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It is interesting to contemplate how such a tiny part of the universe can end up as a functioning, thinking human being. Consider the odds against 150 pounds or so of matter ending up in a human vessel and for what reason. The seven billion people on our planet have a combined mass of a trillion pounds or so. And the sun converts a trillion pounds or so of mass…every second. And it has done this every second for 5,000,000,000 years, and will continue to do so for 5,000,000,000 more years. On second thought, don’t think too much about the odds. You may be able to write the zeros, but you can never comprehend the magnitude.
And if that’s not enough, also consider that our sun is just one star in our galaxy of 200 to 400 billion stars. And there are billions upon billions of galaxies in our visible universe which contains an estimated 30 billion trillion stars, whatever that number is. It is also estimated that there are thousands of times more stars than grains of sand on the entire earth.
I am a 69 year old man who has spent the better part of the last 45 years of my life attending church as a closed mouth skeptic who believed that the universe was just a marvelous accident. So why did I even bother to go to church? Because being raised in the church, I have seen the peace of mind that faith, regardless of my belief, can give to people, and I did not want to deprive my loved ones of that potential, or anyone else that I might influence for that matter.
However, as the years have gone by, and as convinced as I might have been at one time, it has become ever more difficult to think that our existence is an accident. I have had no epiphanies that have led to a mind change. The sermons I have heard over the years, although instructive, have had little to do with the evolution of my thinking, nor has the thought of abstract retribution or reward. I just experienced a growing awareness that an accidental universe with such mind boggling complexity is simply too farfetched to be credible. From my perspective, the odds against accidental life are great. There has to be a source of supreme intelligence. I’ll not try to flesh that out; to each his own. Would it be a god that knows the number of hairs on our heads? I don’t know, but since we puny humans have supercomputers that now have the capacity to track all of us and make reasonable estimates if we so chose, it’s not as farfetched as it once appeared.
I believe that the stardust from which we are all made contains the seeds of life, although fertile ground for that life is scarce beyond comprehension. So many things have to happen to facilitate life; a planet has to be just the right distance from a star, a strong magnetic field has to be present to protect from solar winds, and in earth’s case, a moon is needed to maintain a favorable orientation toward the sun, ad infinitum. As Dennis Weaver once said, a good planet is hard to find. So true, but with billions of trillions of potential stars and planets, only a geocentric zealot would believe that we are the only life in existence.
Life and evolution seem to me to be universal constants; surely life on other planets has occurred and evolved in the past, and will occur in the future. If given time, which the universe has plenty of, I also think that intelligent life is the ultimate and inevitable evolutionary goal; instinct will become intellect. If DNA replication were the goal, as many have opined, the chambered nautilus would have been a satisfactory culmination. There is no biological reason for an intelligent creature to have evolved. Crocodiles have done quite well for a hundred million years or so. If intelligent life here on earth is not a product of purpose, it is the biggest blunder in the history of life, because we have evolved into a creature that has the capacity to destroy (or in time will have) itself and a big part of all other life on earth.
I define intelligence as the ability to know good and evil, and to recognize one’s mortality. In my opinion, the path to intelligent life is protean but purpose driven, and the ability to subscribe to the concept that intelligence is the result of a single fortuitous event when protohumans left the trees and walked upright, no longer resonates with me. What difference does it make if intelligent life occurs earlier or later and through a different evolutionary conduit? I believe the final goal is an intelligent being which recognizes that it is a product of supreme intelligence. Why would a creator want this? I don’t know, but why wouldn’t it?
Because of our marvelous intellect, and if we don’t destroy ourselves, I think mankind’s descendants will eventually inhabit all the corners of our solar system, although who knows what we’ll look like. But I don’t believe identifiable earthly spawn will ever exit our solar system in a meaningful way. The distances are too great, and the unyielding constraints of time and space are immutable. Because of these same constraints, and because of the extreme rarity of life, I also don’t believe we will ever make contact with intelligent beings from other worlds, even though they surely exist. In keeping with that thought, I find it interesting that many scientists who have the faith to make extraordinary, but inevitably fruitless efforts to detect a faint signal from other intelligent beings, lack the faith to believe that we ourselves could be the product of intelligence.
Life in the universe is unimaginably scarce; comparatively it is but a number of atoms in a single grain of sand in the Sahara Desert, and intelligent life is so much rarer still. If you can read this, you are an intelligent being who has won the universal lottery, against odds which only a computer can quantify. Mr. Rogers was right, you really are special. This comprehension will lead a person to even view a stranger in a different light. On the next clear night, walk outside and look up and marvel at what you see. Our gift is not that we have the answers, but that we are intelligent creatures who can ask questions, who have the ability to conceptualize creation, and who have the intellectual capacity to recognize good and evil. We need to be thankful for these gifts. When we consider humanity’s future potential to destroy itself, the only way we will survive to populate our solar system is for good to prevail.
Stephen D. Carter, D.D.S.
Stone Mountain, GA