Jul 22 2014
To paraphrase Carl Sagan: in one unremarkable galaxy among hundreds of billions, there is an unremarkable star among hundreds of billions of stars in that one galaxy. Around that star revolves a world with life. Some people who live on that world believe they are the center of the universe.
Sagan nicely puts into perspective how absurd it is to believe, given our current knowledge of the cosmos, that we are the center of all things, either physically at the literal center, or metaphorically as in, we are the most important things in the universe. This is a childish view, held by our ancestors because they couldn’t know any better. Science, as Stephen Gould noted, is partly a process of smashing pillars of human narcissism. Neither the earth, nor our sun, nor our galaxy are at the center of the universe. The universe, it turns out, has no center. Neither are humans at the pinnacle of the evolutionary tree – we are just one twig, and every other twig has just as much evolutionary history behind it as we do.
Humans are certainly the most encephalized species on the planet, with by far the most advanced culture and technology, so we are special in that sense. Every time, however, scientists believe they have nailed down something that is unique about humans, some researcher finds that chimps (our closest cousins), or even other species, can do it too. We are part of the animal kingdom, part of this physical world, the result of natural processes that seem ubiquitous throughout the universe.
This view of the universe and ourselves, a view that has been hard won over centuries of ego-smashing scientific discoveries, is very different from the world view held by herders and farmers living thousands of years ago. Yet, that primitive, prescientific, egocentric, and tiny world view still holds sway over many people living today.
Take Ken Ham (please) – he recently wrote a post in which he attacks the modern scientific world view as a “desperate” and “secularist” attempt to prove evolution in order to rebel against God. It is a little window into the mind of extreme fundamentalists.
Even in his speculations about the motivations of scientists, he believes that it is all about him and his religious beliefs. He equates scientists and secularists, as if they are defined by rejecting his religious faith. He thinks it is all about rebelling against his God, rather than simply discovering the nature and state of the universe.
He also thinks were are still trying to prove evolution, when in fact evolution is already an established scientific fact.
You see, according to the secular, evolutionary worldview there must be other habited worlds out there. As the head of NASA, Charles Borden, puts it, “It’s highly improbable in the limitless vastness of the universe that we humans stand alone.” Secularists cannot allow earth to be special or unique—that’s a biblical idea (Isaiah 45:18). If life evolved here, it simply must have evolved elsewhere they believe.
Clearly he thinks that scientists are rejecting a biblical idea, rather than accepting what the science tells us – that there is no reason to think that the earth is unique.
Reading creationists write on such topics also gives me the impression that they have never tried to wrap their minds around how truly big the universe is. As was said in the movie Contact, if this is all for us, it seems like an awful waste of space. There are hundreds of billions of galaxies each with hundreds of billions of stars, many with planets, including earth-like planets. That is just in the part of the universe we can observe, but there’s much more.
We do get a (sort of) prediction from Ham:
And I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel. You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation. One day, the whole universe will be judged by fire, and there will be a new heavens and earth. God’s Son stepped into history to be Jesus Christ, the “Godman,” to be our relative, and to be the perfect sacrifice for sin—the Savior of mankind.
This does make me wonder what will happen if we do contact intelligent aliens. What will the Ken Hams of the world believe – that they are demons, that they are not truly self-aware, that they are damned to human hell? If we one day have relations with an alien civilization, will we have to deal with fundamentalists and their bizarre beliefs that aliens can’t exist, or that God will one day wipe out their entire civilization for the salvation of earth?
When the authors of the bible wrote their fables, they believed the earth was the entire universe, and everything in the sky was close and revolved about the earth. Ham is trying to apply that primitive world view to the universe as we now understand it, with all its vastness. The result is beyond absurd.
Ham does not think we should be investing in looking for extraterrestrial life, writing:
I’m shocked at the countless hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent over the years in the desperate and fruitless search for extraterrestrial life.
This is a good example of primitive and firmly held beliefs squashing curiosity and exploration.
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