Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Earth--Exceptional or One-of-a-Kind?

“One-of-a-kind” connotes a person or thing that is not like any other person or thing. “Exceptional” is not nearly so exclusive. Virtually all athletes on major league baseball, football, basketball, and hockey rosters are exceptional. Numbers of players range from 420 professional basketball competitors, to 620 hockey, 750 baseball, and nearly 1700 football roster players. These are exceptional athletes. Except for literary hyberbole, no athlete may truly be categorized one-of-a-kind.

In one sense, every planet, of the billions circling sextillions of stars spread throughout our galaxy, may be considered one-of-a-kind. That sense tells us that no single set of physical conditions could possibly be exactly like the conditions on any other planet. Taken more broadly, we might say that every human is also one-of-a-kind, allowing for minor as well as major differences. In view of our most recent posts concerning statements by secularists that humanity is alone in the universe, we elaborate further on Earth’s one-of-a-kind status.

The history of creation of our universe is the stage setter for all the wondrous life-generating events to follow. The complex events of the Big Bang, sometimes derided as chaotic and violent, were set in place by the Creator as the forerunner of physical conditions which permitted the first primitive earth life about four billion years ago. Ten billion years had elapsed before Earth was ready to receive the “gift of life.” 

The temporal timeframe experience of humans cannot be compared with timeframes of the Creator of all things. The GotQuestions.org website says, “In a sense, the marking of time is irrelevant to God because he transcends it…He is above and outside the sphere of time…The time that passes on Earth is of no consequence from God’s timeless perspective.”

We return to consideration of how our one-of-a-kind Earth came to be. There are many exceptional planets. In terms of life, human life in particular, there is, by definition, apparently only a single one-of-a-kind planet. This fact is not proven beyond all reasonable doubt, but there is preponderance of evidence—a legal term. In order to make a claim “beyond reasonable doubt” we would need plentiful knowledge about conditions on most, or all of the billions of planets revolving around sextillions of stars in our known universe.

The virtually infinitely hot and dense singularity from which our universe sprang may be considered the early birth of matter which now comprises our physical, one-of-a-kind world. At the initial moment of the hot Big Bang event, the universe briefly consisted of a “quark soup.” The soup became consolidated into particles with which we are more familiar—hydrogen and helium atoms with protons, neutrons, and electrons. Eventually, further consolidations resulted in nucleosynthesis—formation of more complex elements such as carbon.

Of hundreds of fine tuning parameters known to be necessary for either simple or human life to exist, many of them involve the element carbon and/or the compound water. The element carbon is one of the elements formed by stellar nucleosynthesis. Earth’s life is uniquely dependent on the presence of carbon in just the right amounts, neither too much or too little. Earth is a water world. The same may be said of water. Scientists have written voluminously on both subjects.

Cosmologists are in essential agreement concerning the universe’s sequence of events since the Big Bang which is acknowledged to be the beginning of time. When I taught the Big Bang event to my astronomy students, I announced it as “God’s initial creation event”—the beginning of the time, space, matter, and energy dimensions of our universe. Much later than this “initial creation event,” the element carbon was produced in the formation of stars by what is known as the triple alpha process. When supernatural creation events such as the Cambrian Explosion and the creation of modern humans occurred, carbon was already present on earth, ready to be incorporated into the bodies of earth’s living creatures.”

The previous paragraph is a reprint of a portion of our post from March 19, 2012. Here is a link to that complete post relating to the wondrous carbon cycle:

Hand in hand with the carbon cycle is the water cycle. “Transition of liquid water to vapor and from vapor back to liquid enables water to travel long distances from ocean and other water bodies to cropland locations. Atmospheric circulation quickly transports the water vapor from place to place. Some water infiltrates the soil, becomes groundwater, and eventually returns to streams and larger water bodies for use in irrigation or even re-evaporation back into the atmosphere. Superimposed on this process are many sub-cycles, some of which may be demonstrated in the laboratory…..” Carbon is cycled and recycled through plants, animals, earth, water bodies, and atmosphere, in various states to sustain Earth life and transport earth materials in life-sustaining ways. Here is a link to our original post on the water cycle. Several posts on the water cycle and various other life-giving cycles follow: (Click on “Newer Posts”)

It is doubtful that any of the recently discovered 3774 planets (as of July 31, 2018) come remotely close to “one-of-a-kind” status with respect to life. Conditions on those planets are foreign to life of any kind, lacking hundreds of fine tuning characteristics involving nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, and hundreds of other elements and compounds necessary for human life. 



Monday, July 23, 2018

Dismissing ET

SETI, an organization committed to searching for life beyond the confines of our Earth and its Solar System, now researches many other wonderful features of our cosmos. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence is now a subsidiary topic of focus and has retreated into the background of their scientific research. The focus of SETI scientists is now geoscience, astrobiology, astronomy, geology, astrophysics, planetary science, and related topics. Only a few of the scholars at the SETI organization still center their studies on “Life beyond the confines of Earth and it Solar System.” However, the topic of intelligent life in outer space is still of interest to many. Does life beyond Planet Earth actually exist, many people wonder? 

In 1960 the modern scientific quest for widespread life in the cosmos continued. In 1961 astronomer Frank Drake organized a scholar team, including Carl Sagan of Cornell University, which met at a facility in Green Bank WV in order to discuss the possibility of extraterrestrial life. His reliance on the “Drake equation,” proposed at the conference, was often quoted. Without outlining the seven factors of the “Drake equation,” we affirm that accepting its implication strengthens belief that intelligent life even in our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is a common occurrence.

In 1950, brilliant nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi, sometimes called the “architect of the atomic age,” asked a group of his scientist colleagues, “Where is everybody?” His friends realized he was referring to extraterrestrial life. Even at the slow pace of interstellar travel, hopeful speculation supports the possibility that some of the many billions of planets circling sextillions of stars in our home Milky Way Galaxy together with billions of other galaxies in the universe may possess intelligent life forms and may have developed the technology for interstellar communication or travel. Fermi realized the absence of any communications from “out there” convinced him, according to his reckoning, that it is highly unlikely that ETs exist. His statements predated Frank Drake’s equation. Many theorists, including the late science popularizer Carl Sagan, have nourished belief in ET to this day, including some writers at the SETI Institute in Mountain View CA and other media. One example is NY Times writer Adam Frank who wrote in June 2016, “Yes, There Have Been Aliens.” He still assigns confident credibility to the Drake equation. SETI scholar Seth Shostak waxed exuberant when the TRAPPIST-1 array of seven generally earth-sized planets was discovered around a star only 39 light years away in February 2017.  

The Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) at Oxford University on June 6, 2018 published research by Anders Sandberg, Eric Dexter, and Toby Ord at Oxford University positing that humans in our Solar System are alone in our universe. In their opening abstract they affirm, in response to fascinating and optimistic speculations about life elsewhere in our cosmos,  “… we find a substantial ex ante probability of there being no other intelligent life in our observable universe, and thus that there should be little surprise when we fail to detect any signs of it.” Their well documented and detailed research was reported in many media. Its thesis was discouraging to believers in extraterrestrial life. At the same time, creationists may take courage that God is the author of a single life-plentiful location. Our belief in the uniqueness of created life on Earth is supported by our knowledge of the incredible functional and esthetic qualities of our planet’s life and the physical systems supporting it. Earths is proving to be unique in the cosmos.

We link our posts of March 17 and March 19, 2017 describing the TRAPPIST-1 discovery and repeat some of our observations from them:

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 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.”


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Really Alone?

The question of whether humanity shares characteristics of life with other human or human-like creatures in our enormous universe has long piqued interest from coffee-table conversationalists to professional astro-biologists. The question fascinates some young people whose extrospective abilities are stimulated when they first study the subject of astronomy.

Scripture does not address this topic. As a young person I recall my father quoting John 10:16 (KJV): Jesus said, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold…” Many diverse interpretations relevant to this passage exist, but when I first heard it I thought it may have referred to life on other planets. Writing on the Concordia Seminary website, professor of theology Dr. Charles Arand states, “First, if life exists elsewhere it means that God created it. What is non-negotiable for the Christian faith, and indeed the cornerstone for it, is that God created everything that exists out of nothing.”

Dr. Arand continues, “One thing that we do know about God’s work here on Earth is that God loves life! Lots of life. And lots of different kinds of life. We see this already in Genesis 1 where the movement of creation is toward the filling of all the spaces on Earth (air, water, land) with teeming life.”

Astro-biologists have proposed that finding simple life on another planet such as Mars during our space probes would indicate the past natural transport of earth materials to a nearby planet owing to debris blasted into space by a past meteorite or asteroid strike—a distinct possibility. Such a discovery would not necessarily indicate that life forms were originally created on other planets.

Many parameters related to existence of life elsewhere in our vast cosmos come to mind. If diversity of life is found to exist throughout the cosmos on some of the billions of planets circling billions of other stars, the question may occur among naturalistic scientists whether the paradigm of origin and development of life by evolutionary processes applies not only to Planet Earth but also is a common feature of physical systems throughout the cosmos. If scientists believe this to be true, their belief that life on Planet Earth is the product of a natural evolutionary process may be reinforced.

On the other hand, if Earth life appears to be a one-time cosmic occurrence, humans could more easily credit its distinctiveness to a supernatural Cause—God, the Creator of all things. At this point we must search for reasons to believe in a supernatural Creator as cosmic Author of a unique planet with unique humanity created in God’s own image.

Dr. Arand further writes, “What does this mean for possible life elsewhere? I don’t know. God has not revealed that to us.” We side with Dr. Arand—we don’t know, but we are impacted by recent research which tilts us toward belief that we are really alone in the Milky Way and in the cosmos. The reality of this belief has powerful theological implications.


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Alone in the Universe

Once again, we recall childhood thoughts about our cosmos. This time, we need to advance our early childhood ideas of the Sumerian cosmic dome to our contemporary concept of the cosmos. Science teachers now use models of globes even in early grades to establish the concept of Planet Earth as a sphere. Students now envision the Earth surrounded by space. The Sun and other planets of the Solar System are also spheres surrounded by empty space. We now model the planets moving around the Sun—the essence of a heliocentric (sun-centered) planetary system.

When young children look out at the stars they observe beautiful points of light most of which “twinkle” due to atmospheric effects. (We only hope our children are blessed with neighborhood dark skies.) A few bright “stars” do not twinkle. Rather, they shine brightly with a steady light—the signature of a planet similar to our Earth. Planets Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and sometimes Mars are outstanding examples.

Thoughtful parents and children may pose the possibility of the existence of people on other planets of our Solar System. For particularly astute children, especially when they become Middle Schoolers or High Schoolers, it may occur to them that other stars—really other “suns” in space may also possess planets similar to ours. Do those planets have life like ours, or similar to ours?

Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is a star system with 100 to 400 billion stars. Some reliable astronomers speculate that our galaxy may possess 100 billion planets. One or more planets frequently accompany stars. The idea that a significant number of Milky Way planets have physical conditions similar to Earth is fascinating, optimistic, and imaginative. If we carefully analyze the possibility that any of our galactic neighbors could possess conditions even remotely resembling the unique and beautiful complexity of our Solar System family, especially the conditions manifest on Planet Earth, we may not be so optimistic and imaginative. The foregoing points do not include mention of existence of the plethora of Earth life—millions of prokaryotes (single-celled organisms such as bacteria and archaea) and eukaryotes (multi-celled organisms such as plants and animals)—or how these life forms originated.

A majority of scientists believe the term “evolution” and its theorized processes not only explains how general physical conditions on Earth changed and developed, but more significantly, how life itself originated and developed. We agree that the term “evolution” may be appropriate for long-term development of the universe since the origin of time, space, matter and energy in the beginning when “God created the heavens and the Earth.” But intoning the term “evolution” does not explain the origin of life or the sudden appearances of multiple novel animal and plant phyla at the onset of the Cambrian Explosion and in the millions of years subsequent to the Cambrian period.

Many media resources have been devoted to promoting the hypothesized evolution of life forms on planets surrounding stars in 100 or 200 billion (or more) other galaxies sprinkled around our vast universe. It is estimated there are sextillions of stars inhabiting these galaxies. It is conceivable that there may be sextillions of planets far distant from our own Milky Way! The likelihood of human or human-like life is not increased, however, by stating larger and larger estimates of planets in our universe.

Even secular scientists have acknowledged the highly unlikely origin of life by natural evolutionary processes. Curiously, these scientists are not creationists. For example, Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) felt that life arrived on Earth from outside of our Solar System by panspermia. He also believed in the Steady-state theory—that there was no beginning to the universe and that things would always continue as they are now. His observations on the unlikelihood of a naturalistic origin for life excite some proponents of intelligent design who assume he was something other than an atheist. We quote two of Hoyle’s most interesting proposals: “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.” He went on to compare “the chance of obtaining even a single functioning protein by a chance combination of amino acids to a solar system full of blind men solving a Rubik’s Cube simultaneously.”

As a teacher of astronomy, I disappointed many students by expressing doubt that Earth life could arise here or on any other of sextillions of planets by pure chance without the input of a “superintellect.” When asked if I believed in God, I responded, “I certainly do.”

In the past few weeks there has been an uptick in commentary about whether or not humanity is Alone in the Universe. The Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) published some of their recent research in June. Their findings that humans are alone has depressed many folks who thought we should have discovered, or will discover, many cosmic neighbors. In the future, we deal with this relevant issue and its theological implications.