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Creation Vs. Evolution: Cosmology

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Is There Intelligent Life in Outer Space?

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.

Q.

I have heard a lot about the possibility of life in outer space. Has science established that extraterrestrial life does exist? What, if anything, does the Bible have to say on this subject?

A.

There can be little doubt that the prospect of intelligent life existing in outer space has intrigued evolutionary scientists for generations. Pick up almost any evolution textbook, and you will find a reference to, brief discussion of, or whole chapter on, extraterrestrial life.

Some years ago, Carl Sagan, the late astronomer of Cornell University, raised private funding for a radio telescope that would search the skies for a message coming in to us from supposed extraterrestrial beings. Dr. Sagan, and Dr. Frank Drake, were asked by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to design an interstellar communication specifically aimed at extraterrestrials, in hopes of letting them know that we are here. Consequently, attached to NASA’s Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spaceprobes (1973) were identical gold plaques, inscribed with pictorial messages sent across the light-years to tell about Earth’s civilization. Since that time, various other attempts either to accept communications from alleged extraterrestrials, or to communicate with them, have been made.

WHY THE INTEREST IN EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE?

One might ask: “Why all the interest in the possibility of intelligent life existing in outer space?” There are several answers to such a question.

First, there are some who firmly believe in the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life because they are convinced that, if life evolved here, it not only could have evolved elsewhere, but must have done so. Carl Sagan is but one example of evolutionists who follow this line of reasoning. In an interview in January 17, 1980 issue of New Scientist magazine, Dr. Sagan made the following points:

  1. There are something like 1022 stars in the Universe, and as about one in a million of these stars is a yellow dwarf star like our Sun, this means there are about 1016 Sun-type stars in the Universe.
  2. Now one in a million of these Sun-type stars probably has a planetary system similar to that of our Sun’s. Therefore there are about 1010 planetary systems in the Universe.
  3. One in a million of these planetary systems must have a planet similar to that of Earth, and life must have evolved on those planets in the same manner in which it has evolved here on Earth. Therefore, there are at least 10,000 planets in the Universe that have life on them.

Paul Davies, the renowned physicist and cosmologist, stated in his book, Other Worlds:

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains about 100 billion stars grouped together in a gigantic spiral assembly typical of the billions of other galaxies scattered throughout the universe. This means that there is nothing very special about the Earth, so probably life is not a remarkable phenomenon either.... [I]t would be surprising if life were not widespread throughout the cosmos, though it may be rather sparse (1980, p. 151).

Sir Fred Hoyle joins such thinkers. In his book, Lifecloud, he wrote: “With so many possible planetary systems, should we not expect inhabited planets to be moving around some of the nearby stars? We certainly should” (1978, pp. 145-146). It is evident, then, that many evolutionists believe intelligent life exists on other planets simply because evolution must work that way.

Second, there are some who believe life will be found in outer space because life simply could not have “just happened” here on the Earth. However, far from invoking a Creator, their intended point is simply that the available evidence indicates that life is too complex to have occurred here on the Earth by purely naturalistic processes. So, life must have evolved somewhere in outer space and been planted here. This is the view of Sir Francis Crick in his volume, Life Itself:

If a particular amino acid sequence was selected by chance, how rare an event would this be?... Suppose the chain is about two hundred amino acids long; this is, if anything, rather less than the average length of proteins of all types. Since we have just twenty possibilities at each place, the number of possibilities is twenty multiplied by itself some two hundred times. This is approximately equal to...a one followed by 260 zeros.... The great majority of sequences can never have been synthesized at all, at any time (1981, p. 51).

Dr. Crick then made the following fascinating admission: “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going” (p. 88, emp. added). But, while acknowledging the impossibility of the accidental formation of life here on the Earth, he refuses to accept the idea of an intelligent Creator, and instead opts for “directed panspermia”—the idea that life was “planted” on the Earth by intelligent beings from outer space.

Dr. Crick is not alone in this viewpoint. The same year that Life Itself was published (1981), Sir Fred Hoyle authored Life from Space, in which he took essentially the same position. In fact, in an article that year in Nature, he wrote:

The likelihood of the formation of life from inanimate mater is one to a number with 40,000 noughts after it.... It is big enough to bury Darwin and the whole theory of evolution. There was no primeval soup, neither on this planet nor on any other, and if the beginnings of life were not random, they must therefore have been the product of purposeful intelligence (1981, 294:148).

Dr. Hoyle opted for a kind of pantheistic intelligence that created life spores in other parts of the Universe, with these spores ultimately drifting to Earth to begin life as we know it. Because of the tremendous (and impressive) complexity of life—and the obvious design behind it—other scientists are opting for this viewpoint as well. Leslie Orgel, one of the heavyweights in origin-of-life experiments, is on record as advocating this position (1982, pp. 149-152).

Third, there are, without a doubt, some evolutionists who are determined to believe in some form of intelligent extraterrestrial life because they are convinced this somehow will nullify creation. For example, Ian Ridpath, in his book, Signs of Life, has suggested: “Religions which contend that God made man in His own image could be severely shaken if we found another intellectual race made in a different image” (1975, p. 13).

Jonathan N. Leonard likewise has shown his disdain for the concept of creation in his classic essay, Other-Worldly Life:

Scientists point out that there is nothing miraculous or unrepeatable about the appearance of life on earth. They believe it would happen again, given the same sufficient time and the same set of circumstances. It would even happen under very different circumstances. There is no reason to believe that conditions in the atmosphere and oceans of the primitive earth were modified by any outside power to make them favorable for the development of life. They just happened that way, and it is likely that life would have appeared even if conditions had been considerably different (1984, pp. 186-187).

Such writers make it clear that they believe if extraterrestrial life were to be discovered, it somehow would “disprove” the existence of a Creator.

A CRITIQUE

What response should the creationist offer to these various evolutionary positions on the existence of intelligent life in outer space?

First, let us note that any claims made concerning the existence of life in outer space are just that—claims—and nothing more. In their more candid moments, even evolutionists admit such. Michael Rowan-Robinson of the University of London has observed:

From the almost imperceptible wanderings of several nearby stars we can deduce that they have small companions, but the masses of the companions deduced in this way are, with one exception, one or two per cent of our Sun’s mass, that is 10-20 times the mass of Jupiter. Such objects could in fact be tiny stars, rather than planets, for they may be undergoing nuclear reactions in their core. This one exception is Barnard’s star, the next nearest to the Sun after the Centauri system, five light years away. It has been claimed that this star has one or two companions of mass about that of Jupiter. This is still a matter of dispute between astronomers. It is an act of faith, based on rather shaky probabilistic arguments, to say that other planets like Earth exist in the Universe (1980, p. 325, emp. added).

Freeman Dyson, in his classic text, Disturbing the Universe, wrote eloquently on this very point:

Many of the people who are interested in searching for extraterrestrial intelligence have come to believe in a doctrine which I call the Philosophical Discourse Dogma, maintaining as an article of faith that the universe is filled with societies engaged in long-range philosophical discourse. The Philosophical Discourse Dogma holds the following truths to be self-evident:
1. Life is abundant in the universe.
2. A significant fraction of the planets on which life exists give rise to intelligent species.
3. A significant fraction of intelligent species transmit messages for our enlightenment.
If these statements are accepted, then it makes sense to concentrate our efforts upon the search for radio messages and to ignore other ways of looking for evidence of intelligence in the universe. But to me the Philosophical Discourse Dogma is far from self-evident. There is as yet no evidence either for it or against it (1979, p. 207, emp. added).

These two evolutionists have an excellent point—there is no evidence for any of these grandiose claims regarding “habitable planets.”

Second, let us note that the claims being made often are blatantly contradictory. For example, consider the following. G.E. Tauber, in his work, Man’s View of the Universe (1979, p. 339), suggested that there are “about a billion possible candidates in the galaxy alone” where intelligent life could exist. That is one billion planets just in our own Milky Way galaxy. Yet listen to this estimate by Sir Fred Hoyle:

Of the two hundred billion or so stars in our galaxy, about eighty per cent fail to met the conditions discussed above as being necessary for life. The remaining twenty per cent are not in multiple star systems and have masses in the appropriate range, three-quarters to one-and-a-half-times the mass of the Sun. The grand total of planetary systems in the galaxy capable of supporting life is therefore close to forty billion (1978, p. 145).

Notice that these two men are both discussing the same thing—potentially habitable planets in the same galaxy (the Milky Way). Yet one places the number at one billion, while the other sets it at forty billion. And their books were published within one year of each other! Mark Twain, by all accounts, was correct when he observed in Life on the Mississippi: “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such a wholesale return of conjecture for such a trifling investment of facts” (1883, p. 156). How can we be expected to accept as credible figures that are as vastly different as these?

Third, those who wish to convince us of a “directed panspermia” via some intelligence in outer space apparently have failed to understand that they have not addressed the issue at hand; they merely have moved it to another planet. Creationists are not the only ones who see this as a problem. Fox and Dose, two evolutionists who figure prominently in origin-of-life research, commented: “Another criticism that has been voiced is that moving the origin of life to an extraterrestrial site also moves the problem to that locale. Only by the broadest interpretation invoking organic chemical precursors can the site be stretched to such a distance” (1977, p. 324). The question obviously arises: “Did the intelligence that allegedly directed the panspermia evolve, or was it created?” And we find ourselves right back where we started. Whether there is intelligent life in outer space or not does not answer the basic question of where that life, or life on Earth, originated.

Fourth, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever for life on other planets. Scientists have little choice but to admit this fact, as the following quotations clearly indicate.

(1) Ervin Laszlo, in his book, Evolution: The Grand Synthesis, observed: “The search for life, especially intelligent life, outside the confines of our home planet has always fascinated poets and scientists; in recent years it has motivated major research efforts. Alas, these efforts have not brought positive results” (1970, p. 122, emp. added).

(2) Paul Davies noted: “Although we have no supportive evidence at all, it would be surprising if life were not widespread throughout the cosmos, though it may be rather sparse” (1980, p. 151, emp. added).

(3) Theodosius Dobzhansky and his co-authors, in their text, Evolution, stated: “The subject of extraterrestrial life, exobiology, is a curious field of science, since its subject matter has never been observed and may not exist” (1977, p. 366, emp. added).

(4) The late Isaac Asimov, in reviewing several books for Science Digest, offered his comments on one by I.S. Shklovskii and Carl Sagan (Intelligent Life in the Universe). In his review, Dr. Asimov said: “There are so many books on extraterrestrial life (I have written one myself) that they would almost seem to be a cottage industry. This is in a way surprising, since we have absolutely no evidence that any such phenomenon as life on other worlds exists” (1982, p. 36, emp. added). When Dr. Asimov observed that we have “absolutely no evidence” of extraterrestrial life, his statement, and the conclusion to be drawn from it, hardly could be any plainer.

(5) Hubert P. Yockey, writing in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, remarked:

Faith in the infallible and comprehensive doctrines of dialectic materialism plays a crucial role in origin of life scenarios, and especially in exobiology and its ultimate consequence, the doctrine of advanced extra-terrestrial civilization. That life must exist somewhere in the solar system or “suitable planets elsewhere” is widely and tenaciously believed in spite of lack of evidence, or even abundant evidence to the contrary (1981, p. 27, emp. added).

(6) In an article on “Being Optimistic about the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence” that appeared in American Scientist, astronomers David Schwartzman and Lee J. Rickard wrote:

The basic argument for an optimistic assessment of the likelihood of intelligence elsewhere in the universe is really a reassertion of the ancient belief in the plurality of worlds, the idea that our own world must be duplicated elsewhere. In modern form, the idea assumes that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, conditions favorable to the emergence of life and intelligence as they exist here on earth are present abundantly in the universe.
Is it still reasonable to be optimistic about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence? After all, researchers around the world have been listening for electromagnetic signals from other civilizations in the universe for more than 25 years now, using ever larger telescopes and increasingly sophisticated equipment. [Cosmologist Frank] Tipler estimates that 120,000 hours of observing time have been spent on the search, with, of course, no positive results (1988, 73:364).

(7) Four years later, in his article, “Is Anybody Out There?,” for a special edition of Time magazine, Dennis Overbye asked:

And what if, after a millennium of listening and looking, there is only silence—what if we still seem alone? If interstellar migration is as easy and inevitable as Finney and Jones have outlined, and if the galaxy, 10 billion years old, is populated by other advanced races, critics of SETI [Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence—BT] argue, ETs should have come calling by now. There is no scientific evidence that they have, and the lack of it has led some scientists to argue that there is no life out there at all (1992, pp. 79-80; references to Finney and Jones are to Ben Finney, physicist at the Los Alamos, New Mexico National Laboratory, and Eric Jones, anthropologist of the University of Hawaii).

(8) That same year, Dava Sobel wrote an article for Life magazine by the same title (“Is Anybody Out There?”), discussing the work of Dr. Jill Tarter, NASA’s project scientist (the agency’s chief administrative officer) in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence [SETI]. Sobel observed:

For all her childhood fascination with interstellar travel, Jill Tarter, now 48, would be the first to tell you that extraterrestrials have never visited earth and probably never will. NASA SETI researchers dismiss flying saucer reports and alien abduction stories. Most do not believe that travel over vast distances in space is possible or desirable. The energy required for sending bodies through space, unlike radio waves that have no mass, numbs the minds of even the most nimble scientists. Conservative estimates indicate that a spaceship carrying 10 people and traveling 5 light years to and from a nearby star system at 70 percent of the speed of light would consume 500,000 times the amount of energy used in the U.S. this year (1992, 15[9]:67).

(9) Robert Jastrow, the founder and former director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA and the current director of the Mount Wilson Observatory, was asked to review the 1996 book, The Biological Universe, by Steven J. Dick. In his review, Dr. Jastrow wrote:

All these numbers are so small that, even when multiplied by the vast number of planets probably present in the universe, they force us to conclude that the Earth must be the only planet bearing life (1997, pp. 62-63).

(10) That same year, Robert Naeye wrote an article for Astronomy magazine titled “OK, Where Are They?” In his article, he commented:

If one chooses to shun speculation and stick solely with observations, one can ask the same question that Nobel physicist Enrico Fermi put forth in 1950: If the Galaxy is teeming with intelligent life, where are they? The sobering reality is that there is no observational evidence whatsoever for the existence of other intelligent beings anywhere in the universe.

But until that happens, it seems prudent to conclude that we are alone in a vast cosmic ocean, that in one important sense, we ourselves are special in that we go against the Copernican grain. If so, humanity represents matter and energy evolved to its highest level; whereby a tiny part of the universe on a small rock orbiting an average star in the outskirts of an ordinary spiral galaxy has brought itself to a state of consciousness that can ponder the questions of how the universe, and life itself, began, and what it all means (1996, 24:42-43).

(11) A year later, Seth Shostak penned an article for Astronomy magazine, “When E.T. Calls Us,” in which he discussed the results (or lack thereof) of the SETI program.

This is Project Phoenix, the most comprehensive search ever undertaken for intelligent company among the stars. Run by the SETI Institute of Mountain View, California, it is the privately funded descendant of a former NASA program. Here, at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s 140-foot telescope in Green Bank, Project Phoenix scientists are systematically scrutinizing a thousand nearby sun-like stars for the faint signal that would betray intelligent habitation. So far, they have found nothing—not a single, extraterrestrial peep (1997, 24:37).

(12) Then, in his 2001 book, The Borderlands of Science, Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine, wrote: “In three decades [Carl] Sagan changed the theory [of the existence of extraterrestrial life—BT] from heresy to orthodoxy, even though there still exists not one iota of concrete evidence of any life, simple or complex, intelligent or not, beyond Earth” (p. 217, emp. added).

THE BIBLE AND EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE

Some will ask what, if anything, the Bible has to say about this subject. The astute Bible student is aware of the silence of the Scriptures on this particular matter. The biblical record does not affirm the existence of extraterrestrial life. [NOTE: The word “extraterrestrial” is used here to denote beings with physical makeups, as opposed to spiritual beings such as angels.]

The Bible does make many positive statements about the Earth and the Universe. And in those statements, it is clear that the Earth has been appointed a very unique role. For example, the psalmist stated that “the heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s: but the earth hath he given to the children of men” (115:16). The Earth, apparently, was created uniquely for mankind. Statements made by the inspired apostle Paul in Acts 17:24-26 echo this same sentiment. It is of interest to note that many celestial bodies—the Moon, the Sun, and stars—are mentioned in Scripture, and even spoken of as having definite purposes. Specifically, the Sun and Moon are said to be useful for marking off days, seasons, and years (Genesis 1:14). And, we are informed that “one star differeth from another star in glory” (1 Corinthians 15:41). Yet no celestial body, except the Earth, is spoken of in Scripture as being a “dwelling place.”

Furthermore, the Earth is unique in that Christ’s activities are described as having occurred on this planet. It was on the Earth that the godhead became incarnate through Christ (see John 1:1ff.). It was on the Earth that Christ died for the sins of men (Hebrews 2:9). It was on the Earth that His bodily resurrection occurred (1 Corinthians 15), and from the Earth that He ascended to His Father in heaven (Acts 1:9-10; Ephesians 4:8-10).

There is also another aspect that should be considered in this light. The Bible clearly states that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Love, of course, allows freedom of choice, and the Scriptures make it clear that God does exactly that (see Joshua 24:15; John 5:39-40). Since God is the Creator of the Universe (Genesis 1:1ff.), and since He likewise is no respector of persons (Acts 10:34), were He to create other intelligent life, His loving nature would require that freedom of choice be granted to such life forms. It also follows that since God is loving, He would offer instruction to such intelligent beings—just as He has to man—on the proper use of freedom of choice. Creatures possessing free moral agency, however, are not perfect; they make mistakes. Such mistakes (violations of God’s instructions) require that justice be administered, since God is not only loving, but just. Because God is merciful, He institutes a way for those separated from Him—as a result of their own mistakes—to return. The Scriptures, however, teach that there is only one way to stand justified before God, and that is through His Son (John 14:6). [NOTE: The angelic host, while certainly possessing freedom of choice, was not allowed this opportunity, apparently due to its completely spiritual (i.e., nonphysical) nature, and to the fact that angels had experienced God’s glory firsthand as they stood in His presence. Therefore they were without any excuse for their rebellion against His authority (Hebrews 2:16).]

The Scriptures also speak to one other important point. The Hebrew writer stated that Christ died “once for all” (7:27; 9:28). The wording in the original Greek is explicit, meaning that Christ’s death was a once-for-all, never-to-be-repeated event. Creatures possessing freedom of choice make mistakes in attempting to carry out God’s will. Forgiveness of those mistakes comes only through Christ (John 14:6). Since Christ died only once (Hebrews 7:27), it is a seeming violation of Scripture to suggest that He somehow go “planet hopping” to die again and again as the propitiation for infractions of God’s plan by creatures (possessing freedom of choice) in other parts of this vast Universe. These biblical principles should not be overlooked in any discussion of the existence of extraterrestrial life.

CONCLUSION

The only conclusion that can be drawn currently is that science has produced no credible evidence of intelligent life in outer space. There have been many speculations and opinions offered, but empirical evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life is completely lacking. A good suggestion might be, therefore, that we spend our time on more important pursuits.

REFERENCES

Asimov, Isaac (1982), “Book Reviews,” Science Digest, 90[3]:36, March. The book by I.S. Shklovskii and Carl Sagan, Intelligent Life in the Universe, was published by Holden-Day, New York, 1966.

Crick, Francis (1981), Life Itself (New York: Simon & Schuster).

Davies, Paul (1980), Other Worlds (New York: Simon & Schuster).

Dobzhansky, Theodosius, F.J. Ayala, G.L. Stebbins, and J.W. Valentine (1977), Evolution (San Francisco: W.H. Freeman).

Dyson, Freeman (1979), Disturbing the Universe (New York: Harper & Row).

Fox, Sidney and Klaus Dose (1977), Molecular Evolution and the Origin of Life (New York: Marcel Dekker).

Hoyle, Fred (1978), Lifecloud (New York: Harper & Row).

Hoyle, Fred (1981), “Hoyle on Evolution,” Nature, 294:148, November 12.

Jastrow, Robert (1997), “What are the Chances for Life?,” [review of The Biological Universe, by Steven J. Dick (London, England; Cambridge University Press, 1996, 578 pp.)], Sky and Telescope, June.

Laszlo, Ervin (1987), Evolution: The Grand Synthesis (Boston: Shambhala Publishing).

Leonard, Jonathon N. (1984), “Other-Worldly Life,” The Sacred Beetle, ed. Martin Gardner (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus; essay originally published in 1953).

Naeye, Robert (1996), “OK, Where Are They?,” Astronomy, 24:42-43, July.

Orgel, Leslie (1982), “Darwinism at the Very Beginning of Life,” New Scientist, pp. 149-152, April 15.

Overbye, Dennis (1992), “Is Anybody Out There?,” Time [special issue], Fall.

Ridpath, Ian (1975), Signs of Life (New York: Penguin).

Rowan-Robinson, Michael (1980), “The Infrared Landscape,” New Scientist, January 31.

Sagan, Carl (1980), New Scientist, January 17.

Schwartzman, David, and Lee J. Rickard (1988), “Being Optimistic about the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” American Scientist, 76:364, July/August.

Shermer, Michael (2001), The Borderlands of Science (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press).

Shostak, Seth (1997), “When E.T. Calls Us,” Astronomy, 25:37, September.

Sobel, Dava (1992), “Is Anybody Out There?,” Life, 15[9]:67, September.

Tauber, G.E. (1979), Man’s View of the Universe (New York: Crown).

Twain, Mark (1883), Life on the Mississippi (Boston, MA: J.R. Osgood).

Yockey, Hubert P. (1981), “Self-organization Origin of Life Scenarios and Information Theory,” Journal of Theoretical Biology, 91:13-31.




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