Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hawking Concedes Rare Earth Argument

The media's "spin" in this news story about Stephen Hawking intrigues me. Instead of having the headline focus on Hawking's rather astounding admission that the existence of complex life in the universe is rare, and seems totally unlikely within our galaxy, they focus on his statement that primitive life might be more likely. Uh...ok. But can we go back for a moment to Hawking's belief that the SETI project has adequately proved there is no intelligent life in our galaxy? In my mind, that's the news story.

Primitive Alien Life May Exist, Stephen Hawking Says
Alien life may well exist in a primitive form somewhere in our corner of the galaxy, famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said Monday.

Given the size of the universe, it is unlikely that Earth is the only planet to develop some sort of life, Hawking told an audience at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He added that humanity must embrace space exploration, if only to ensure its long-term survival.

"While there may be primitive life in our region of the galaxy, there don't seem to be any advanced intelligent beings," said Hawking during a lecture as part of a series commemorating NASA's 50th anniversary this year.

The lack of success by the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project to discover signals from an alien civilization suggests that none exist within several 100 light-years of Earth, Hawking said, though he offered three theories on the dearth of interplanetary communications.

The probability of primitive life developing on a suitable planet may be extremely low, or it may be high, but aliens intelligent enough to beam signals into space may also be smart enough to build civilization-destroying weapons like nuclear bombs, he said. More likely, he added, is that primitive life is likely to develop, but intelligent life as we know it is exceedingly rare.

For more about this topic, I would recommend the books, Cosmic Jackpot, Rare Earth, If the Universe is Teeming with Aliens... Where is Everybody, and The Creator and The Cosmos.

Now, might I add just one (possibly annoying) observation? The overwhelming majority of the parameters needed for complex life to exist in the universe require billions of "just-right" star formation, galaxy formation, and planet formation. No billions of years? Then, no Earth-like, complex life-sustaining planet.

We can observe many of these events happening in the distant past. But if the universe is only thousands of years old, then all of that is just some kind of divinely facilitated, deceptive, cosmic light show. Once I understood this, I mean REALLY understood this, I could no longer hold onto any vestiges of young-earth creationism that were lingering in my mind. I didn't necessarily know how everything fit together, but I knew the universe could not be thousands of years old.


Sabai said...

i'm halfway through "Who Was Adam?" and am loving it. I've read Strobel and Hannegraaf, but never felt like I could pass those off to my scientist friends. I am EXCITED for my friends to read this one.

If, as Christians, we really believe in truth, then we should be excited for the results of scientific discovery. I am now. Thanks!

TheologyMom said...

Great observation. I am always very hesitant to recommend Strobel and Hannegraaf to people for precisely this reason. The knowledge these authors have about science simply isn't rigorous enough to be taken seriously by trained scientists. I think those books can have their place, however, namely in providing lay people who have no scientific training an entry-point into the discussion. But that's about it. Anything beyond that needs to go into more depth.

Sabai said...

you're right. maybe i needed the milk to understand that science wasn't the enemy. now, i'm loving the meat.