There has been a lot about space exploration in the media recently. Mostly this has come about because suddenly, we have gone from thinking that there were not many planets around other stars, to actually finding out that there are hundreds, and many of them would be in the
So the media reports most often go like this Scientists have discovered a new planet orbiting around star “X”, and it is in the habitable zone. Are we alone? Is there life on other planets?”
So my question is “Why are we so concerned about being alone in the universe?”
One way of getting at an answer to this, is to ask “Well, what would be different if we discovered that there was life on other planets?
First, I don’t think anyone is going to be too exercised if we find bacteria or mould on other planets.
This would confirm that yes, the creation of life is something that is part of the structure of the universe. I don’t think that it is going to be possible to prove hat there is no life anywhere else, in which case, we would be special. But knowing that ‘the coming into being of life’ is a common thing puts us within the whole framework of ‘the creation’: something hat we already knew.
But things get interesting if we discover that there is life capable of communicating with us in some way.
Then, when I discover that ‘we are not alone in the universe’ I start to ask he questions like “What are their intentions toward me?” What kind of a culture do they have? “Are they ‘more advanced’ or less advanced than we are, and if so, what re my rights and obligations toward them?
It strikes me that these questions are the same ones as we those which we ask of ‘others’ on this planet. Mould or bacteria cannot be truly ‘other’, but some form of life that we recognise as ‘truly other’ from us, then raises all of these questions. These are the very ones that we have now.
I can imagine some future ‘president of earth’ saying about other life forms ‘We decide who comes to our planet, and under what circumstances they come!’
There would be questions about resources, and whether or not we can trust these new beings.
If it turned out that we were more powerful than we are, would we treat them any better than we treated the colonies or other indigenous people as they encountered us in the recent past? Do we hope that they might treat us better than we would treat them?
This highlights for us no the morality of our treatment of refugees, and our relationship to difference, wherever it happens.
The other thing that would happen I think is that our picture of ourselves as ‘us’ would also change.
Just as in the last period of globalisation, the Sicilians, and the Lombardians and the Piedmontese all began to think of themselves as ‘Italians’ and the Saxons and the Bavarians began to think of themselves as ‘Germans’, so the idea of our being ‘Earthlings’ would rapidly mean a globalisation of our sense of ‘us-ness’. I think this might bring about a degree of peace on earth because the existence of an ‘other’ which is in space, forces us to think in global terms of ‘us’.
What would happen to religion wonder. If it turned out that we were unique in the whole universe, then I think that this would certainly raise questions about our purpose. If, big as the universe is, we are the only life forms ‘like us’ does that not raise the question of “Well why? Do we have a purpose and perhaps even a creator who gives us his purpose?” Being ‘alone’ in he universe would make the case for God easier I think.
But does not being alone in the universe make he case for our God, the Christian God harder? Some people think so, but I don’t.
The creed says that part of he Character of ‘our God’ is that this God is ‘for us’ . We say ‘Who for us and our salvation’. So the incarnation is an expression of God’s being ‘for’ humanity. That is the Christian claim.
I would not expect to be able to tell other forms of life ‘about Jesus’ because I would expect that they would have their own version of ‘God for us.’
But Christ is not only the ‘Logos’ for humanity, but St. John claims that the Word that became Flesh is also the same Logos that created the world. This being the case, I would expect to be able to recognise the shape of this same Logos, not only in the laws of physics in other forms of life, but also in the way that they would have an idea o God’s being ‘for them’ too. How this might look is going to depend on what kind of life they have, and how the ‘incarnation’ might look for them. I would be surprised though I there was no sense of the divine at all, and no sense that this divinity wanted to communicate with them in some way. I might even hope that they too would have a Christ whose features we could discuss: God with them!