Science and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence turn a blind eye to a glaring contradiction: How can we explain Roe v Wade or Planned Parenthood to E.T.?
While working in the library a few days before the long New Year holiday weekend, I was trying to pick out a few books that might help me write a post for These Stone Walls during the long days stuck inside. I have to be really selective about books these days. I literally have to sleep with everything I’m reading. There is simply no place to put them but on my bunk. I’ll die if I can’t read and I’ll die if I can’t sleep. So I had to find a way to do both in the 24 square feet I now call home.
I knew there was a science post coming. I think Liz Feuerborn knew it, too. A dear friend and long time TSW reader in Lincoln, Nebraska, Liz recently sent me a most welcomed Christmas gift. It’s a printed list of 244 Catholic priests and religious – four of them canonized saints – who have made major contributions to science. The list includes a description of the work of each.
I was very pleased to see among them another TSW reader and friend, Father Andrew Pinsent, a priest and particle physicist who has been a guest writer for These Stone Walls. Father Pinsent is the Research Director of the Ian Ramsey Center for Science and Religion at England’s Oxford University. I have written about him in a few posts, most recently in “Misguiding Light: Young People Leaving Faith for Science.”
The list also includes, of course, the great Nicolaus Copernicus a priest and astronomer in the late 15th and early 16th Century who actually has a scientific revolution named after him. The Copernican Revolution knocked from the forefront of science the notion that our humble Earth is the center of our solar system. From my point of view, it has been a contribution to humankind’s capacity for humility that the Universe does not revolve around us.
The great Father Georges Lemaître, Father of the Big Bang and Modern Cosmology, is also prominently on that list. He was the subject of Father Andrew Pinsent’s TSW guest post as well as several of my own. Alas, I am not on the list at all, but why would I be? I have no contribution to science except to be an observer. In that role, as I explain below, I have been in very good company.
But first, back to my selection of books for that long weekend stuck inside. The one that most caught my eye was the 2015 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. It contains a few pages about scientific discoveries that have radically changed how we view our place in the Cosmos. A segment that got my attention was a small tribute to Vera Rubin, an American astronomer whose work led to the discovery of Dark Matter and Dark Energy, and changed the way science views the Universe.
Vera Rubin earned her doctorate in astronomy at Georgetown, a Catholic university. In the 1960s and 1970s, her observations of other galaxies revealed that the velocity of the movement of stars in their outermost rims is much faster than the existing dogmas of science predicted. Her conclusions demonstrated that the Universe is much stranger than we have ever known, that the matter we actually can see in other galaxies comprises only five to ten percent of the actual Universe. The other ninety-five percent came to be known as dark matter and dark energy. “Astronomers thought they were studying the Universe,” she said, “and now we learn that we are just studying the five to ten percent that is luminous.”
A strange thing happened over that New Year’s weekend. As I sat on my bunk reading about Vera Rubin on New Year’s Eve, the mail arrived. I opened the December 31st Wall Street Journal and was stunned to see her obituary. Dr. Rubin died a week earlier on Christmas day at her home in Princeton, New Jersey. She was 88 years old, and one of the most accomplished astronomers of the late 20th Century.
CONFOUNDING THE SCIENTIFIC THEORISTS
Dr. Vera Rubin was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1993 for sparking “the realization that the Universe is more complex and more mysterious than had been imagined.” She shared several things in common with Father Georges Lemaître. One of them was the harsh reality that their proven research did not catch on right away.
In his case, it was because he was a Catholic priest. In her case, it was because she was a woman. Dr. Rubin was predeceased by her daughter, Judy Young – also an accomplished astronomer – who died two years earlier in 2014. Vera Rubin wrote in 1995 that her role as a scientific observer “is to confound the theorists.” She will be confounding them for years to come.
At the limit of human knowledge just a century ago, the Universe consisted of just a single galaxy, the Milky Way, and astronomer Harlow Shapley demonstrated that our solar system was not at its center, but out on the galactic fringe in one of its spiral arms.
By the time of the Great Depression in the 1930s, astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered other galaxies while the Belgian priest and physicist, Fr Georges Lemaître, caused another scientific revolution with his mathematical equations, now supported by empirical science. He concluded that the Universe – all matter, space, and time – began “on a day without yesterday” from a primordial atom, later dubbed by a critic, “the Big Bang.”
Today, science reveals that there are trillions of galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars, one of which is our sun. A recent issue of Popular Science magazine had a two-page spread that was another sort of epiphany for me. It was a depiction of a small segment of the Universe. The two page image contained 50,000 galaxies, and one tiny one was our Milky Way. From such an image, astrophysicist Mario Livio concludes, “From a purely physical perspective, we are just a speck of dust in the grand scheme of things.”
In just the last decade, it has been discovered that this one, unremarkable galaxy – one of trillions – contains about a billion planets orbiting its millions of stars. On December 5, 2011, the Kepler space telescope discovered the first known so-called “Earth-like” planet orbiting a star about 600 light years from Earth. It’s a distance of about 3,500 trillion miles.
The flurry of news and scientific speculation surrounding the discovery six years ago handed science over to the theorists again. There was a presumption that life MUST have taken hold there, and that the planet MUST be host to one of the millions of civilizations like ours that MUST exist throughout the galaxy.
And of course the inevitable media target of the speculation is that religion, and most especially Christianity, MUST be made irrelevant when the aliens are finally found. The hope is that ET will render obsolete 2,000 years of Western thought about God. As G.K. Chesterton put it, “Those who don’t believe in God don’t believe in nothing. They believe in anything!”
The story endured until the science media’s “next big thing”: The 2016 discovery of “Proxima B,” dubbed by the theorists to be “a potentially habitable earth-like planet.” Orbiting Proxima Centauri, the star nearest to our sun, Proxima B is 4.2 light years away. It’s the planet next-door in galactic terms, about 25 trillion miles away. With current technology it would be a one-way journey of about 1,000 years or so.
In “The Fermi Paradox: Are We Alone in the Cosmos?” I laid out a series of reasons why I believe that Earth is the sole abode of intelligent life among the planets of this galaxy. For decades, the SETI Project – the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence – has used radio astronomy to listen for an electronic signature of developed life beyond Earth. Millions of stars and thousands of frequencies have been scanned and analyzed for over a half century, and the result has been nothing but silence.
The SETI project got a big boost in 2015. Russian billionaire, physicist and entrepreneur, Yuri Milner, invested $200 million into answering the basic question that so intrigues us. I wrote of this in “Are We Alone? Yuri Miler’s Breakthrough Initiatives.”
That post quotes a number of prominent scientists who were convinced that humanity is at the very threshold of the Earthshaking discovery of intelligent life elsewhere in the Cosmos. Two years into it, and the only available observation to confound the theorists is silence – nothing but silence. The hard truth is that science has produced far more empirical evidence of the spiritual benefit of talking to God – what everyone we know in the known Universe calls “prayer” – than talking to – or listening for – extraterrestrials.
AM AMERICAN HORROR STORY
Don’t get me wrong. I have been fascinated and enthused about the science of SETI for my entire life. But until there is scientific observation with actual evidence, then there is only speculation and science fiction. Absent evidence, I have to conclude, like the astronomer and biologist John Gribben, that Earth is the sole abode of intelligent life in this galaxy.
But if such a discovery is ever made, it would be monumental on every level known to humankind, and the discovery would be in two directions. If other intelligent life exists, then science must assume that ET is just as curious and driven to discover us as we are to learn of other life.
I wonder how we would explain the annual March for Life that takes place in Washington, DC. I wonder how we would account for the reason why tens of thousands of people of conscience – young and old alike – brave the DC winter each year to urge a reassessment of our cultural respect for human life.
I wonder how we would explain why our news media virtually ignores the March for Life while hyping anything that places a Catholic or a Catholic conscience in a negative spotlight. Could we ever explain to an alien race the contradiction of our driven pursuit of life out there while we have so blindly squandered the right to life right here?
I just listened to a replay of President Barack Obama’s January 2009 Presidential Inauguration address. He spoke of his driven commitment to the rights, dignity, respect, and equality for all people while turning a blind eye to the rights of all people not yet born. How would we explain to newly encountered intelligent life the weird enigma of our moral and scientific duplicity?
We humans are just as likely to be discovered BY other life in the Cosmos as we are to discover it. Every radio and television broadcast ever emitted on Earth is traveling at the speed of light in all directions through the vacuum of space.
Back in September, 2015, I wrote “Planned Parenthood: An American Horror Story.” It’s a good post to read and share anew as the topic of taxpayer funding of Planned parenthood is revisited in the new Congressional term. If ET is reading These Stone Walls, that is the post I would most want him (or her) to consider. It’s about some of our most popular television shows and their moral undercurrents.
Americans get the struggle for the value of life right in the moral underpinnings of what we love to watch on TV. Shows such as The Last Ship, Falling Skies, and The Walking Dead – as disturbing as their topics are – expose our subconscious drive to protect, respect, and defend human life.
How would we ever explain to life out there that we get it so right on TV and so wrong in real life? That’s what makes the American Horror Story of abortion and its vast machine so
horrible. It’s our blind duplicity.
If we keep at it, the only real evidence of intelligent life in the universe will be the fact that they wisely and silently keep their distance. If they exist at all, as so many in science seem driven to believe, then this is as plausible an explanation for their silence as any other.
If ET gets wind of Planned Parenthood, we might well appear to be the neighbors from hell.
Editor’s Note: You might like these other Pro Life posts on These Stone Walls: