Believe and Obey

A Radical Christian Perspective on the World's News & Current Events

Dear God, Is Earth It?

AdobeStock 121664027

Has to Be Something Better, Has to Be

Last week I discussed whether humanity should go out seeking alien life.  In the end I concluded that yes we should.  This week I want to examine the odds of finding another earth like planet with some kind of similar life.  Then I wish to discuss some of the reasons we have not heard from anyone so far, and what this may teach us in the here and now.

The starting off point is a concept called the “Fermi Paradox”, named after the physicist Enrico Fermi.  Fermi once asked, if there are so many possible planets that can sustain life, why haven’t we heard from anyone?  The “paradox” has been somewhat distorted.  Fermi was not saying there was no life out there, just that with all the possibilities, it seems odd we have not had anyone come calling.

My starting off point will be the question, hope really, of one of the great characters from one of the greatest of all science fiction movies, George Taylor (Charlton Heston) from Planet of the Apes.  His quote:

I’m a seeker too. But my dreams aren’t like yours. I can’t help thinking that somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man. Has to be.

A bit cynical perhaps, but then again, take a look around the place.  I cannot believe that in God’s infinite love and mercy, that He did not plant life on other planets.  It is only human arrogance that thinks this could not be possible.  For one thing, we should never talk about anything being impossible for God.  Also, why wouldn’t God create life elsewhere?  If Creation is good, and it is, then why not do it again and again?

Astronomy and math tell us that this is highly possible.  The science was taken from this piece about Fermi and his paradox.  The numbers are staggering.  In the Milky Way galaxy there are about 100-400 billion stars.  There are about that many galaxies in the observable universe.  All added up there are between 1022 to 1024 total stars.  There is dispute about how many of these stars are orbited by an Earth-like planet.  I’ll use the 22% cited in the piece as a more conservative number.  This means that there is a potentially Earth-like planet orbiting at least 1% of all the stars in the universe.  That is a total of 100 billion Earth-like planets.

If just 1% of these Earth-like planets develops life, and on 1% of those planets, life advanced to the level of an intelligent civilization. Then there would be 10 quadrillion (10 million billion) intelligent civilizations in the observable universe.  If we use the same percentage assumptions for the Milky Way galaxy then there are 1 billion Earth-like planets and 100,000 intelligent civilizations.

Yet, amongst all this possibility we have not heard from anyone.  As the linked piece indicates this is even stranger when you consider that our star is relatively young.  Most of the galaxy is comprised of older stars and older Earth-like planets.  This would mean that the odds of an intelligent civilization being more advanced than our own would seem to be relatively higher. The timeline looks like this:

timeline 22 1024x537 1
timeline 1024x416 1

Yet again, why hasn’t anyone looked us up?

The Levels of a Civilization

The idea of levels of civilizations is based on an idea called the Kardashev Scale.  A Type I Civilization has the ability to use all of the energy on their planet.  We are close, and would likely be there is we would harness nuclear energy to its fullest potential.  A Type II Civilization can harness all of the energy of their host star.  This has been postulated with the idea of a Dyson Sphere.  A Type III Civilization blows the other two away, accessing power comparable to that of the entire Milky Way galaxy.

Disturbing Possible Explanations

One explanation is obvious, and not particularly disturbing.  Regardless of the level of a civilization the distances between worlds may simply be too great.  It would take someone doing to Einstein what Einstein did to Newton to make this possible.  That said, given the levels of civilizations postulated, one would think this could be overcome, but perhaps not.  The other not so disturbing explanation is that there simply are no higher civilizations (Type II and III) that exist.  The math, as outlined above argues against this.

This is where it gets disturbing.  Some have postulated a theory to explain the absence of evidence of such civilizations.  It is called the Great Filter Theory.  This theory says that at some point there is a stage that is extremely unlikely or impossible to get beyond, “The Great Filter”. 

The first possibility is that the Earth is rare and that the Great Filter is behind us.  So maybe the math is not dispositive, and humanity made it past the Great Filter, and we will keep developing.  This gives some hope.  Maybe the “Great Filter” comes early on and any life at all is unusual.  Maybe the “Great Filter” was the jump to more complicated life forms.  Maybe the universe is filled with single celled creatures and not much more.

Another explanation is that the Earth is the first to develop this far.  The rationale is that conditions since the Big Bang are only recently amenable to life such as ours developing.  This too would be comforting as it would indicate that we may be on our way to super intelligence.

A more disturbing scenario is that the “Great Filter” lies before us, in which case we are screwed.  The thought is that if Earth is not rare, or early, then the filter awaits.  Perhaps an Extinction Level Event, such as befell the dinosaurs may yet take us out.  Then there is the all too much in the headlines today possibility that evolving civilizations destroy themselves at some point.  We are certainly at the technological level where we can do this, it remains to be seen if we have the moral compass to avoid it.

There is another set of explanations that have been offered as to why we have not heard from anyone yet.  This is the idea that there are Type II and II civilizations out there but for one reason or another we have not heard from them.  It may be that we are so ordinary that there is no point in them wasting their time on us.  Or maybe super intelligent life visited a long time ago.  Perhaps we live in a remote section of the galaxy that gets few visitors.  Maybe a very advanced civilization is beyond the need to explore the way we think of exploration.

There is the thought that there is one hyper aggressive civilization out there (like humans here on Earth) that is waiting to wipe us out before we get too powerful.  Then there is the possibility that aliens are sending us signals and we are just too primitive to understand this.  I mean we can’t even really understand what God is telling us, so this seems plausible.  In the final analysis we really do not know for certain why we have not heard from alien civilizations.

A Faithful Response

So, given all this wonky talk about types of civilizations and filters, etc, the question arises, what should we do?  Well, first recognize that God is God, and we are not.   All of Creation is His.  This means the entirety of the universe.  However God wired up the universe to unfold is His business.  We have been granted the ability to use our reason and learn about His physical world.  This may lead us to continue to develop and become a higher-level Type II or III civilization.  Even so, we will always remain fallen creatures and universally fall short of the glory of God, so will any other life form.

It may be cynical agreement with Charlton Heston’s George Taylor, but I do think, hope actually, that there is something better than man out there.  Some alien children of the same Heavenly Father that has not fallen quite so far, and has evolved into something greater than our Type I (let’s call it .7) Civilization.  If there is, I hope we meet them, if not today, then maybe when we are able to do so as an equally developed civilization.

On the other hand, as it is God’s universe, if it is our fate that we go out in some cosmic cataclysm of our own making, or the natural world’s or some predator civilization’s then that is how it will play out.  All we can do is control what we can control.  If the Great Filter is a self-destruction then that is something we can control.  God has given us the choice as to how we respond to His gifts of Grace upon Grace.  We can live the way He wants and build a world of peace and prosperity, potentially greater than anything yet imagined.  Or we can give in to our baser instincts and destroy all that He has given us.  Either way, we as individuals must throw ourselves upon the mercy of God.

Like I stated in last week’s post we should accept who we are; creatures set on evolving, exploring and seeking.  Don’t deny the way God made us, but instead let us seek something better in ourselves and in God’s Creation.  If we run into a “Great Filter”, natural or otherwise, so be it.  Once again, if we are to go down, go down swinging.

Praise Be to God

Related Posts

Scroll to Top