Would finding alien life mean the END of Christianity?

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dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

I wouldn't say I agree with everything in this essay, but when he says that the existence of life elsewhere would in no way disprove God, I am in full agreement.  The fact that God hasn't revealed anything about this to us certainly doesn't mean he couldn't have done it.  If God is infinite, and his ways past finding out, and has always existed, there must be zillions of times more things he hasn't told us than things he has.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

dcbii is more robust than I; I went to Schweitzer's essay and got a good belly laugh when he claimed that the Bible is unequivocally geocentric.  Nice try, Jeff, but that's Aristotle and Plato, not Scripture.  Schweitzer's bio on Wikipedia reveals him to be something of a cross between Richard Dawkins and Al Gore--secularist who loves his straw men and flies around the world while theoretically "worried" about carbon emissions.

In other words, if he ever found himself in a fair debate with a smart guy like Ken Ham, Schweitzer would soon start feeling like a pinata, because his bio is a target rich environment.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

It would be interesting to sit down with some atheists and Christians and ask some "What if..." questions. The reality is that whatever is discovered, each side will find a way to make it compatible with their belief system. But beforehand, we can say what our belief system causes us to expect. 

So...

What if a race of intelligent and radically different being was found on another planet?

Christian, would that surprise/shock you? Would it challenge or support your belief system?

Atheist, would that surprise/shock you? Would it challenge or support your belief system?

What if an intelligent race is discovered and they turn out to be genetically very similar to us - basically human? 

Christian, would that surprise/shock you? Would it challenge or support your belief system?

Atheist, would that surprise/shock you? Would it challenge or support your belief system?

What if a planet EXACTLY like earth was discovered, except that it harbored NO life?

Christian, ...

Atheist, ..

E. Rogerson's picture

I think Dan is spot on with the coffee/life issue. However, if Perelandra and Malacandra were real, I'd personally be okay with that!

Craig's picture

.... but they're not going to find alien life on another planet ... so why should Christians bother thinking about it?

Bert Perry's picture

Craig wrote:

.... but they're not going to find alien life on another planet ... so why should Christians bother thinking about it?

Craig's got a great point; the nearest star is four light years away, I'm not quite sure how far away the nearest planet is, let alone the nearest habitable planet.   Absent "warp drive", what we'd need is a powerful signal that is clearly one of the "standard" modulation types (AM, FM, etc..)--but at a range this far, you're going to have trouble sorting that out from the noise.  Then, even if you did find that signal, how do you make contact?  So again, unless Star Trek becomes a reality, it's pretty much a nonissue.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dgszweda's picture

I am highly doubtful there is any form of intelligent life on another planet.  From a theological perspective it could offer issues, such as "Did Christ die for that particular life form, or just for mankind?", or "would that alien life form be condemned as it was not of Adam's see or born of a woman?"......, and if there was other intelligent life, we would never interact with it.

With that said, all of these hypothetical's are just crazy anyway.  We could spin this around and say "What if science proved that the scientific underpinnings for radiocarbon dating were wrong, and that under these new scientific principles all life is less than 10,000 years old.", or "what if our understanding of the cosmos is now significantly changed with a new unified theory that clearly proves that space time does not really point to a billion years old universe?"....  There is more proof that our scientific theories will be upended (since they are always being upended), than to claim the Bible is going to be upended.

Dan Miller's picture

dgszweda wrote:
...

With that said, all of these hypothetical's are just crazy anyway.  We could spin this around and say "What if science proved that the scientific underpinnings for radiocarbon dating were wrong, and that under these new scientific principles all life is less than 10,000 years old.", or "what if our understanding of the cosmos is now significantly changed with a new unified theory that clearly proves that space time does not really point to a billion years old universe?"....  There is more proof that our scientific theories will be upended (since they are always being upended), than to claim the Bible is going to be upended.

I don't think they're entirely worthless, though maybe nearly so. When we talk to a philosophical naturalist, and we suggest they believe the Gospel, we're asking them to doubt their beliefs. I think these types of things can give reason to open the door of doubt.

I love NOVA type shows. You'll often hear them say that, given the sort of conditions found on earth, life was the inevitable result. If they really think that, then finding a planet with earth-like conditions and NO life should make them doubt. Of course, it would be REALLY tough to say that a planet that far away really had earth-like conditions; measurements would be hard to do.

Bert Perry's picture

Dan Miller wrote:

So at Warp Factor 7, it would take about 3 years to get there.

Yeah, nm.

.....it strikes me as somewhat humorous that in an imaginary world with bazillions of planets to inhabit, Star Trek still portrays the Federation, Klingons, Romulans, and so on as waging war when they could not hope to occupy all those perfectly good planets.  It is as if Gene Roddenberry did not entirely abandon his Southern Baptist upbringing and the notion of sin.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dgszweda's picture

Jim wrote:

Kepler-452b

The planet is about 1,400 light-years away from the Solar System; at the speed of the New Horizons spacecraft, about 59,000 km/h (37,000 mph), it would take approximately 26 million years to get there.

Observation: It's far more likely that Christ will return much sooner than knowing whether there is Peet's coffee on Kepler 

Jim, this is somewhat irrelevant, since the ability to travel to a planet is not contingent upon discovering life.  For example, it could be possible that alien life is beaming signals and videos into space allowing us to see their culture, without having to interact with the  alien life.

Mark_Smith's picture

like bacteria or other single celled life forms could be found on the Jupiter moon Europa, or the Saturnian moon Enceladus.

You don't have to leave the solar system for those.

Mark_Smith's picture

dgszweda wrote:

With that said, all of these hypothetical's are just crazy anyway.  We could spin this around and say "What if science proved that the scientific underpinnings for radiocarbon dating were wrong, and that under these new scientific principles all life is less than 10,000 years old.", or "what if our understanding of the cosmos is now significantly changed with a new unified theory that clearly proves that space time does not really point to a billion years old universe?"....  There is more proof that our scientific theories will be upended (since they are always being upended), than to claim the Bible is going to be upended.

I  know you were just trying to come up with some comparison, but to be clear, RADIOCARBON DATING is only used on "recent" history since the half-life of Carbon-14 is 5730 years. In 100,000 years there is practically no C-14 left. Other isotopes (like Uranium and Lead) are used to date things like rocks, asteroids, etc.

Finally, your analogy is poor because the principle of using radioactive decay to date things is rock solid... despite claims to the opposite. If it didn't work, we would not know how to use nuclear energy to our advantage, which we do. 

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Mark_Smith wrote:

know you were just trying to come up with some comparison, but to be clear, RADIOCARBON DATING is only used on "recent" history since the half-life of Carbon-14 is 5730 years. In 100,000 years there is practically no C-14 left. Other isotopes (like Uranium and Lead) are used to date things like rocks, asteroids, etc.

Finally, your analogy is poor because the principle of using radioactive decay to date things is rock solid... despite claims to the opposite. If it didn't work, we would not know how to use nuclear energy to our advantage, which we do. 

You would be a good person to answer this.  I understand that we can measure the rates of decay, half-lives, etc.  How do we know with certainty the original proportions of radioactive to stable compounds?  Do they decay into something that doesn't naturally occur but is still stable?  Not being an expert in this field, it would seem to me we would have to know the original amounts/proportions to know how much time has passed from the ratios we see in the present.

Dave Barnhart

Mark_Smith's picture

I am no expert on radionucleide dating, but i know a little. i am jam packed today, but i'll work on it later.

the short answer to the concern you have is "solved" by taking ratios.

dgszweda's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

I  know you were just trying to come up with some comparison, but to be clear, RADIOCARBON DATING is only used on "recent" history since the half-life of Carbon-14 is 5730 years. In 100,000 years there is practically no C-14 left. Other isotopes (like Uranium and Lead) are used to date things like rocks, asteroids, etc.

Yes, I was just trying to make a quick point, not formulate a textbook response.

Mark_Smith wrote:

Finally, your analogy is poor because the principle of using radioactive decay to date things is rock solid... despite claims to the opposite. If it didn't work, we would not know how to use nuclear energy to our advantage, which we do. 

Nothing in science is permanent.  Period.  You as a scientist should understand this.  Everything is open to re-evaluation upon new discoveries and theories.  This is the whole role of science.  I am not going to sit here and argue about radioactive decay and such, that was not the point.  The point is, that the science of today is vastly different than the science of 1900, or of 1700.  It is in a constant state of flux and we have thrown out many supposed "certainties" before and science will continue to do it again.

Mark_Smith's picture

True, science is built on the principle of continual testing of hypotheses. But...

FACTS don't change. For example, electricity is the flow of electrons. Nothing is going to change that. V=IR describes that in most situations. Nothing is going to change that.

Gravity as described by Newton was "overthrown" by Einstein, right? No. It was shown that Newton used simplistic assumptions. The answer was more complicated, BUT, in most cases, Newton's law is 99.999999% correct. So, it is still valid.

As for radioactive decay. The decay rate are OBSERVED FACTS. They don't change. unless you want to make the so-called "decay of the speed of light" argument, but then you have other MAJOR PROBLEMS to deal with.

Too many Christians cling to the "science isn't permanent" argument to ignore reality. The reality is rocks on Earth have experienced billions of years of local time. We need to deal with that FACT head on and not come up with some ignorant claim to sooth our "intellect".

Possible ways to deal with it head on:

1- God does miracles. Creation was a miracle. Therefore, science is USELESS to study creation. Attach that to the young Earth understanding of Genesis and you get the standard evangelical response to "science". The cost of this is you MUST toss science out and not try to cling to what you like about it to explain your point of view. The "buffet" style of Christian science...

2- Accept that relativity is a valid observed phenomenon and look for ways to balance Genesis with the observed fact that local time has elapsed on Earth, in stars, in galaxies, etc, all across the universe.

3- Prefer science over the Bible. This gets you "old Earth" creationism.

Current evangelicals tend to prefer #1 or #3. We need to pursue #2 more, IMHO.

 

dgszweda's picture

Mark_Smith,

You are going off of tangents, which I am not even arguing.  New discoveries in science upends previously held theories all the time.  Come on man!  If you are not getting this, I am starting to question your degree and what you are teaching in class.  There are tons of observations that contradict Newtonian Gravity.  To say it is  correct to six decimal places, is just crazy talk.  Since you are an astrophysicist, you must know that stars orbiting around the centers of galaxies don't always abide by Netwon's laws.  Sometime it is explained by dark matter, which is another theoretical construct.  You are now the first, and maybe only physicist on earth who believes that Netwon's theory of gravity is 99.999999% correct.

Mark_Smith's picture

Speaking of tangents, can you address the topic of permanence in science? That is my point. Newtonian gravity is just fine most of the time, which is what I said. For most orbits, it reasonably describes what is going on. Newtonian gravity IS NOT WRONG, it just isn't complete. The difference between Newtonian gravity and full-blown GR for a planetary orbit is a few meters. That is TINY compared to astronomical units (AU).

Apply that to radioactive decay. It is NEVER GOING TO BE SHOWN WRONG because it is an observation that has been measured billions of times, if not trillions of times. It is described by exponential decay. Combining that measurement with isotopes that are not "natural" and only come as daughter products of other decays, the ages of things can be measured. That is not a matter for discussion. It is a fact. 

If you disagree with those measurements, you need to come up with a better explanation.

Here is what is NOT acceptable. Using science when it agrees with what you believe, and criticizing it when it doesn't. That is my main complaint against groups like AiG.