Friday, August 01, 2008

Will God roll snake eyes?

In six days God made the heaven, earth and planets, and us. On the seventh day he had a rest. Reasonable really because doing all the Creation must be quite tiring I'd imagine. The question is, what did he do on the eighth day after a good night's sleep (handy he invented night before he had a rest huh?).

Whether you're a creationist believing type, or an atheist believing scientist, or a fence sitting agnostic like me, it is difficult to avoid the question of what place a Creator has in society as we get ever closer to finding life outside of the atmosphere.

For some I imagine, the thougth of extra-terrestrial life is pure fantasy, but when you think of the possibilty in terms of the classic Drake Equation it starts to become blindly obvious that the probability of intelligent life out there somewhere s far greater than it not being there.

For those unfamilar with the Drake Equation, it asks certain questions about the universe and the answers lead to probability answers on extra-terrestrial civilisations. Questions such as:
  1. How many stars are there in the Universe?
  2. At what rate to those stars form?
  3. What fraction of those stars have planets orbiting them?
  4. What fractions of those planets may be in a suitable posiiton to hold a climate suitable for life as we understand it?
  5. What fraction of those planets have the necessary lifetime required, in order for intelligent life to evolve?
  6. How much of that intelligent life will be technological?
  7. How long would it take that civilisation to send detectable signals into space?
The question that arises though when you consider this equation is that if life is out there, and it is intelligent, what does that imply for the religion of the world that see life in other terms, and more importantly, how will they cope if one day we discover that there is life out there? Will it be the case that God no longer has a place in cultural scoiety, or will the religions simply change their view of what their Creator chose to do after he finished making Earth?

Having said all this, even if there was life out there the chances of the technology existing that would enable contact between world is unlikely. As Lawrence Kruass, the author of the Physics of Star Trek said, "we can all feel safe that aliens are not abducting psychiatric patients and subjecting them to interesting examinations."

Still, back to the original reasonfro me posting. This latest discovery by NASA is very cool indeed, and I think it's probably only a matter of time before evidence of some form of life beyond this planet is discoevred, at which point might all bets be off for God?


Unixman said...

I am actually coming to believe that life WILL occur where the chemical & physical conditions are suitable (and once that occurs natural selection will heave advances off) even though the timescales could be far far greater than we could replicate here, which is why experiments like the famed Miller-Urey one are still unconclusive.

David said...


There is a lot of theological debate on exactly this question and it has been pretty controversial in those circles.

However, just to illustrate the point that Christian apologists have not necessariy seen any contradiction between extraterrestrial life and Christianity, here is the great Christian writer CS Lewis in his essay "Dogma and the Universe":

"We know that God has visited and redeemed his people … It is, of course, the essence of Christianity that God loves man and for his sake became man and died. But that does not prove that man is the sole end of nature. In the parable, it was one lost sheep that the shepherd went in search of: it was not the only sheep in the flock, and we are not told that it was the most valuable — save insofar as the most desperately in need has, while the need lasts, a peculiar value in the eyes of Love. The doctrine of the Incarnation would conflict with what we know of this vast universe only if we knew also there were other rational species in it who had, like us, fallen, and who needed redemption in the same mode, and they had not been vouchsafed it. But we know of none of these things."

Henry Crun said...

On the eighth day, God created Joe Mercer.

Lola said...

Think about where (not when) space or the universe might end....Right, got your head 'round that?

Anonymous said...

Are you familiar with the Fermi Paradox? It is entirely possible that we are alone in our galaxy.

Andrew Zalotocky said...

The problem with the Drake Equation is that we can only estimate the values of the first two variables with any degree of confidence. Beyond that it gets more and more speculative, and we will only know what the correct values for 6 and 7 are after we have studied many examples of alien life.

So you can enter some plausible-looking values to show that there must be many thousands of civilisations in our galaxy alone, or you can enter some equally plausible-looking values to show that there are so few civilisations that we are never likely to find any of them. Pick any number you like and you can use the Drake Equation to make it look credible.

That makes it a good marketing tool for SETI, but the Drake Equation is scientifically useless because it's nothing more than a list of things we don't know.

Confused of S. Yorks said...

Even Drake admits the Drake Equation isn't of much use. In an article he wrote in Omni (iirc) waaaay back in the 70's he described the equation as a method to quantify our ignorance of the relevant facts.

Scary Biscuits said...

Dizzy's normally such a rational, logical being, which is why his blog's so good.

However, like many others (Dawkins included) he seems to lose it when talking about God.

What rational thought process led him to think that the existence of intelligent alien life is incompatible with God?

dizzy said...

Errr I didn't say that the existence of intelligent alien life was incompatible with God. I asked what the implications for God would be should it happen. Learn to read punctuation like question marks.

I'm not an atheist, I'm an agnostic.

Confused of S. Yorks said...

"I asked what the implications for God would be should it happen."

Depends on the nature of your God I suppose. The God that C.S. Lewis believed in had no fundamental problem with extraterrestrial life. On the other hand, the protagonist of James Blish's "A Case of Conscience" had big problems with combining aliens and his faith.

"I'm not an atheist, I'm an agnostic."

Soft agnosticism or hard agnosticism? And don't forget, agnosticism and atheism are not distinct opposites. It is possible to be an agnostic atheist (no proof that God exists and therefore no need to believe in one) or an agnostic theist (no proof that God exists but still retain belief in God as a matter of faith).

I'd recommend Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and "A Devil's Chaplain". Oh and there's a article by Russell on the Celestial Teapot that's worth tracking down.

Me, I'm a church-going agnostic atheist for what it is worth.

dizzy said...

I accept the possibility of the existence of a creator.

Confused of S. Yorks said...

"I accept the possibility of the existence of a creator."

Ah, I accept the possibility of the existence of Cthulhu, but have no proof. I'm therefore agnostic about Cthulhu. But I don't believe in Cthulhu, so I'm also atheistic about Cthulhu. Likewise God.

So, and don't take this as a personal attack, do you believe in God?

dizzy said...

Firstly I take issue with your use of the concept of proof. There are no proofs, there are only ever failures to disprove soemthing which increase the likelihood that the thing that cannot be disproved is the truth. The problem with theism is that there is no way of testing the existence of God.

As such it does not follow that one should not believe in God. So the answer to your question is that I do not disbelieve in God because of the absence of logical and testable opposition to it. Of course, it also depends on what you meant by the use of the word "believe".

Did you mean believe as in to have faith in something, or believe as in to simply accept that it is so? Let me put it another way, one can believe in their own existence but it does not follow that one believes in oneself.

Confused of S. Yorks said...

Agree that maybe the use of "proof" is ambiguous, but then the more correct alternative of "a thesis which has been substantially tested and not yet disproved" is a little unwieldy for a Blogger comment (though maybe appropriate for a discussion which has reached the third pint stage). Although we could probably spend all day discussing how to go about questioning the existence or non-existence of some omnipotent, omniscient and onmipresent entity.

Anyway, using sixteen words instead of five, "Do you have faith in God to have a tangible and direct influence on you personally?"

dizzy said...

I have faith that it is entirely possible that he/she/it might :-)