By Rabbi Allen S. Maller
The ten billion dollar James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s premier space observatory of the next decade, successfully launched on Christmas morning. It is the most sophisticated and complex observatory ever constructed. Six months after launch, JWST will finally open its eyes and peer back in time, to just a few million years after the Big Bang, to witness when matter first coalesced to form the simplest stars of hydrogen and helium. This unexplored era set the stage for the origins of galaxies and the seeding the universe with complex elements.
The JWST will also investigate the atmospheres of planets around other stars to understand their origins and their potential habitability by living creatures; and when evidence of life is found, some people will be very upset.
During Medieval times most Christian theologians accepted the Ptolemaic earth centered Greek view of the universe as an absolute universal truth. Some Christians still think that humans must be at the literal center of God’s creation. Thus they believe that the rarity of life in our universe proves that God must have created life on this planet.
So when the inquisition condemned Galileo for writing that the earth might not be the center of the solar system, the Roman Catholic Church was supporting the philosophy and science of the Greco-Roman world because it seemed to support the religious idea that the earth, life in general and human life in particular, should be the center of God’s world. Today very few religious people think that if the earth revolves around the sun, it makes humans less important to God.
But the Bible and the Qur’an teach that the Living God created the whole universe to be conducive to the universal evolution of life. The Zabur of David says, “Your kingdom is a kingdom of all worlds; and Your dominion is for all generations.” (Zabur-Psalms 145:13); and the Qur’an says, “We have not sent you but as a blessing for all the worlds.” (Al-Anbiya 107). Muslim commentators say this refers to the 18.000 worlds created by Allah. Our world is but one of them. (Mir’at-e-Kainat, vol.1, p.77) A recent astrophysical study confirms this Biblical and Qur’anic view.
Water is necessary for all life on earth, the only planet that we know of that has life on it. It is possible that there are planets in other solar systems (over 3500 exoplanets confirmed so far) where life has developed without liquid water, but for now ours is the only one we know about, and so if water is very rare on other planets so is life. As the Qur’an states:…We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe? (21:30 Yusuf Ali)
But if Lindy Elkins-Tanton a prominent scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C.is right almost every rocky planet develops a liquid water ocean shortly after forming, suggesting that potentially habitable alien worlds may be common throughout the universe.
The building blocks of rocky planets contain more than enough water to seed oceans; and computer models and Earth’s own history suggest seas should form soon after these worlds’ surfaces have cooled down and solidified so “Habitability is going to be much more common than we had previously thought,”Dr. Elkins-Tanton said during a talk at the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.
Analysis of ancient Earth rocks shows that our own planet hosted an ocean of liquid water at least 4.4 billion years ago, just 160 million years or so after our solar system’s birth. This water came primarily from the planetesimals that glommed together to form Earth long ago, rather than from comet impacts, as some researchers had previously believed, she added.
While comet delivered water probably made a contribution later on, “it’s not required,” Elkins-Tanton said, citing studies that model planetary building blocks and how they come together. “You can make a water ocean without it. For example, even if the pieces that built Earth contained just 0.01 percent water by weight, our planet still would have harbored an early global ocean hundreds of meters deep.” she said.
Further, models developed by Elkins-Tanton and others “all indicate that this cooling and collapse process happens on the order of 10 million years or less,” she added. That’s an exciting prospect for astrobiologists, as life on Earth is found nearly everywhere liquid water exists.
Thus, more and more evidence is accumulating that nature has been formed to create life: Thank God. “The heavens declare the glory of God. The universe proclaims God’s handiwork.” (Zabur of David-Psalms 19:2)