A watchmaker of alien watches? Paul Davies has written widely in recent years on the link between God and his work as a cosmologist.
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He is especially struck by the anthropic balances that make life possible. These are the amazing balances in the law and circumstance of the Universe that allow the development of carbon-based life. These, coupled with the intelligibility of the Universe, lead him towards a cosmic designer. He believes that there are as yet undiscovered principles of complexity, organisation and information flow consistent with the laws of physics, but not reducible to them, and these principles lead to intelligent life.
William Paley became famous in the nineteenth century for likening this design in the biological world to finding a watch as you walk across the heath. The intricacy of the design suggests a designer. Would such a watch on the surface of Mars give any proof of the existence of God?
Such an argument may dent atheism, but it does not prove the Christian God. Contact problems for religion? If you cannot prove God then can aliens become a means of disproving God? Indeed, if it is one universal religion, then we will all convert to it and junk the divisive religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism on the cosmic scrap-heap.
In Search Of Ancient Astronauts?
Of course, this is a long way from finding evidence of life on the surface of Mars. Whilst wildly simplistic in its understanding of religion, technology and society, it is however interesting to see SETI researchers seeing their work in dialogue with the big questions. Cornell Tarter does not recognise the positive contribution of religion to society, not least in the growth of science itself. The situation is far too complex to predict that any ETI will have one God or no religion at all.
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Her argument is weak, but she is not alone in using alien life to attack God. Is God an alien? Again, this is not new. Erich Von Daniken and others went further in arguing that many of the accounts of Jesus were simply telling the story of a super- technological alien. Such suggestions are highly-entertaining but do little justice to basic questions such as the historicity of the life and teaching of Jesus, and the significance of his death and resurrection. There are even reputable scientists who have suggested similar things. The cosmologist Edward Harrison was struck by the anthropic balances in the Universe.
He suggested that there could be only three explanations: First, God designed the Universe, but Harrison hastily argues that answer precludes further rational inquiry. Second, the anthropic principle of this Universe as one universe in many universes, but he finds this unsatisfactory. His preferred third option is that this Universe is created by life of superior intelligence existing in another physical universe.
Ancient Astronauts - TV Tropes
How does he get to this extraordinary conclusion? First, he picks up on the suggestion that black holes could be the birthplaces of new universes. Second, he argues, that due to the rapid evolution of intelligence there is every reason to expect that a time will come in the future when we will be able to design and create our own universes. Thus, the fine-tuning of this Universe is to be explained as an engineering project of superior beings. They have created this Universe out of a black hole. It is created by minds similar to our own who designed it to be that way.
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One wonders whether this is an elaborate wind-up, even though it appeared in a scientific journal. Harrison criticises belief in God for stopping any further rational inquiry, but then falls into the same trap. Indeed, in contrast to the unknown aliens in another universe, Christians claim that this God, far from being in another universe, has revealed himself in this Universe and forms a personal relationship with those who open their lives to him.
The evidence for the existence of God is much stronger than that for superior beings in another universe. Big Brother on Mars? If we are not alone then we are not special. Whilst Davies might be right in seeing this in some expressions of Christianity, it is not true to the traditional Christian position. Russell points out that the popularity of the speculation about other worlds in the seventeenth century was a significant indicator of the ascendancy of biblical values over those of Aristotle.
The reason being that in the Aristotelian Universe, position and status were closely associated.
The Earth was at the centre of all things, separated from the rest of the Universe by the orbit of Moon. We were special because we were placed at the centre.
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In contrast, the Bible does not associate status and place. The dignity and worth of human beings comes from the gift of relationship with God. This is clearly spelt out in the Genesis narratives. The core of being made in the image of God, being given stewardship over the world and having the capacity for intimate communication with God are all held together in the gift of relationship. Such a relationship can be special without being exclusive. I have a special relationship with my daughter, but that is not devalued by the fact that she has a brother with whom I also have a special relationship.
Extraterrestrial intelligence does not pose a problem to Christian belief that men and women are special in the eyes of God. It may even increase the sense of awe at how great this God is who creates with such diversity and extravagance.
God in little green flesh? Yet how would the existence of ETI affect the central Christian claim that God has become a human being in Jesus to communicate with us and to save us from our sin? This has bothered some theologians. Christians have thought about this in terms of other cultures and faith communities and a few have tried to extend this to ETI. The speculations have followed two separate paths. Some have said that the revelation of God in Jesus is once for all for the whole Universe. Was this a unique event, or has it been re-enacted on each of a countless number of planets?
The Christian would recoil in horror from such a conclusion. We cannot imagine the Son of God suffering vicariously on each of a myriad of planets… We are in deep waters here in a sea of great mysteries. Others have taken a different view. Mascall in his Bampton lectures in He argued that if salvation was what God was all about, then he would make sure his creatures knew about it. Mascall stresses that salvation has to be achieved through incarnation. Christian faith understands God in human flesh for two purposes — one is about showing us what God is like, and the other is to save us from our sin which alienates us from God.
In thinking about incarnation on another world, we need to ask the question posed by C. Lewis — that if aliens do exist, and if they are intelligent, will they have sinned like human beings? Milne is right that we find ourselves in a sea of great mysteries!
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Why search Mars at all? If the science from Mars and indeed from other considerations is not clear, and some of the theological questions need more thinking, we can ask the question why is there so much fascination with this question? The search for life on the surface of Mars is part of a wider human quest that is also expressed in the fascination of The X-Files phenomenon of alien visitation and in much of the science fiction industry.
We can highlight five themes common to this fascination.