Sunday, December 6, 2009

Alien life

I read the December issue of National Geographic and was quite interested in the article New Earth. We have been hearing theories and stories about life outside earth. We have the Drake Equation to show the very high probability of life in other parts of the universe. We also have SETI searching for many years for signs of intelligence from outer space. But we have no definite proof at present. This article shows the latest development of the search in the discovery of planets in other star systems. The latest count of exo-planets identified is 373. The most promising ones are the four planets found in the Gliese system orbiting a star just some 20 light-years away, including the newly found Gliese 581 e below which is a rocky place just twice Earth's mass, and 581 d, which could harbor liquid water.

(Gliese 581 e)

About the same time, just in November, there was news that the Vatican joined the search for alien life at a conference of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The conference under the title Astrobiology was held at Casina Pio IV in Vatican City below. In short, the subject Astrobiology is about alien life. In a week long conference, many scientists were invited to speak on various subjects about life on earth and outside earth including early life on earth, evolution of earth, life on Mars, other solar system and exo-planets. Those interested may read the programme and the abstracts of the papers presented at the conference. They are very informative.

(Casina Pio IV)

In the past, the Christian church rejected any scientific theories which did not conform to the biblical text, or bureaucratic and indoctrinated interpretation of the biblical text. Many scholars were persecuted or burnt to death. But this did not stop the truth of science from spreading. Myths were broken one after the other. Among scientific discoveries, the most important one against religious doctrines is the origin of life, and that the condition of which is not unique to earth. The church has learned the lesson and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences under the direction of the pope was established in 1936. Its original aim was to promote the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences and the study of related epistemological problems. In recent years, it could not escape the ultimate question of the origin of life.

The subject of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences holding a conference on Astrobiology attracted some attention in the press. Both the Telegraph and the Independent reported the news. They were surprised at the move and considered that the Vatican had joined the search for alien life, which would have significant impact on the Catholic Church and religion as a whole.

That the Vatican held a conference with scientists in the form of a study week on astrobiology reveals the fact that the subject has come to a point which cannot be simply brushed aside. Modern science has discovered that the conditions for life on earth are so simple that it should be found anywhere. The science of evolution shows that life evolved from simple organic molecules to a mammal with self-reflective cognition. The Big Bang theory shows that the present universe was born 13.7 billion years ago instead of 8000 years stated in the bible. The impact on religion is already very hard. Life if found in another world could be the last straw. The Vatican is wise in preparing herself in advance.

A conclusion emerged from the conference is that life found outside earth could still be considered as created by god. This may only cover up part of the religion delusion. I think alien life has two levels of implication. Most likely, evidence of life or traces of life or life in primitive form may be found in other worlds in the near future. This means life on earth is not unique and we are not the only creation by god. Vatican is preparing the statement that god is almighty in that he could create anything anywhere. This could ease the mind of some of the faithful although creationism has to be rewritten to include a broader definition.

The other level is that alien life could be intelligent. We could find another "human" race in other planets. I am not talking about the scientific scenario of alien life, but the theological or philosophical aspect of such discovery. We may not be the chosen people after all. When asked by the press, the line-to-take of the Vatican was that men found in other planets could be our brothers, similarly created by god. When asked about their religion, the answer was that they might also need redemption. The scientists were more worried. They thought the threat to Christianity was being downplayed and that the notion of a second genesis would have enormous spiritual significance. Some simple questions: Was there a Garden of Eden there? Do they also have the original sin? When they die, will they go to heaven or hell? Was there a Jesus and did he also sacrifice for them? Would Trinity become Multinity?

I have even greater worry about the intelligent alien life. They could be much more intelligent and advanced than us. In that case, there is an additional layer of beings between men and god. This layer used to be wrongly occupied by angels and saints who are thought to be half gods with superior power. Such higher civilization could overwhelm us like the overman. Just like Nietzsche said: "What is the ape to man? A laughing stock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman." A rabbit looks at the man who feeds it as god, and a man could look at the overman as god. Now that the overman is just another living thing, that could be the ultimate fate for religion.