“It’s like science has won.”

Last week, I was struck by a moment during the first of Torchwood’s five episodes.  Gwen Cooper, Torchwood agent, was talking to Doctor Rupesh Patanjali, someone who could potentially be brought in as a new member of their team.  His explanation of his interest in alien life was intriguing:

The past few years, suicide rates have doubled and that’s ever since the first alien.  My first case… my first… death, was a suicide.  D’you know why she did it?  ‘Cause… she’d written all these letters, been a Christian all her life, and then alien life appears.  She wrote this bit, she said “It’s like science has won.” [Gwen comments ‘Lost her faith?’] More than that.  She said she saw her place in the universe.  And it was tiny.  She died because she thought she was nothing.

Leaving aside the fact that we can’t necessarily trust what the charming Dr Patanjali was saying, as his motives in the conversation were not quite as Gwen or the audience believed, this is an intriguing statement, and I suspect it may reflect the views of the scriptwriter (for Day One, Russell T. Davies) to some extent – that the existence of alien life would terrify some, amaze others, and cause believers to lose faith and hope.  I wonder – is this true?  If alien life were to make itself known somehow, whether in peace, war or otherwise, would faith suddenly become meaningless?

As an evangelical Christian, I believe in a creator God.  I don’t know how creation took place, but I do believe that through some means, God is responsible for the very existence of the universe and for life itself.  The books I have read explaining the sciences in ways that make sense to the common man fill me with a greater than ever wonder at the universe, but do not in any way dissuade me from the belief that the God I trust in brought it in to being.  The potential existence of alien life makes not one iota of difference to that – why would He only be capable of creating one planet that sustains life?  A different set of conditions, therefore a different evolutionary path (evolution by natural selection is not inherently in opposition to Christianity, despite what purveyors of really bad pamphlets might have you believe), and probably very different forms of life would be likely.  The God I believe in is infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent.  I do not know whether there is life on other planets, but I know that if He has the power to create it on one world, there is no argument that would suggest he couldn’t or didn’t create other life, sentient or otherwise, elsewhere.

Clearly then, I think the idea of extra-terrestrial intelligence meaning that ‘science has won’ is absurd.  I’m more intrigued by the end of the good(?) doctor’s little speech.  The idea that our place in the universe becomes insignificant in the face of life ‘out there’.  The universe is already vast.  Perhaps not infinite, if I understand the current state of astronomical theory correctly, but very, very, very large indeed.  Earth takes up a tiny amount of space in the universe, and there are billions of human beings on its surface, none of them any less important than another.  So, yes, my individual place in the universe is tiny, but I don’t need any Slitheen or Daleks or 456 to suggest that to me.  On a universal scale I am a mote of dust.  If the universe is a diamond, I am a single carbon atom, or maybe even just an electron.  But I am still a part of it, and no less significant than any other mote or electron.

As a Christian, my place in the universe should arguably be defined by how God sees me, not how I see myself (which can vary from day to day).  He loves me.  He knows everything about me, down to the intricacies of my DNA and the complexities or otherwise of my personality, and loves me.  That He loves others (many, many others) does not diminish from the fact that He loves me.  To a believer, that is the truth of a person’s place in the universe, and regardless of the state of life or otherwise on other worlds, that is a very powerful thing.  My place in the universe is tiny, my understanding of that universe minuscule – no matter how much of either science or theology I read – yet somehow this is cause for hope rather than despair.  All things considered, if science wins, I’d be very surprised, as I’ve yet to work out what the battle is.


Related posts:

    • zeusiswatching
    • August 3rd, 2009

    I can’t see why it would be meaningless unless one believed this place is the center of the universe around which everything revolves and we are somehow meant to toil alone and apart on this single fixed sphere until ready to ascend to the action on the higher revolving spheres. That model went by the boards long ago yet we are still here just the same.

    That it might raise questions and require some further thought I would think is very likely. You do seem to have the basic right understanding here — a God that is all knowing, all powerful, and all present — so finding someone landing on the front lawn from one of the two or more planets around other suns that astronomers discover every month would likely invite a growth in faith, not a death of one’s beliefs.

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