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Saturday, February 25, 2017

God, Earth and Those Pesky Exoplanets

We earthlings have harbored an exalted/distorted image of ourselves and our place in the cosmos for a long time. Our ignorance in this regard is underscored by our history and the current pace of exploration and discovery. The discovery of 3,453 exoplanets (planets outside of our solar system) in the last twenty-five years underscores the fact that we are just beginning to truly understand our place in the cosmos. -- https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/ And, to place our comprehension of the cosmos in the proper perspective, we still don't know for sure how many planets/planetoids are orbiting our own sun!

Many ancient cultures pictured the earth as being flat and existing under a great dome (or "firmament" in biblical language. In this view, the sun, moon and stars were positioned in the firmament exclusively for the benefit of us folks here on earth. The account of creation in the book of Genesis is a classic example of this view:  "And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so...And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years. And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:6-9 and 14-18 -- https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=KJV)

Eventually, man came to understand that the earth was a sphere - that it wasn't flat. Even so, the ancients still saw mankind and earth as being at the center of everything. In this view, the sun, moon and stars revolved around the earth. Later still, we realized that this Geocentric Model was also incorrect.

On this 25th day of February in the year 2017, we understand that our solar system is not unique - that there are other planets orbiting other stars. In other words, we now know that those stars do not exist just to help us distinguish between night and day, serve as signs, demarcate seasons/times or provide light here on earth. Moreover, the very existence of those 3,453 planets beyond our solar system suggests that we have much more to learn:  There are bound to be more of them out there. And, as we find more of them, it becomes more likely that some of them will be able to harbor life.

This possibility (probability?) was underscored earlier this week when NASA announced the discovery of seven "Earth-sized" planets orbiting Trappist-1. According to NASA, "Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water." -- https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/news/1419/nasa-telescope-reveals-largest-batch-of-earth-size-habitable-zone-planets-around-single-star/ To be clear, we don't know yet that these planets have liquid water on their surface (and we don't know whether or not they harbor life). However, once again, the very existence of these worlds makes these things a possibility. We may still be engaging in speculation, but don't these discoveries necessarily make our ability to speculate more intelligent?

All of this brings to mind a few questions about the subject of this blog:  Does your concept of God depend on outdated understandings of the cosmos? Could God have other children elsewhere in the universe? Does it matter that we may not be as unique as we formerly understood ourselves to be? Does God have the ability to care for and sustain more than one world at a time? If there is life on other planets, is any of it intelligent? If so, do they have the same spiritual potential that we do? What do you think? 

3 comments:

  1. Thanks. It is always great when one reads something that they have always believed. Roy

    ReplyDelete
  2. In a private response to this post, a friend wrote:
    "Can it in fact be said that life on this planet (Earth) is truly intelligent?
    I really wonder. A lot."

    ReplyDelete
  3. It isn’t just a matter of a planet being a safe distance from its star. There are plenty of other conditions to be satisfied for life to be sustainable on a planet. http://www.theprivilegedplanet.com/ may be of interest.

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