May 19, 2010
The astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is convinced that E.T. exists. But Hawking is in no hurry to meet him.
In an upcoming documentary entitled Stephen Hawking's Universe, Hawking called trying to contact extraterrestrial life "too risky." That's because extraterrestrial life technologically advanced enough to overcome the vast distances of space would have the power to destroy or, at the very least, enslave us.
Hawking compared the outcome of such a theoretical encounter to Columbus' arrival in the New World, which, as he put it, "didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans."
If Hawking is right, then alien abductions and strange probes are the least we have to fear from little green—or is it gray?—men.
On a more substantial note, Hawking believes that most extraterrestrial life is simple—such as bacteria. He believes that the kind of intelligent, civilization-building life that's the staple of science fiction is very rare and, fortunately for us, far away.
Hawking is not alone. For a long time, scientists like the late Carl Sagan estimated that there might be many such extraterrestrial civilizations. They based their estimates on the vast number of galaxies, each containing billions of stars. Surely, they argued, the natural conditions that led to intelligent life here on Earth had been repeated elsewhere.
Others, such as physicist Enrico Fermi, pointed to the lack of evidence and asked, "Where is everybody?" What might be called the "Star Trek" model of extraterrestrial life has been challenged by what is known as the "Rare Earth hypothesis."
This hypothesis argues that the emergence of the kind of complex life we take for granted "requires a host of fortuitous circumstances." These include things like the right kind of sun and a suitable distance from the center of the galaxy.
Well, what, if anything, are Christians to make of all this speculation? It's clear, as Jay Richards writes in an excellent article at ColsonCenter.org, that many scientists are looking for life among the stars as a way of putting an end to organized faith and religion. But as Richards writes, "From a Christian perspective, of course, God is free to create a universe teeming with life or a universe in which life is rare. So we can just follow the evidence."
But committed materialists aren't so free. Richards says that the insistence that there is intelligent life out there isn't based on science but on a worldview—a naturalistic worldview which holds that the earth isn't so special, and that "whatever happened here must have happened countless times elsewhere."
They have to say this—with or without the facts. Because to admit that we are unique means there is a God, a source of supreme intelligence. They can't say that.
Ironically, however, there's a religious hope behind the search for extraterrestrial life. That's the hope that "knowledge, moral guidance, and even immortality may come to us, if not from heaven, then at least from the heavens."
So regardless of the risks, they hope that E.T. eventually picks up the phone. I guess they prefer extinction to the possibility that we live on a privileged planet—populated by a privileged species made in the image of God.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.