What an exciting year it's been for astronomy and astrobiology -- the discovery of water on moons in our solar system, and on Pluto and possibly Mars. In addition, there is the recent news about Kepler-452b, or "Earth 2.0" as some have described it. There will surely be a lot more amazing news to come as our understanding of the cosmos, and the potential for other life in it, grows.
Together with our expanding understanding of the universe, we should also discuss the implications for a part of human life that has been with us for as long as we know: religion. My fellow Huffington Post blogger, Jeff Schweitzer, argued in his article "Earth 2.0: Bad News for God" that... never mind, the title says it all. If I understood "God" and "religion" the same way he describes in the article, I would agree with his conclusions; but by taking a broader view of "God" and "religion," I see the opposite.
Let me start by saying that, contrary to the claim in the "Bad News for God" article, there is at least one major world religion that very clearly states in its scriptures that there is life throughout the universe. As far back as the 1860s, Baha'u'llah, the Founder of the Baha'i Faith, said that every star has planets and planets have creatures "whose number no man can compute." If the Founders of earlier religions didn't happen to mention this in their scriptures, it doesn't mean they didn't know about it, rather just that they didn't think it was necessary at that time for a human race that was still traveling by foot or horse, and had no thought of even getting off the ground, let alone putting a powerful telescope into orbit. In some sympathy with Jeff's argument, just as MS DOS was a good operating system for the Intel x86, but even Bill Gates wouldn't use it now, our understanding of religion also needs to upgrade as human progress continues. But lets not just assume that "software upgrades" haven't already been taking place
Regarding the thought that our discovery of life elsewhere would be "Bad News for God": have you ever met a snail that can bake a cake? If you haven't, it's because making a simple cake takes a certain amount of intelligence. And if cakes don't just appear out of thin air, neither does a complex and beautiful universe. And whatever intelligence created this astonishing universe could also potentially make multiple other dimensions. "Every created thing in the whole universe is but a door leading unto His knowledge, a symbol of His majesty, a token of His power."
The photos we have recently seen sent back from space, including the shot of earth from the rings of Saturn, and the recent "blue marble" photo from one million miles away, are absolutely stunning. They raise the amazing thought that of all the many thousands of generations of humans that have walked on this planet and looked at the sky, our generation somehow is the generation to see these pictures for the first time. They also challenge us to rise to a higher level of social organization and behavior than any generation before us, "war" as the human race has known for many thousands of years just isn't acceptable behavior anymore -- as the twentieth century gave us a glimpse as to why. These stunning pictures bring to mind for me this quote, written a few decades before Pluto was known as a planet or a dwarf planet or a Disney character, and also from the Baha'i scriptures, with which I will conclude:
Consider the infinite universe. This globe of ours is one of the smallest planets. Those stupendous bodies revolving in immeasurable space are many times greater than our small earth. To our eyes this globe appears spacious; yet when you look upon it with divine eyes, it is reduced to the tiniest atom. This small planet of ours is not worthy of division.