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Is there life on other worlds? November 10, 2013

Posted by Jeff Block in Philosophy and Religion, Science, Technology.
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Star Trek Enterprise

Star Trek Enterprise

I remember in 1994 when Mexican astrophysicist Miguel Alcubierre was the first (that I’m aware of) to postulate that the “warp drive” we all know and love from Star Trek was in fact more potential science than fiction. He even used terms like “warp bubble” and others, borrowed from the show, to describe how he envisioned “bending” space-time to create a wave we could right to exceed Einstein’s cosmic speed limit for all travel and communication (the speed of light — you know, “c” in his famous E=mc^2 equation).Zafram Cochrane

Well, after a couple decades of not hearing much about faster-than-light travel outside of Stargate SG-1 and Battlestar Galactica, earlier this year, Nasa scientist Harold White has postulated a potential design for an engine based on Alcubierre’s original theories. Scotty and Zefram Cochrane would be proud!

In the light of this revolutionary announcement (read more), I asked a group of friends at lunch today, and I’ll ask you…  So what?

Let’s say that NASA starts in earnest to built an FTL drive, meets with every conceivable success, rides the prototype into the stars in a couple years (without unzipping the space-time continuum like a cheap jacket), perfects the process over a ten year stretch, and – before another 20 years go by – has revolutionized our concept of space travel. Let’s say, by 2034, we’re leaving warp signatures all over the Sol system and beyond that even the most dim-witted Vulcan traveler could stumble across, even with sensors set to stun. Again, so what? What exactly would we do with the ability to travel to distant stars in … reasonable amounts of time?

Well, first, I’m sure we’d explore. We could send out probes to take pictures of far away places and send them back to earth. I’m also sure we’d search for resources, such as natural resources we could use for fuel or construction – probably of more ships. And ultimately colonize, because we will someday have too many people and too few resources on one planet. I think these are all admirable and useful goals. But the first place everyone’s mind went at lunch today was to the search for life on other worlds. So, in keeping with my tendency to overtly stir the conversational pot, I asked if they all thought we would someday find ET in a neighboring star system.

There were several answers given immediately. First, “I don’t care”.  Ha! I guess I’m just a tad nerdier than the average guys chowing on Gyros in the NW suburbs. Second answer, “Of course. It’s statistically inevitable.” Interesting, and reasonable. There are certainly an unimaginable number of galaxies and stars and planets. We’ll get back to that. Then a question I greatly appreciated, “What kind of life?” Excellent question! But the answer I most appreciated was, “Well, that’s both a scientific and a spiritual question…”


My first premise: God is actually real. He made us, not the other way around.
My second: So is the Bible. It’s not just a book, but rather the infallible, inerrant Word of God.

So, I realize that I’ve lost a few (a lot?) of you at this point. That’s fine. But if anything else I say here is going to make any sense, you have to be all the way in on these first two ideas. And by the way, that’s always true. You can’t really have a discussion about anything meaningful without a philosophical starting point, right? Much of what people readily call “science” today cannot be put in a test tube and tested, so it’s really more philosophy than science. So is it with this question. But I digress…

If God is real, and Jesus really lived, and all these prophets wrote about Him, and all those prophecies came true, and there’s a Moses, and an Abraham and an Israel and so on…  If that’s all real, then I can’t imagine there is intelligent life on other planets.

Killer BunniesBacteria? Sure. Water? Sure. Plants? Sure. Space bunnies? Don’t see why not. But not us, or anything like us.

And we shouldn’t confuse finding another world that could support life and actually finding sentient life. An “M-class” planet (sorry for all the Star Trek references) or two or many is statistically pretty likely, but I contend on spiritual grounds that finding sentient life is not.

The thing is that you and I aren’t space bunnies … or regular earth bunnies either. We’re not just animals. God “breathed into us the breath of life” (See Genesis 2:7). This means we’re special. We’re spiritual. We’re eternal. We have souls — a little like God Himself.

If somewhere out in the distant cosmos there was even one planet just like Earth, where people something similar to us wandered around asking questions like “Is there life on other worlds?” AND all that spiritual stuff (which isn’t “stuff”, it’s the core of reality if you have the eyes to see it) is true, then only three possibilities remain…

  1. The story of the Bible took place here, but not there.
  2. The story of the Bible (or something similar) took place BOTH here and there.
  3. We started one place, where the Biblical account took place, and transported life across the universe to/from the other place (either way), but forgot about it and there’s no evidence of it (literature, history, archeology, technology, etc).

The last of these seems pretty unlikely to me. How do you “forget” something like that? Where did all the tech go? Why is there not really anything like that in ancient legend (all due respect to Prometheus and company)? Seems like there’d be some kind of evidence. We’ve done a ton of archeological exploration and proven quite a few of the Biblical accounts, many of them dating back thousands of years. Why not the “aliens planted us here” account? Even Daniel Jackson had some inkling that the pyramids weren’t built by the pharaohs, right? (Just for giggles)

And the other two of these possibilities – where I think people would linger longer and debate harder – massively erode the Biblical story. Where there two Abrahams? Two Jesus’s? Two nations of God’s chosen people? Two Gardens of Eden? Or, and this would be even harder for me to swallow, did we just “luck out”, and this other world kinda got screwed?

And when I read the Bible, I get no sense whatsoever of “another earth” — anything to indicate anything about any of these theories.

And the main reason I feel these 2 theories don’t work… Neither are consistent with God’s character.

So, in my world, if you fundamentally believe that man created God, then nothing I’m saying here makes sense. Even if you believe God created man, but don’t buy into Jesus, then you could probably go along just fine with the X-Files worldview. But if you’re a Bible-believing, card-carrying Jesus follower like me, then I don’t believe the door is open to you to expect us to find intelligent life outside of the human race.

And (I could write a whole entry on this alone)…  How cool is it that God created the whole vastness of the universe just for us!? Not just for us “humans only”, but for us “humans and God”. In the universe, as in our bodies, as in so many things, God is showing off. His amazing creativity and limitless power are so evident to me in the reality that there are hydrogen atoms swirling around rocks in galaxies so far away that it would take a billion years for the light from them to see us, and God’s holding those atoms in the palm of His hand as much as the molecules that make up my mind and heart. (See Colossians 1:15-20). Something about that just fires me up!

I hope it does the same for you!

Ammendment… Check out a couple of cool videos I looked up…

Where Science Becomes Philosophy December 5, 2006

Posted by Jeff Block in Philosophy and Religion, Science.

In a recent discussionon the beliefs and preferences of Americans, we broached the topic of academic liberal bias.  I would like to take a particular subset of that discussion, and blow it out for further / more indepth debate…

Neva, a frequent contributor to this blog, made the following point…

Most scientists [do not] support conservative causes [because] Conservatives are promoting the suppression of reason. Conservatives have tied themselves to the religious groups that are trying to interfere the teaching of science in our schools. Conservatives are finding “experts” (with theories not published in any peer-reviewed literature) who will claim global warming isn’t occurring so that policy-makers don’t have to put restrictions on big businesses and their carbon emissions.

This is an interesting thought.  I want to leave the global warming debate behind for a second and focus on her other point … teaching science in schools.  I’m not certain that Neva’s directly referencing the debate between the theories of evolution, creationism and intelligent design, but these are a great example for the point I want to make in this blog entry.  So we’ll focus there…

Although I agree that there are conservatives who have blinders on, and only want to entertain their own points of view in an academic setting, I would submit that this problem is just as rampant, if not more so, among liberals.  I support neither side in this, believing that we should have open debate about what we know to be true (because it can be proven) and about what we believe to be true (because we function on faith based on evidence).  My point in this blog entry is to draw distinction between the two, because it seems to me that few in the debate are willing or able to do so.

The theory of evolution is part science and part philosophy.  Natural selection is an observed phenomenon.  You can put it in a test tube, test it applying scientific method, and draw conclusions that can then be further tested, etc.  That’s science.  But to draw from those tests the conclusion that all life everywhere came about from nothing by random chance through the process of evolution is not science, it’s philosophy.  There is no way to prove such a conclusion, it is faith based on evidence.

The theory of intelligent design is the same thing – part science, part philosophy.  In every part of my life I observe that complex (or even simple) design requires a designer.  Physics tells us that order tends toward chaos, not the other way around.  We know from emperical evidence that in every case, if a closed system is going to become more structured, organized, etc, then energy is required.  These are all scientific observations and discussions.  However, it’s philosophy to draw the conclusion from these observations that there must be an all-powerful God who created the universe.  We cannot prove or disprove such a statement.  Faith based on evidence is required.

And this is where I struggle with Neva’s categorical claim that conservatives are supressing scientific knowledge and advancement.  Although there are conservative whack-jobs (many very well-meaning) who would turn the US into a theocracy and who would overturn science in schools for the sake of far-more-blind-than-I’m-comfortable-with faith, this is not the majority.  This perspective also no more represents mainstream thought in the conservative movement than partial birth abortion does in the liberal movement.

In my experience (mostly watching these cases come up in court and on the news, as well as having a brother who’s a science teacher), it is extremely common for liberals to cry “blasphemy” every time it is even suggested that we give *any* credence to *any* theory other than strict evolution in schools.  I find very few liberals who are even willing to admit that the theory of evolution is part philosophy.  They consider it to be pure science through and through, totally proven, and something that cannot be questioned by anyone who is to be taken seriously in academic circles.  Would it not be more wise, more intellectually honest, and more helpful to students to give them multiple sides…  “Here’s what the research shows, and here’s the conclusions scientists have drawn from that research.  These scientists believe this, and these other scientists believe this.” ? 

The debate over global warming is the same.  Both sides can produce evidence to support their already-drawn conclusions, but both conclusions are partially philosophical.  “The earth is heating up recently” is provable in a test tube.  The statement “this is solely the fault of the SUV and big business, and we’re going to destroy the planet” cannot.  Neither can “this is a natural cycle, and things will return back to normal eventually”.  Personally, I’m very in favor of being more respectful of and cautious with the environment.  I think republicans fall down here.  However, there are many liberals who would take it too far, and be perfectly happy to level our economy to save the spotted owl.  We need some clear-headed compromise and practical steps in this area, not extremism – from either side.  (Parenthetically, I also believe in this particular case that it would be better to err on the side of caution, given how devastating the results could be if the libs’ perspective is accurate.)

But this is exactly why I bring up this point.  As long as both sides are running around claiming that their philosophy is proven science, I don’t see how we can ever get to this much needed point of compromise.  Can’t we all just admit that we’re functioning as much on faith as science, then start a dialogue on how we can meet in the middle?

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Tryptophan Strikes Again … and Again … and Again … November 24, 2006

Posted by Jeff Block in Funny, Science.
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A shameless Techlore reprint

Okay, this is so wrong, but I feel compelled to be a little off today…Disclaimer:There is NO point to this blog entry.

Every year I vow not to eat myself unconscious on Thanksgiving, but again I’ve failed. Yesterday was a beautiful experience once again — when gluttony ended in coma. But I thought that at least I could learn from my favorite cardinal sin, and I wanted to share with all’y’all.

You probably don’t care why turkey is (almost!) as good as Nyquil for putting you out, but if you do, check out How Tryptophan Works.

Can I Learn Gravity Here? November 7, 2006

Posted by Jeff Block in Funny, Science.

Even if the educational value of this game is limited, it definitely fits in the highly-addictive, give up World of Warcraft for my new habit, get me fired kind of category.  You gotta check this out…

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Engage the Cloak! October 23, 2006

Posted by Jeff Block in Science, Technology.


Thanks to my friend Chris, I was made aware the other day of a radical breakthrough in science for the average Lord of the Rings and/or Star Trek fan.  Evidently, some Duke University scientists and engineers believe they are coming close to perfecting a “cloak of invisibility”, which bends microwaves around it to make whatever it’s covering virtually invisible.

Check out the story from Pratt School of Engineering.

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You have gotta be domino-billiards-kidding me! October 21, 2006

Posted by Jeff Block in Funny, Science.

I don’t have much background information other than to say taht some Russian guy has way too much free time.

But I have to admit, I could watch this over and over and over.  Anyone in need of a good demonstration of inertia in their science class?

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