“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” This is the opening phrase of Genesis. The Hebrew phrase translated ‘the heavens and the Earth” means, literally, the entire universe. It means what we call space-time. This phrase means what we would call the beginning of time, space, matter, and energy.
Before the beginning of space-time, there was nothing. This is the conclusion of modern science, though scientists may define “nothing” differently than philosophers.
Going back to the biblical text, the rest of the Bible focuses on a single planet in a single solar system in that universe that the Hebrews call “the Heavens and the Earth”.
The Bible may imply that the beings on this planet Earth are the only life in the universe, and maybe it doesn’t. Science suggests that life may exist elsewhere in the universe, but so far science has not borne that conclusion out. So where does that leave us?
The idea of a Goldilocks zone is the idea of the perfect placement of planet Earth among the planets that is perfectly the right distance from those planets and from a star around which all the planets rotate; this Earth rotates around that single star that is exactly the right size; around this Earth rotates a single moon that is exactly the right size and distance; and all of the planets, star and moon are exactly the right size and distance from each other in exactly the right placement in the solar system which has exactly the right placement in the universe for carbon-based life to exist.
The cosmological constants that exist from picoseconds after the beginning of space-time are also such that they are set within exact parameters that enable carbon-based life to arise. Alvin Plantinga observes, “It’s as if there are a large number of dials that have to be tuned to within extremely narrow limits for life to be possible in our Universe.”[i] If one were to approach the room of dials set to these exact parameters of those cosmological constants, and one turned one of those dials a single click to the left or right, the existence of life in the universe would cease, and the possibility of life arising in the universe would be nil.
The idea of the Goldilocks zone and of the fine-tuning of the universe to support life is also known as the Anthropic Principle. The parameters of these factors that allow for life are stunningly exact and astronomically coincidental on top of exponentially unlikely to have occurred in any planet or solar system in the immense Universe in which this planet Earth exists.
Is it possible that extra-terrestrial life exists?
Yes, it’s not impossible. Carl Sagan famously championed the idea that many planets exist in habitable zones in the universe on which life may exist, relying on the Drake Equation for support. From this confidence and enthusiasm for the possibility of life on other planets in the universe, aA search for extra-terrestrial life was begun around the world, including the SETI Program in the United States, which program is still funded and continues in operation today, though not a single whisper of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe has been found up to the present time.
CS Lewis, a Christian thinker who highly valued classical, ancient literature and orthodox (mere) Christianity, was forward-thinking in his view of the universe. He believed it was not only possible, but even likely that life might exist on other planets in the universe. The science was not as well developed in his time as it is today, and the hope for the discovery of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe was new and exciting. Fifty years later we are wondering why have we failed to find extra-terrestrial intelligent life. It seemed so possible to very intelligent people.
Scientists once assumed, at least beginning from the 18th century onward, that the stuff of the universe was eternal, forever existing and uncaused. We know now that the universe is not eternal, but scientists have gotten used to exploring science on the basis of the assumption of a closed, eternal system, excluding God from the equation. The shocking fact that the universe is not the eternal, uncaused cause did not go over well in the scientific community. Even Einstein created a mathematical plugin to rig his theory of relativity to avoid the conclusion that the universe had a beginning.
The proof of a beginning suggests a Beginner. Such a Beginner is what philosphers and theologians would call the uncaused Cause. Such a God would have to be an intelligent agent, causing the universe to spring into being by the force if will, a volitional act requiring agency.
Such an uncaused Cause of such a universe would, necessarily, have to exist outside of and independent of space-time, the stuff of which this universe is made. Such an uncaused Cause is what a God, eternally existing as we once that the universe was, existing before space-time began.
Whether this exercise amounts to nothing but filling the gap in our understanding with a volitional agent we call God or the evidence actually suggests such a volitional Agent is a matter of debate. Scientists might prefer to fill the gap with a multiverse.
Of the potential existence of intelligent life, the SETI Program looks for information in complex sequences. The kind of information necessary to suggest intelligent life must most be something other than random order or information in repeating sequence because that kind of information can be explained by sources other than intelligence. If, however, information is discovered in a sequence of 20 prime numbers in a row, for instance, that would be the find of a lifetime for a person working on the SETI Project.
While scientists looking for intelligence in the vast desert of the universe would be head-over-heels excited to find a sequence of 20 prime numbers in a row, they seem to be unimpressed with other sequences of complex information that we already know to exist – sequences that are exponentially more complex than 20 prime numbers in a row.
Some of those sequences exist in the cosmological constants of the universe. Other complex sequencing includes DNA and epigenetic information within cells. These sequences of information are mind-boggling in their complexity. A single human cell has enough sequenced information in it to fill thousands of volumes of books (about 600,000 pages).[ii]
The point is that we have already found evidence of intelligent life other than human beings. That evidence can be found much closer than distant planets in distant galaxies. That information is found in our very DNA, the biological code of which we are made. At the same time, the source of that information may exist much, much further away – as in before space-time began to exist.
[i] Alvin Plantinga, “The Dawkins Confusion; Naturalism ad absurdum,” Christianity Today, March/April 2007
[ii] Blind Chance Or Intelligent Design?: Empirical Methodologies and the Bible By Jack Wellman p. 65