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1.2.  The Additional Perspectives of Astrophysics and Space Exploration

 

A new area of scientific insight is now opening up – the knowledge of the depth and dynamics of cosmic space and, thereby, a view into the depth of time.  Will this new field of knowledge again bring new questions or challenges for Christian theology, as Galileo and the doctrine of Darwinian evolution did?  Will, this time, the challenges be accepted by theology?

 

Initially, space exploration led to a sobering reaction for most people, as Mars was found to be without canals or living beings.  All other celestial bodies were found to be equally lifeless entities consisting of minerals or poisonous and extremely hot or cold gases.  That could be of interest to scientists, but it has no significance for the common man.  The religious person and the theologian, however, recognize in the immense depth and powerful appearance of cosmic space an even more impressive grandiosity of divine Creation.

 

Astrophysics and astronomy are increasingly able to clarify how the stars and galaxies of heaven originated and still new ones originate in the continuing grandiose evolution of Creation.  Astrophysics and nuclear physics have also clarified how all the stars, including our sun, will again collapse after consumption of their energy source, how they will be extinguished, and may disappear in “black holes” in the center of their galaxies.  From there, they may disappear through radiation, resulting in dissolution of all structures in our universe.  Following a different theory, the whole universe may ultimately collapse into a single point in a reversal of the Big Bang.

 

More recently, it was confirmed that other suns in outer space are also surrounded by planets, as our sun is.  It could be possible that the formation of planets is the rule, rather than the exception.  By now, one also knows quite a bit about the process of formation and the characteristics of planets.  The basic materials are always the same in outer space, and the laws of nature are everywhere the same.  There is a great variety of phenomena in the formation of galaxies, suns, and their planets.  But there is a certain degree of probability that somewhere among all the stars in outer space there will be another Earth-like planet.  Our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains several billion stars (possibly more than 100 billion).  Therefore, there could already be Earth-like planets somewhere in this, our own vicinity.  The entire cosmic space contains many billions of galaxies (possibly more than 10 billion), which lets us expect a significant number of Earth-like planets within them.

 

Our Earth was formed sometime between 7 and 10 billion years after the beginning of Creation through the gradual concentration of dust-like material and cooling.  Science has succeeded in retracing all the subsequent steps of the origin of life (except, so far, only the synthetic production of RNA) and its amazing diversification through evolution.  Our “higher” human civilization originated about 3½ billion years after the origin of life on Earth, approximately 7,000 years ago.  This civilization almost destroyed itself again in our days through a senseless nuclear war and may still do so by some means of mass destruction.  Another geophysical catastrophe must be expected (possibly within 10 million years) and will bring large-scale biological extinction on Earth.  In about 2 billion years, our sun will have become too hot (before first expanding, then collapsing to become a “white dwarf”) to let any civilization on Earth continue.

 

Earth-like planets circling around their respective suns somewhere else in outer space may have originated at different times.  If life has ever appeared on them, then it could not have had high complexity right from the beginning.  Such complexity could have developed only over time through some form of natural evolution.  Life may have reached the level of high civilization, and those civilizations may have lasted or may have soon destroyed themselves again.  Thus, civilizations in outer space should be seen as existing in a distribution over time, as their stars and planets originate and disappear, some a long time before us, others a long time after us.

 

Statistical distributions of qualifications and problem solutions are a necessary precondition for natural evolution.  Therefore, practical questions of “right” or “wrong” and socially valued questions of “good” or “bad” must be expected with all intelligent life that developed through evolution.  In this sense, “good” and “bad” do not relate to what one does for oneself, but to what one does to or for others (including other parts of Creation in an environment-conscious concept).  Since higher civilizations require the coordination of many individuals; this also includes what one does to or for such a group or society.  But it is not necessary for the evolution of individual civilizations that brotherly love be extended beyond personal family groups to all subgroups or to all members of one’s own species (see such cultures among humans as the Spartans, Aztecs, Japanese, Israelis, Serbs, or Muslims).  On the contrary, nature seems to generate the fighting between competing groups as part of evolution.

 

If one assumes a minimum of only one intelligent civilization with values of “good” or “bad” among the many billions and still growing number of solar systems (stars) within a suitable galaxy, then one can still expect billions of such “ethical” or part-ethical civilizations in the course of time in outer space, because there are that many galaxies.  If such civilizations appear only once among a thousand galaxies, then there still were, or will be, many millions of them. 

 

The question arises for Christian theology, whether one can expect all intelligent beings in all ethical civilizations in cosmic space to believe in a loving God-Father while they themselves assume that they are afflicted by original sin.  Does one have to, or can one, expect the redemptive mission of the “only” son of God and his painful sacrificial death also with all other ethical civilizations in cosmic space, or only with some of them?  That would still be millions or billions of times, repeated over and over in the course of time.  If there is redemption on other planets in the universe, does it always occur through the murder of God’s only son?  Could redemption occur through a festive ritual of animal or produce sacrifice, as known in primitive religions?  Is the killing of God’s only son millions of times, again and again, on one planet somewhere in the universe after the other, really a viable interpretation of God and God’s creation?  If the son of God, when sent out, has fared better or will fare better on other planets, how does it then look with the “redemption” from sin on those other planets in outer space?  Thus far, the concept of a special position of Earth within the totality of Creation has not been shown to be supportable. One may not be able to postulate a special position of Earth regarding “good”, “bad”, need to be redeemed, or redemption either.  What is a general, universal, or at least often applicable solution?

 

And how is it with the concept of eternal life?  One has to consider that the material content of the universe was generated from aboriginal energy.  One also has to consider that the whole material content and the whole structure of our universe will disappear again in “black holes”.  The black holes will dissolve over many billions of years in radiation into cosmic space (see Hawking’s theory), thereby allowing the entire structure of our universe to vanish – or the whole universe may collapse again into one spot in a reversal of the Big Bang.  How about the preservation of the “souls” at and after that time? [1]

 

On account of the very slow speed of light or any other signal transmission (as seen in the dimensions of the universe – requiring already more than four years just to reach our closest neighbor among the stars and millions of years to reach other galaxies), it is unlikely that we can obtain the information we seek or ask for from other civilizations in outer space within the foreseeable future.  Possible theological consequences result, however, solely from the fact that other civilizations exist in outer space and from our knowledge of astrophysics.

 

 



[1] There is some vague speculation about possible other universes (visualized as sequences or branches of bubbles representing other expanding universes).  Those universes would have no time, space, or physical relation to ours, possibly no similarity either.