Surely Some Revelation is at Hand: A Gospel for the Age of Space Exploration?Read Now
Although my website is called ratio scientiae, which is knowledge of the physical world, in today’s post we are going to indulge in some crossover with ratio sapientiae, which is knowledge of the divinity. And what better place to start something that deals with the divinity than with the universe.
As I have written in a previous essay, the universe is insanely big. The furthest object that humanity has launched into space is the voyager-1 probe, which has taken 45 years travelling at 35,000 miles per hour to be 22 light hours away from Earth. By comparison the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, is 4.24 light years away from Earth. Our galaxy, The Milky Way, is 105,000 light years wide. The nearest galaxy to ours, the Andromeda Galaxy, is 2.5 million light years away. Andromeda, our galaxy, and others are part of a group of galaxies called the Virgo supercluster which is 110 million light years wide. The Virgo supercluster is part of an even larger structure of superclusters of galaxies called the Pisces-Cetus Supercluster Complex which stretches 1 billion light years across space, and is one of tens of thousands of such structures in the universe. The visible universe extends more than 13 billion light years away from Earth in all directions, and it contains more than 7 trillion galaxies, 30 billion trillion stars, and as many planets.
So my question is: Biblically speaking, what is the point of this immense humongously ginormous vastness?
The Bible doesn’t say much about the universe beyond the understanding of people living one of two thousand years ago. Stars in the Bible were nothing more than points of light (nowhere is it mentioned they are suns), and their purpose, along with that of the sun and the moon, is to give light upon the Earth and separate the day/light from night/darkness, and for signs and for seasons, and for days and years (Genesis 1:14-18). But this Earth-centric view of the cosmos can only apply to the universe visible with the unaided eye, which comprises about 10,000 distinct stars, so it begs the question as to the purpose of the rest of the universe which was invisible to the ancients. Additionally, considering that just in our galaxy there are at least millions of Earth-like planets orbiting sun-like stars, another issue about which the Bible doesn’t say much is whether there are intelligent beings other than us in the universe.
Of course, because we are speculating about the motivations of the divinity, there can be many answers to this question. For example, you can argue that indeed is only us in the universe and that God created all that immensity that we have uncovered with telescopes to make us feel humble, and there is no way to refute this argument short of being contacted by extraterrestrials. However, as far as I’m concerned, all those billions upon billions of galaxies, and even more stars and planets seem to me like a waste of creation effort if the sole purpose of creation is us. It also seems to me statistically unlikely that we are alone in the universe.
You would expect that now that humanity has attained advanced knowledge about the universe, God would provide us with an update more attuned to our level of understanding of the cosmos. However, according to Roman Catholic and most protestant faiths, all of God’s revelation is contained in the Bible and no new revelation will be forthcoming.
This is not to say that all Christians accept this premise. A notable example is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS Church (The Mormons), which states that revelation is still occurring. Whereas the Bible says nothing about the new world (the Americas), the Mormons believe that people from Jerusalem came to the Americas and that Jesus visited them after he rose from the grave and taught them the Christian Gospel. Then this information was revealed to their prophet, Joseph Smith, who wrote it into what was to become the Book of Mormon in 1830. A remarkable revelation within the Mormon canon is the doctrine of eternal progression where humans have the potential to become gods and engage in acts of creation giving rise to new populated worlds. And these acts of creation are ongoing. Some of these created worlds have passed away, others such as ours are still extant, while many others are in the process of being birthed.
Thus the LDS Church seems to offer an explanation for the size of the universe and whether there are other intelligent beings out there, although other Christians disagree. Additionally, the Mormon cosmology is not completely compatible with current scientific ideas about the universe. Nevertheless, the Mormon claims seem to me at least a step in the right direction towards providing that much needed update, because the Bible, in view of our present knowledge of the universe, comes across as a highly parochial account of the cosmos, which has not even begun to play catch up with other accounts such as that of the Mormon faith. But I think that this will change.
Now I will proceed to make my prediction/prophesy for the ages.
Unless humanity is destroyed say by a collision of Earth with a large asteroid or some other calamity (in which case doctrinarian Christians will be vindicated), humanity will sooner or later begin its trek towards the stars. At first it will be baby steps such as bases and then settlements on the Moon and Mars and perhaps even some of the moons of Jupiter or other planets such as Saturn. Then, if we can develop the technology to cover the vast distances of space, even if it is with generational ships or some form of suspended animation of the crews of these ships, we may actually begin travelling to the nearest stars.
So, lo and behold! As what I have outlined above unfolds, I predict that in the future within the mainstream Christian religions someone will claim that they have received new revelation from God, a gospel for the space age if you will, which may even include an apparition by Jesus himself. And in this new revelation the questions I have raised in this essay will be answered and a new plan will be revealed for humanity to be fruitful, multiply, and expand into the cosmos where they will meet other intelligent beings. This claim will be attacked by mainstream Christian churches, but it will spread like wildfire and become the leading Christian religion of the space age.
When will this happen? I don’t know. It may be in 10, 100, 1000 or more years, but if it happens, let future generations know that people in this century read about it here first!
Image by R. Halfpaap from flickr is used here under an Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-ND 4.0) license and has not been modified from the original.
DNA in Basic and Applied Science: From the Building Blocks of Life to Heredity and Catching Bad GuysRead Now
I have been watching true crime documentaries involving cold cases. Cold cases are crimes that went “cold” due to lack of progress in the investigation. What is remarkable about some of these cold cases is that many of them were solved decades after the crime thanks to DNA evidence. DNA technology along with national databases of DNA profiles of convicted offenders and arrestees, as well as coordination among law enforcement agencies, has brought about a revolution in crimefighting and greatly increased the odds of catching the criminals.
But how did this come about? The answer: is curiosity. Scientists reasoned that biological entities must be made of basic parts or building blocks that are put together to create the whole. Thus the original research into living things was a quest to find, describe, and understand the nature of these building blocks, how they fit together, and how they work.
In 1869 the Swiss physician Friedrich Miescher was working in the city of Tübingen in Germany with the cells present in the pus that he painstakingly isolated from surgical bandages. While preparing a solution from these cells he noticed a material that precipitated out of the solution when he acidified it. Miescher would go on to demonstrate that this material, which was not made of proteins or lipids, was present in the nucleus of the cells and he called it nuclein (which we now know to be DNA). Miescher later worked in obtaining purer extracts of nuclein and analyzing its composition, and he also discovered that sperm were a particularly good source of nuclein. His work with sperm led him to become interested in heredity, but he never considered that nuclein could be solely responsible for it.
Scientists kept on gaining a more profound understanding of the makeup of nuclein and its properties. For example, in 1881 the German biochemist Albrecht Kossel found that nuclein contained four nitrogen containing bases, adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T). In that same time period, it was becoming evident that the nucleus of cells played an important role in cell division and multiplication and perhaps heredity. Based on multiple lines of evidence, in 1882 the German biologist Walther Flemming suggested that the chromosomes, which are structures that can be found inside the nucleus, contained nuclein, and in 1902 Theodor Boveri and Walter Sutton independently postulated that chromosomes were involved in heredity.
The early 20th century saw the rise of the field of genetics and triggered the search for the physical nature of the unit of inheritance: the gene. Thomas Morgan proposed in 1911 that genes were present in chromosomes. Although some scientists began to entertain the notion that nuclein, now renamed “nucleic acid” could be responsible for heredity, many still favored proteins as they did not understand how the chemical makeup of nucleic acid could be responsible for it. This issue was finally solved when Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod, and Maclyn McCarty working with bacteria in 1944, and Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase working with viruses in 1952 demonstrated that the molecule responsible for heredity was the nucleic acid which is now formally called DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).
A series of discoveries then followed not only regarding the nature of DNA but how to work with it. James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953 proposed their famous “double helix” model for the structure of DNA and suggested a mechanism by which it could carry the genetic information. In 1956 Arthur Kornberg discovered the enzyme that replicates DNA (DNA polymerase). From 1961 to 1966 the genetic code was cracked by several scientists including Robert Holley, Gobind Khorana, Heinrich Matthaei, and Marshall Nirenberg. In 1977 Frederick Sanger, Allan Maxam, and Walter Gilbert developed methods to sequence DNA, which were vastly improved when Kary Mullis in 1985 developed the process of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which allowed the production of large number of copies of DNA from small samples.
As the mechanisms of heredity at the molecular level became clearer, scientists began asking other questions such as the role of genes in disease and in other important biological processes which ushered a revolution in medicine and the biological sciences that is still ongoing. But at the same time, other groups of scientists begun asking different types of questions. They wondered if DNA could be used to develop practical applications.
In 1984 the British scientist, Alec Jeffreys, succeeded in creating the first genetic fingerprint of a human being, and he began applying his genetic fingerprinting techniques to settle paternity disputes and immigration cases. He also began adapting his techniques for use in criminal cases; something which he called genetic profiling for forensic use. In 1986 the police contacted him to solve the case of two women who had been raped and murdered. Using DNA evidence, Jeffreys not only proved that a man arrested for the crime was innocent, but he also succeeded in finding the criminal from samples of individuals that the police had obtained from the area.
From there on, the use of DNA profiling greatly increased in the forensics field and was improved to the point that today even a small droplet or stain from a biological fluid or a single hair with a follicle left at the scene of a crime can be used to produce enough DNA to aid in establishing the innocence or culpability of a subject. And the future may hold even more amazing forensic applications of the process. Today’s DNA profiling methods are effective if a match can be found in a database or in a sample from a suspect. However, even in the absence of a match, DNA profiling has the potential to reveal key aspects about the originator of the sample being profiled such as eye, hair, and skin color, and probable physical appearance.
And all this started because some scientists were curious about what living things are made of.
DNA image by Виталий Смолыгин is in the public domain.