The recent discovery of the Kepler 452b planet has had several commentators drooling with excitement as they further speculate that we may not be alone in the universe after all.
Others, such as Jeff Schweitzer have seen it as cause to make ignorant claims about the Bible and attempt to use it as ammunition against Christianity, as he does here in this Huffington Post article –
My intention is not to get into the plethora of fallacies, arguments from silence and woefully bad Biblical exegesis that his article relies on to indulge his hyperbole. And I don’t wish to pick on one article when several have been written in response to this discovery.
But let me just mention 3 things very briefly:
1) St. Augustine, back in the 4th century, pointed out that a wooden and literal reading of Genesis was folly.
2) Nowhere does Jesus, nor the Bible in fact, insist that we are alone in the universe.
3) There is a passage from the NT that might even be Jesus referring to other forms of life not from this planet – “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” – John 10:16
Rather, I’d like to just mention what this finding DOES impact upon: morality.
The form of the moral argument I would normally cite is William lane Craig’s. It simply runs as follows –
- If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
- Objective moral values do exist.
- Therefore, God exists.
Now, in his book On Guard, regarding Darwinism, Craig notes “If the film of evolutionary history were rewound and shot anew, very different species with a very different set of values might well have evolved.”
Now his point was confirmed and corroborated by Darwin himself when he said in the Descent of Man –
“If…men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it their sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.”
Therefore, the claim against premise 1 above: that evolution can somehow command notions of objectivity when it comes to our engagement with morality and ethics, is simply wishful thinking. Yet this is exactly what many contemporary philosophers, like Kai Nielson, Tim Maudlin, Thomas Nagel, Michael Martin, Louise Antony and Sam Harris espouse. Broadly speaking they would argue on the bases of ‘greater good’ (consequentialism) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequentialism and ‘social contract’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_contract models for grounding the existence of objective moral values and duties. However, these proposals are deeply flawed.
For, firstly, on naturalism, we are merely the products of socio-biological conditioning, our ideas of morality and ethics included! To claim that our human notions of moral values and duties have somehow ‘evolved’ to objective status would be, as Craig would say, just an appeal to ‘specieism.’
But, secondly, and this is where planets like Kepler-452b come in, if we hypothesize that we are not alone in the universe then just how do our notions of ethics and morality impose themselves as ontologically objective to anyone else?
If Kepler-452b had 10 billion inhabitants and though they were more advanced than us, they had used up their planets resources and were starving and so began eating our planet’s 7 billion inhabitants and harvesting Earth’s resources would we think that objectively ok, on account of it being for ‘the greater good’? If not why not? (other than just a special appeal to ‘specieism.’)
If Kepler-452b decided that it wanted to slowly exterminate all human beings on Earth over a sustained 10 yr period for 10 seasons of its new entertainment show, then just what reaction would Maudlin, Nagel, Harris et al. get when they claimed that this was objectively wrong? When the game-show host stopped laughing and just asked ‘says who?’ what could they say?
The bottom line is that the more we suspect that there may well be other life in the universe, the more obvious it will become that we must look to something / someone beyond this universe if we hope to reasonably and rationally affirm the existence of objective moral values and duties.
The only other escape from the moral argument is to bite the bullet and embrace nihilism: something that is so counter intuitive and so contrary to experience for almost all of us, that it would make life unbearable, highlighting the meaninglessness, purposelessness and valuelessness of life the universe and everything in it!
Ergo, the more our understanding of this universe suggests life, the more our ‘moral compasses’ must point us to God.
The moral argument – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxiAikEk2vU