other primary way of thinking is to argue that life is, in fact, quite rare in the universe and our own existence is a wonderfully improbable jackpot win.

bb-neNew Earth

New Earth picks up some time after the events of Farside. Humanity has sent an expedition to “New Earth.” Upon arrival, there is a great mystery: “New Earth” is eerily like Earth itself. It turns out that a machine known as a “predecessor” has created the planet and grown these human-like aliens as a way to break it to humanity that there is, in fact, more intelligent life “out there.” Moreover, there is a catastrophic event coming towards the whole arm of the Milky Way which will wipe out these intelligent species, and humanity needs to help preserve themselves and the other species.

Though skeptical, ultimately all the members of the expedition are convinced, and the book ends with the message reaching Earth and the gearing up to proceed on this mission given by the Predecessor.

Reflection

There are, of course, any number of things that one could nitpick regarding the plausibility of the scenarios Bova envisions (one would be the rewiring of Uhlrich’s brain to “see” via hearing and touch… how does that work?), but here we’ll focus on two aspects of the work: the plausibility of life outside Earth and the mythos of the benevolent alien.

In Farside, readers who haven’t surveyed the body of Bova’s work discover that the Solar System itself teems with life: life once flourished on Mars, and its vestiges remain; on Jupiter, creatures soar in the skies; life is found elsewhere throughout the System. Bova’s vision of the origin of life seems to be that if there’s water, there may be life. Yet one has to wonder about the plausibility of life forming on a planet like Jupiter. How might biochemical interactions with delicate balances of material be maintained for long? What of the distance to the sun? The origin of life requires all kinds of factors to be “just right” and it simply is not enough to fudge the numbers by saying “It could have happened this way.” To develop a hypothesis around ad hoc assumptions is faulty.

Intelligent life, as explicated in New Earth, is even more problematic. It is easier to have single celled organisms than to have the complexity needed for intelligence. Even granting a naturalistic scenario, the conditions must be even more tuned for life and allow for the nurturing of that life for extremely long periods of time. The universe is indeed huge beyond belief but one has to wonder if even that immensity is enough to repeat the conditions which occur on Earth.

Of course, in the end, one must acknowledge that these are tales of science fiction, not proposals about how science fact might be. There is a certain sense of awe and wonder involved in considering whether life could exist all over the Solar System. It seems to me, however, that if that is the case, it probably got there by means of Earth–blown off the surface of our planet by an asteroid and traveled through space to Mars and possibly beyond.

Another major theme found in both books is what I dubbed the “Myth of the Benevolent Alien.” There is a kind of pervasive battle in science fiction between the notions that aliens want us dead or that aliens are going to be ultimately some kind of saviors of humankind. New Earth brings this benevolence front and center: some unknown life form created these “Predecessors” to find and aid intelligent life. It’s a scenario filled with wonder and hope. But it’s also a scenario which I’ve found time and again in materialistic literature.

The way this story goes: wherever possible, life is certain. It’s a kind of appeal to a fantasy of a godless universe wherein it may be possible to find hope and meaning in the stars. As one character (I believe it is Grant) said in Farside: Ad astra! (To the stars!). Second, the actual inherent implausibility of life both leads to this longing (we don’t want to be alone) and to a search for meaning (how did we get here?). My own answer is that theism provides a more plausible explanation of both the longing for meaning, meaning itself, and the way in which life arose. Interestingly, however, the atheistic accusation that theists are engaged in wishful thinking is perhaps mirrored through various declarations made by naturalists themselves (see the post linked above and in the links below).

Bova’s novels thus serve as a way forward in this discussion. By illustrating our longing and loneliness through the fulfillment of our desires (the discovery of life and the notion that we are not alone), Bova grants readers their wishes. However, we ultimately come to realize that these are indeed just wishes. Perhaps, one day, a “New Earth” will be discovered. But even if that happens, it will not be enough to satisfy our loneliness, nor will it answer our ultimate questions. Theism is the ultimate antidote to loneliness, the ultimate answer for our questions.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Materialists: Where is hope? Look to the stars!– I analyze one aspect of materialism: the way that some look to hope in the “beyond” of the outer limits of the universe. Hope, for materialists, may come from the stars. Our salvation may lay beyond our solar system, in benevolent aliens who will bring great change and advances to us.

Our Spooky Universe: Fine-Tuning and God- The incredible circumstances which allow for life to exist and thrive on Earth are the cause for not merely fictional speculation, but actual reflection upon our place in the universe and how it might relate to the transcendent. Check out this post which surveys the evidence for the existence of God found in “fine-tuning.”

Sources

Ben Bova, Farside (New York: Tor, 2013).

Ben Bova, New Earth (New York: Tor, 2013).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Aliens that believe in God: The theological speculations of Robert Sawyer’s “Calculating God”

The interplay between worldviews and science fiction is very strong. In any writing, an author’s viewpoint will show through, but I think that it is particularly true in sci-fi. For in science fiction, the author is most frequently presenting a view of the world as it should be or as it should not be. The speculative future can be used as a foil through which the reader views reality in a new way. Often, science fiction will touch upon theological issues.

Robert Sawyer’s Calculating God utilizes science fiction in an extremely thought-provoking way to discuss the possibility and meaning of God in our universe. Before diving in I need to make to things clear. First, just because I analyze a book like this does not mean that I think that everything in it is theologically sound by any means (and believe me, it is not). Second, there will be extremely HUGE PLOT SPOILERS ahead. For those who are just interested in seeing how science fiction can explore faith issues, read on!

Fine Tuning

The most immediately striking and pervasive theme of Calculating God is that aliens show up on earth, and they believe in God. In fact, they take the existence of God to be a scientific certainty. The main character of the book, a paleontologist named Tom Jericho, is very skeptical throughout. Here’s the kicker, though, the aliens have been convinced of the existence of God through the evidence–specifically, the fine-tuning argument. Said argument is presented throughout the course of the book in interactions between Tom and Hollus, an alien paleontologist.

What is surprising is how much depth the book goes into while exploring the argument. Yes, Sawyer does fudge the argument a bit by allowing the aliens the possibility of a grand unified theory of science as well as a few other fictionalized aspects of the argument, but overall the fine-tuning argument he presents is very similar to the modern fine-tuning argument.

Not only that, but the characters Sawyer created go to great lengths to explore objections to and defenses of the fine tuning argument. For example, there is a discussion on p. 144ff (mass market paperback edition) in which Hollus and Tom discuss some objections to fine tuning. Tom is arguing against the probability of God:

“All the actions you ascribe to God could have been the doing of advanced aliens” [said Tom].

“There are… problems with your argument,” said Hollus, politely. “[E]ven if you dispense with the need for a god in recent events–events of the last few billion years; events after other conscious observers had emerged in this universe–you have done nothing to dispense with the relative strengths of the five fundamental forces [its science fiction, so there is an extra force], who designed the thermal and other properties of water, and so on. And therefore what you are doing is contrary to the razor of Occam you spoke of: you are increasing, not reducing the number of entities that have influenced your existence…”

The book is replete with debates like this, and the inevitable conclusion is that, shock of all shocks, God exists. I don’t say that sarcastically, I mean that I was genuinely surprised that the book affirmed God exists. But what kind of God?

God Exists… but?

It should be clear that in Calculating God, God is nowhere near the God of classical theism. In fact, one could almost argue that what Sawyer has offered here is a materialistic supplanting of God. The “god” of this work is essentially a super-powerful alien which is capable of swallowing the enormous energy output of a supernova, while also capable of designing our biology and fixing the constants of the universe during the early stages of the Big Bang.

God’s action is described purely in non-transcendent language. For example, the aliens confirm that god caused ice ages and mass extinctions on all the planets with intelligent life. The way this was accomplished was a matter of some speculation–perhaps God generated a dust cloud by using particles from across the galaxy to shield the planets from light and lower the temperature, or perhaps God redirected an asteroid or two to send them hurtling at the planets with life that needed a ‘jump start’ of evolution (146ff).

So why think that this is an image of god supplanting the classical theistic God? Well, clearly many who use the teleological argument are intending for it to point towards a creator God. What Sawyer has offered is a more naturalistic explanations of these events. Yes, there is a ‘god’ in the sense of a being capable of tampering with the very fabric of our universe, but that ‘god’ is itself trapped within the spatio-temporal boundaries of the known universe. In fact, god is said to subsist by recreating itself via a kind of reproductive method and passing one generation through a Big Crunch (think of a bouncing universe model).

Now what?

Calculating God offers a unique look at theology from a science fiction perspective. The fine tuning argument is presented in full force–even enhanced by some fudging of the science–and it leads to the inevitable conclusion that god exists. Yet this ‘god’ is not at all amenable to the god of Christianity or classical theism. So what should we do with this book?

Well, it is important to note that it is a work of fiction. The author clearly adds in some extra ‘fluff’ to make the fine tuning argument more powerful than it is (and I think it is quite powerful as it stands). And really Sawyer’s shoehorning in of a materialistic entity that is able to fiddle with physics boils down to hand-waving. Again, it is fiction, but it is important to note that Sawyer’s attempt to supplant the God of classical theism simply doesn’t work. Think of it this way: how would a purely physical being, however powerful, manage to transcend the physical universe in such a way as to literally rewrite the laws of physics? Extremely interesting science fiction? Yes. Compelling argument? No.

So where are we left? Sawyer does present the fine tuning argument in a way that is quite compelling, even when one strips away all the layers of fiction over it. It seems to me that, at a minimum, readers are left with a rock in their shoe: how do we explain away all this fine tuning without going beyond the cosmos? Sawyer’s own proffered answer, while entertaining fiction, remains that: fiction.

Other Issues

I have not yet even begun to delve into the depths of Sawyer’s Calculating God. The book covers an extremely broad array of topics related to science and faith as well as the secular-religious [false] dichotomy.  For example, he discusses abortion in a few places, and I think the view the characters favor is very inconsistent. There is also some clear portrayal of the religious “other” as only a fundamentalist who seeks to halt scientific advancements. Yes, Sawyer panders to Christians in a few places, but the overall look at religious persons seems to be fairly negative (apart from Tom’s wife).  I wish I could do justice to each of these topics, so I think I may follow this post up with another touching on more. For now…

Conclusion

Ultimately, Sawyer’s work is a simply phenomenal read. The amount of scientific, ethical, and religious issues upon which it touches is stunning, and readers will be forced to deal with the argument. Sawyer has done an excellent job using fiction for what I think it is called to do: inspire, entice, and force thought. Readers will be uncomfortable. The work will challenge people to really think about the arguments, and to think about the offered solutions.

Links

I have discussed the use of science fiction in showing how religious persons act. Check out Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber.

What would it mean if we discovered life? I have reflected on the possibility: Alien Life: Theological reflections on life on other planets.

Our Spooky Universe– I make the case for the intelligent design argument for the existence of God, which is heavily used throughout Calculating God.

Check out my other looks at popular level books. (Scroll down to see more!)

Source

Robert Sawyer, Calculating God Mass Market Paperback Edition (New York: TOR, 2000).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Alien Life: Theological reflections on life on other planets

I have two general beliefs/feelings when it comes to life on other planets which are in conflict. Part of me is extremely skeptical. The probability of their being life on other planets given the extremely precise conditions needed to sustain life is exceedingly, vanishingly, absurdly low. Sure, there are unimaginably numerous planets in our universe, any number of which may be earthlike, but I just do not see why we should think that life is inevitable or even likely. On the other hand another part of me thinks that God could just as easily have brought life forth in various places throughout the universe, utilizing it much like an artist uses a tapestry. Our universe could be teeming with life, just waiting to be discovered.

Reading a couple books recently, along with the recent exploration of Mars, have turned me to reflect on the implications of life on other planets for Christian theology. One book, Vast Universe [link at bottom of post], was on Christian theology of life on other planets. Here, I shall be setting aside my extreme skepticism about life “out there.” Instead, I shall consider the following statement: “If there is other life in the universe, what does that mean for Christian theology?”

Science and Christianity

The topic is so oft-discussed that I will not dedicate too much time to it. What would the discovery of life ‘out there’ do for science and Christianity?

I think that Christian theology already has the resources built in it to adapt itself to life on other planets. Although some would be disturbed by such a possibility or reality, I do not see how such a discovery would be damaging to Christianity as a whole. The real problem would lie with those willing to abuse the text of the Bible in order to try to make it say there is no possibility of life outside of Earth or that our planet is the focal point of all creation. Theologies which take such a path those would indeed suffer greatly.

Humanity’s Place in the Universe

The discovery of life on other planets would almost certainly remove the notion that humanity is some kind of privileged being in this universe. It was not all created by God for us. What would that mean for Christian theology?

Again, I do not think this would be very damaging. Although the notion that humanity has a special place in the universe has a traceable line throughout the history of Christian theology, it is hardly a necessary component. In fact, life on other planets would be a great illustration of another thread of Christian theology: the notion of God as a cosmic artist who delights in creation. On this view, God takes such pleasure in the creation of and interaction with various living species that He caused them to arise across the universe. Furthermore, our discovery of these other living creatures could be a reflection of His providence, having set up the world in such a way that we could discover other life and marvel at His creation.

Salvation

What about salvation on other planets? Did Jesus go to other planets in His incarnate form and save them as a human? Was there more than one crucifixion? Thomas O’Meara, in the book I mentioned above, reflects upon questions just like these. He argues that “All three persons can become incarnate because incarnation is one aspect of boundless divine power… The divine motive for fashioning a universe of galaxies is God’s goodness; the same motive brings incarnation” (47, cited below). He establishes the notion of more than one incarnation as a live option throughout Christian history (63ff).

It therefore seems as though other life in the universe would not destroy God’s salvation plan. The Bible tells us about God’s salvation history for humanity. We know God is good, and we therefore know that God would providentially interact with other beings at their own levels and needs.

Finally, one thoughtful reader pointed out to me one area I had forgotten to add in here. There is the possibility that if there are aliens, then they have not fallen. Perhaps they have lived in communion with God instead of in rebellion against God. The possibility is very real, and must be considered in this kind of speculative theology. Such aliens would possibly be corrupted by meeting humanity; but they may also have much to teach us. As O’Meara notes, they may be some kind of “Star Mentors” with spiritual insights we may miss in our fallen state.

The Sentient Alien and other faiths

What kind of challenge would a sentient alien present to Christianity? What of their faith, their religion?

As far as other sentient species’ religions, I think that Christianity could interact with them in the same way that Christian theology has considered other human faiths. Seek truth where truth exists, and critique where it is untrue. (For my fuller vision of world religions, check out my post on A Vision for Christian Apologetics to World Religions.)

Some could even argue that a Christian interaction with other sentient races should be open to their own incarnations and truth in their religion as revealed by God. What of an alien Bible? Again, it seems that a good God, as we know God is, would interact with all life in a way that reflects His omnibenevolent nature. God’s providence would extend to life across the whole universe.

Alleged Disproofs

Would life on other planets somehow discredit Christianity? What of panspermia? How should we treat the discovery of life in the universe, were it to happen?

The Bible does not seem to make any kind of statement about life outside of our planet. However, it does make it clear that there is a spiritual realm of angels and demons. Thus, there is at least life outside of our easily accessible realm. No verse in the Bible states that there is no life elsewhere in the universe. It seems that the possibility is certainly open.

Furthermore, I don’t see any reason to think that life on other planets would somehow justify belief in panspermia or some other pseudo-scientific explanation of the spread and origins of life. We would have to deal with the same questions about life on other planets that we must deal with on our own.

Created life and the universe

Overall, I think that as a purely rational standpoint there is reason for immense skepticism about life on other planets. Although many express optimism and point to the sheer volume of planets in our universe as somehow necessitating life elsewhere, I am not convinced that sheer numbers somehow increase the likelihood of life on other planets. To put it plainly, it is my opinion that the only rational way to hope for life elsewhere in our universe is to conjoin that hope with belief in a God who loves creating and interacting with created life.

A final disclaimer

I realize that many of the points I wrote about in this post are likely to be extremely contentious. What I want to say is that this has been an exercise in speculative theology. I have been writing about something which is a mere possibility and offering possible answers to a number of questions from a perspective which takes this possibility seriously. I am quite possibly wrong on any of these. What I have tried to do here is offer a number of things for Christians to think about when they consider life on other planets. For a great post on the possibility of life on other planets, check out this guest post by Greg Reeves on that very topic.

Source

Thomas O’Meara, Vast Universe (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Guest Post: “Is There Life on Other Planets?” by Greg Reeves

If you’ve been reading the science news lately, you’ll find there has been a lot of buzz about “extrasolar planets”, or “exoplanets” (i.e., planets that orbit other stars).  For an example, see here.  The reason why is in the last several years, the number of exoplanets that we’ve discovered has increased dramatically, mostly due to the Kepler mission.  But regardless of the reason why, one interesting question this brings up is, “Are there other planets that host life?”

This is an incredibly profound question for both the religious and non-religious alike.  For the Christian, the knee-jerk reaction might be “no, of course not, God specially created the life on earth and did not do so elsewhere.” (By the way, I do not necessarily espouse this view.) For the secularist, the presence of life on other planets only adds weight to the idea that life arose here on earth by strictly naturalistic processes.  So what does science have to say about this subject?  Given the sensationalistic popular news articles, one might think the universe is teeming with alien life.  However, the data actually say otherwise.

First, answering the origin of life question, from a scientific standpoint, is incredibly hard.  In fact, after investigating the state of affairs on this problem in order to write a book, it has driven agnostic physicist Paul Davies to proclaim1:

 When I set out to write this book, I was convinced that science was close to wrapping up the mystery of life’s origin…Having spend a year or two researching the field, I am now of the opinion that there remains a huge gulf in our understanding…This gulf’s not merely ignorance about certain technical details, it is a major conceptual lacuna.

He goes on to say:

Many investigators feel uneasy about stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they freely admit that they are baffled. There are two reasons for their unease. First they feel it opens the door to religious fundamentalists…Second, they worry that a frank admission of ignorance will undermine funding…

Second, even though it is a conceptually difficult phenomenon to study, scientists are incredibly confident that it will be resolved one day.  The main reason why is that the alternative to having a naturalistic origin of life would be a supernaturalistic origin of life, something that most secular scientists not only do not believe in but also that they rule out completely according to their philosophical worldview.

Third, we now know that life on our planet originated in a geological instant.  As soon as this planet became even remotely suitable for life, roughly 3.9-3.8 billion years ago, life began (our earliest evidence for life is between 3.86 and 3.80 billion years ago).  To the secular scientist, this implies that even though we have no idea how, the origin of life must be a very simple, fast process.

Fourth, because the origin of life is simple and fast, it probably is not a finely-tuned process, according to the reasoning of secularism.  In other words, all you need are some minimal requirements (liquid water, a rocky planet, some carbon-containing compounds, and a short window of time) and life will surely appear.  This principle led astronomer Steve Vogt, upon discovery of a rocky exoplanet in the “Goldilocks zone” (the distance from their star that would allow a planet to potentially harbor liquid water), to state, “The chances for life on this planet are 100 percent.”  (As an interesting sidenote, the particular planet he was referring to may not even be a planet. Of course, we are still discovering exo-planets, and I have been confident for some time that we would find a near-earth-sized rocky planet in the Goldilocks zone.  And lo and behold, we have.  For examples, see here and here.)

So, given this background, is it likely that such “Goldilocks planets”, which are likely to be all over the place in the universe, harbor life?  Well, there are two sides to this story.  As I laid out above, the popular secular point of view (and the point of view portrayed by the media) is that life is inevitable whenever loose conditions are met (background point four).  So of course, whenever you have a planet in the Goldilocks zone, life is inevitable.  This view springs solely from the assumption of naturalism (background point 2) and the fact that life arose on earth quickly (background point 3).  You can easily see this point of view when reading the popular news articles, which are overflowing with unbridled optimism.

The other view is that life is rare in the universe, because all of the prowess of the origin-of-life scientific community has returned a comparatively small amount of promising data (background point 1). In fact, not only has little actual progress been made towards discovering naturalistic pathways towards origin of life, but instead the more we know the more we discover how far away we are.  Problems such as the lack of a prebiotic soup, the irreducible complexity of life, the homochirality problem (all bio-molecules must be either 100% right-handed or 100% left-handed), the difficulty in producing a cell membrane, and the finely-tuned conditions needed to carry out the chemical reactions that produce biological precursors all reveal a much less optimistic story from the point of view of hard science.

The problems for the hypothesis of the naturalistic origin of life don’t stop there, however.  The more we study our planet, the more we realize that an exoplanet needs a lot more going its way than just to be in the Goldilocks zone.  There are a whole host of astronomical and geological parameters that must be exquisitely finely-tuned for life to (1) exist and (2) persist on a planet.  The timing of the formation of the exosolar system, the location of the exosolar system within the galaxy, the type of galaxy the exosolar system is in, the elemental composition of the star and planet, and the existence of stable, long-lasting plate tectonics are just a few of the finely-tuned parameters that must be met for life to exist and thrive.

None of this is to say that we should not be investigating how life could have originated, or whether exoplanets may harbor other life forms.  Indeed, if God did create the universe and life, I am convinced that these scientific disciplines will serve only to glorify Him further.

But these observations do beg the question: which is it?  Is life abundant in the universe, a premise based on one data point and questionable assumptions, or is life rare, a premise based upon the empirical findings of the fields of biochemistry, organic chemistry, astronomy, and geology?  It seems to me that hope springs eternal for the secular exoplanet researcher, but the hard scientific data tells another story.

1. Davies, Paul.  “The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life.”  Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (March 16, 2000)

Dr Greg Reeves holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University, and is currently an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at North Carolina State University. He is the co-director of the NC State chapter of Ratio Christi. His blog can be found at twobooksapproach.blogspot.com.

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