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