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One thing I have discovered (to my surprise) is how shocked some folks get when I express my opinion that we humans are never getting off the earth in any serious way.
BY MARK SHEA
One thing I have
discovered (to my surprise) is how shocked some folks get when I express my
opinion that we humans are never getting off the earth in any serious way.
Oh sure, we might get a couple of
people to Mars to walk around. Maybe a long-term space
station with more than a handful of astronauts in near-Earth orbit. Maaaaaaaybe a
But we’re never, I think, going to
colonize the planets. And we’re most emphatically never going to go to another star. This earth is pretty much it. We
must learn to face the fact that the frontier period is past and we ain’t going anywhere.
These are not, by the way,
They are opinions based not on my
theological views, but on cold, practical considerations about things like
“what it takes to get there.” I’ll be willing to change my opinion when we
establish a thriving metropolis in Antarctica,
which is infinitely easier than establishing a serious, self-supporting colony
on Mars or the Moon.
Similarly, to devotees of the
search for extraterrestrial intelligence and the quest for “space, the final
frontier,” I say my mind is strongly persuaded by a book called Rare Earth that the assumption of a densely populated cosmos is all wet and
that intelligent (or even multi-cellular) life is a lot rarer than you’d think
from watching “Star Trek.”
In short, I think that we are, for
all practical purposes, all alone. If there’s somebody out there, we’ll never
know it, because the odds are that intelligent physical life is so remote from
us — if it exists at all — that we can’t hear it if it is broadcasting
Again, I say this, not due to my
theological views, but because science is on my side.
As Rare Earth demonstrates, more than 20 factors all have to line up
just so in order to even have a shot at intelligent life arising on a planet.
The odds against all those factors working out with such fine tuning are extremely
slight. So the odds of life existing in most of our galaxy are likewise
Indeed, the vast majority of stars
in the Milky Way cannot have
inhabitable planets, since they are concentrated in the center, where stellar
radiation makes the chemical conditions of life impossible.
Why this digression on science?
Because while my views are not theological, what I discover is that the faith in
extraterrestrials and our eventual trek to the stars is deeply theological with
Very typical of what I mean is the
remark made to me by a friend a few years ago: “As thought experiments go,
speculation about extraterrestrials has been (for me, anyway) a devotional
exercise.” And not just for him. Note this weirdly Eucharistic anecdote about science
fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson from the Chicago Tribune:
“In the middle of writing Blue Mars, [Robinson] recalled, he took
a small Martian meteorite he had purchased from a dealer and climbed to the
roof of his home. At sunset, he popped the tiny stone into his mouth and
swallowed it, hoping that having a piece of Mars inside him would enhance his
the real presence of our great god and savior, Mars/Ares. Nope. Nothing
religious going on here.
This is why the longer I live, the
more persuaded I become that aliens fill, in a secular age, the imaginative and
emotional niche that was once occupied by angels and demons just as our destiny
in space fills what used to be the Christian hope of our destiny in heaven.
It is, I think, a profound
illustration of the fact that our hearts are God-shaped vacuums, sucking in
whatever comes to hand in the search for God or his nearest approximation.
Some will argue that Christians
“fear” the notion of contact with extraterrestrials because it will
definitively remove us from our “privileged” position and show that we are but
one of many intelligent species throughout the cosmos.
But this simply goes to prove my
point about the way in which angels and demons have receded from popular
imagination and left a void. For the trouble with this criticism is that the
Christian revelation already tells us there are myriad intelligent beings
throughout Creation. That is, after all, what angels and demons are.
So I see no reason that finding
extraterrestrials should trouble us as Christians. I merely think that there is
plenty of scientific — not theological — reason to think that such biological
creatures will never be found.
Colonization of the stars and
contact with extraterrestrials (sort of) fills the void left by modernity’s
abandonment of the true eschatological hope of the return of Christ.
Sooner or later, it will become
evident to secularists that this hope is as chimerical as the Marxist hope of
the “withering away of the state.”
I wonder whether that will prompt
a return to Christian hope or simply lead to final despair?
Mark Shea is senior content editor