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ESO's Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) has captured this unusual view of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), a planetary nebula located 700 light-years away. The Helix Nebula is sometimes called the “Eye of God.”

It Need Not Be Religion VS Science: Extra-Terrestrial Life and Religious Beliefs Combine

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During Medieval times almost all Christian theologians accepted the Ptolemaic earth centered Greek view of the universe as an absolute universal truth of both nature and religion. The Catholic Inquisition punished those who dared to voice other ideas. Fast forward to today, where there is a question of how extra-terrestrial life and religious beliefs may combine.

Why Avoid Scientific Discoveries?

Even in America today, many Christians avoid learning about new scientific discoveries. According to a (February 2014) study " Religious Understandings of Science ”, members of non-Christian religions; 42 percent of Jews, and 52 percent of Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus (taken as a group) are more than twice as interested in new scientific discoveries as Protestant evangelicals (22 percent) because about 30 percent of all evangelicals see the world-views of science and religion as being in opposition. That means a large majority see religion and science as a collaborative effort but is there a way to convince those that see things differently?

I do not know why so many Christians believe that the rarity of life in our universe proves that God must have created life only on this planet. Perhaps they believed that if intelligent life were found to exist on other planets; it would diminish the miracle of God's creation of Human Beings.

The Creation of Adam is a fresco painted by Michelangelo, the work started at 1508 and finished 1512, it appears on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It illustrates the Biblical story from the Book of Genesis in which God the Father breathes life into Adam, the first man. (CC0)

The Creation of Adam is a fresco painted by Michelangelo, the work started at 1508 and finished 1512, it appears on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It illustrates the Biblical story from the Book of Genesis in which God the Father breathes life into Adam, the first man. ( CC0)

Changing Perspective

For me the opposite is true. That God's universal creation is filled with life is simply the result of God's mercy and love of all living things. The Qur'an and the Hebrew Bible both teach that the Living God created the whole universe to be conducive to the universal development and evolution of life.

Now, some scientists have identified a group of planets outside our solar system with the same chemical conditions that may have led to life on Earth. They found that the chances for life to develop on the surface of a rocky planet like Earth are connected to the type and strength of light given off by its host star.

They propose that stars which give off sufficient ultraviolet (UV) light could kick-start life on their orbiting planets in the same way it likely developed on Earth, where the UV light energizes  a series of chemical reactions that produce the building blocks of life.

This artist's concept illustrates a young, red dwarf star surrounded by three planets. Such stars are dimmer and smaller than yellow stars like our sun, which makes them ideal targets for astronomers wishing to take images of planets outside our solar system. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist's concept illustrates a young, red dwarf star surrounded by three planets. Such stars are dimmer and smaller than yellow stars like our sun, which makes them ideal targets for astronomers wishing to take images of planets outside our solar system. ( NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The researchers have identified a range of planets where the UV light from their host star is sufficient to allow these chemical reactions to take place, and that lie within the habitable range where liquid water can exist on the planet's surface.

Carbon from meteorites that slammed into the young Earth interacted with nitrogen in the atmosphere to form hydrogen cyanide. The hydrogen cyanide rained to the surface, where it interacted with other elements in various ways, powered by the UV light from the sun. The chemicals produced from these interactions generated the building blocks of RNA, the close relative of DNA, which most biologists believe was the first molecule of life to carry information.

This is an artist's concept of the young Earth being bombarded by asteroids. Scientists think these impacts could have delivered significant amounts of organic matter and water to Earth. (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab/ CC BY 2.0 )

Recreating the Right Conditions

In the laboratory, Sutherland's group recreated these chemical reactions under UV lamps, and generated the precursors to lipids, amino acids, and nucleotides, all of which are essential components of living cells.

They found that stars around the same temperature as our sun emitted enough light for the building blocks of life to have formed on the surfaces of their planets. Cool stars, on the other hand, do not produce enough light for these building blocks to be formed, except if they have frequent powerful solar flares to jolt the chemistry forward step by step.

Planets that both receive enough light to activate the chemistry and could have liquid water on their surfaces reside in what the researchers have called the biogenesis zone.

Kepler's newest planetary find joins a pantheon of planets with similarities to Earth. (NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)

Kepler's newest planetary find joins a pantheon of planets with similarities to Earth. ( NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)

Earth’s Cousin, Kepler 452b

Among the known exoplanets which reside in the biogenesis zone are several planets detected by the Kepler telescope, including Kepler 452b, a planet that has been nicknamed Earth's 'cousin', although it is too far away to probe with current technology. Next-generation telescopes, such as NASA's TESS and James Webb Telescopes, will hopefully be able to identify and potentially characterize many more planets that lie within the biogenesis zone.

An artist's concept depicting one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun. (Public Domain)

An artist's concept depicting one possible appearance of the planet Kepler-452b, the first near-Earth-size world to be found in the habitable zone of star that is similar to our sun. ( Public Domain )

Today, very few religious people think that if the earth revolves around the sun it makes humans less important to God. The value, meaning, and importance of a human life is not a scientific issue; it is a religious issue.

The Universal Evolution of Life: Extra-Terrestrial Life and Religious Beliefs

So too, when before the end of the next decade, astronomical evidence is found of stars with earth-like planets at the right distance from their star to have liquid water and an atmosphere with oxygen, there will be no need for Evangelical Christians to deny the evidence and condemn the scientists as anti-religious.

Religious people need to know that the Torah and the Qur'an clearly teach that the Living God created the whole universe to be conducive to the universal evolution of life.

As a Psalm of David says, “Your kingdom is a kingdom of all worlds; and Your dominion is for all generations.” (145:13); and as the Qur'an says, “We have not sent you but as a blessing for all the worlds.” (Al-Anbiya 107). Muslim commentators say this refers to the 18,000 worlds created by Allah. Our world is just one of them. (Mir'at-e-Kainat, vol.1, p.77)

Religious people should support the search for life on other planets.

Artist's logarithmic scale conception of the observable universe with the Solar System at the center, inner and outer planets, Kuiper belt, Oort cloud, Alpha Centauri, Perseus Arm, Milky Way galaxy, Andromeda galaxy, nearby galaxies, Cosmic Web, Cosmic microwave radiation and Big Bang's invisible plasma on the edge. (Unmismoobjetivo/CC BY SA 3.0)

Artist's logarithmic scale conception of the observable universe with the Solar System at the center, inner and outer planets, Kuiper belt, Oort cloud, Alpha Centauri, Perseus Arm, Milky Way galaxy, Andromeda galaxy, nearby galaxies, Cosmic Web, Cosmic microwave radiation and Big Bang's invisible plasma on the edge. (Unmismoobjetivo/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Top image: ESO's Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) has captured this unusual view of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), a planetary nebula located 700 light-years away. The Helix Nebula is sometimes called the “Eye of God.” Source: ESO/VISTA/J. Emerson/ CC BY 4.0

By Rabbi Allen S Maller

Rabbi Maller's web site is: www.rabbimaller.com. His new book ‘Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi's Reflections on the Profound Connectedness of Islam and Judaism (a collection of 31 articles by Rabbi Maller previously published by Islamic web sites) is for sale ($15) on Amazon.

Comments

Terry Tibando1's picture

This article shows a limited understanding of the harmony between science and religion which is primarily based on the old (Judaic) and new (Christian) testaments of the Bible and the limited knowledge reveal by Islam on this subject. Further research into other religions, especially the Baha'i Faith makes it uncontestable that science and religion are essentially one and the same as they come from the same divine source, from the divine ocean of all knowledge, God!
Baha'u'llah, the most recent Manifestation of God for this day and age and the prophet founder of the Baha'i Faith states that science is knowledge made through discovery and invention, and religion is knowledge from inspiration and revelation. Both are eternally and inextricably intertwined!
Religion will never be able to separate itself through combative debate with science for to do so is to deny half of its knowledge base.
Baha'u'llah states that life can be found everywhere in the universe "Know thou that every fix (stable) star has its planets and every planet its creatures whose number no man can compute."
No matter where we will eventually go in the universe, we will find life on most planets of a stable star system whether it be simplistic microscopic lifeforms or highly advanced intelligent sentient beings! Life is everywhere in the universe.
From this we can see that astronomers and scientists have erred in their understanding of life in a star system, whereby they based its existence on the Habitable ("Goldilocks") Zone, similar to our own Solar System model. This is a grievous scientific error or simply a discovery they have yet to make!
Looking for planets outside of our Solar System that fit the Habitable Zone model of our star system, though, laudable, the scientists do not factor in the multi-diverse lifeforms on this planet which live diverse, even hostile conditions from deep down on the ocean's floor or in frigid Artic climates or in extreme dry heated environments or even deep down hundreds of feet in the earth. Many of these life forms are appear alien in form. From this we should never rule out planets with hostile environments, even if they are unsuitable for us to walk or live upon.
Once again, Baha'u'llah points out to humanity:
“Verily I say, the creation of God embraceth worlds besides this world, and creatures apart from these creatures. In each of these worlds He hath ordained things which none can search except Himself, the All-Searching, the All-Wise.”
Abdu'l-Baha, son of Baha'u'llah re-affirms his Father's divine knowledge:
“The earth has its inhabitants, the water and the air contain many living beings and all the elements have their nature spirits, then how is it possible to conceive that these stupendous stellar bodies are not inhabited? Verily, they are peopled, but let it be known that the dwellers accord with the elements of their respective spheres. These living beings do not have states of consciousness like unto those who live on the surface of this globe: the power of adaptation and environment moulds their bodies and states of consciousness, just as our bodies and minds are suited to our planet ….”
“They have discovered that there is a great quantity of radium in the sun: the same element is found on earth, but in a much smaller degree. Beings who inhabit these distant luminous bodies are attuned to the elements that have gone into the composition of their respective spheres.”
Yes! As mind boggling as that sounds there is life on "...these luminous bodies", on these stars! This is something scientists will need to research and investigate because such life may not be recognizable whether on the sun or on such moons like IO that orbits Jupiter!
The point here, (there are a lot of quotes from the Baha'i holy writings that talk about this subject, too many to quote here), is that people in general especially, scientists and researchers need to look further afield and remove their myopic glasses and consider all things no matter how improbable they may seem at first! Research, research and more research is required!

Terry Tibando

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