Planet Kepler- 452b and a Premature Farewell to God
By Norman L. Geisler, Ph.D.
With the discovery of Kepler-452b, an earth-like inhabitable planet, one overzealous scientist has proclaimed “Bad News for God.” Jeff Schweitzer (in “Earth 2.0: Bad News for God,” 7/23/15) prognosticated the death of God with the discovery of Kepler 452b. He argued that any life elsewhere disproves the religious hypothesis that there is a God who created all things. However, upon careful examination his thesis is lacking logically, scientifically, and theologically.
Logically, there is no contradiction between these two premises: (1) There is life in outer space, and (2) God exists. Both are possible. Indeed, if God exists and created the universe (Gen. 1:1), then it makes sense that two are compatible. What is more, Schweitzer is short on logic, insisting that there cannot be life elsewhere in the universe since it is nowhere mentioned in Genesis or the rest of the Bible. This is a logical fallacy named Argumentum ad Ignorantiam (argument from ignorance). From nothing, nothing can be proved. When we find homes, cars, and machines on other planets, then we can talk.
Scientifically, even agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow saw the general confirmation of Genesis through Astronomy. He wrote, “Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world…. The chain of events leading to man commence suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy” (God and the Astronomers, 14). Astronomer Hugh Ross has filled in many of the details in his book The Creator and the Cosmos (NavPress, 1993).
Nonetheless, Schweitzer insists that “life on another planet is completely incompatible with religious tradition.” He declares, “be clear I am talking here of how just the simple existence of life elsewhere undermines religion.” Why? Because “From Genesis 1:1, we get: ‘Let us make man in our image….’ Nothing in that mentions alien worlds.” For we are told in unambiguous terms that all life was created in six [literal] days.” Further, there was light 10 billion years before the Bible said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3).
However qualified Schweitzer may be in “marine biology,” he falls seriously short in theology. First, he misquotes the Bible reference. It is not, as he said, Genesis 1:1 that speaks of creating man in God’s image; it is Genesis 1:27. Second, he wrongly assumes the Bible teaches that light began in the universe the week human beings were created. Yet the Bible mentions light being present from the very beginning (Gen. 1:3), before the other days, including the sun appearing (Gen. 1:16-19). Third, he assumes (not proves) that the “days” of Genesis were all 24-hour days with no long time periods anywhere. Actually, the word “day” (yom) is used in Genesis 1 in many ways other than 24 hours. It is employed of the daytime versus the night (1:3). It is also used of all six days, namely, “in the day (yom) that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens” (Gen. 2:4). It is also used of thousands of years when speaking of God resting on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2) which is still going on (Heb. 4:9-10). Indeed, since as early as the time of St. Augustine (4th cent), many Christians have held that the creation events are not limited to 6-24 hours of time. Finally, nowhere does the Bible affirm how old the universe is; it simply states that it had a “beginning” (Gen. 1:1) whenever that was. In fact, nowhere does the Bible add up all the genealogies, nor assume there are no missing generations. Indeed, there are demonstrable gaps. For example, Matthew 1:8 says “Jorum begat Uzziah,” yet 1 Chronicles 3:10-12 reveals that there were three generations between them. The Bible gives accurate genealogies but not always complete chronologies.
Further, at best, the existence of Kepler-452b proves only that some kind of life is possible on it. But this is two gigantic steps from claiming that intelligent life actually exists there. First, it only shows life is possible there, not that it is actual. After all the condition for a fire exists with dry leaves, but it still takes something to ignite it. Second, there is another leap from the premise that some simple life exists to the conclusion that intelligent life exists. An appeal to naturalistic macro-evolution to fill in the gigantic gap begs the question. For even it has unproven presuppositions, such as, (a) spontaneous generation is possible (even though Redi and Pasteur disproved it). (b) New forms of life are possible without intelligent intervention, even though no observation or experimentations—the basis for scientific conclusions — support this view.
Schweitzer’s interpretation of Genesis is that when it says God created “all living beings” (Gen. 1:21) it definitively excludes the possibility of some forms of life elsewhere in the universe. However, this violates a fundamental rule of interpretation, namely, every text must be understood in its context. Clearly, the context of God creating life in Genesis 1-2 is “the earth,” not the universe. And taking a text out of context is a pretext.
Is there animal-like or human like life anywhere else in the universe? We don’t know. We have not seen any evidence for it.
Is it possible for physical life to exist elsewhere in the universe? Yes, but we can’t legitimately deduce the actual from the merely possible. Again, dry leaves alone don’t make a fire. There is a significant difference between a condition and a cause.
What if there is human-like rational life elsewhere in the universe? That’s a lot of “ifs.” (1) If there is life in outer space, and (2) if there is rational life, and (3) if it is fallen life, then what? Then, C.S. Lewis’s speculation is worth reading (“Religion and Rocketry” in The World’s Last Night: And Other Essays). If there is fallen life, then God who is love (1 Jn. 4:16), loves them and has provided redemption for them. The details are left for further theological development.
Meanwhile, back on planet earth, we know two things. First, Kepler- 452b is not grounds for “bad news for God.” If anything, it is good news about God. Johann Kepler, after whom the planet is named, was a devout believer in God. He desired, namely that “belief in the creation of the world be fortified through this external support, that thought of the creator be recognized in its nature, and that his inexhaustible wisdom [will be] shone forth daily more brightly.” (Mysterium Comographicum).
Indeed, contrary to Carl Sagan’s charge that unless there is intelligent life in outer space, there is a lot of “wasted space,” astronomers now know with the discovery of the “Anthropic Principle” that the universe was made for human life (anthropos). As the psalmist declared, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork” (Psa. 19:1). Even the great agnostic philosopher Immanuel Kant confessed belief in God, saying, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heaven above and the moral law within me” (Critique of Practical Reason, 166). Certainly, the discovery of the vastness and variety of the universe does not diminish but fulfills Kepler’s desire.
Second, the only verified space travel was when the Logos (Christ) came into the world at His Incarnation (Jn. 1:14) and returned to outer space or beyond in His Ascension (Acts 1:9-10). Meanwhile, back on planet earth, He has left us with an engaging task: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,…teaching them to observe all that I [Christ] have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18-20). When we have completed extending God’s love to all the other earthlings on this planet which are within our reach, then, if it ever becomes possible, we can extend that love to any of our cosmic cousins who may exist beyond our reach now.