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Discussion 7 to Talk Back 88
Accepting science does not require you to burn your bible.

by: JT

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Michael:

Accepting science does not require you to burn your bible. I say science rather than evolution because if you insist on regarding the two somewhat inconsistent accounts of creation in Genesis as literal truth, then you have to throw out astronomy, geology, archeology, physics, biology, paleontology, cosmology (to mention just a few scientific disciplines) etc. But if you consider the Genesis accounts to express a deep metaphorical truth about the relation between your God, the universe and mankind, then along with many scientists, you can keep your Bible with all its spiritual truths and at the same time keep science in all its aspects. But let's get to the issues you raise.

First of all, your closing reference to Moses writing "In the beginning..."

I doubt there very many mainstream Christian or Jewish theologians today hold to the traditional idea that Moses actually wrote the Pentateuch. Regardless of the opinions about divine inspiration, or the various opinions about which passages consist of metaphorical truth vs which passages consist of literal truth, the general consensus is that the first five books of the Bible are the work of multiple unknown authors over hundreds of years. But, if you hold to divine inspiration as you seem to, actual authorship is irrelevant.

However, that does not really affect your main part of your post, the fact we have not encountered other life in the universe.

I suspect that your astronomy professor was talking about the Drake formula, which was popularized by Dr. Sagan. That formula was designed to estimate the number of civilizations within the Milky Way with which we might come into contact. Nearly every factor in the equation (other than the formation rate of new stars) is a guesstimate. When you come down to it, the formula is not good hard science - it is just a way to help focus on the issues. Drake estimated there might be 10 such extraterrestrial civilizations that humankind might encounter in a 10,000 year period.

But let's consider the universe. Given there are billions of galaxies in the universe, and galaxies contain from billions to hundreds of billions of stars, then it is reasonable to assume that even if a tiny fraction (say, for example, one one-hundredth of a percent is what I mean by a tiny fraction) of the stars support planetary systems, and a tiny fraction of those planetary systems actually support life, and a tiny fraction of those life-bearing planets achieve viable civilizations over the life of the planet, then, it is still conceivable that there may be billions of extraterrestrial civilizations during the lifetime of the universe.[1] Some of these may have come and gone already; some may exist now, some may only appear after humankind has long disappeared.

The universe is a big place, both in distance and in time It is possible that none of those potential civilizations will ever encounter each other. We are all bound by the laws of physics. Achievement of warp speed is highly unlikely. (Sorry Trekkies.) Unless another civilization crops up in close proximity, physical encounters are highly unlikely. Contact by electromagnetic radiation is limited by the speed of light and requires mutually close-enough technology to be detected.

It is not surprising that there has been no contact. I would be surprised if it happens within our grandchildren's grandchildren's lifetime. Time and space are so vast.[2]

But, I am pleased to tell you that Vulcan does exist - just a couple of hours (earth hours, not light hours) away from me. And Spock Days / Galaxy Fest 2009 is next week (June 12-14).

Finally - the issue of morality: It does not take a Bible to know that "love thy neighbour" is a fine guiding principle. This same principle has been identified by most societies on earth, though regrettably many have not been able to generalize "neighbour" to include all mankind. "Love thy neighbour" is simply how we manage to live together - it is closely linked with our being social animals. And an increasing number of studies of non-human animals show that they also practice this elementary morality - it is not limited to humans. I attribute that to evolution, because living socially provides reproductive benefits. You may wish attribute it to a designer who loves at least some animals in addition to mankind.

 

Footnotes:

  1. The currently estimated number of planets in our galaxy hospitable enough to support life is 37,964. (Duncan Forgan, The Royal Observatory, Edinburgh) Of course that does not mean that thay actually support life right now, or that the life is intelligent.
  2. In a letter to the editor on the May / June 2009 edition of the Skeptical Inquirer, Sid Deutsch referring to an earlier article of his discussing the impossibility of being visited by an alien civilization summarized his case as:
    "The argument is that the interplanetary distances are so vast that a spaceship has to go at one-tenth the speed of light to get to Earth in a reasonable amount of time (like 100 years). The kinetic energy required to reach this velocity is so huge that it is beyond the capability of any civilization. Remember that the vehicle has to carry its own fuel and the laws of physics and chemistry are the same everywhere in the universe."