Here’s a quote from today’s Guardian (UK).

“A planet with conditions that could support life orbits a twin neighbour of the sun visible to the naked eye, scientists have revealed. The world is one of five thought to be circling Tau Ceti, a star just 12 light years away that is almost identical to the sun. Astronomers estimate the Tau Ceti planets to be two to six times bigger than Earth. One of them, with five times the Earth’s mass, lies in the star’s “habitable zone”. Also known as the “Goldilocks zone”, this is the orbital region that is neither too hot nor too cold to allow liquid surface water and, potentially, life.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/dec/19/habitable-planet-discovered-tau-ceti)

Does the idea of “Another Earth” excite you or make you nervous?
Does it challenge or affirm your worldview assumptions?

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “Another Earth

  1. God can do what he wants to do. If he has chosen to express his love by creating more than one habitable planet, perhaps even with intelligent life, that is certainly his sovereign prerogative and wouldn’t impact my faith at all. I believe the biblical view of God leaves room for such a divine choice. C.S. Lewis certainly believed this was possible, and he was pretty smart.

    The Bible doesn’t mention anything like this, and it expresses God’s cosmic plan in physical creation as centering on humankind on earth. But that’s an argument from silence. The Bible reveals to us what we need to know for our life and salvation, obviously we don’t need to know about extraterrestrial life for either of these. So, its possible, but I’d be surprised.

  2. I once heard Stephen Hawking say at a Macworld Expo keynote, that all the factors that happen just at the right time and in the right sequence to spark life are really, really astronomical, highly unlikely to happen again elsewhere. I’ve read him say otherwise since. But of course God can do what God chooses to do.

    That aside, if God did choose to create a single, intelligent, carbon-base creature for whatever purpose God choose to created humanity, in a manner consistent with the laws of physics God designed; then a universe this large was indeed necessary—even for life on a single planet.

    Six-day creation aside for this explanation, at the Big Bang there were basically two elements—hydrogen and helium. When God flung the universe into motion, scientists say the entire universe was condensed within the size of a basketball—expanding rapidly. Eventually gravity gathered clumps of these two basic elements (there were some trace elements too, but for brevity’s sake…) until the pressure of their weight together sparked them into thermonuclear furnaces. The first generation of stars. After lots and lots of years, and simply speaking, hydrogen burns into helium, helium burns into carbon. As carbon burns, other elements are generated in this stellar stew. When stars then burnout, collapse upon themselves, implode and explode, even more elements are created.

    After several generations, all the elements that compose you and me and the earth are readily available for a biosphere. Comets and asteroids gather the needed elements to deposit them on this rock. THEN the Goldilocks Zone must be just right:

    1.) Host star must be of right size and type.
    2.) Planets must start from a small, short-lived type of protoplanetary disk.
    3.) System must be devoid of large planets with elliptical orbits
    4.) Large planets with circular orbits are required at the right distances.
    5.) Planet must maintain a circular orbit within narrow limits within the
    “Goldilocks zone.”
    6.) Planet’s size must fit within narrow limits to hold the right kind of
    atmosphere and maintain moderate temperatures.
    7.) Planet must be a member of a double-planet system (the Moon is
    considered of planetary distinction) to avoid tilting too far on its spin axis.
    8.) The time when a parent star heats up must coincide with the time in
    which the planet’s atmosphere changes to a cooler mixture.
    9.) Continuous tectonic plate activity is required to keep planet from
    freezing and precipitation.
    10.) Planets must have two kinds of crust of right thickness.
    11.) Must overcome the odds against the formation of life.
    12.) Must overcome the odds against the formation of intelligence.

    It truly is a miracle that we exist! And a God that gave the forethought and planning—before all Creation—to go from Point A (pre-Big Bang Eternity) to Point B (humanity) without an illusionist trick of pulling a biosphere out of a hat, is so much more marvelous and awesome. The universe HAD to be this big just to spark life on earth. If God created other life along the way is certainly possible, and if so, I would be happy to find out so. But even if there are similar planets and conditions, the odds of life sparking (without purpose) are astronomical.

    I personally am not of the camp that the universe revolves around man, but I do think humanity serves an important purpose in a much larger eternal drama. Scripture states Christ knew his mission before Creation. God didn’t just think, “Oh, I’m going to show my creativity,” and humanity mucked it up. God didn’t come into humanity as a fixit measure. In other words, God didn’t screw up. God knew from the beginning we would be no match with evil. Christ knew his mission before the Big Bang. We are part of The Plan, a plan that is so dramatic this universe was created so that we may enter into the plan.

  3. Some other thoughts, quotes and considerations:

    • Francis Crick (who first cracked the DNA code) has concluded that life could not have
    originated here on Earth by any natural process.

    • Scientists (microbiologists) still do not have a clue as to how the first living thing
    formed from inorganic matter.

    • Our solar system’s not typical of other planetary systems with small, inner system
    terrestrial planets protected by outer system gas giant planets (which sweeps the system
    of comets and asteroids). Most planetary systems have large planets closer to the star, as
    best as we can tell presently).

    • Edward Argyle, using “information theory” (measuring information in “bits,” i.e. a
    combination lock may contain 20 bits of information, representing about a million
    possible combinations), shows the probability of life forming spontaneously on Earth (or
    anywhere). He concluded that, “It would seem impossible for the prebiotic Earth to have
    generated more than 200 bits of information, an amount that falls short of the 6 million
    in E.coli bacteria by a factor of 30,000 to the 54 power.

    • The concept of intelligence is a case of overkill from an evolutionary point-of-view. We
    don’t need it to survive and it has latent in our genes for tens of thousands of years.

    • By chance? Thomas Huxley once said that six monkeys, typing randomly for millions
    of years, would eventually type out all the books in the British Museum. Not so. This
    would constitute 50 letters per line, 40 lines per page, an average 350 pages per book,
    700,000 books. Actual calculations showed the possibility would be only half a line of one
    page of one book if they typed for the duration of the universe.

    • Fractal mathematics does show, “that interesting patterns can be created without
    intelligence, but no scientific theory has been able to overcome the impossible odds
    against any natural mechanism producing information, i.e. meaning.

    • When the world’s greatest minds (e.g. Einstein, Hawking) put forth to the task of finding
    a way to propose a universe without beginning, they find the task impossible, at least as
    far as can be shown by any theory that would line up with what we know of the real
    universe.

    • A critical item is the density margin of the universe in that one percent one way or the
    other would cause it to expand forever or collapse upon itself [George Smoot].

    • The Earth seems to have been designed to regulate and sustain itself-
    • Just the right distance from the sun.
    • The moon’s placement to stabilize the Earth’s axis.
    • A protective ozone layer in the atmosphere.
    • The oxygen levels seem to have been sustained close to 21% of the atmosphere
    for a long time (at least as long as mammals have been around, as a 25%
    increase would allow spontaneous fires and a 15% decrease would suffocate
    many higher life forms (Heeren 206).
    • The delicate balance of natural forces (gravity, electromagnetism, strong and
    weak nuclear), where if any had a slightly different strength the universe would
    be such that it couldn’t sustain life (Heeren 208). [see Morris quote]
    [see Kolb quote]
    • If the universe’s expansion was slower, by even a factor of one part in a million,
    then expansion would have stopped at 30,000 years old, whereas to rapidly,
    matter couldn’t gravitate into clumps.
    • Our solar system’s planets have near circular orbits, helping to sustain stability
    and protection to a planet sustaining life. Modern theories of chaos predict that
    abnormalities should have developed in our planets’ orbits long ago. If Jupiter’s
    orbit was elliptical, it would allow showers of asteroids into Earth’s path. The
    jovial planets act as vacuum cleaners of space objects, guardians of the inner
    terrestrial planets … allowing life to develop.

    • Physicist Fred Hoyle and his colleague Chandra Wickramasinghe calculated the odds
    that all the functional proteins necessary for life might form in one place by random
    events. They came up with a figure of one chance in 10 to the 40,000 power (that’s 1 with 40,000 zeros). Since there are only about 10 to the 80th power
    subatomic particles in the entire visible universe, the
    physicists concluded that this was “an outrageously small probability that could not be
    faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup.”

    • Nevertheless, it seems clear that there are relatively few ranges of values for the
    numbers that would allow the development of any form of intelligent life. Most sets of
    values that would give rise to universes that, although they might be very beautiful,
    would contain no one able to wonder at the beauty. One can take this either way as
    evidence of a divine purpose in Creation and the choice of the laws of science or as
    support for the strong anthropic principle. -Hawking

    • After examining ten conditions for life, astronomer John Barrow and mathematician
    physicist Frank Tipler calculated that all the time in the world did not give them what
    they needed to explain the development of life by natural means. They concluded that
    there must be an [intelligence] to make the [intelligent selections] for human life.

    • Elements necessary for life — carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and silicon — was
    formed from after the first generation of stars that produced these heavy elements as no
    life can come from hydrogen and helium alone. Thus the need for such an expansive,
    multi-generational universe.

    • Astronomers John Barrow and Joseph Silk state, “The universe would have to be just as
    large as it is to support even one lonely outpost of life.”

  4. “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which
    You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You
    care for him?.”
    — David, Psalm 8:3-4

    “The evidence we have at present clearly favors the conclusion that we are alone. From
    the formation of the sun as a single G star to the evolution of the Earth’s atmosphere to
    the conditions of Earth’s recent climate, everything points to the same conclusion — we
    are special.”
    — James Trefil, physicist

  5. “For this is what the Lord says — He who created the heavens, He is God; He who
    fashioned and made the Earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but
    formed it to be inhabited.”
    — Isaiah 45:18

    “To the astronomer, the Earth is a very sheltered and protected place… We are by
    astronomical standards, a pampered, crosseted, cherished group of creatures… If the
    Universe had not been [made] with the most exacting precision we could never have
    come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances indicate the Universe was
    created for man to live in.”
    — John O’Keefe, NASA astronomer

  6. What are the creatures on this planet imagining of those who may live on the small planet newly discovered which is five times less than the mass of their planet? Are they imagining how these strange creatures might live their lives within the privilege and gift of complex life afforded by the Goldilocks zone (they don’t call it Goldilocks)?

  7. It’s not the first time that humankind thought they were alone and discovered a new civilization. This is just the first time it may the case on a planet outside of earth. At one time, we thought the world was flat. Then someone hopped on a ship and discovered a million red men on a continent they barely knew existed. And the red men barely knew the white men existed. They were like an invading alien force…and few reckoned the other side as human.

    For me, there would be zero change to the mission of God. If we discovered a billion green aliens on Planet X, then it would remain our mission to get the Gospel to them, or if animals/plants to care for them. And we would value them as a part of God’s creation. The discovery of something new isn’t necessarily a negation of where and how God leads.

  8. Holy cow. John Gnotek, you are my hero.

    But to answer the original question myself: even as I was still reading the report about Tau Ceti having a planet (more than one!!) in the Goldilocks zone, I laughed out loud with delight. I almost called out to another person in my office “Hey, if the Lord tarries, I have an idea where mankind might explore next, after we have poked around long enough in our own solar system!” but then I kept reading, and found your question…

    To which I must say, “It excites me, and affirms my worldview beautifully!”

    Paul Bradford quotes CS Lewis to good effect, so let me follow suit: Lewis also says several times in the Chronicles of Narnia “No one is told anyone’s story but their own.” In context, Aslan (or his agent) is revealing a divine perspective of a person’s experience, and the person wants to know more: “But what about X?” or “What would have happened if Y?” Lewis has observed that God often gives us great insight into our own lives, but very rarely gives us that sort of insight into others’ lives. He hints at the reason: it isn’t seemly. It is eavesdropping, in a sense, an invasion of privacy. None of our business. “If I want him to remain until I return, what is that to you?” (that’s Jesus’ words, not Aslan or Lewis, btw)

    One example to bridge from here to my point: the Bible indeed begins on a cosmic scale, but very quickly focuses on one little planet, ours… within 12 chapters it focuses even more tightly, on Abraham and his people… before the end of the first book, it’s focused on just one son of Abraham (Jacob/Israel)… by the time Jesus comes on the scene, the focal point is just the tribes of Judah, the other ten having been dissolved among the Assyrians and becoming “samaritans”. But from that focal point, the prophets are looking both inward and outward again, on how God will narrow the focus of his narrative to a single man’s life– his Son, Jesus– and on how that singular life will explode into life eternal offered universally, and even altering the fabric of reality as we know it. Another Big Bang, but this one an explosion of LIFE+energy, rather than matter+energy, and one in which entropy, “the last enemy”, is finally defeated! The threat of the heat death of the universe will pass from unavoidable enervating scientific fact that makes all things futile, to a fable from a distant past, a troubled dream forgotten in the light of day.

    And in all this, you are right, Paul: the Bible says nothing of other sentient races, or what might be happening on other planets. Because that’s none of our business. That’s not our story– except the cosmic parts, the early beginning and the “end” which is the real beginning.

    So, considering the vastness of the universe, the millions of galaxies and star clusters, and the pregnant hint of Isaiah 45:18 (and a couple of other verses I can’t think of right now), and the fact that God clearly wants as many kids as possible in his Family, and his delight in variety (consider the variety among “panta tal ethne”, every people-group– and the variety among plant life, fungi, reptiles, birds, mammals, crustaceans, et alia), and it becomes very highly likely in my opinion that there are a great many other sentient races on other Goldilocks planets out there somewhere.

    And if we are allowed to find them before Jesus returns to remake this universe, we will discover that they are in an unfolding story of their own relationship with the same God we know. And if we never do manage to leave our own solar backyard, or if we explore Tau Ceti and other “nearby” Goldilocks neighborhoods and find them empty of sentient life, then when Jesus does return and remake reality, at THAT point I expect to meet them, as we worship the Lord together! And at that point, we’ll have all the time in that world to explore all the galaxies there are, and more as He comes up with new ones!

  9. …one more thought on the principle “No one is told any story but their own”: this is why testimony and storytelling (in every medium) is so important. God imparts insight and wisdom to each individual as He processes their experiences with them– but He allows us the choice to share our stories with one another, or keep parts of them private, as we wish. He does not betray our confidences to others, simply because he is able to do so. Just one more way he offers us dignity. And responsibility.

  10. Thank you — Paul, Derek, Geoffrey, John, and Nic — for your comments.
    Personally, I am thrilled by the idea. Perhaps it’s just an extension of my love
    for the adventure of crossing cultures and experiencing the wild.
    I’ve worked on a shrimp boat with cajuns,
    unloaded red snapper with commercial fishermen,
    witnessed a ritual possession
    and offerings made to african deities,
    stood before the Emerald Buddha,
    watched lions mate in the wild with my unaided eye.

    What an amazing thing
    it would be to hear the story of another sentient race. It would affirm what I
    think (or perhaps, hope) about humanity and our place in the cosmos.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s