Though optimism over contacting intelligent creatures on other planets of the galaxy is currently in vogue, the truth is that physical life gives every evidence of being a unique phenomenon found only on planet Earth.
A funny thing has happened in the search for extraterrestrial life. Remember the excitement and anticipation of the Viking probes to Mars? The prime purpose of the Viking explorations was to find life — if it existed — on the red planet. Sure enough, based on reports from the three different experiments designed to detect life, The Atlantic, a respected magazine, came out with an article entitled: "Life on Mars." "Space scientists won't say so," the article announced, "but the results of three brilliantly conceived experiments lead inevitably to one startling conclusion: Life, in some form, exists on Mars." The good news that life had been found on Mars was no doubt well received by many readers, but for most scientists the article was a source of embarrassment, if not regarded with outright contempt. In spite of wishful thinking, the overwhelming evidence is that physical life does not exist on Mars.
Probing the Solar System
Since Viking, other spacecraft have been exploring additional planets of the solar system. Mercury, closest to the sun, has been found to be a harsh and airless planet totally unsuitable for life. Venus, once considered the earth's sister planet, is so incredibly hot and inhospitable that no one seriously believes physical life could exist there. Most recently, the Voyager missions to Jupiter, Saturn and beyond have revealed some startling and amazing views of these distant planets and their satellites. Jupiter, the center of a miniature solar system of its own, was once thought to possibly harbor life, and its moons were also considered life-carrying candidates. Now, with the detailed photos returned by the Voyager probes, the prospects for life seem near zero in the Jovian system. Jupiter is a seething ball of gas, possibly covering an icy core of frozen hydrogen. Its satellites are also desolate, forbidding worlds. The same can be said for Saturn, its rings and moons. And the remote planets beyond Saturn offer virtually no hope for life either.
Abundant Life in Galaxy?
But man's exploration of the solar system constitutes such an infinitesimal part of the entire Milky Way galaxy that even such negative findings have not significantly altered the opinion of many who would like to believe that other stars may have planets with intelligent life. After all, space enthusiasts point out that there are some two hundred billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, and some of these stars "surely" have planets with environments suitable for life. A Rand Corporation study concluded there should be 600 million planets suitable for life in just our galaxy. Such arguments have seemed cogent to laymen and "experts" alike. But now there are a number of scientists that are reconsidering the credibility of the belief that physical life abounds in the universe. Such reevaluations are based on several factors. First, it is true that the more man explores the solar system, the less likely it appears that life exists anywhere beyond the earth. Indeed, most scientists are now ready to admit that the probability of life in the solar system (outside the earth) is near zero. But more importantly, astronomers have been trying for nearly two decades to detect telltale radio signals from space that would betray the existence of another civilization. Yet their mighty radio antennas have failed to record any signal that has the mark of an extraterrestrial civilization.
Other factors have also caused a rethinking of man's place in the universe. Dr. Michael H. Hart of Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, has recently challenged the belief that extraterrestrial intelligence must be common in the cosmos. According to Hart, it is quite possible that our earthly civilization is the only one of its kind. Hart reasons that, far from being common, civilized life must be exceedingly rare, and the life we have on earth may even be unique. Using computer analyses, Hart has found that the conditions necessary for life are far more restrictive than has been commonly thought. "The conclusion of the study," says Hart, "was that existing estimates of the number of planets that could produce advanced civilizations would have to be reduced by a factor of between 100and 1000. In fact, I think ours is the only advanced civilization in the universe and almost certainly the only one in our galaxy." Hart's computer studies showed that our earth just barely makes it as a suitable abode for living things. At a distance of 93 million miles from the sun, earthly temperatures have supported life. But if our earth had been placed into an orbit only five percent closer to the sun, a runaway greenhouse effect would have turned the planet into something like Venus — with its surface temperatures close to 900 degrees Fahrenheit. By contrast, if we were only one percent farther from the sun, then runaway glaciation would have enveloped the earth and the planet would have become a barren desert similar to Mars. In addition, while a few meteorites from outer space have contained amino acids in exceedingly small amounts, the jump from such simple organic (carbon-based) molecules to life is incredibly remote. "Science has still failed to fathom this process, and we cannot assume life would easily or automatically evolve from simple nucleotides," contends Hart. The narrowness of the "habitable window," concludes Hart, greatly limits the number of planets that could sustain (or "evolve") advanced civilizations.
Man Unique in the Universe?
Hart is not alone in such reconsiderations of the evidence. Dr. Carl Sagan, Cornell University astronomer who has popularized the notion of life on other worlds, now believes that more recent astrophysical discoveries have significantly reduced the probabilities of the occurrence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Sagan coauthored the book Intelligent Life in the Universe with Soviet astronomer Iosif S. Shklovsky. But even Shklovsky appears to have become more conservative in his estimate of the chances for detecting extraterrestrial intelligence, contending that intelligent life in the cosmos must be very rare. "It looks as though our sun, that strange and solitary star surrounded by a family of planets, is most likely a rare exception in the stellar world," Shklovsky recently wrote in a Soviet science journal. Dr. Paul Davies, mathematician at Kings College, London, thinks that the universe could be considered to be a lucky accident. Davies contends that a chance occurrence seems out of the question, and he believes some other explanation must be found. "The universe we live in seems to be a very unlikely place," says Davies. "Random processes and statistical fluctuations on cosmological time scales could easily have made the universe quite inhospitable to life. Are we just lucky? Or is there some deep significance to the fact that we live in a universe just right for us?" Davies contends that the expansion of the universe is remarkably uniform in all directions, implying cooperation between widely separated regions of the cosmos to expand to the same rate everywhere. Such "cooperation" and highly organized behavior seems so improbable that the universe seems almost planned. "So from the gravitational point of view," adds Davies, "it seems that the world is a very special place indeed."
"Big Bang" Finely Orchestrated
Science, of course, currently contends that the universe began with a "big bang." The image of such an event is one of great chaos, a random flying apart of the various components of the cosmos. But once again, astronomers are coming to grips with the evidence that the initial explosion — if that is indeed what happened — must have been very uniform. In studying the degree of uniformity of tile expansion of the universe, NASA scientists have found that the assumed explosion was anything but chaotic. "Our measurements give a picture of an extremely smooth process," states one NASA report. "The big bang, the most cataclysmic event we can imagine, on closer inspection ' appears finely orchestrated." And who, we might ask, was the orchestrator? "Nor could life — at least life as we know it — evolve on a planet where the mass, temperature, chemical composition, and many other requirements were not exactly right," observes science writer Jeanne Hopkins. "The very fact that we are here implies' that in our small corner of space and time — and so far as we know, only in our small corner — all the improbable conditions necessary for the emergence of life were met." Nigel Calder, England's foremost science writer, contends that man is indeed the only intelligent life to be found in our galaxy. Calder bases his evaluation — admittedly still a minority view — on the new knowledge man is discovering about the nature of the universe and the processes taking place in it.
Princeton astrophysicist Freeman Dyson has analyzed a whole series of what he calls "cosmological hangups" — strange and baffling relationships between the various forces and energies of the universe that are absolutely essential for the existence of life. Observes Dyson: "It turns out that the universe as we know it survives not by any inherent stability but by a succession of seemingly accidental 'hangups.'" Dyson contends that the size of the universe, the motion of the various parts of the universe, the laws of thermonuclear reactions, the transport laws of energy, and the laws of nuclear surface tension — just to name a few — all conspire to ensure that life can exist in the universe. But the slightest change could make life impossible. As man looks in greater detail at the interactions of these various laws, Dyson asserts that "our salvation seems even more providential." Pointing out that the earth is a uniquely beautiful and fragile oasis in a harsh and hostile universe, Dyson concludes: "As we look 'out into the universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the universe must in some sense have known that we were coming." Famed British astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell asserts that our presence on earth is the result of a train of events so unlikely as to reduce to zero the chances of intelligent life evolving elsewhere in the galaxy. Physicist and cosmologist John Wheeler has concluded that the chances are overwhelming that we ourselves are the only physical life in the entire universe. Could it be true, then, that in spite of currently popular belief in evolution and "the inhabited universe" that life and man himself are in fact unique creations in a carefully and specially designed universe?
God's Plan for Man
The book of Genesis tells us that God — not evolution — designed plant and animal life on the earth. "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth'" (Genesis 1:26, RSV). The Bible contains absolutely no revelation that physical life as we know it exists on other planets at this time. On the other hand, that fact in itself does not preclude the possibility that God has created other physical beings on other planets in other galaxies, for perhaps different purposes. Yet the Bible does reveal that God is specifically interested in what goes on here on earth. The earth, Jesus said, is God's "footstool" (Matthew 5:35). It is here that God made human beings. It is here that God sent the One who became Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary, to become the Savior of mankind (Matthew 1:18-23). The earth is not at the physical center of the universe; it's not even at the center of the solar system. But it is, unquestionably, a central focus of God's present interest. God is vitally concerned with events that occur on earth. It is on the earth that God is working out his supreme purpose: creating His Divine Family which will eventually rule the whole universe with Him. Little wonder that the apostle Paul was inspired to write: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" (I Corinthians 2:9).
WHY WERE YOU BORN? No brute beast ever thought of questioning the meaning of his own existence. Man alone needs to understand his own meaning. Where are you going in life? What's it all about? Why was the human race placed here on this earth? Does man have a unique destiny so glorious that it is all but incomprehensible? Find the answers to these and other questions about the meaning of life in the exciting booklet Why Were You Born?