We’ve recently discovered a planet that is very similar to Earth in orbit around a star very similar to our Sun. It’s truly exciting to imagine the possibility that somewhere in the universe there may be others who are both like and unlike us.
A recent Huffington Post piece titled, Earth 2.0: Bad News for God, attempts a preemptive strike against those believers who will try to “rewrite” history in order to accommodate the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. The author, Jeff Schweitzer, is a Ph.D. in marine biology and neurophysiology. Here, in his own words, is the reason he wrote this article:
“let me speculate what would happen should we ever find evidence of life beyond earth even if you think such discovery unlikely. I would like here to preempt what will certainly be a re-write of history on the part of the world’s major religions. I predict with great confidence that all will come out and say such a discovery is completely consistent with religious teachings. My goal here is to declare this as nonsense before it happens. “
Makes you smile, doesn’t it?
The article is written as a “preemptive strike” against believers who will re-write history.
Not to get too basic here but “preemptive” means an action “taken as a measure against something possible, anticipated, or feared”.
It seems the Ph.D. in marine biology and neurophysiology came riding in to save the day, but the day had already passed.
Some religions, like Mormonism, will actually be reinforced by the discovery of Earth-like planets. Most Christians I know have world-views that easily accommodate life on Earth 2.0. They’re not waiting for some anticipated discovery to reassemble their beliefs. Their view of the cosmos is already big enough for other worlds. The worldview of many believers anticipates and expects life to flourish in the universe.
In fact, the articles cited in the piece itself (the Boston Globe and Live Science) point to the fact that extraterrestrial life and religion are often compatible. Religion already accommodates the potentiality of extraterrestrial life.
Ok, so the author didn’t know that religious people (and religions) are all over the map when it comes to belief in life elsewhere in the universe.
But he couldn’t leave it there.
He had to write the article with a narrow swath of fundamentalists in mind.
That’s why I wrote this response to the Huff Post article. My question has nothing to do with intelligent life on other planets and their impact on Earth’s religions. My question is, What would happen to religion if we discovered intelligent life on this planet? And what would happen to science too!
The reason this question comes (again) to my mind is that this article demonstrates that achieving a Ph.D. in marine biology doesn’t necessarily translate to reading and interpreting literature. Sadly, the author’s understanding of the Genesis poetry is as impoverished as the understanding of some fundamentalist believers. Perhaps even more so.
One of his main critiques is that the Genesis literature doesn’t make any reference whatsoever to the existence of life on other planets. Therefore, the Genesis literature cannot be true.
Nothing ever written contains a menu of everything that exists.
In order to evaluate a written piece, we must attempt to uncover the purpose for which something was written. That goes for pieces in the New York Times. It goes for Genesis.
The purpose of what we write determines what we include and exclude.
Both scientists, like the author of this piece, and fundamentalist believers should take a Humanities class. They would be enlightened by a course in comparative literature, or perhaps a class in poetry.
Genesis is not an inventory of the universe. It is a poetic peek into the meaning of the cosmos spoken in the words of people whose language did not contain the sounds needed to describe what they experienced in the wild. I know you think that because you have a few new sounds which the ancients did not, you see more. But because of the way you approach this literature, you see even less.
Fundamentalist believers, same to you.
The Genesis community wrestled with the same questions that challenge us today. They hungered and thirsted for meaning. The discovery of Earth 2.o and the potential of life elsewhere in the universe doesn’t quench this thirst. It exacerbates it.
This is not bad news for God or religion because they’re not the issue here. It’s more basic than that.
The issue is us. The author of this piece sought to make a preemptive strike against religion and God, but it’s we who thirst to discover (or invent) meaning in the universe. We are the ones who interpret and reinterpret. We are the ones who are evolving and growing in our understanding of things. And as we invent new sounds (i.e. words) to describe what we see, it allows a little more light into the darkened lens through which we glimpse at God.