I've written about that before. (March 20, 2009)
The notion that Tony Alamo is a typical Christian leader might reflect a certain lack of awareness. On the other hand, a remarkable number of Americans, at least, take Ussher's basic assumptions seriously. And think that really believing in a relatively small, new, universe is vital to Christian belief.
In a way, the "Bible" universe is a cosier place than the boundless immensity that we live in.1 But I've learned to live with the idea that God can think big if He wants.
I think that notions like 'discovering life elsewhere will end religious belief' get traction because so many self-described Christians are convinced that the universe is no more than about 6,000 years old; that dinosaurs, trilobites and tree ferns didn't exist - or if they did, they don't have anything to do with birds, crabs and garden plants. And, make those assumptions part of the foundation of their faith.
When or if life is found elsewhere, people who don't like what's been learned in the last few centuries will have decisions to make. Some may simply decide that the extraterrestrial is another lie by the evil scientists. Others may start believing in something other than their notion of what Christianity is.
"Both scientists and believers posit that life is a 'special outcome' in a 'vast and mostly inhospitable universe,' and to study this common understanding, the Vatican brought together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to work on and study astrobiology.Note: These folks aren't members of a cargo cult, convinced that flying saucer people will solve all of our problems. They're scientists and theologians who are able to take observations and accept reasoned conclusions.
"The conclusions of the five-day work-study were presented today by a Jesuit priest and leading professors from Italy, France and the United States.
" 'Astrobiology is the study of life's relationship to the rest of the cosmos,' one of the professors explained. 'Its major themes include the origin of life and its precursor materials, the evolution of life on earth, and its future prospects on and off the earth.'..."
"...[University of Arizona astronomy department professor and Steward Observatory's (Tucson) Chris] Impey acknowledged that making contact with an intelligent species in space would have profound implications for our self-image.
" 'It is appropriate that a meeting on this frontier topic is hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences,' he stated. 'The motivations and methodologies might differ, but both science and religion posit life as a special outcome of a vast and mostly inhospitable universe. There is a rich middle ground for dialogue between the practitioners of astrobiology and those who seek to understand the meaning of our existence in a biological universe.'"
The number of known exoplanets is over 400 and rising. So far, nobody's found living creatures elsewhere. (as far as we know: a scientist, Joop Houtkooper, made an intriguing suggesting about a failed(?) Viking life experiment (Apathetic Lemming of the North (March 5, 2009))
Although we may find that life exists only on Earth, right now I wouldn't bet five cents on the assertion - and it's probably just as well that professionals are discussing what to look for. And, what to do if we find life elsewhere.
Me? I've long since decided that God can do what He wants with what He made - so I won't be shocked and dismayed if we find life elsewhere. On the other hand, I'd be more than a bit disturbed if there were people out there - and they all looked like Charlton Heston in the role of Moses.
- "Space Aliens, the News, and Those Catholics"
Apathetic Lemming of the North (November 11, 2009)
- "Copernicus, Galileo, Science and a Reality Check"
(October 26, 2009)
- "A Patron Saint of - Scientists?!"
(October 25, 2009)
- "Really Old Dust Grains, a Galactic Collision, and a Lively Interest in God's Creation"
(August 10, 2009)
- "Dinosaurs, Mutant Chickens, Evolution, and Faith in God"
(June 29, 2009)
- "Faith and Reason, Religion and Science"
(March 20, 2009)
- "Catholic Church, Creationism, Evolution, Facts and Faith"
(March 5, 2009)
- "Vatican Considers Life on Other Planets"
Zenit.org (November 10, 2009)
1 "Boundless" isn't "infinite." The surface of a sphere is boundless, but has a limited area. At our present level of understanding, it looks like the three spatial dimensions we live in are not bounded, but are finite.