Are We Alone in the Universe?
Enrico Fermi was a brilliant Italian Jew. He was one of those rare intellects that, like a comet, is so vivid and rare as to be unforgettable.
Fermi received his PhD in physics at age 21 and by age 25, with his friend Paul Dirac, had developed a whole new theory of particulate matter. In 1938, he won the Nobel Prize for physics (age 37), and then fled Mussolini’s fascist state. A nation that made a pact for world conquest with Nazi Germany was not a safe place for a son of Abraham.
In the United States, Fermi played a leading role in the Manhattan project, and after the war continued making discoveries and offering ideas too advanced for most of us mortals.
One of those ideas is called “the Fermi Paradox.” Put pretty simply, it’s this: The universe is so enormous that the human mind can’t comprehend it. It’s also, according to standard cosmology, around 14 billion years old.
So: Combine age with size and you have to ask, If there is other intelligent life in the universe, why is there no sign of it? As Fermi joked when he introduced his paradox in 1950, “Where is everybody?”
Scientists: Maybe We are Alone
Now scientists at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute have done some serious crunching of numbers and equations. “We find a substantial … probability of there being no other intelligent life in our observable universe,” they conclude, “and thus that there should be little surprise when we fail to detect any signs of it.”
Their proposal has led to major debate within the scientific community. One critic says the Oxford guys are just “guessing, in the absence of any good evidence. That’s no way to do science.”
Well, well. No scientist am I, but I come from a family where science is highly respected. Without getting to detail, it’s enough to say that some of my close relatives have done some heavy scientific lifting.
So, by background and (some) education, I’ve learned to be wary when one “expert” blows off the work of others who know a great deal about their field of study. Especially when that latter group uses a key phrase to describe their argument: No observable evidence. In other words, we’ve found nothing in all of our investigations to lead us to think that other beings exist who have the capacity for reasoned thought, space travel, or intelligent communication.
The point: Some very careful researchers are arguing that there are no data indicating the existence of intelligent life outside our own planet.
What About Angels?
The Bible speaks of angels and demons as invisible beings who manifest themselves to us rarely. II Kings 6:17 records Elisha praying that his companions eyes would be “opened” that he might see the unseen host around him. “So, the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
This is a glimpse, a peek into that which God hides from our eyes in all but the rarest occasions. Yet if the God of the Bible is real, then that which He reveals is also real. Because something is hidden doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. That’s a childish set of mind, and certainly one faithful Christians shouldn’t have.
Testimony of Scripture
What should Christians conclude about the apparent absence of life in the rest of the universe we can see (estimated at being about 47 billion light years — a number too big to fit into our brains, but there it is)? There are three things we should bear in mind:
- In Scripture, only human beings are described as being made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Even angels don’t have the capacity for a relationship with our Creator and Redeemed, as do we. This is true of all creation. So, let’s say there are other beings out there — smart, capable of communication, and so forth. They ain’t us.
- Being made in God’s image gives man dignity but also duty. We are to be like Jesus, the God-man (Romans 8:29). We are to make wise use of the incredible resources given to us by the Light and Life of the world (Genesis 1:27). We are to call all men into new life in Christ.
- How humble we should be before our God! Not only has He imbued us with His image, He became a man and, on the cross, experienced the punishment for sin that we so well deserve. “What is man, that You are mindful of him?” asked the David so long ago (Psalm 8:2). We are less than fractions of a single pixel in terms of our size in the universe but are so precious to the Lord Who made us that He Himself offers us the redemption He alone can provide.
Scientists will debate whether Fermi’s Paradox is now a dead letter or a live question is going to be debated for years to come. But followers of Jesus already know the answers that an intelligent and informed faith alone can provide.
We are not alone in the universe. An eternal God Who cannot be contained in the space He created is everywhere. And if you know His Son, He lives in you.