Life on the Exoplanets
September 30, 2009
Driving to work one morning, wasn't I surprised to find all my carmates believed in extraterrestrials. They didn't just lean that way. They were absolutely, rock-solid firm-in-their-heart-of-hearts convinced that there was intelligent life on other planets. This could only be the effect of too many Star Trek boneheads and coneheads, for not only had extraterrestrials never been discovered, but even extra planets outside our own solar system had never been discovered. Casey, the one who, though she had never seen it, couldn't stand the film I Robot because she heard the plot deviated from Isaac Asimov's book, was the only one who knew no planets had yet been discovered. Still, she believed in aliens like all the rest.
That changed in 1995 - with regard to planets, that is, not aliens. Michel Mayor of the University of Geneva found the first planet, setting up a mad scramble amongst his peers, who as of this date, have found 370 others. They're all dogs, though - that is, you wouldn't want to live on them, and couldn't at any rate. Many are small and dense, revolving quickly around their parent star, and thus "tidally locked," with one broiling side always toward the sun and one frigid side always away. Or they're huge gaseous marshmallows, so that you'd sink well past your armpits. But scientists are confident they'll find an earth-like one sooner or later, and young people like those in my car, accepting life arising by chance and Natural Selection as an everyday event, wonder what type of aliens will live there: warm and fuzzy ETs, Independence Day thugs, or Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy screwups.
Of course, few, if any, of these new planets have been seen - they don't glow like stars, after all. Rather, their existence is discerned through various techniques. Maybe their gravitational pull causes the parent star to wobble a bit. Or, if they cross directly in front of the star, light flickers for just an instant. Such methods have proven valid closer to home. Neptune was first detected through the wobble it caused Uranus. Same with Pluto, whose status as a planet was revoked in 2006, thus disgracing our own Whitepebble Institute staff scientist Tom Tombaugh, whose only real credentials are a claimed distant relationship to Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto's founder. He's made other scientific contributions, to be sure, but they are all relatively minor - his thesis paper on sock-eating shoes, for instance. His real eminence stems from Pluto.
But Neptune and Pluto are light-minutes from Earth. These new planets are light-years. Are we really so adept at discerning what's way way out there? Maybe - but I look at it less confidently than with telling what's in our own back yard - our own solar system. Frankly, whenever scientists say they have discovered this or that I tend to accept it, but I do so tentatively, always with the caveat that these guys are frequently full of themselves, bursting with pride at human accomplishment, and intolerant of any layman who would question their theories, until they themselves revise them. Or - I suspect, its not so much those front line empirical scientists who are the problem, but a second buttressing layer of scientist-philosopher-cheerleader-atheist types, who ram science down all of our throats as the be-all and end-all. Me, I tend to side with that famous scientist and ex-Beatle John Lennon, who said "everything they told me as a kid has already been disproved by the same type of 'experts' who made them up in the first place." [quoted in interview with Playboy, so plainly I got this second-hand]
Now, it turns out that this year, 2009, is the 400th anniversary of Galileo's telescope. It's also the 400th anniversary of Kepler's publishing the laws of planetary motion. In time, telescopes would reveal our solar system to be only a tiny speck of existence, and not the embodiment of reality itself, as had till then been presumed. This discovery molded human notions regarding God. Says the Economist magazine: "it was easier to believe that a human sized universe was one that might have been brought into being with humanity in mind. It is harder, though, to argue that the modern version of cosmology, let alone any hypothetical one which is multiversal rather than universal, has come about for mankind's convenience." (8/15/09 pg 12)
This statement assumes religious people view it that way: that all has come about for "mankind's convenience." It's not hard to see how the Economist might reach that conclusion. Did not the Church maintain for centuries that Earth was the center of all creation, and that even the Sun revolved around it? Galileo got much grief for his contrary views. And aren't those born-agains always carrying on about their personal relationship with Jesus, as if no other issue matters? But - and I'm sure this is a fine distinction that will be lost on the scientist-philosopher-cheerleader-atheist types described above - anyone familiar with Watchtower publications know these have long maintained that mankind's salvation is not the primary issue before creation. Rather, it is the sanctification of God's name. Thus, Jehovah's Witness' view of God doesn't violate the spirit of that Economist statement.
Clearly, whenever scientists say "jump!" Jehovah's Witnesses do not respond with "how high?!" We believe, uphold, and defend the Bible. Nonetheless, whenever Watchtower publications have commented on other planets and the possibilities such may suggest, they have been eminently reasonable, in keeping with then-current knowledge, and free of the delusion that all revolves around humanity:
But what about the other planets? Were they put in space and into orbit for no reason at all? No, we cannot conclude that...... We should not be so shortsighted as to think that the earth is the center of the universe. Awake 1973, 5/22 pg 15
But are there [outside our solar system] other planets? Maybe yes, maybe no. The fact is that other stars, or suns, are so extremely far away that scientists have not been able to prove whether there are any small planets around them.......One can see, then, that it is certainly unwarranted for persons to speak so positively about advanced civilizations on distant planets. They have not even proved that such planets exist, much less that they have advanced civilizations on them. Awake 1981, 2/22
****** The bookstore