13 March 2011

Life Elsewhere in the Universe

From the beginning up until about 500 years ago the universe was limited to what we could see with the naked eye.

The glass hadn't been ground. The tube hadn't been fashioned. There was no telescope and no man with the unfettered vision and courage to make one. Our eye was our instrument and with its limitations came limits to our imagination. Good little predictable humans that we were, we feared the things we didn't understand. And there was much that we did not understand.

Our perception of the universe can be best expressed in terms of three concentric spheres. The Earth is the first sphere. The second sphere is what we can see with the naked eye. That varies depending on conditions. Sometimes all we can see is fog, sometimes rain and on the best of nights we can see our own galaxy edge-on as well as fuzzy objects like the Orion nebula and the Pleiades star cluster. The outermost sphere is the aided eye. 500 years ago Galileo built the first telescope. He was imprisoned for heresy for daring to challenge a centuries-old doctrine that the sky was immutable. He suffered the persecution of myopic clerics for the latter part of his life. Through his sacrifice he opened the sky to a scared and ungrateful world and showed us that there were worlds and wonders beyond.

Centuries later we have telescopes in orbit an are able to see things in different spectra that take billions of years for their light and other radiation to reach us. And with all that we still have no conclusive answer to the question of whether we are alone in the universe. It's a loaded question and the opinions. There are opinions ranging from those people who are devoutly religious to those totally lacking religious feeling.

I want to deal with the concept from my perspective as a Christian but hopefully in a way that you don't hear or read about often. I don't have a problem with other galaxies, stars with planets orbiting them, UFOs or aliens or any of it because I know that God is bigger than our collective ignorance. God's creation is bigger than the ruminations of near-sighted minds. Our technology has opened the heavens so completely that our ability to see is only limited by the need for better and better optics and computers. There are galaxies that crashed into one another when our solar system was still very very young and their light is just now reaching us. Seeing all this, I really feel that Christianity, as it is presented, pretty much everywhere, is very earth-centered. There are a lot of people who believe this is all there is. The most common assumption is that all the UFO and alien activity is the work of demons, a concept which only feeds into the "this is all there is" world view. I don't think most folks are comfortable dealing with the concept of life in other galaxies or in other parts of this galaxy. It's not talked about in the Bible and that is the lens through which many see the world around them.

The biblical text doesn't deal directly with nebulae, other galaxies, black holes, supernovae and so forth. It doesn't say it's there and it doesn't say it's not there. The people who wrote the books and letters didn't have the benefit of telescopes. Life was simpler. For them the eye was the instrument of vision and they didn't have to grapple with these topics.

I find there are two ways people in the church discuss and deal with the universe and the idea of life on other planets. There is either silence or silence followed by a discussion of demons. Their thinking is contained within the snow-globe of Earth and whatever their eyes can see. That means that for them God and creation also exist in the same snow-globe, though some might not admit that. The language is small...it's unexpanded and mediocre. Am I saying the Bible is mediocre? No. The thing is, we're at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century and I have a real problem with describing the Creator and creation in such diminutive language. There's an old saying that from those who have been given more, more is expected. I take that to mean that the way we look at the universe has to be different from the way people did at the time of Moses or Augustine. Scripture says The Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. To me that means all the stuff out there we can't see without some help...whether it be telescopes or microscopes...all of it belongs to God.

With all that said, I'll now go even further out on the same limb. There's life out there. By life I mean other planets with flesh and blood beings needing and wanting to know their creator. There's nothing unbiblical about that idea. Humanity has quite a checkered history. It's long, dark and bloody. I'd like to believe there's a world out there somewhere that got it right. Or, at the very least did a better job than we have. Maybe they embraced the savior and didn't follow that with hundreds of years of killing others in his name. Do I believe those folks have made it to Earth and are driving the UFOs? It's possible but probably not in the numbers that are reported. To do so they'd have to figure out a few things we're still struggling with.

Governments have engaged in disinformation regarding UFOs and have encouraged the public to believe that what they saw were UFOs rather than experimental aircraft. A popular idea amongst Christians is that the whole thing is demonic. There may be some validity to that. It simply means that the spirit world is perpetrating a massive deception, making us think they're from one of our sister worlds. In fact if the motherships roll in and park overhead offering an evolutionary boost to our cultures and cures for every disease, I plan to be amongst the skeptics. This kind of deception does not preclude the existence of other inhabited planets. Relativity doesn't allow for travel at or past the speed of light. So since it's less likely that we're being visited by people from one or more of our sister worlds, then the idea that we're under a growing and massive deception is quite possible.

We may someday get out there and see those worlds. It's going to take a different world than we have now and people of a different consciousness than we are. It's certainly going to have to take a different physics than we're operating on now. We'll have to find or create the wormholes that'll get us there or find some other work-around of relativity.

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