I’ve got some tough news for those of you toting around a towel, hoping to be whisked off as a hitchhiker around the galaxy: We’re probably alone. And I don’t mean there’s no other intelligent life near us. I don’t even mean there might not be any other life in the galaxy. I’m talking about the entire universe.
About a month ago, three of the world’s most esteemed scientists and thinkers, Eric Drexler, Dr. Anders Sandberg, and Toby Ord (I put the Oxford comma here only out of respect for them), released a fascinating study about the Fermi Paradox. For those of you who don’t frequent astrophysicist circles, the Fermi Paradox is the contradiction between our current scientific knowledge of life, which holds that life should be relatively common in the universe, and the fact that there seems to be no evidence for extraterrestrial life, despite our best attempts at contact.
The study in question takes a harsh reevaluation of the paradox, finally coming to the conclusion that life, if it exists elsewhere at all, isn’t nearly as common or likely as we used to think. Their final estimate holds that there is a 53 percent to 96 percent chance that we are alone in the galaxy, and a 39 percent to 85 percent chance that we are alone in the entire observable universe.
So, long story short, there are 19,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Earth-like planets in the observable universe. Now it seems that, out of all 19 sextillion of these, Earth could be the only one with sentient life.
If you want to take a deep breath now, or maybe grab a drink, I don’t blame you. That’s a lot of space. And it looks like it’s all ours to handle, a responsibility of almost incomprehensible proportions.
But, in a way, this isn’t the first time this has happened. There have been many times in history that our vision has been expanded larger than ever before. And to understand why we have to look back to a single verse, from a story that has been with us since the beginning of human civilization.
Ancient Knowledge for Modern Problems
Most Christians I’ve met have one of two opinions about Genesis 1. It is either the exact way the universe was created 6,000 years ago, in seven days, (may the Inquisition take those heretics who doubt it!) or it is an old Israeli story of minimal importance compared to the main event in the New Testament.
Young Earth Creationism, while wrong in my opinion, is essentially harmless. Who are we to tell people how to read into the Bible? But simply glossing over the opening act of the Bible, as I did until recently, will cause you to miss out on of the most important passages in the entire Bible: Genesis 1, verse 26. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness, to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and the livestock, and over all the earth itself and every of creature that crawls upon it.'”
The meaning of this is key to our existence; We, as humans, are made unique among the creations of the world, with the task of overseeing the earth. But what does God mean by the earth? The world used to, in the eyes of the ancient Hebrews, be a much smaller place, containing just the Near East.
Over time, of course, this expanded, to include the rest of Asia, Africa, and Europe, and later the Americas and the rest of the world. As you can see, humanity has been in a continual process of realizing that we were given control over much more than we ever previously guessed. Now, as we know the galaxy is full of trillions of uninhabited earth-like planets, we must understand what this passage really means.
To look at it from a semantic perspective, the Hebrew word we always translated to earth, “‘erets,” really means more “land” or “creation.” This means we have to, once more, expand what we thought we knew of creation, and by extension, what our gift from God contains.
Science and our species’ experience has shown us that we could very well be the lone thinking species out there. Now we must ask why we are alone and what does it mean. For Christians, the answer has been sitting there under our noses the whole time.
The universe is a gift, and if there is one thing we can all agree on it’s that we should make the most of what has been given to us. Humans are meant to be caretakers of life in the universe, and as terrifying and awe inspiring as that duty is, it is vital that we remember this as we go about our life. As citizens of the nation that leads the free world, it is our duty to ensure that humans, and by extension, life, goes on.