Scientists continue to find things we’d expect in a godless universe.

Beneath the thousand stories about the Boston bombers, there was an article on CNN this morning about three new planets we’ve discovered that are among the most likely candidates for harboring life.  This part in particular stood out to me:

“With all of these discoveries we’re finding, Earth is looking less and less like a special place and more like there’s Earth-like things everywhere,” said Thomas Barclay, Kepler scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute in Sonoma, California.

All Christians should let that fact sink in.  The earth is not special.  It’s just not.

What’s more, god could create any kind of universe he wanted.  If the earth is special, he didn’t need to make an unimaginably large (literally) universe full of other stuff.

However, if no god exists, we should expect to find ourselves in such a universe.  Life is very hard to get going naturally (for info on one of the models for abiogenesis compliant with all of known science we have on hand, click here).  So it might be tempting to look at life, which is rare, and say there must be divine assistance.  However, consider someone winning the lottery.  Even though the odds of winning are astronomical, who in their right mind thinks god has to dip his hand into our daily lives for someone to win the lottery?  Nobody – because lots of people buy lottery tickets.  So many buy lottery tickets, in fact, that you expect the astronomical outcome of a win pretty regularly.

So if life is rare, we’d expect to find ourselves in a universe where lots of “lottery tickets” are available so that improbably things become probable.  ‘lo and behold, that is precisely the universe in which we find ourselves.

Even if god exists, he has crafted the universe we’d expect to see if god didn’t exist.  That god…between cancer and building a universe that looks like he doesn’t exist, he’s quite the practical joker.

And now that we’ve got that god nonsense out of the way, HOLY SHIT THREE NEW PLANETS THAT COULD HOUSE LIFE!!!!  The universe is freaking awesome!

  • David Hart

    Presumably God’s greatest practical joke is building a universe full of planets that we could inhabit, all of them so far away that our chances of ever reaching them are effectively nil. What a hilarious prankster.

  • JohnH

    Mormons believe there are countless other planets with not only life but intelligent life and have since the 1830′s. Not eventually finding life elsewhere in the Universe would be blow to my understanding of God.

    Catholic theologians have speculated about the existence of there being more to God’s creation for a very long time. Explicitly aliens have been fair game for quite a long time as well.

    I am sure you are aware of the large number of Catholic and Mormon SFF authors. Its not like Tolkien had any problem writing other sentient life forms (or was far out theologically when doing so) or that the Enderverse is devoid of life, to name probably the two most well known examples.

    • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

      “Mormons believe there are countless other planets with not only life but intelligent life and have since the 1830′s.”

      They also seem to believe that consciousness survives eternally after death, so on balance, it’s still crackpottery.

      “Catholic theologians have speculated about the existence of there being more to God’s creation for a very long time.”

      Yeah, and the first Catholic to assert this was Giordano Bruno, a priest no less, who was burned at the stake for heresy in 1600.

      • JohnH

        He appears to have suggested that there are aliens as we understand the term before the Catholic church was willing to accept that the Earth wasn’t the center of the Universe. If he were just suggesting that there were higher or lower planes of existence with intelligent life then he would have been within the mainstream. This isn’t to defend the Catholic Church at all, just pointing out that I was taking a broader view then that.

        • Glodson

          Basically, he wouldn’t have been burned to death if he talked about demons and angels, Heaven and Hell?

      • http://www.the-voices.net Shane

        “They also seem to believe that consciousness survives eternally after death, so on balance, it’s still crackpottery.”

        It reminds me of the one species in Babylon 5 (I forgot the name, they were nicknamed ‘Boneheads’ and they found their souls were being reincarnated in humans).

        • http://www.theologyweb.com/ Challenger Grim

          The species you are thinking of is “Minbari”.

  • Glodson

    Given the ubiquitous nature of extrasolar planets, this is hardly shocking. All we need is for a planet like ours to be a certain distance away from a star with a long enough life cycle. And that is just for life as we know it. By that, I mean intelligent life that has produced a civilization. Life that isn’t like ours or hasn’t produced a civilization would be even easier.

    Finding such planets is a more recent development, as it can be hard to find an Earthlike planet, given the size. Terrestrial planets tend to be much smaller, and so are harder to find. I believe the Kepler Project has found planets in orbit around stars at an incredible rate.

    It turns out, our system isn’t all that extraordinary. The conditions found on this planet don’t seem to be unique. There’s likely life out in this galaxy. Complex life like ours, I mean.

    • sqlrob

      I wouldn’t be surprised to find life elsewhere in our solar system. Granted, bacterial or archaebacterial level, but still.

      • Glodson

        Europa is the best bet, for conditions we would expect. For conditions we wouldn’t expect… your guess is as good as mine.

        • IslandBrewer

          Well, what about the Ice Warriors of Mars?

          • Glodson

            Melted.

          • Drakk

            I thought Odin promised there would be no more Ice Warriors, and delivered.

    • Michael Busch

      The results from Kepler tell us how many planets there are on short-period orbits, and their distribution of sizes (and masses and densities in many but far from all cases). So we now know that there are a lot of planets.

      Figuring out how many planets have life on them will require different instruments. There has been a lot of design work along that line, and a lot of interesting science as a result already. But it will take time and money and a lot of skilled engineers and astronomers to build the new telescopes and use them (the proposed New Worlds Observer is particularly interesting, but it requires that the James Webb Space Telescope or an equivalent be launched successfully first).

  • Kevin

    Reminds me of a Douglas Adams quote from the Hitchhiker trilogy “In an infinite universe, anything can happen. Even survival. Strange but true!”

  • William T.

    Um, where is it required a Christian believe there are no other earth like planets? You’re making a straw-man argument here.

    Besides, scientists, by their own admission, study the repeatable, and the observable, space and time, physics and material. However, science presupposes metaphysics beyond space and time.

    By analogy, if one takes apart a radio, and presupposes that only the material part of the radio count, one will will never discover electromagnetic fields …

    If science then studies only a subset of reality (meaning the sandbox which is martial and physical) then Duh! Of course science will only ever discover a godless universe.

    Science cannot reasonably speak to what happened before the big-bang, or what caused the big bang – for that lies outside of the sandbox Science confines itself to and the bigbang is neither observable, nor repeatable, especially when all of our evidence of the big bang come from within the cone of time.

    Do you actually read your own posts for logical integrity?

    • sqlrob

      No, the OBSERVABLE parts of the radio count, which includes EM.

      Do you read your own posts?

    • Glodson

      Um, where is it required a Christian believe there are no other earth like planets?

      It isn’t. It does beg the question as to why god wouldn’t mention his other creations, but it isn’t a requirement for the religion in the broadest sense of the word. I would have said “Young Earth Creationists,” as life elsewhere would take the wind out those sails. Well, should take the wind out I should say given their ability to deny reality.

      Basically, it is a problem for any theists or theistic arguments that tries to say that life here is a special condition. It isn’t a problem for others. That’s a fair point.

      Besides, scientists, by their own admission, study the repeatable, and the observable, space and time, physics and material. However, science presupposes metaphysics beyond space and time.

      How? Science has two qualities. One is that it is falsifiablity. The other is Naturalistic Methodology. There’s no requirement that we consider anything beyond the material universe. At best, you could say that multiverse ideas, but those aren’t science. They are more conjectures at the time based off interpretations of Quantum Mechanics. Even then, that’s a conjecture based off observations and experiments. If String Theory is right, it could even be less a conjecture and more a part of a larger framework required for our universe. But that’s not the here and now.

      By analogy, if one takes apart a radio, and presupposes that only the material part of the radio count, one will will never discover electromagnetic fields …

      What? That is a poor explanation. I think I get where you are going, but it sounds like you believe that radios were built without knowledge of Maxwell’s equations.

      A field is a mathematical model with which we understand how certain forces interact with matter and each other. We can do experiments with them, and experiments conform with field theories. If they didn’t, well, we wouldn’t bother with these models. Based on that, I would say that the fields are real. They exist in physical reality. I don’t have much of a reason to believe that are merely mathematical constructs. “It occupies space. It contains energy. Its presence eliminates a true vacuum.”- John Wheeler.

      If science then studies only a subset of reality (meaning the sandbox which is martial and physical) then Duh! Of course science will only ever discover a godless universe.

      If god doesn’t make his presence known in the universe by physical means, then what impact can this god have? He doesn’t even have the existence of a field, which you questioned. A god that produces no physical effects can be ignored. Much like the ether.

      Science cannot reasonably speak to what happened before the big-bang, or what caused the big bang – for that lies outside of the sandbox Science confines itself to and the bigbang is neither observable, nor repeatable, especially when all of our evidence of the big bang come from within the cone of time.

      No, all time comes from within the Big Bang. The evidence for the Big Bang comes from the motion of the galaxies and the CMB. The Big Bang is a consequence of our understanding of gravity, how the universe works, and observations of this universe. Time itself didn’t exist before the Big Bang. As we study the universe, we do just that.

      Now, why do you believe there’s anything outside the universe? How can you, or anyone else, say they know what is outside? What makes you right and the others who hold belief in different gods wrong?

      • sqlrob

        If god doesn’t make his presence known in the universe by physical means, then what impact can this god have?

        And god “has” made himself known through “observations” as that’s what the bible supposedly is. Yet it doesn’t purport with reality in the slightest. Revelation is physical (information transfer) and has failed every test it’s been put to. Even the deist god makes physical claims (creation), and if it got out of the way afterwards, it knows nothing about the universe (information transfer).

        • Glodson

          Exactly.

          Any god we talk about has an impact on the physical world. It has to. Otherwise, why would we even discuss it? If we have a deity that cannot be observed and makes no attempt to make his presence known in this universe, then why pay any attention to it?

          This is a needless complication in our understanding of the universe. It would have no place, no purpose, and no use. I don’t think I’ve ever heard any apologist make the claim. Even ones that hold that god is more spiritual still hold that god has an effect on the physical universe, if just not overt.

      • http://theologyweb.com/ Challenger Grim

        Basically, it is a problem for any theists or theistic arguments that tries to say that life here is a special condition. It isn’t a problem for others. That’s a fair point.

        Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis.

        Supposes that there is life on EVERY planet in our solar system and that Earth is still special. (for reasons that it appears the fundamentalists here will be incapable of understanding)

        Your logic (and JT’s) are flawed in not only revealing an ignorance of Christian history and thought, but also with premises like “what a godless universe would look like”.

        • http://smingleigh.wordpress.com Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

          What, you think no atheist was ever a Christian? Or that Christians are some hermetically sealed sect with secret rituals and beliefs that outsiders can’t access? Or even that Christianity is unified, or even barely coherent on any subject at all?

          Your Christian beliefs do not conflict with a universe with multiple life-bearing worlds. Have a cookie. There are many others who are convinced the Sun is fundamentally different to the stars because they were created separately in Genesis. Furthermore, these people would claim you’re not a Christian for believing as you do because you doubt the perfect literalness of Genesis.

          What’s a poor atheist to do, when Christians can’t even agree among themselves what Christians believe?

          “Aha! I’m a member of the Congregation of the Second Reformed Primitive Fundamentalist Central Lakes Baptist Third Unified Reformed Church of Christ the Astronomer Reformed and our doctrine doesn’t say that, so you atheists are silly doodoo-heads!”

        • Glodson

          What?

          Here I conceded that some Christians, some theists, don’t have a problem with their theology conflicting with life on other planets.

          It begs several questions, like does Jesus have to die on all those planets? If not, why only a few? Are those the planets that god didn’t love enough, or are those planets sinless? If he does have to die on every planet, why such inefficiency? What kind of plan is it to repeatedly torture your kid for the crimes of others?

          Supposes that there is life on EVERY planet in our solar system and that Earth is still special. (for reasons that it appears the fundamentalists here will be incapable of understanding)

          Who cares? I doubt even the most fundamentalist of Christians would bat an eye at bacteria on Mars. No, the issue comes in with intelligent life. That’s where the questions come in. Since it is highly improbable that intelligent life exists anywhere outside Earth in our Solar System, who cares?

          And if you can’t be bothered to explain this one idea, then I cannot be bothered to look it up and see if it even makes sense. As Zinc said, it isn’t like it is likely to be anything different than many of us ex-Christians have encountered. And it isn’t like Christianity is a monolith.

          • JohnH

            “If not, why only a few? ”

            Why not just have a singular planet where the people were so wrapped up in their own self-importance and pride that they would actually kill someone that could heal the sick, raise the dead, and so forth? That way the creator of all things both in heaven and in earth would only have to die once for the sins of all in an infinite and eternal atonement. This would of course make the planet on which this happened to be special, both special because the Son of God was born on it and special that they were wicked enough to kill the Son of God; not much to be proud of there.

          • http://theologyweb.com/ Challenger Grim

            Here I conceded that some Christians, some theists, don’t have a problem with their theology conflicting with life on other planets.

            Technically speaking, since a majority of Christians are Catholic & Orthadox (which, as of this writing and my knowledge – have no issue with space aliens), it would be more correct to say “MOST” Christians don’t have a problem with space-life.

            It begs several questions, like does Jesus have to die on all those planets? If not, why only a few? Are those the planets that god didn’t love enough, or are those planets sinless? If he does have to die on every planet, why such inefficiency? What kind of plan is it to repeatedly torture your kid for the crimes of others?

            Actually the space trilogy (which I meant as a recommendation) is designed to answer some of those questions. (spoiler: the others are sinless, Earth is the fallen one) There are many other possible answers that are currently on conjecture. Such as: since salvation came to Humanity by only one group (the Jews), perhaps salvation will likewise come to the universe by only one life within it (humans). Lewis himself cautioned that we need to be careful, regardless that tragedies like what the native americans experienced not be repeated.

            Who cares? I doubt even the most fundamentalist of Christians would bat an eye at bacteria on Mars. No, the issue comes in with intelligent life. That’s where the questions come in. Since it is highly improbable that intelligent life exists anywhere outside Earth in our Solar System, who cares?

            Actually that was in reference to the space trilogy which is supposing that each planet in our solar system is inhabited by intelligent life.

            John C Wright is also currently writing a sci-fi series involving other intelligent life in the galaxy yet religion is surviving on earth (sort of, it’s at the stage a lot of things are unknown).

            And if you can’t be bothered to explain this one idea, then I cannot be bothered to look it up and see if it even makes sense. As Zinc said, it isn’t like it is likely to be anything different than many of us ex-Christians have encountered. And it isn’t like Christianity is a monolith.

            Explained above. Apologies for the delay.

            Still, it would seem logical that if one were to speak about Christians, then one would aim for that descriptor which encompasses the greatest number of them (in this particular case, the beliefs of the two largest subgroups). Unless you can be more specific on which sub-group you are addressing. (I do not have enough data currently on many Protestant groups to determine whether any of them would be challenged by aliens. Though it could be that if say… Baptists were shattered by aliens, the group itself might dissolve and most of them would join Catholicism or another branch which allows aliens. An interesting ‘what if’.)

          • Glodson

            First let me get this part out of the way:

            Actually the space trilogy (which I meant as a recommendation) is designed to answer some of those questions. (spoiler: the others are sinless, Earth is the fallen one) There are many other possible answers that are currently on conjecture. Such as: since salvation came to Humanity by only one group (the Jews), perhaps salvation will likewise come to the universe by only one life within it (humans). Lewis himself cautioned that we need to be careful, regardless that tragedies like what the native americans experienced not be repeated.[emphasis added]

            I read snark into your first post and responded in kind. I took it more as a gotcha statement rather than a recommendation. That was jumping the gun a bit, and so for that I do apologize. Thank you for explaining the idea.

            Now, for the less pleasant bit of dealing with the argument.

            Let’s jump back to the top:

            Technically speaking, since a majority of Christians are Catholic & Orthadox (which, as of this writing and my knowledge – have no issue with space aliens), it would be more correct to say “MOST” Christians don’t have a problem with space-life.

            Not all Catholics would agree. I doubt that Santorum, and the Catholics like Santorum, would agree. I guess we could just say by Catholic here, we mean the Roman Catholic Church variety, not the strain that people like Santorum belong to, which is the more fundamentalist sect.

            Moving beyond that, being from the states, my encounters with the religious are they tend to be of the Young Earth variety more often than not. In the States, the percentage of Catholics is about 24%. Protestants are about 51%. Then we got the Mormons at around 2% as are other Christian types that don’t fit into the Protestant/Mormon/Catholic spectrum. The rest of that are other religions, and the Nones.

            World wide, Catholicism does make up the majority of Christianity. However, I would caution against making a monolithic statement about such a diverse group of people. Which is why I restricted this earlier. I conceded that is not fair to say Christians. It is hard to pin down just what Christianity even is, as people within the same religion can have very different ideas about it. Which is why I suggested we say “Young Earth Creationists.” This distinction does two things: we remove the Christian label and can deal with people who make similar arguments from different religions, and we are talking about the group who will have a problem with this.

            In the US, 46% of the population are Young Earth Creationists. Now, I cannot say that reflects the majority of Catholics, but it is comprised of a large number of the religious. This is not insignificant. Since religiosity is connected to Young Earth Creationism, and about 79% of the US is Christian, it is about 58% of the Christians in the who are Young Earth Creationist. Give or take a few percentage points.

            How that plays across denominations is anyone’s guess. I’ve not found relevant data on that.

            The point is that it isn’t entirely fair to say that the majority of Christians could have a problem with this idea of alien life. Intelligent alien life. In another thread, a poll found that about 29% of the US believes that aliens exist. Without a better context for that number, this is inconclusive. However, given what I know of many Christian churches, they would be dead set against the idea.

            And I cannot speak for the world population of Christians. Just the ones I see in the US for which I have the some data. For this group, confirmed existence of aliens would require a major shift in their theology to accommodate this.

            This is a long way of saying that for a large population of Christians I have experience with and see on a day to day basis, they specifically reject the notion of alien life as apart of their dogma.

            Still, it would seem logical that if one were to speak about Christians, then one would aim for that descriptor which encompasses the greatest number of them (in this particular case, the beliefs of the two largest subgroups). Unless you can be more specific on which sub-group you are addressing. (I do not have enough data currently on many Protestant groups to determine whether any of them would be challenged by aliens. Though it could be that if say… Baptists were shattered by aliens, the group itself might dissolve and most of them would join Catholicism or another branch which allows aliens. An interesting ‘what if’.)

            First, we’ve established that it is likely that the majority of Christians in the US would have a problem with aliens. Second, you don’t talk to a lot of Baptists. Trust me on this one, I was one. If aliens were confirmed, they would disavow them as lies from Satan, or pretend that the aliens’ existence agreed with their theology by retroactively reinterpreting their theology.

            It would be easier than admitting their worldview was flawed.

    • iknklast

      Actually, JT did say that God could have created a universe that looked like this. Maybe you should read his post more thoroughly. He stated that in this case, God would have created a universe that would look godless. Because a godless universe would, in fact, predict that there would be the things we are finding. So, you have to go a ways to say god. You still have to show some actual evidence to claim a god, because the universe itself does not offer up that evidence. You cannot assume god in this, but godlessness is a perfectly rational assumption in the absence of further evidence.

    • Michael Busch

      I largely echo the others, but:

      “Science presupposes metaphysics beyond space and time.”

      No. It does not. Science is based on studying _anything that can be observed_.

      “By analogy, if one takes apart a radio, and presupposes that only the material part of the radio count, one will will never discover electromagnetic fields …”

      Electromagnetic fields have observable effects, and are just as ‘material’ as everything else. They’re just made up of photons, which have no mass, instead of baryons and leptons, which do. Your Analogy Is Bad.

      “If science then studies only a subset of reality (meaning the sandbox which is material and physical) then Duh! Of course science will only ever discover a godless universe.”

      No. Scientific investigation can and does apply to _everything_ that has _any_ effect on _anything_ in the observable universe. We know dark matter exists because it has quite dramatic effects on the universe, enough though it interacts with normal matter only by means of gravity. Anything that produces an effect that we did not expect can be and is investigated.

      If there was a god who did anything that was detectable as compared to what we would expect given an entirely natural progression of the laws of physics, it could be investigated by science. So far, all such gods investigated have been disproved. The only sort of god whose existence can’t be disproven is one that has no observable effects on the universe at all, which is not the sort of god most religions invoke.

      And if you assert that there is a purely non-interventionist god, you are already agreeing to functional atheism: people should act as though there is no god, because there is no way the existence of a non-interventionist god matters.

  • IslandBrewer

    Actually, given that the Universe is probably infinite, and the earth is finite, AND that any finite number divided by infinity is effectively zero, the earth (and the rest of us here) don’t really exist, and are likely figments of our own imaginations.

    /Doug Adams

    Special indeed!

  • Michael Busch

    ” HOLY SHIT THREE NEW PLANETS THAT COULD HOUSE LIFE!!!! The universe is freaking awesome!”

    That’s not quite what the Kepler results say. The potential habitability of the Kepler-62 and Kepler-69 planets is still being argued – we don’t really know how massive they are yet, so we can’t say if they’re rocky planets with thin atmospheres, or have so much water on them that they have atmospheres of superheated steam. But the truly big result from Kepler is not any individual planet. It’s that there are _more planets than there are stars_, and many planets are potentially habitable.

    In other words, you should have said:
    ” Holy Shit. BILLIONS of planets that could house LIFE!!!! The universe is freaking awesome!”

    • Glodson

      It’s that there are _more planets than there are stars_, and many planets are potentially habitable.

      I would add a minor detail. They are potentially habitable based on what we expect to be habitable. So, if life can exist outside the “Goldilocks Zone” or on non-terrestrial planets, the potential life-hosting planets increases. That’s to say nothing of moons.

      • sqlrob

        That’s no moon!

      • Michael Busch

        Kepler has, so far, largely sampled planets interior to and in the conventional habitable zones of the stars they orbit – planets further out are less likely to transit and take longer to go around. But radial velocity measurements say that there are a lot of planets further out too.

        Observational constraints on satellites of exoplanets are currently very poor, but we would certainly expect there to be some – at least around the gas giants. We cannot yet say how the expected number of large satellites should be weighted in calculations of how many potentially habitable locations there are.

  • Daniel Schealler

    Yaaaay!

    I’ve been linking to that CDK007 video for years. This is the first time I can recall someone else linking to it.

    ^_^

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