[stextbox id=”grey”]Update: February 2012: When I first posted this entry, I received some compelling comments, some hostile comments, and two comments which actually threatened me. I didn’t approve the hostile or threatening comments, but I now see that as a mistake, since hostile comments in fact adjudicate my thinking by illustrating how genuinely terrifying this kind of thought is to theists.[/stextbox]
As the ever more curious eye of human science peers deeper and deeper into the dark regions of nature, one thing above all others is becoming clear: it is extremely unlikely that Earth is the only habitable planet in the universe. In fact, it is becoming obvious to the scientific community and those who follow it with an open mind that there is little chance we are alone in the universe. Numerically, in fact, the probability of Earth-like planets in the universe is very high.
Here are some numbers, taken from various web site sources:
- Number of superclusters in the visible universe = 10 million
- Number of galaxy groups in the visible universe = 25 billion
- Number of large galaxies in the visible universe = 350 billion
- Number of dwarf galaxies in the visible universe = 7 trillion
- Number of stars in the visible universe = 30 billion trillion (3×10²²)
- Estimates for the number of stars in our galaxy vary between 100 billion and 400 billion, with most setting the figure at roughly 200 billion. There are very few estimates for the number of planets per star, as we have only discovered 429 ‘exoplanets’.
- However, with approximately 200 billion galaxies in the part of the Universe that we can see, even if there were only one planet per star there would still be around 40 trillion billion in our observable Universe. It is likely that this estimation is very inaccurate, as we have no idea what the mean number of stars per galaxy is likely to be, nor have we counted every single galaxy in the Universe. Nonetheless, it is also likely that the number of planets in the Universe is greater than all the grains of sand on this planet Earth.
- The number of known planets changes by the day. So far, we’ve confirmed the existence of the 8 main planets of the solar system, a handful of dwarf planets (including Ceres, Pluto, Sedna, Eris, and a few others), and 429 extra-solar planets in the nearby portion of our own galaxy. Estimates on the number of planets in the universe are based on the observed distribution of these relatively few known planets.
You get the idea. To summarize, this article indicates that there are likely to be “trillions” of planets in the universe. I know that a trillion is hard to comprehend. It’s 1,000,000,000,000. An example is that if you started counting and didn’t stop or sleep, it would take you 31,709 years to count to a trillion.
One percent of a trillion is ten billion. So suppose that there are a trillion planets. Imagine that one percent of the planets, ten billion, can support life, and that one percent of those, one hundred million, are Earth-like enough to support intelligent, sentient life. It doesn’t necessarily have to be human-like life, but sentient, meaning that it would be self-aware, and thus capable of learning, creating, understanding, and believing in things. Now suppose that just one percent of those creatures, living on just one percent of one percent of one percent of the planets in the universe, were equal to us humans in terms of morals, ethics, art, love, science, society, and on and on. That’s one million planets with creatures just as deserving of salvation from “God” as we are. One million. If each of those planets has a similar population as ours, that’s 1,000,000,000,000,000 beings, a quadrillion, in the universe who deserve salvation.
So where does that leave Christianity’s notion that Jesus the Christ came to this Earth to save these people? The Bible makes no mention of Eskimos or Koreans, let alone the people of Blognar 9 or the intelligent squidoforms of the rings of Grrkn Prime. What of all the beings, all the intelligent, valid, worthy forms of life that, it seems, surely must fill the heavens above us? According to traditional Christianity, every last one of them will go to hell. Only those who accept Christ, who apparently only came to this one planet 2000 years ago, get “saved,” and the rest are… what? Are Christians really arrogant and egocentric enough to still imagine that they and their tiny planet are at the center of everything?
I want Christians who read this to seriously consider a rational response to this, to the real things we are discovering about the universe that don’t fit into the tradition, and formulate a response. And by response, I don’t mean one that dismisses the real world around us as a “mystery.” Polio and smallpox were a mystery, flying in airplanes was a mystery, going into space was a mystery, radio and television were mysteries. It was all an unexplainable mystery until we explained it. What we are seeing at the edges of space isn’t a trick conjured up by a God who wants to “test” us; it’s really there. How does that fit, Christians, with your faith?
As time went by and I thought about this more, I discovered I was decidedly not alone in this line of reasoning. Here is an excellent video that restates what I have tried to share here…