The first public dissertation
on life somewhere other than planet Earth seems to have been in 1638
when an English clergyman by the name of John Wilkens released a
book titled The Discovery of a
World in the Moon. Certainly there had been speculation and
wild claims before that time, but Wilkens seems to have been the
first to be taken seriously by the public. In 1686, Bernard de
Fontenelle released a book titled, Entretiens Sur La Pluralite Des Mondes (Conversations on
the Plurality of Worlds) which stirred controversy because
it was seen as an attack on the Bible. If earth and mankind were not
the center of the creation then the Bible story of Adam and Eve did
not make sense in the minds of many of that day. In 1835, the New York Sun reported that
British astronomer Sir John Herschel
had discovered winged quadrupeds on the moon. This turned out to be
a hoax, but continued to be widely believed. In 1894, Percival
Lowell thought he saw lines on Mars and he believed they were canals
constructed by intelligent creatures. In 1953, Stanley Miller and
Dr. Harold Urey at the University of Chicago combined ammonia, water
vapor, methane, and hydrogen to show life could develop
spontaneously. In 1976, the United States spent a billion dollars to
send two Viking spacecraft to Mars to find life. In the 1980s and
1990s over $100 million was spent on the Search for Extra
Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) to scan the sky for radio waves from
an inhabited planet (see News
and Notes on page 30).
What is it about mankind that causes such elaborate, expensive, and
frequently misguided attempts to find life in space, and especially
life like ours that can communicate and do all the things we do?
What are the religious implications? If life is found on Mars or the
moons Triton and Europa or on some planet orbiting some star other
than our Sun what will it mean to the Christian faith or to atheism?
At the time I am writing this the number of discovered extra-solar
planets (planets orbiting stars other than our Sun) is over 500. Why
do such planets exist if Earth is the only place where life exists?
What purpose do they serve and are they not a support for the belief
that the creation is a product of blind chance and not intelligent
Two more thoughts need to be entertained as we start this
discussion. Finding other sentient beings in space does not mean
that they will be peaceful or that evil will not be a part of their
makeup. Avatar certainly showed that point in vivid and realistic
terms. We also need to realize that finding life in space does not
mean that the Great Commission will not apply. God’s purpose may be
broader than Earth. Finding others in space does not mean chance or
naturalism have been vindicated. It will just tell us something more
of God’s processes in the creation.
WORLDS DO NOT PRECLUDE GOD AS THE CREATOR.
Many years ago I was involved in a radio debate with a secular
humanist in Washington, D.C. In the call-in part of the show,
someone asked my opponent, “What would you do if a spaceship landed
on the White House lawn, a little green man jumped out with a Bible
in his hand and asked ‘Has Jesus been here yet?’” I thought my
humanist friend handled it well. He said, “Punt.”
The fact of the matter is that God may have created
life elsewhere for the same purposes it was created here. There can
be theological objections to such a proposal, but when Jesus said “I
have other sheep,” He may have made a point we still have not
understood. It is interesting that the Great Commission in Mark 16:15 (“Go into all the world and
preach the good news to all creation.”) uses the word cosmos (world)
not Earth. If I met an alien, I would want to tell him what the
Creator did on Earth and share the gospel with him, listening to
what God may have done in his world.
In the Does God Exist?
materials we have shown that on a statistical level, chance is an
invalid mechanism to explain what we see in the creation. If the
Intelligence that formed all we see chose to do it in other places
in space, that should not be an issue of faith.
One final point needs to be made here. The movie Avatar, which had a
heavy dose of Hindu theology in it, makes the point that even people
on this planet can allow violence and greed to exploit others.
Satan’s power over sentient minds should never be underestimated.
FINDING LIFE IN SPACE
WOULD NOT VALIDATE NATURALISM, ATHEISM, OR ANY EVOLUTIONARY
There appears to be a good chance that some form of life may be
found on Mars and perhaps some moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Whether
such life came from Earth or was a product of complex chemistry in
various nebulae in space is virtually impossible to answer. The
design features of the materials to make life remain beyond any
mechanical cause. Every attempt to prove a natural explanation to
the origin of life has done just the opposite.
The classic example of that last
statement is the famous Miller-Urey experiment in 1953 mentioned
earlier. The media claimed that Miller and Urey chose chemicals
believed to be in the earth’s atmosphere in its early stage of
development. It now appears that ammonia, methane, hydrogen, and
water vapor were chosen because of their chemistry and were
certainly not even present in the earth’s atmosphere (with the
exception of water). Recent studies of the sediments of the early
earth show oxygen was present and considerable amounts of carbon
In addition to the failure to match the chemistry of the primitive
earth, the apparatus Miller and Urey used had to be carefully
designed to protect the amino acids produced. The energy source used
destroyed the amino acids faster than it formed them, so a trap had
to be used to suck them out of the way of harm. Oxidation problems
frustrated much of the experiment and no mechanism was found to
separate the left handed amino acids of which life is made from the
right handed amino acids that are not found in life forms. Careful
temperature and pressure gradients were required to avoid the
reactions from reversing. The experiment was interesting and
creative but offered very little relevant information on how life
originated on Earth. The careful design of the whole experiment
showed how unlikely chance-driven explanations are. In fact it
contributed to understanding God’s methods.
FINDING LIFE IN SPACE
HAS MUCH TO SAY ABOUT GOD’S METHODS.
How does a Christian view the process of creation? There are two
extreme views — neither of which is compatible with the evidence.
The first is one shared among those who believe in naturalism. It
maintains that the creation just happened and God watched it take
place by natural methods according to physical laws He had
instituted to govern a totally natural process. The problem with
such a view is that the complexity of all parts of the cosmos
precludes chance being the only factor that guides it. A major part
of this journal, in the more than 40 years it has been in
publication, has been devoted to showing that chance is an invalid
mechanism at all levels and all parts of the physical world we
The second view that is held by many
believers in one form or another is that God “spoke” the cosmos into
existence so that it instantly appeared, as it is, out of nothing.
This view maintains that no natural process was involved and that
all we see is a miracle that happened instantly and in a
“full-grown” state. The problem with this view for people with a
scientific background is evidence. The evidence is overwhelming that
natural processes have functioned over time to produce much of what
we see. Stellar events such as Supernova 1987A in which scientists
watched, measured, and photographed a star exploding 168,000 light
years out in space pose a problem. Either the natural event of a
supernova happened 168,000 years ago, or God sent us a video
recording of something that never happened for us to watch. To force
a mystical understanding on statements like “God said, ‘Let there be
…’ ” (see Genesis 1:3, 6, 14) is
not a matter of “taking the Bible literally” but rather forcing a
personal opinion on what the statement means. Biblical passages like
Proverbs 8 and Job 38 – 41 strongly suggest that wisdom, design,
intelligence, purpose, and process were used by God to accomplish
all we see in the cosmos around us.
In my days as an atheist I used to
ridicule the idea of God being the Creator of the cosmos. One of my
points was that there was no point in God creating Pluto, Uranus,
Saturn, the asteroids, Andromeda, meteorites, comets, etc., if all
that counted was Earth. My favorite line was that if there was a
God, all He had to do was create the sun and the earth. There was no
reason to have billions of stars plus all the oddities of our own
solar system if Earth was all that mattered. Since those days in the
late 1950s we have learned that Earth’s orbit around the sun is
controlled to some degree by the outer planets. We now know that the
moon is vital to the earth’s tilt on its axis, and that the outer
planets shield us from comets and other debris from outside the
solar system. That does tell us there is some purpose to at least
some of the extra objects we see in our own neighborhood. The fact
remains however, that the 500 extra-solar planets we have recently
discovered are certainly not in that category, and if and when life
is discovered in space it will pose a different kind of problem for
those who hold a magician mentality of God’s creation.
In the beginning, when “God created the heaven …” in Genesis 1:1 a process was used which
was miraculous in nature. The Hebrew word bara used in verse 1 is never used in reference to
something man can do. The evidence from science is that time, space,
and matter/energy were brought into existence by a set of laws
indigenous to the world of quantum mechanics. As we split atoms and
smash the building blocks of the Newtonian physical world we are
beginning to comprehend these laws. The process was so powerful and
hot that it was labeled “The Big Bang” as a joke by Dr. Frederick
Hoyle, one of the top cosmologists of the last century.
As our Newtonian world was formed from
this God-directed beginning, a set of carefully designed laws were
instituted in all fields of science. The “and God said” phrase used
throughout Genesis (see Genesis 1:3, 6,
9, 14, 20, 24) reflects that concept. The formation of life
would require the direct action of God. We know God chose to do it
at least once on Earth. Genesis 1:20 uses the word bara in reference to life. If
He chose to do that action in other places we are not told about it.
There is much we are not told about creation. Of the 26,000,000
species of life that have lived on the planet, we are told about
precious few. The message of Genesis 1 is that God created
everything — not how or where or how many times.
Starting with Genesis 1:26 we
are introduced to the main thing done by God — the creation of man,
a sentient being created uniquely in God’s image. The rest of the
Bible is dedicated to how that being has struggled with its role in
the battle between good and evil.
The presence of other planets that could sustain life elsewhere may
allow man to travel to distant worlds and find new resources to
allow man’s existence to last far longer than any of us imagine.
Perhaps not only is our concept of God too small, but perhaps our
view of God’s purposes in creating us is also too small. So what if
that little green man described earlier landed and asked the
question, “Has Jesus been here yet?” I would say, “Yes.” If he did
not ask the question, I would want to share God’s love and the
beauty of my Savior with him.
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