For this is what the Lord says—
he who created the heavens,
he is God;
he who fashioned and made the earth,
he founded it;
he did not create it to be empty,
but formed it to be inhabited—
“I am the Lord,
and there is no other.
“Life should not exist. This much we know from chemistry. In contrast to the ubiquity of life on earth, the lifelessness of other planets makes far better chemical sense.” So wrote Jim Tour, W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Computer Science, and Professor of Materials Science and Nano Engineering at Rice University in a recent publication. Tour has been rated as one of the top ten chemists in the world at the moment and is very likely to become a Nobel Laureate for his ground–breaking work in synthetic organic chemistry.
All the while, when one reads popular news articles on the question of life on other planets the standard response is, “there must certainly exist life on other worlds…the odds stacked against it are astronomical.” Of course, when one examines the credentials of the folk making these claims, one invariably discovers that they have little advanced science training (and that goes for the editors of pretty much all extant astronomy magazines, whether conventional or on the internet). In other cases, we have astronomers making bold claims about life on other worlds but they too raise issues in my mind (they’re not generally trained in the molecular life sciences for one thing). What is more, they wish to promote their own world view; that the Copernican Principle (explained below) applies to all things, life included, and more often than not, to sensationalise a topic that has been known to sell a book or two in the past. In addition, just stating that life may be common in the Universe is sure to boost their chances of securing additional research funding too.
How are we to arrive at the truth of these opposing views? For me, I would always default to the true experts in the field, and in this particular case, this means siding with the folks who actually know what is entailed from a chemical standpoint. In another highly informative essay, Professor Tour continues;
“Life requires carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins. What is the chemistry behind their origin? Biologists seem to think that there are well-understood prebiotic molecular mechanisms for their synthesis. They have been grossly misinformed. And no wonder: few biologists have ever synthesized a complex molecule ab initio. If they need a molecule, they purchase molecular synthesis kits, which are, of course, designed by synthetic chemists, and which feature simplistic protocols.
Polysaccharides? Their origin?
The synthetic chemists do not have a pathway.
The biologists do not have a clue.”
Did you read that? Tour claims the biologists don’t have a clue! He’s correct, of course, since few biologists have a working understanding of advanced chemistry (or physics for that matter) and yet there is never a mention of Dr. Tour’s cautionary take on whether or not life is to be expected on other planets in any popularised narratives on the topic of extra–terrestrial life. They simply don’t want to know!
What the public invariably gets is naturalistic propaganda and not a true education.
Tour’s timely communications dovetail very nicely with other calls for restraint from within the Christian community. Drs. Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, of Reasons to Believe, produced a ground–breaking work, “Origins of Life: Evolutionary and Biblical Models Faceoff, in which they pointed out the biggest criticism of the validity of prebiotic chemistry to chemical evolution was the scientists’ own data! Put simply, in perusing the materials & methods section of their peer reviewed scientific papers, they were able to show that pretty much every step the chemists make in creating a biologically relevant molecule was itself the product of intelligent design; the reactants were bought in in highly purified states, protected in highly specific environments (buffers and solvents), with particular pH values and optimal temperature regimes, the products carefully selected by stopping and starting reactions and isolating potential inhibitors to these reactions. Interestingly, the leading authorities in prebiotic chemistry have acknowledged these claims as valid. And yet, if you were to pick up the latest issue of a monthly astronomy magazine or online space science article, there is never any mention of these important criticisms. The public, once again, are left none the wiser. You see, one has to find stuff like this.
All this leads to a rather shocking conclusion; it is scientifically naïve to expect life to exist on other planets without the intervention of an intelligent agency being involved.
Questioning Evolutionary Assumptions
The general public are used to having Darwinian evolution shoved down their throat, as if it were a science as towering and self–confident as chemistry or physics. But very few of the general public understand that, of all the sciences, it is Darwinian evolution that generates perhaps the greatest number of sceptics. While some scientists have rejected evolutionary theory having studied it to an advanced level, most critics of Darwinism come from outside the field; not surprisingly from physical scientists, engineers and the like. They point out that the origins of life are not at all understood and that the fossil record is woefully incomplete and has more to do with guesswork than anything else. A growing armada of scientists now accept that Darwinian evolution is not fit for purpose in this age of rapid scientific progress. And these doubts weigh heavily on the debate of whether or not life is common in the Universe. But there’s more.
Over the last quarter of a century, whole teams of scientists have pushed back the date to the likely origin of life to just a few hundred million years or less, from the formation of the Earth. What is more, studies on microfossils discovered within the Earth’s most ancient rocks, as well as state of the art chemical analyses of the various biomarkers within these structures show that as soon as life took hold on Earth, it was already biochemically sophisticated and extraordinarily diverse. While some journalists have used these emerging facts as ‘evidence’ that the origin of life must be easy from a naturalistic point of view, they refuse to consider another, and far more pressing point: the fact that life very likely began complex; both structurally and biochemically, it could not have evolved in the sense conveyed by contemporary evolutionists. But, yet again, there is no mention of these important developments in the popular literature. One magazine editor I approached about this issue sent me this clip as “evidence for evolution.” After enjoying a good giggle, this author duly responded by asserting that this was not science at all but pure fiction! So, what’s going on?
Sweeping under the Carpet
All of this reminds me of the status of physics in the late nineteenth century, when one of its greatest expositors; men of the ilk of Lord Kelvin; was prompted to declare that there was little left to do in physics save to improve measurements. Within a decade or two, novel phenomena forced physicists to develop newer and better descriptions of the natural world by developing the science of quantum mechanics. And we all know where that has led to. This author is of the opinion that this is precisely the scenario in which the biological sciences find themselves in at present; a kind of limbo between the old and a radically new picture of life emerging, as more and more scientific results come to the fore. The Darwinian status quo cannot continue to exist for much longer. A new paradigm is clearly required to advance the biological sciences. Many scientists now consider information to be at the centre of this new revolution in biology.
Challenging the Copernican Principle
The Copernican principle, stated simply, is that the Earth and its constituents does not hold any privileged position in the grand scheme of things and that everything we observe will have its analogues on other worlds. Back in 2000 though, palaeontologist, Peter Ward, and astronomer, Donald Brownlee, published a highly influential book, Rare Earth; why Complex Life may be Uncommon in the Universe, in which they set forth compelling evidence that although microbial life might be common, complex multicellular life ought to be far rarer than anyone had anticipated. Since then however, other excellent books have emerged including John Gribbin’s Alone in the Universe; Why our Planet is Unique (2011) and more recently still, Hugh Ross’ technically excellent tome, Improbable Planet (2016), in which they make the case that the Earth has many features that appear uniquely suited to supporting complex lifeforms. And to top it all, Professor Brian Cox, in his BBC production: Human Universe, also explains why humans are likely the only advanced lifeforms in the entire cosmos. And yet, despite the soundness of their arguments, it is rare (if at all) that the mainstream media will ever present this picture, simply because they run the risk of possibly alienating their readers. Instead, they peddle the same old mantra of life being common in the Universe. But what does the emerging scientific picture attest to?
To date, several thousand exoplanets (worlds orbiting other stars) have been characterised and while some have earth–sized planets, it is quite a leap of faith to conclude that they are habitable. Most commonly, the reporters make the point that the planet in question lies in that narrow annulus around its parent star, where liquid water could potentially be stable (the so–called habitable zone). But this is a far cry from making a planet habitable. And yet all the while, performing a google search of an article on exoplanets within their habitable zones invariably brings up images of fictional worlds graced with blue water oceans, white clouds and conveniently placed continents; figments of someone’s overactive imagination no doubt. Ross’ work in particular has also identified not one habitable zone, where liquid water could remain stable for long periods, but several other conditions that must be present if complex animal life is to be maintained over periods of several billion years.
Collectively, these new habitable zones include;
Water habitable zone
Ultraviolet habitable zone
Photosynthetic habitable zone
Ozone habitable zone
Planetary rotation rate habitable zone
Planetary obliquity habitable zone
Tidal habitable zone
Astrosphere habitable zone
All of these must overlap for a planet to sustain complex life over billions of years. Thus, seen in this light, it is highly probable that an Earth–like world is either extraordinarily rare or even unique, even in a cosmos containing quadrillions of planets. But you’d never hear that from the purveyors of methodological naturalism.
Stagnating Real Science
Taken together, these simple points paint an entirely different picture of what we should expect in searching for life on other worlds. Late in 2018, NASA will launch their giant infrared space telescope, the greatly anticipated James Webb, which will have the technology to chemically characterise the atmospheres of many exoplanets discovered to date. Will they find the signatures of life? Personally, I’m sceptical, given the truth about what we have thus far discovered about life on our own planet. But in the meantime, it would be fruitful for science writers reporting on such matters to present a more balanced case, both for and against such claims. Maybe then, they’ll be a bit more cautious about entertaining such fantastic objects as Dyson Spheres (KIC 8462852) and visiting inter–stellar spacecraft (Oumuamua). The industry owes that to its readers.
An Aside: A Christian Perspective on Extra—terrestrial Intelligence
As both a Christian and a scientist, I have thought deeply about such questions and have reached some working conclusions to help me grapple with these thought provoking concepts. As a scientist, I am sceptical of the evolutionary paradigm (though some Christians appear to accept it) as it has little in the way of explanatory power. Furthermore, I believe it to be an evil ideology that seeks to turn people away from the true God. The fact that we have not detected signs of advanced alien lifeforms despite having searched the heavens for over a half a century affirms my belief that Darwinian evolution is bogus; life must come from a mind and must be created for some specified purpose. But there is also a number of theological reasons why I think life is either extraordinarily rare or unique to Earth. This view has been shaped by a prolonged study of the Bible. It may surprise the reader that the vast majority of people who profess to be Christians have not read the Bible through, from cover to cover, even once, and so may not have developed the nuanced argument quite like the one I wish to present here.
The first point I’d like to make is that the Biblical God appeared in human form in the character of Jesus of Nazareth.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The New Testament states in multiple places that Jesus “died once for all” (see Romans 6:10 for an example). This suggests that Jesus came to redeem sinful humans and not other creatures. Humans are the only creatures that God came to redeem.
The next point is that the Bible makes it crystal clear that the only deity we will see in heaven is Christ;
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Thirdly, the Bible seems very clear about where the Lord, the Creator of the Universe, will establish His throne; in Jerusalem, before He brings this Universe to an end;
At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart.
Fourthly, the Bible informs us that the Universe will be consumed in fire:
But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
2 Peter 3:7
So, it would be unjust of God to destroy other putative lifeforms elsewhere in the Universe for mankind’s rebellion. And since God is completely just and holy, He would not cause other parts of His creation to suffer needlessly. That would make Him a monster.
Finally, the Bible speaks of Christ as a “bridegroom” and His church a “bride”;
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
Here we have a fidelity issue. Time and time again through the pages of Scripture, the Lord condemns infidelity and encourages faithfulness to one wife or husband. Thus, if the church is to be considered as the ‘bride of Christ’, then the ‘bridegroom’ ought to be faithful and not seek or acquire ‘other brides’ elsewhere in the cosmos. After all, God is not a polygamist! Shouldn’t loyalty be reciprocal, working both ways?
For these and other reasons, the uniqueness of humankind as imagers of God (see Genesis 1:27) makes it very difficult to envision other creatures on par or superior to humans in the physical Universe (though it does not rule out the possibility that he created lesser creatures). We are either the crown of His creation or we are not (see Hebrews 2:7). That’s not to say that God did not create other forms of sentient beings; consider the Angelic realm, for example.
Seen in this way, the alarming degree to wish people will go to wish their sovereignty away deeply concerns me. It strikes me as an elaborate, postmodern manifestation of paganism. I worry that God will disown them, just as they have disowned Him. Naturalistic science serves to undermine mankind’s significance by turning him into a ‘highly evolved animal’, distinguished only in degree from the rest of the animal kingdom. I believe this to be demonstrably false and envision the next decade or so as continuing to affirm our uniqueness in this vast cosmos in which we ‘serendipitously’ find ourselves in.
Return to the Lord and serve Him with all your heart, soul, mind and spirit before it’s too late.
Dr. Neil English, who was trained in both the biological and physical sciences, is author of several books on amateur astronomy and space science. His new book; Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, will be published later this year.