Creationists live in a very small universe, which is necessary if they’re going to award humanity a prized place within it.
It’s a place that science has attacked for the last 500+ years. From octopuses that take group pictures to tool using crows, our “prized place” on Earth as the sole sapient species has come under fire, leave off our “prized place” in the galaxy.
And no science knocks humanity off its pedestal faster than astronomy and it’s near cousin, astrobiology. Astronomy presents creationists with a some uncomfortable realities — Carl Sagan famously described the science as a “character building experience” — and author Mark Strauss over at Slate has taken a look at those realities and how creationists handle them.
In an essay called God’s Chosen Planet, Mark Strauss explores the relationship between the “Discovery” Institute and astrobiology, and, by extension, creationism and astrobiology. And while the “Discovery” Institute may crow loudly when a planet is discovered that probably doesn’t house life, that jeering hides a deep-seated fear.
I’m something of a science nerd, so I thought this essay was a great read. I’ve often wondered how creationists would react to the discovery of extraterrestrial life, and now I know: they’ll respond by moving the goal posts. Sort of like their response to everything else.
For instance, the Discovery Institute has announced that they won’t be happy with mere bacteria on an alien moon. The arrogance of this statement is unmatched; it echoes the creationist demand to supply 43,000 vestigial organs to prove evolution/disprove creationism when you only need one:
The intelligent design crowd doesn’t rule out the existence of what it calls “simple life” on other worlds. However, as the Discovery Institute sniffs, “we likely won’t be satisfied with microbes barely surviving on a moon. … We are looking for much more complex life, with a brain capacity similar to our own, and the ability to modify its surroundings into complex technology.”
The discovery of bacteria clinging to Europa, Titan, or some alien world would single-handedly dethrone the Earth as possessing some sort of “special” je ne seis quoi life requires. The discovery of bacteria in sub-surface aquifers on Mars would raise the possibility that life could have developed first on Mars and then was transported to the Earth, making us all Martians.
There’s a certain level of anthropocentrism that gets applied to astrobiology as well, but it’s understandable. After all, when it comes to intelligent species capable of communicating with the stars, we have a sample size of one: us.
Creationists don’t have that reason, though. They start from the position “Humanity is SPESHUL SNOWFLAKES, you guys [sic]” and work backwards. The discovery of bacteria on a moon like Titan would show that life can persist across a huge range of environments — and if there can be bacteria on Titan, why can’t there be complex life on, say, Kepler-43b?
And the truth is, they have no answer for that other than “Nuh-uh! The Bible says so!” — which wasn’t convincing when the Church used it to silence the Copernican model, and still isn’t, more than 500 years later.
[cover picture: a beautiful snap shot of the sun reflecting off Titan’s northern methane seas, from NASA]