Carl Sagan, one of the most celebrated astrophysicists of our time, was an atheist and a proud one at that. And as an atheist he never let one of his television programs or books go by without reminding us of our utter insignificance. In one of his most famous books, The Pale Blue Dot, commenting on an image of Earth taken from the space probe Voyager 1 (1990), from a distance of 4 billion miles, he wrote:
“Our posturings, our imagined self -importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
Despite this, Sagan did conjecture that, using the Drake Equation*, there are probably one million advanced civilizations in the Milky Way, of which the one produced by human beings on Earth is only a minute speck of dust. Mainstream astrophysics has followed him into this conjecture.
Unfortunately for Sagan and his coterie there has been no evidence to buttress this theory. Nothing found on the Moon; nothing seen on Mars; nothing picked up by the many space probes launched by NASA into space and today still trundling through the cosmos.
And nothing has been heard either. Since the 1960s SETI (Search for Extra Terrestial Intelligence) observatories have attempted to pick up magnetic waves which could indicate the existence of an intelligence beyond our solar system. But nothing,in over 50 years, has been recorded.
Could that be because there is nothing? That’s kind of a difficult assumption for those of us raised on Lost in Space, Star Trek and Star Wars to accept. It is a natural human tendency to stare at the night sky, feel oppressed by the magnitude of it all and let our imaginations run wild, carving out multiple advanced civilizations from all those constellations twinkling so invitingly above us.
But the odds against there being life, other than the one we know and on the planet we occupy, is actually overwhelming. For life to exist, as Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards point out in The Privileged Planet, a planet’s atmosphere must be clear; a moon must be available and exactly the right size and distance from the planet to stabilize the planet’s rotation; the star (sun) around which the planet orbits must be a precise mass and composition and that the planet cannot be too close or too distant from that star, lest it freeze or provide an environment which is too hot. Then the planet must have just the right chemical balance or oxygen, carbon and nitrogen to allow organic life to breathe.
Given the very specific requirements for the earth to have come into existence and the vastness of the universe in which it exists, the chances that the Earth had of ever coming into being are several octillion to one.
But if the Earth itself came into existence because of an off chance, you would be surprised to learn that the Universe had even less chance of being born. According to Eric Metaxes, writing in the Wall Street Journal last week:
“Astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row.“
Then what about life on earth itself? How probable or likely is it that life could have developed here? That question is of course of immense interest to microbiologists but so far has not been adequately explained by conventional science. When we remember that the building blocks of life are molecules that contain within them a complex system of information known as DNA we should be asking the primary question of not how life developed from the first molecules but how did the coded information get into the molecules in the first place. DNA is so extraordinarily complex and constructed at such a high level of sophistication that it appears beyond question that in some way it was actually designed. Conventional science accepts the proposition of first cause – that nothing can ever come from nothing. It has no answer for the origins of DNA – no adequate explanation whatsoever – and therefore no real answer to the question of the origin of life.
This might be surprising to those of us who think that scientists know everything. But the truth is, the more they learn, the less our scientists seem to know and thousands of microbiologists, astrophysicists, cosmologists, theoretical physicists and those dealing in quantum mechanics around the world are becoming mystified by the vast areas of knowledge with which they simply cannot grapple. It is as if they had chiseled a long tunnel through a mountain, barely able to crawl along it, towards a speck of light they could detect in the darkness; only to discover that the speck of light was an illusion and they have entered a huge endless chamber from which they must now find an exit.
Many scientists who have reached this dead end have not thrown their hands up in exasperation but rather have embraced the one theory that ultimately makes sense of it all: that the Universe, Earth and the life upon it was all designed by a superior intellect and power. This understanding, perhaps admitted grudgingly, has deeply shaken their atheism as well as their faith in materialist science.
In 2004 renowned British philosopher Antony Flew announced that he had renounced his life long atheism, citing, among other things, evidence of intelligent design in the DNA molecule.
Fred Hoyle a famous Cambridge physicist, astronomer and cosmologist, similarly could no longer credibly call himself an atheist since he could detect in his research evidence as if “a super- intellect has monkeyed with physics.”
Theoretical physicist Paul Davies, another atheist apostate, has said that:
“Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth – the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient “coincidences” and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal. The appearance of design is overwhelming””
And Oxford mathematician, Dr. John Lennox, has said “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator . . . gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.”
And these are only a handful of the scientists who are quietly admitting that science has no choice but to accept that the very “appearance of design” – as Richard Dawkins put in The Blind Watchmaker – is actually design. The reason you do not hear this ‘aha moment’ amplified more loudly is because most scientists are simply too afraid to say what many of them might be thinking – that the G’d they have so resisted as having nothing to do with science, may be the actual father of science.
It reminds me of the famous photo taken of the earth from the far side of the moon by the Apollo 8 crew on December 24, 1968. The majesty of the Earthrise, the first time any human beings had beheld the full Earth from space, was described in reverent tones as the crew read from the Book of Genesis with Commander Frank Borman reciting these lines:
“‘And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
“And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.’
We can view the Earth as Frank Borman and Jim Lovell did – as a magnificent gift to humanity presented to us by a superior power and intelligence. Or else as their fellow crewman Bill Anders did- as a planet so tiny and isolated within the cold emptiness of space as suggesting a lonely purposelessness. These two views, I believe, will define the overarching battle within science in this century, as more and more research reveals less and less understanding and scientists, who are after all just human beings like the rest of us, will be thrown back onto their intuition with the brave finally voicing a conclusion that so many of their colleagues have forcefully resisted over the past 150 years:
“Yes, there is a G’d.”
* The Drake equation is:
- N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which radio-communication might be possible (i.e. which are on our current past light cone);
- R* = the average rate of star formation in our galaxy
- fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
- ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
- fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point
- fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations)
- fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
- L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space