Re: Incarnation

Doug Wiens (
Fri, 12 Apr 1996 10:44:35 -0500

Jeff Webster wrote....

> Did anyone see John McLaughlin's One on One program about the possiblilty of
> life on other planets? He spoke with two astrophysicists (Sorry, I forgot their
> names) and a theologian named Ted Peters, all of whom concurred that there is
> most likely life elsewhere. The problem McLaughlin was attempting to raise was
> the uniqueness of the incarnation: why would God visit this planet, incarnate in
> Jesus Christ, when we inhabit such a small planet circling around an ordinary
> star in an ordinary galaxy, etc., when there simply "must" be sentient life
> elsewhere. Actually the two astrophysicists were certain that there was life
> elsewhere, while Peters was ambivalent to the possibility, claiming that it had
> no bearing upon the essential fact of the incarnation. Any thoughts on this?

I don't think it is a given that intellegent life exists elsewhere in
the universe, even from a scientific (as opposed to a theological)
perspective. The reasoning supporting statements about the probability
of life in the universe, usually given by
SETI proponents, etc, is goes something like ...

There is nothing unique about the Sun -- there should be (large number)
of other Suns in the universe. So there is nothing unique about the
earth. Therefore, life should have arisen on many other planets in
the universe.

On the other hand, if one imagines that intellegent life is
extremely improbable, and has arisen on only one planet, the beings on that
planet will invariably think that the universe is conducive to
life, even though the opposite might be true. If intellegent life
is extremely improbable, statistically it would probably arise on
a planet going around a typical star.
It is not actually true that earth is a typical planet,
since it is unusual in the respect that is supports intellegent
life. Thus our view of the universe is not a typical
one, but one influenced in every way by the fact that we
exist. For example, we could not view the universe from a
blue-white giant star, since these stars burn up
their nuclear fuel in a few hundred million years, and do not allow
sufficient time for life to evolve. On a more cosmological level, if
we assume more than one universe (big-bang) exists, we could not view
a universe with fundamental physical constants much different from
ours, since this would prevent our existence. Thus such a universe(s)
would never be observable by intellengent beings (and perhaps,
from a philosophical standpoint, never exist!). The implications
of this are that even the fundamental physical constants of the
universe may be essentially set by our existence.
The concept that the universe we see is essentially "tailored"
to us by our existence is a very radical and controversial
cosmological concept, often referred to as the Anthropic Principle.
It seems to me that this idea has several interesting implications.
One is that any inferences we make about the likelihood of
intellegent life on other planets, based on earth being a "typical"
planet, the sun being a "typical" star, may be invalid. Another is
that life arrising by chance will be observationally
indistinguishable from one in which
the universe is created for us by God, and the choice between
a created universe and one arising by chance is essentially one
of faith. I prefer to choose faith.
I really don't know a lot about this -- most of my
exposure coming from an article in Scientific American by
George Gale in the 1980's. I'd be interested in whether some of
the rest of you have done some thinking about this.

Douglas Wiens
Professor of Geophysics
Washington University