When it comes to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, Is the Universe “a lot of wasted space”?

A rendering of Kepler 62f and two outer planets, which may lie in a habitable zone where liquid water could exist on the surface.
A rendering of Kepler 62f and two outer planets, which may lie in a habitable zone where liquid water could exist on the surface.

About 10 months ago we discussed an article from the Guardian on the discovery of a planet that could possibly support life.

“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.”  https://alexmcmanus.org/2012/12/19/anotherearth/

This month’s New York Times reports:

“Astronomers reported that there could be as many as 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets in the galaxy.”

In the movie Contact, Jodie Foster plays Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway, a SETI scientist who finds strong evidence of extraterrestrial life. Foster’s character suggests that if there is no other life out there in the universe, that it seems like an awful waste of space.

As you consider the night sky, do you resonate with Foster’s character? Are we the only ones to turn on a lightbulb in the universe? Or are we one of many? When it comes to habitable earth-size planets, it seems that number just got larger. God, I love this universe.



One response to “When it comes to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, Is the Universe “a lot of wasted space”?”

  1. gnotek Avatar

    Ah, this is something I have given a lot of thought to since the late 90s and will readily comment on. First let me express two things, one, scientifically it would take a universe as big as it is to produce life in it anywhere. Life as we know it. Carbon-based, biological beings. Two, even if there is life elsewhere, that doesn’t mean God didn’t have a hand in it or that we as humans are diminished by it. Actually three, it’s not science vs. religion either.

    Starting with three, my view is religion is about why, science about how.

    Back to my first statement, if you are of the adamant assertion that God magically created the earth, all its properties and inhabitant creatures, life forms, and Adam & Eve in six literal days, 6,000 years ago, you might as well quit reading and not waste your time. Sure Moses, or who ever wrote Genesis states that, and I whole heartily believe the word of the bible, but science has very clearly and positively proven, first, the earth is much older than 6,000 years. Human form has traversed terra firma much longer than 6,000 years. There was a clear evolution of the human form. The simple fact that there are 100s of thousands of stars we witness in the sky is concrete evidence of 10s of thousands of years of existence, for it would take light that long to travel to us for you to see many of those stars. Many longer yet. When you look at the moon, you are witnessing the moon as it was several minutes ago.

    Does this prove the bible wrong? Absolutely not. The bible is the narrative of spiritual man (and woman of course) and humanity’s intimate relationship to the Creator. The original audience of Genesis is a band of ancient nomads. Did they need a scientific explanation? Could they of grasped the concepts of an expanding universe? of the regeneration of stars? of evolution? Did the writer? Or was he given a broad-stroke vision of Creation and expressed it best he could to the culture of the time? By the way, day as era matches sciences accounting of Creation to a T. It is truly a miracle and true insight from God an ancient prophet as the Genesis writer could have expressed the accounting of Creation in such a condensed, empirical manner. Also the ancient universe view is not only held by liberal Christians wishing to accommodate modern science discoveries. Pre-modern Bible believers such as Josephus, Philo, Augustine, Irenaeus, Origen, Basil, and Thomas Aquinas all held that the creation “days” were not necessarily meant to be taken literal, solar days.

    Science states the universe began with a bang and began rapidly expanding outward in all direction. The Bible hints at an expanding universe (Genesis 1, Psalm 19), using the Hebrew word “raquia,” translated as expressing “motion of different parts of the same thing, at the
    same time, one part the one way and the other, the other way, with force.” Scientist do not know what preceded the Big Band and its ultimate origins or what caused it, but postulate all matter in the universe was condensed to the size of a basketball or something? What was that? Where did God pull that from? Was that perhaps part of God Godself? (These are the questions that jazz me.) And why?

    Anyway, at the Big Bang, there were basically two elements that comprised the universe, a few trace elements—but primarily hydrogen and helium. Over time gravity began consolidating these elements and the pressure of gravity soon ignited them into nuclear furnaces—the first generation of stars. Over billions of years, these stars burn out, or rather, fuse all their elemental fuel in a stellar nucleosynthesis process. Hydrogen fuses into helium. Helium into other heavy elements, as so on and so forth into iron and lead and carbon, until the star is exhausted and explodes into a supernova, fusing into yet other elements. (For a brief see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stellar_nucleosynthesis). And, again gravity pulling together all these new elements together into a new generation of stars with the nuclear process starting all over again. Generation upon generation of this stellar process created all the elements of which you and I and this world is comprised—over billions of years (our time).

    Now as far as our earth—in a far flung outpost of the universe—the earth has just the right conditions for life as we know it to flourish. The Goldilocks Zone as it’s affectionately called. Not too hot, not too cold. Just right. What is that scientifically? A planet the size of the earth just the right distance from its host star to allow water to form and flourish. Science has found there are many such scenarios in the Cosmos. But it’s more than just that for life to sprout.

    In addition, the following “12 Bottlenecks/Conditions” are needed for cosmic
    life-forming conditions-
    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.

    Also, we have a protective ozone layer blanketing our 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. 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, collapse upon itself, or expand out of control. 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.

    I once heard Stephen Hawkings speak at a Macworld Expo in Boston when he was promoting his new book A Brief History of Time. One of things he said that struck me was when he was speaking of the chance actions that may have sparked the first vestige of life on this planet—the right acids combining in the right place at the right temperature at the right moment… for life to spark into being. What struck me was he also added at the time the probability of such a combination of actions at precise moments are astronomical that—we are likely the only living beings in this wide great universe. I think he may have changed that opinion since, but nonetheless there are many factors that comprise living and living conditions. And even more so for intelligence within the living. “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.”

    Biologists Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins claim evidence shows that evolution does not naturally lead to intelligence. 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 54th power. 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.” 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. According to quantum mechanics, an instantaneous universe is less miraculous than one stretched out over for billions of years, that states should have never lasted past Planck time (a fraction of a second). 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.”

    SO, even if we are alone in this vast universe, this vast universe was needed to produce us. And really, as stated above, is it really less miraculous that it took all this for God to create us than pulling a universe out of a hat? I say not so. It is more miraculous!!! That God could foresee all this to produce a Goldilocks planet with all the right conditions to spark life in order to create a being, a physical being in which God could ultimate embed with God’s own image, a spiritual/physical being. A being, a form—in which God knew from before the beginning—God would have to ultimately become to save that which God created!

    That raises big questions! Why did God create such a vast universe to create a being in which God knew from the beginning would require salvation—and salvation coming only from God becoming a man to bear humanity’s ransom. WHY? Why? why? I don’t buy Adam and Eve mucked up God’s perfect world and we all are cursed of it. This was in the plans from the being. I mean really? A God who could plan out the universe in such minute detail and calculations as stated above, to create an intelligent being—didn’t see the danger of placing evil (the devil) on the same rock as mankind? Come on folks, think beyond the metaphor. I think science shows there’s a much bigger story out there, let your religion examine why?

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