On July 20, 2015, Stephen Hawking, Britain’s most eminent scientist, launched the biggest-ever search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (ETI) in a 10-year project called Breakthrough Listen. It is bankrolled to the tune of US$100 million by Russian high-tech entrepreneur Yuri Milner. As reported by the BBC, Milner said it would be the most intensive scientific search ever undertaken, harnessing cutting-edge technology developed in California’s Silicon Valley.
The search will be 50 times more sensitive and cover 10 times more sky than the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) program that began in 1960. It will utilise the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia and the Parkes Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. Lick Observatory in California will also perform a comprehensive search for optical laser transmissions from other planets. The aim is to survey the one million stars closest to Earth in our own Milky Way galaxy, including scanning its centre and entire galactic plane, along with listening for messages from the 100 closest galaxies.
According to Breakthrough Initiatives’ website, a second program, called Breakthrough Message, is an international competition to create digital messages that represent humanity and planet Earth, with a pool of prizes totalling $1 million. However, Professor Hawking warned against sending messages into space, because “advanced alien civilisations might possess the same violent, aggressive and genocidal traits found among humans.”
Yet, while the project seems massive, it’s actually miniscule when you consider the size of the universe. Our Milky Way galaxy, which contains between 200 and 400 billion stars, is just one of 100 to 200 billion galaxies (possibly up to 500 billion) in the observable universe—and according to space.com our universe is some 92 billion light years in diameter (one light year is about 25 trillion kilometres). In human terms, the universe is incredibly vast. Fraser Cain, on the space and astronomy news website Universe Today, has calculated that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on earth—as much as a staggering 5 to 10 times more!
With all that space, then, the big question is, “Are we alone in the universe?” Breakthrough Listen was launched partly to find the answer. According to Dr Daniel Huber, an astrophysicist from the University of Sydney, this is also the purpose of the NASA Kepler Mission in its search for exo-planets—those outside our solar system. So far, they’ve found Kepler-452b, an Earth-like planet orbiting a star that’s very similar to our own.
“We have a curiosity to find out whether we are alone. What is our place in the galaxy and the universe?” Huber told Fairfax media. It’s a question that inevitably leads to another: “Who are we?”
These are questions the patriarch Abraham—the father of three world religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity—never needed to ask. This is because he already knew that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, was his heavenly Father. The Bible speaks of Abraham as a friend of God (2 Chronicles 20:7, James 2:23) who knew he was not alone in the universe—God was there.
The Bible writers don’t try to prove God’s existence. They accept it as a self-evident fact.
Until recently, this was the prevailing worldview of the West, which was built on a Christian understanding. But this changed with the introduction of the theory of evolution, which declares that there is no God and that life is merely a biological accident. As a result, we’ve become strangers to ourselves. We no longer know who we are, and thus life has lost its meaning.
So it may surprise some to know that modern science actually grew out of the Christian worldview, which states that there is a rational, personal God who created an orderly universe that we could observe and study. In the 19th century, however, scientific rationalists, based on an evolutionary worldview, concluded that the only reality was empirical—what could be observed through our senses. As science developed, God was deemed unnecessary, and humans were placed in a “rationalistic box” as part of a cosmic machine. It reduced them to the same level of existence as atoms and biochemistry.
But while many scientists may hold that the universe had an impersonal beginning, their theories do personify something, if not God. Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick, in Life Itself: Its Origin and Destiny, does this with nature when he used phrases such as “Nature has solved this difficulty with a neat trick” and “Nature invented.” The late Carl Sagan also did this when he said, “Our universe permits the evolution of molecular machines as intricate and subtle as we.” But an impersonal universe cannot solve, invent or permit!
As Hawking admitted to the BBC during the launch of Breakthrough Listen, “To understand the universe, you must know about atoms, about the forces that bind them . . . but that is not enough. These ideas cannot explain everything. [They cannot explain] about life—about minds.” It’s an incredible admission from a materialist who believes that all life came from nonliving matter by chance over time!
Darwinist philosopher Michael Ruse concurs. He says, “Why should a bunch of atoms have thinking ability? Why should I, even as I write now, be able to reflect on what I am doing? No-one, certainly not the Darwinian as such, seems to have any answer to this. . . . The point is that there is no scientific answer.”
Physicist Paul Davies admits that the “universe does look as if it has been designed by an intelligent creator. Like the porridge in the tale of Goldilocks and the three bears, the universe seems to be ‘just right’ for life, in many intriguing ways.” Then he gives the only two alternatives: “Either the cosmic origin is a natural event or it is a supernatural event.” By the latter he means that it can’t be explained by science alone. The prestigious National Academy of Sciences in the United States would agree that science “is limited to explaining the natural world through natural causes.” It can say nothing about the supernatural—whether God exists or not.
But what science can’t answer, the Bible can: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Before everything else, there is God who acts in space-time history. He is the Infinite, Sovereign, Personal Creator who made the universe and us.
The first chapter of the Bible tells us the real nature of human beings. We’re finite, dependent, with delegated authority, yet unique, created in the image of God as personal beings who have the ability to think, choose and love. We are not machines. Having free will is what makes us human and sets us apart from the rest of creation. We were made for fellowship with each other and the worship of God (Revelation 14:7). The Creation story gives humans their place in the universe and the meaning for their existence.
The Bible writers don’t try to prove God’s existence. They accept it as a self-evident fact. Just as we can’t prove that the sun will rise tomorrow, that a sunset is beautiful, that love is real or even that we exist, belief in God is the only thing that can give life meaning. If there’s no God, then life would truly be, as Shakespeare said, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Many of our modern songs express the loneliness and despair many people feel because we’ve lost our connection with transcendent reality. But we are not alone in the universe. We have a heavenly Father who loves us and “sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 John 4:14).