Friday, April 21, 2017

Visions of God

In a metaphorical sense we may have heard the term “seeing God.” Recently I have encountered several parents who have been challenged by questions from their children concerning the reality of God’s existence. Adults are also challenged by questions from their friends concerning the reality of God. This is a hot discussion topic—one which deserves more attention from our adult church discussion forums. Adults may understand the figurative expression “seeing” God differently than children. Levels of understanding for children and adults could and should be considerably different.

Historically the Israelites experienced powerful manifestations of the presence of God during their desert wanderings prior to entering the promised land. These startling encounters at Mt. Sinai are documented in the Book of Exodus. Moses ascended the mountain at least eight times. God spoke audibly to Moses on the mountain concerning past and upcoming events. The people were instructed to prepare to meet God. The meetings were awesome, frightful occasions featuring fear-provoking episodes with lightning, thunder, smoke, trumpet blasts, and trembling of the mountain.

The reality of God as expressed in the Exodus chronicle at Mt. Sinai may not be a lesson for an ordinary Sunday School class of primary school students. This illustrates the importance of “age-appropriate” teaching, but not because the traits of God are off-limits for study. Deep study reveals that God does not limit himself to our dimensionality of length, width, height, and time even though he fashioned these dimensions when he created “the heavens and the earth,” an expression encompassing “all that exists.” God also created matter, energy, and the four fundamental forces of the universe which act among the particles of matter. Our Creator, therefore, is far superior to his creation. 

One way God is superior to his creation is that he created more than the familiar dimensions in which we ordinarily exist. Many physicists pose the fascinating scenario of the existence of invisible, extra dimensions of space—perhaps 10 or 11 dimensions altogether. Our ordinary lives exist in only one time dimension going from the past, to the present, to the future. Some physicists believe there could be other dimensions of time beyond the forward moving dimension governing our lives. The omnipotence of God who created all things may be more easily grasped if we recognize the reality of dimensions unfamiliar to us in our daily lives. God created other dimensions. He exists in unfamiliar dimensions, but could confine himself to our dimensions when he wishes. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, confined himself to our dimensions in order to communicate his message of care and love for humanity. 

The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus would not be possible unless he existed in extra dimensions. He entered rooms “the doors being shut,” ascended to the Father, and returned bodily. The disciples were living in ordinary dimensionality, but Christ’s resurrection body was not ordinary. Christ could still operate in our dimensions in order to eat breakfast with the disciples and permit Thomas to feel the nail prints in his hands and the wounds in his side. A remarkable passage in the Mt. Sinai chronicle occurs in Exodus. Four leaders including Moses, along with seventy elders of Israel “…went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank” (Exodus 24:9-11 (NIV).

In other Exodus passages the people were cautioned not to approach the mountain under pain of death. In what one writer described as a “very heavy text,” the lesson to be learned is that the people were subjected to fear, awe, and reverence of God so they wouldn’t treat God casually. They were to be tested and proven. In the eons prior to the Mt. Sinai law-giving, human conscience proved to be completely inadequate to bring about righteousness in humanity. The Mosaic law illustrated the necessity of man to obey a higher authority than himself; specifically, the higher authority was God, the Creator.

In several passages where the written language of the Bible uses the term “see God” we pose the likelihood that a person saw a vision of God’s glory without actually seeing God’s face. Moses himself, late in the law-giving process requested of God, “Now show me your glory.” God placed Moses on a rock and said, “When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen” Exodus 33:18-23. One commentator offered the possibility that men could probably see some outward sign of his presence such as a bright cloud or great blaze of light. These are mysterious and wonderful events beyond our complete understanding.

In our day it is imperative to review with our children the fact that we do not see God visually but we note numerous manifestations of invisible forces, abundant design features, and the predictable orderliness of the natural world. In particular, the physical features of living things and the remarkable developmental regeneration of plants and animals is apparent all around us. Our scientific knowledge gives us more profound knowledge of our powerful Creator than the Israelites under Moses ever experienced. Parents, youth leaders, and pastors must actively search for opportunities to produce a mature vision of God.    




Friday, April 14, 2017

Faith in God's Reality

Many of our recent posts have been written with children in mind. How successful are parents in presenting God as real for our children? How could Sunday School teachers do the same for their students to affirm that God is real? We may also ask how our pastors could present biblical theology from their pulpits in a convincing manner. Theology is defined as the science of God. In a word, the root meaning of science is knowledge—including the fundamental knowledge that God is real. This knowledge is for both young people and adults.

For our high school and college age young people, we trust that knowledge of the reality of God’s existence has been established with reasonable certainty. For our adult population we likewise assume the reasonable certainty that the “God reality” has been established. If there are serious doubts about that reality, the validity of the fundamental message of our churches may be called into question.

Primary school students and much younger children may present a blend of least and at the same time, most challenging assignments for parents and teachers with respect to the question of God’s reality. Teaching about the reality of Jesus, God’s Son, may be a simpler responsibility. Children are visually oriented from the beginning of their life. In that sense, the challenge of teaching about an invisible God could be substantial for some children.

One primary task of parental teaching is instructing children that real things are not always visible. Yet, these real, invisible things have effects which may be seen and felt. We caution that the mere awareness of invisible forces, even the forces which have an effect on surrounding matter, may not prove to doubters that God is present or even that he exists. God, of course, is the author of “sustaining miracles” whereby the universe is sustained from moment to moment by God’s will and power. If God’s will and power were to be withdrawn, the universe would descend into chaos—a difficult concept for children. The orderliness of the natural world manifest in dozens of physical constants is strong affirmation of God who authors sustaining miracles.

We challenge parents, teachers, and pastors to think deeply about the issues of fostering and strengthening faith in the reality of God. Ultimately each person must embrace faith in God as a matter of personal choice. These are matters of eternal import. We are privileged to help mold the world views of our children and fellow man.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews presented numerous examples of the outworking of faith in Christian believers. “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” Heb. 11:3 (NAS).    


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Invisible God-connection

In our desire to make the existence of God real for our children we may also consider how vital it is to make God real for ourselves and our adult friends. The author of the fourth gospel and the epistles of John made clear statements: “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18; I John 4:12). There is no exception, except in the experience of Jesus Christ himself. The God of Judeo-Christian Scripture is an invisible Deity who made His voice audible on several occasions in both Old and New Testament times. Our omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God, however, cannot be visually seen. The Creator of all things cloaks Himself in invisibility. 

Modern humanity highly depends on visual imagery. God’s invisibility is testimony to the truth that God’s reality exists on a loftier plane. We must investigate the dimensions of that plane. Jesus Christ is the only One who has seen the Father. John records the words of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity: “…not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God: he has seen the Father.” Jesus Christ identifies himself as “He who is from God.” 

The writer of Hebrews states the Old Testament sacrifices and offerings are not as desirable as the physical body of Christ offered as a sacrifice for the sins of man: As the second person of the Trinity, Christ proclaimed, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me (Hebrews 10:5 ESV). Scriptural Divinity is not always invisible, therefore! God the Father is always invisible but Christ the Son became physically visible. Our children may begin to understand the theological depth that God became man in the person of Christ in order to redeem humanity. For many young children, this may be the limit of their comprehension of God until they become older.

As we investigate the importance of God’s invisibility, let us consider the restricted conception of reality if we focus primarily on the importance of visual reality. People could offer God’s invisibility as an excuse to disbelieve in His existence. The humorous cliché “seeing is believing” does not imply its converse. If we understand the physical basis of light and human vision we may grasp the concomitant scientific truth that the energy information transported by the electromagnetic spectrum perceived by the eye consists of only a minuscule fraction of electromagnetic reality. Visible light consists of far less than 1% of the electromagnetic spectrum. Many other types of electromagnetic energy testify to the wonders of the invisible universe. Scientists sometimes use the catch-phrase “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” to inspire a lively search for new scientific evidence.

We recall personal experiences with our grandchildren concerning invisible forces. The examples exemplify two of the four fundamental forces of the universe—gravity and electromagnetism. When our grandchildren visited frequently during their pre-school years, our driveway provided the challenge of sprinting or riding down a curving, sloped hill aided mightily by the force of gravity. Grandpa suppressed his fear that the youngsters would seriously injure themselves, tumbling headlong—notwithstanding our warning to, “Watch out, gravity will get you!” Perhaps the children did not fully understand the invisible force of gravity which pulled them relentlessly down the hill, or even the “pull” which quickly returned them to earth after their vertical jumps. Gravity’s invisible force aided in one case and impeded in another.

A small world globe, powered by magnetism, levitates on my office desk. The grandchildren have become aware of the forces holding the globe suspended in air. Magnetic forces may be beyond the reach of early childhood explanation as are the attractive and repulsive forces affecting the small magnetic disc sets we use to post grandchildren’s art on our refrigerator. But they are not beyond the reach of childhood wonder.

A hand-held radio is capable of receiving several dozen local stations by turning a tuning dial slightly to receive different invisible electromagnetic frequencies. The receiver converts the signals to audible sound, also invisible. In our great-grandparents’ youthful days such phenomena would be hailed as “miraculous.” In the 21st century our grandchildren may be inured to the wonders of the invisible. Technological wonders accessed by rapid deployment of finger and thumb-taps may have caused us to lose awareness of the Creator of the coherent physical laws by which the latest modern devices function. Our children might substitute a form of “worship” of modern devices for genuine worship of the Author and Creator of all things. At worst, the dire warning of Romans 1:25 may be considered: Historically, many people “worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” Helping our children understand the reality of God is a challenging and awesome privilege.

The above incidents provide examples of the reality the invisible forces. Scientists investigate further in order to understand the causes, effects, and significance of invisible forces on our lives. No one could deny the reality of gravity or the many manifestations of electromagnetism. Science enables us to discover causes and effects of those forces but in no sense do they provide proof for the existence of God. Rather they are analogies suggesting the need for additional investigation. We are connected to the invisible God because we are created In His Image. As God’s children we manifest some of the traits (the effects) of being in His image (the cause). Deeper questions about the reality of God as a Spirit may remain unanswered until our young children are older. References to our Father in Heaven, however, are always appropriate.     

One worshipful traditional hymn by Walter Chalmers Smith (1824-1908), “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” expresses the depth of beauty and mystery in our understanding of the invisible God. The hymn was inspired by I Tim. 1:17: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be glory and honor for ever and ever. Amen” (ESV). It is a moving, traditional Welsh hymn-tune with potential for deep reflection by worshipers. The Verse 1 text: Immortal, invisible, God only wise, In light inaccessible hid from our eyes. Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, Almighty, victorious—Thy great name we praise.” 




Monday, April 3, 2017

God's Invisibility

Theologically, the Biblical revelation that “God is a Spirit” (KJV) is an extremely deep concept. Likewise, the subject of God’s invisibility is exceedingly profound. We cannot see a spirit. Our Christian faith is anchored to belief in the reality of a God who cannot be seen. Humans are accustomed to visual imagery to reinforce reality. If our everyday proposals do not have the advantage of a visual connection, or at least an auditory connection, beliefs in our accounts of reality are often diminished.

As parents or grandparents, we desire that our children grow up to believe in the reality of God. Our own adult belief in the God of Judeo-Christian scripture needs affirmation. Faith, defined as a “life-encompassing belief system” based on “complete confidence and trust” needs links to reality. Even more, we must determine how to present God as a real, living entity to whom we owe our thanks, worship, and allegiance. We understand that conveying the concept of a real God to our children is primary.

How may we explain to children that God is a spirit? Beyond the description of God as a spirit, Scripture instructs us how we should worship Him. The NIV translation presents the most familiar instruction for both the essence of God and how we should worship Him: “For God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Ken Taylor’s The Living Bible paraphrase goes beyond, saying, “For God is spirit, and we must have his help to worship as we should.” Eugene Peterson goes even further: “God is sheer being itself - Spirit. Those who worship him must do so out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

The remainder of our discussion is mostly beyond the scope of children’s  comprehension, but not beyond the reach of adult contemplation. Perhaps as we gain insight into the significance of God as a spirit, we will be better able to answer questions from our children. They sometimes surprise us with insight beyond their years.

The linkage of two terms seems appropriate. Recently we submitted several posts on “consciousness.” We stated that many secular experts feel that the subject of consciousness is beyond the reach of science to explain—a startling admission from scientists who search for naturalistic explanations for virtually every phenomenon. Another term secular scientists are loathe to explain is the existence of “spirit” as used to explain the essence of God as a non-material entity. We link our recent post on the subject of consciousness: 

In the above post we used the term “entity” to aid us in understanding God as the “ultimate supernatural entity of consciousness.” This is not a term used in Scripture, but in terms of our current understanding of consciousness and spirit, we may connect the terms. In human terms, consciousness means “self awareness of one’s existence, one’s thoughts, one’s surroundings.” In supernatural terms, the “consciousness” of God, the Creator of all things, is exponentially and infinitely greater than the consciousness of humans. In describing God as a spirit, we must use adjectives beginning with the prefix “omni:” God is omnipotent—all powerful, omniscient—all knowing, and omnipresent—all-present, or present everywhere.

Some secular scientists consider consciousness a “fundamental building block of nature” in the same league as space, time, matter, and energy. If we describe God as an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent spirit, we might reverently refer to God as a “fundamental building block of the entire universe.” We have been taught the theological truth that humanity is created in the image of God. Author Kenneth Samples refers to the “enigma of humanity” as a direct result of our possession of the image of God with which we were created. Samples also writes that the image of God in humans results in “rational capacities, moral volition, relational distinctiveness, unique spiritual qualities, and dominion over nature.”

Returning to discussion of the responsibility of teaching our children about the reality of God: We discuss the topic of God, praying before mealtimes, bedtimes, and various other times to the invisible God—the ultimate spirit Being and the Creator of everything. Parents must decide concerning the child’s readiness to discuss such important issues. We trust that Christian parents will devote time preparing for these important adult/child discussions. They must study issues for themselves as a precursor to launching ongoing discussion topics with their children.

In our recent post on “Youth Science/Faith Apologetics” (3-13-2017) we wondered what the ancient Israelite parents talked about with their children if they followed Moses’ advice to “…impress them (the commandments) on your children” when they were sitting at home, walking along the road, lying down, and getting up (Deuteronomy 6 and 11). Moses had heard God’s voice on Mt. Sinai even if he did not actually see Him. The events on the mountain had a monumental impact on the Israelite leader. We speculated in our recent post that lessons from the created natural world may have intensified the Israelites’ desire to serve the Creator as well as following His commandments. 

In the 21st century parents who prepare for the discussion about the reality of the invisible God may have an advantage. In addition to our expanded knowledge of the natural world and its wonders of design and order, we have modern awareness of the “hard problem of consciousness” as a reality which far exceeds material reality. Today’s secular scientists such as David Chalmers calls non-material consciousness “the most mysterious phenomenon in the universe.” Chalmers touts an invisible reality of non-material consciousness. Scripture, however, describes the reality of God, the first person of the Trinity, as an invisible non-material spirit on a far higher plane of reality. He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent—the ultimate, fundamental subject of John 4:24: “For God is spirit….”          



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Affirming God for Children

Parents of young children hope for positive responses in their efforts to instill appropriate behavior and value systems. They train their offspring to be obedient, cooperative, cheerful, and encourage a host of other positive self-disciplines. Parents divert the young people from selfishness, meanness, and lying, making sure they understand the downside of such negative behaviors for themselves and the people around them. 

At some point in a young child’s training, perhaps in partnership with the church’s religious education program, parents introduce the concept of God’s reality. The time to teach awareness of a divine Being is a matter of the child’s readiness. We need inspired parental judgment fueled by divine wisdom. Scripture exhortations to “teach your children” in several Old Testament Scripture passages do not come with suggestions concerning the ages of the children. We may speculate on specific details of the manner in which their teaching unfolded. Parents teach their children simple prayers to repeat before mealtime or bedtime. As a followup to thanking God we wonder how we may explain to a child that the Heavenly Father is ultimately responsible for gifts of food for which we thank Him? God is invisible. How, then, does an invisible God supply our food? 

The child has observed that Mom and Dad purchase and prepare food for their table. How is God responsible? One effective strategy would be to plant seeds, observe them sprouting, watch leaves developing, blossoms appearing, and plants later producing their fruit. Systematic observation could be encouraged at an early age. One late autumn day our grandchildren shelled kernels from a corn cob and covered some of the seeds in the mulch under our front yard walnut tree. After many months buried in frozen ground covered by layers of winter snow, some of the seeds sprouted and emerged the following spring. Grandpa transplanted several plants to flower pots. One grew to nearly 18 inches. The hybrid seeds did not bear fruit, but we did observe the miracle of sprouting and growth. This “planting” incident was unintentional. Many truths about God’s design and process features in the world of nature are revealed both incidentally and as a result of deliberate inquiry.

Spring provides many other opportunities to observe renewal of life from sprouting seeds, annual leaf-out of deciduous plants, and regrowth of perennial plants. Parents concerned about inspiring God-awareness in their children have ample opportunities during the development of the spring season to point out gradually changing colors of the forest, development of leaf buds, formation of near identical shapes of all leaves on a particular tree, and the diverse shapes of leaves on different species of neighborhood trees. Our family’s treasured front yard black walnut tree, in addition to its early production of buds, produces immature pea-sized walnuts early in its annual growth cycle. Grandpa lifted his grandkids up to the low hanging branches to inspect them. A few months later we harvested mature walnuts from the ground and enjoyed cracking and consuming left-over walnuts from the previous year.

We previously posted “Springtime Renewal” a few years ago:

The above linked post deals with a few of the plant’s physiological processes related to the onset of spring. Physiological processes are not apparent but visual changes are observable and potentially interesting to young children. Wise parents should not overload the young child with too much information about plant growth. They could offer the suggestion that God initiated the idea to create plants, to make them grow and develop for our enjoyment, and to utilize them as food for humans. Introductory discussions about God, even though He is not visible to us, may inspire young children to think more deeply about the reality of the Heavenly Father to whom we pray at mealtime and bedtime. Parents may be surprised by their insightful questioning.      


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Exoplanet Science Fiction

Exuberant optimism abounds when certain popular ideas are proposed. One example is the idea by Seth Shostak, senior astronomer for the SETI Institute that “…the universe is replete with real estate on which biology could both arise and flourish.” Shostak calls this idea “a growing conviction.” Many scientists claim mankind needs a new mission such as discovering habitable planets and demonstrating that intelligent life actually exists on these planets.

Rod Serling became famous as an imaginative science fiction writer and television producer of The Twilight Zone during the mid 20th century. This weekend program even captivated my parents and me for a time in the early 60s. Serling stated “Fantasy is the impossible made probable…..Science fiction is the improbable made probable.” The recent discovery of seven earth-sized planets around the TRAPPIST-1 star system thought to be in the “habitable zone” where temperatures could be fitting for humans may be in the category of “fantasy.” Saying “improbable made probable” is enough for many observers to mentally shift from “improbable” to “possible” and even to “certain” based on astronomers’ confidence that billions of exoplanets lurk in our Milky Way galaxy. Adding to the exuberance of many people are fiction writers such as Annalee Newitz who claims, “Science fiction lags way behind science.” Newitz's statement means the achievements of science sometimes exceed the speculative musings of science fiction.

Belief in the existence of innumerable inhabited worlds, or even belief in innumerable habitable worlds may be an exuberant stretch of reality. With the disclaimer that these worlds are at least possible, we posit that the existence of both inhabited and habitable worlds outside our Solar System may be ideas “remote beyond comprehension.”

We cite two examples of ideas we consider “remote beyond comprehension” currently gripping the belief system of many scientists: (1) The naturalistic origin of life. No one has ever explained how life on Planet Earth originated short of a supernatural miracle. Popular biology textbooks such as the Seventh Edition AP text Biology by Neil A. Campbell and Jane B. Reese, described as “the most successful biology majors text in the world” speculates how conditions on early earth may have generated life on earth. After proposing possible favorable scenarios already existing on the planet, the authors then generously supply phrases like could have formed, can discharge, if…then, probably, can make, provided that, may have occurred, perhaps, might have, would have, and could have. (2) The multiverse theory hypothesizes an infinite number of existing universes: One of them, our own, just by chance possessed every one of the hundreds of precise conditions necessary for existence of Earth’s complex life according to this theory.

Astrophysicist Hugh Ross on February 23, 2017 questioned, “Earth’s Seven Sisters: Are They Really Similar?” His answer: They are thoroughly uninhabitable. Among many reasons, Ross stated (1) TRAPPIST-1 is a fast-rotating star with huge solar flares accompanied by strong X-ray and ultraviolet radiation, (2) the seven planets are tidally locked to their star, meaning that (3) each planet’s side facing the star is perpetually illuminated and blazing hot while the opposite side is perpetually dark and extremely cold, (4) the presence of liquid water is hypothesized but extremely unlikely, and (5) gravitational influences from one planet to another are harmful.

In contrast, Seth Shostak’s “growing conviction” that biology could arise and flourish on these nearby planetary worlds is the product of unabashed, unrealistic optimism. Hugh Ross’s careful analyses of favorable technical conditions on our planet seem more realistic. He propounds these ideas about our familiar Earth: “The number and complexity of the astronomical and geological, chemical, and biological features recognized as essential to human existence have exploded within the past decade.” His recently published volume Improbable Planet, Baker Books, 2016, details his claims and is well worth our effort to read and understand.

We argue that Planet Earth is absolutely unique in its ability to sustain life. We also propose that other planets, including all the newly discovered exoplanets, do not come close to fulfilling the requirements for intelligent life possessed by Earth. If future discoveries show this to be in error, we will amend our proposal. Our Creator could choose to create life on other planets. Currently Planet Earth seems to be unique in harboring its marvelous life forms and the conditions supporting life. Our “growing conviction” consists of increased certainty about the uniqueness of conditions on Earth and life on our home planet.   


Friday, March 17, 2017

3537 Exoplanets and Counting

Depending on which source of information we quote, the number of exoplanets—planets orbiting stars other than our sun—is experiencing an exponential population explosion. The longer we wait, the more exoplanets are discovered. Their number has roughly doubled every 27 months from the discovery of the first exoplanets in the 1990s. The population explosion is a function of the enhanced information sensing capabilities of our equipment. As time passes, we see farther; we see more clearly. Best of all, information concerning conditions on these exoplanets is revealed.

We have advanced from the days of early telescopes which could only detect and magnify images of visible light. The Spitzer Space Telescope, launched in 2003, works by observing certain wavelengths of infrared radiation, thereby making optically dark objects visible. All bodies in our universe emit infrared radiation at all times. Visible light is a minuscule portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. We observe wondrous images of our environment in visible light, but there is far more information available to scientists studying our universe by observing other wavelengths. There are many wavelengths longer and shorter than visible light. However, the human eye cannot see them. 

In February exciting news hit the press. Around a fairly close ultra-cool star a mere 39 light years distant, scientists discovered seven generally earth-sized planets rapidly orbiting very close to their parent star named TRAPPIST-1. This star is less than one tenth the size of our sun and less than one quarter as warm. The Spitzer Space Telescope produced its images from infrared wavelengths emanating from the TRAPPIST-1 star and planetary system. 

The most exciting element of this news focused on the planets’ existence in a possible “habitable zone.” The seven planets orbit quickly in a matter of days at a close distance from their cool parent star. They all revolve at less than the distance Earth’s planet Mercury orbits our Sun. Therefore, if some of the planets contain water, it is likely the water is liquid because of the not too hot, not too cold temperature on their surfaces. Scientists believe liquid water is necessary for any planet to sustain life.

We recall the excitement generated when the existence of first exoplanet was affirmed in 1992. Many students in my classroom had imagined that life, perhaps similar to Earth life, almost certainly existed somewhere else in our universe. The students of 25 years ago would be even more excited to know that some of the 3537 exoplanets in the immediate neighborhood of our huge Milky Way Galaxy in the past quarter century may have potential for intelligent life. This gripping notion seems more probable considering that many more billions of stars in our home Milky Way Galaxy certainly harbor planets. The possibility of other sites for intelligent life in our universe seems even more likely given our knowledge that over 100 billion galaxies exist in our vast universe!

Passion for the notion that many other sites of intelligent life exist on orbiting planets  has been dampened, at least in our cosmic neighborhood. The stunning uniqueness of Earth life becomes increasingly obvious as we grasp the improbability that hundreds of just right physical planetary conditions must be present to support our vast array of life. Upwards of nine million species of complexly functioning organisms are embedded on this special planet. Eliminating even one required physical planetary condition precludes the possibility of human life, not to mention the life of nine million other species.

Whenever a discovery such as the science fiction-like TRAPPIST-1 discovery is made, scientists and laypeople alike rush to speculate on the possibility of extraterrestrial life. When my students inquired about my belief or disbelief in life anywhere else in the universe, I responded with an answer such as: “Not one intelligently produced signal has ever been received from outer space. If there are billions of instances of intelligent civilizations in our universe, at least one of them may have acquired the knowledge to communicate via radio or light signals if they were curious about the existence of other intelligent beings. But we have heard nothing at all.” For the past 150 years since the discovery of the electromagnetic spectrum and the invention of radio, Earth’s scientists have released billions of electromagnetic signals into space. Some signals have already reached the 3537 exoplanets discovered so far. 

In February Seth Shostak, senior astronomer for the SETI institute noted “…The SETI Institute used its Allen Telescope Array (in 2016) to observe the environs of TRAPPIST-1, scanning through 10 billion radio channels in search of signals. No transmissions were detected although new observations are in the offing…” SETI stands for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Nevertheless on February 22, 2017, Shostak wrote that the TRAPPIST-1 “…discovery has underlined the growing conviction that the universe is replete with real estate on which biology could both arise and flourish.” Read more about SETI and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence here:

We contrast Shostak’s unbridled optimism with our personal view. There are abundant reasons for dismissing the likelihood that any other planetary site in our universe could harbor life, even if it were blessed, for example, with the presence of liquid water and a reasonably friendly temperature. As we discover more and more stunning requirements for life possessed by Earth together with the absence of that array of requirements on even the most promising planetary systems, we realize anew the truth of Psalm 104:24 (The Message Translation): “What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.”