Alien life may exist, says Father Gabriel Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory and labeled by the BBC as “the Pope’s chief astronomer.”
Funes was referring specifically to life on Mars but more broadly stated, in the words of BBC News, that “intelligent beings created by God could exist in outer space.” Funes was writing in the Vatican newspaper in an article titled, “Aliens Are My Brother.”
The astronomer’s logic is that since there are many forms of life on earth, there could likewise be intelligent life elsewhere in the universe—some of whom could be “free of original sin.”
Additionally, Funes claims “science and religion need each other” and points to the many astronomers who believe in God. (Our guess, though, would be that Funes is not pointing to the many astronomers who are young-earth biblical creationists!)
Of note also is that the Vatican is organizing a conference next year to mark the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin—a man whose work, even if unintentionally, did more to undermine faith in the authority of the Bible than nearly anyone else. We’ll be eager to hear if the Vatican changes its current “accommodating” position on Darwin at that time!
AiG–U.K.’s Paul Taylor took a closer look this week at the logic and import of Funes’s view in Vatican Astronomer Believes in ET?. Also, be sure you’ve visited our May campaign page, Is anyone out there?
The private religious thoughts of the world’s most famous genius were up for sale this week in a London auction.
It was in astrophysicist Albert Einstein’s last year of life that he wrote the letter to philosopher Erik Gutkind. In it, Einstein describes (in German) his cynical views on God, religion, and Scripture:
The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. … For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.
Einstein, who was Jewish, also downplayed the perception of Jews as God’s chosen people, saying, “As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.”
Oxford University’s John Brooke, professor of science and religion, comments that “Einstein was not a conventional theist” nor consistent in his views about religion during his life, though Brooke adds that Einstein believed in “some kind of intelligence working its way through nature.” Einstein did stand in awe of the universe and described a “cosmic religious feeling,” but he also rejected “the God of theology who rewards good and punishes evil.” And speaking at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1939, Einstein said that a “conflict arises when a religious community insists on the absolute truthfulness of all statements recorded in the Bible.”*
The conflict arises, in fact, when science is divorced from the absolute truthfulness of Scripture. But without a solid basis of truth for conducting science—laws of logic, uniformity of nature, reliability of our senses, etc.—what good is the scientific method? Without the starting point of Scripture and the rational, non-contradictory God, we lose the basis for science. Einstein may have been blessed with high intelligence, but Scripture reminds us in Psalm 111:10 that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Bloomsbury, the London auction house that sold the letter, said it was “100 percent certain” that the letter was genuine.
Chimps are seen outpacing humans in a computer-based mental challenge in a National Geographic News video.
Japanese researchers have devised a computer game that requires a quick short-term memory to successfully complete. The surprise? Five-year-old chimpanzees accomplish the game’s task more quickly and more accurately than college students.
The project is at Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute, led by primatologist Tetsuro Matsuzawa, which houses 14 chimpanzees. The chimps were taught to recognize the numerals 1 through 9, then coached to participate in the computer game where the numerals are displayed for a split second, then covered by identical boxes. To beat the game, the participant (chimp or human) must dispatch each box (by touching it) in numerical order (based on the numbers hiding beneath the boxes). Chimps are rewarded with food and verbal praise.
One of the chimps reportedly was accurate 80 percent of the time or more, whereas a doctoral student taking the test had an accuracy of only 10 percent. Furthermore, all the chimps have this ability, not just some or one.
The game is testing photographic memory (also called immediate memory or, more formally, eidetic memory). Matsuzawa suggests that while chimps have strong photographic memory, humans “may have lost such a kind of capability in the course of evolution.”
Thus, the London School of Economics’s Nicholas Humphrey can claim, “What [the research] has taught us is that we have probably descended from animals which had much better memories than we do currently … why did human beings lose their memories?” The evolutionary hoop-jumping in the answer is astounding: why would natural selection favor a reduced memory capacity? Humphrey explains, “With too good memory, we wouldn’t have had the incentive to develop language.” In other words, as the National Geographic News video narrator explains, losing our memory forced us to develop abstract thoughts and concepts.
Consider at least two lines of complaints we give here against this conclusion from the research. First, regarding the research methodology, it wasn’t clear from the video that the training or incentives for the chimps to play the game as opposed to the humans playing the game were identical. Presumably, the humans’ livelihood was not contingent on success at the game, and perhaps the humans had less time to practice and train; thus, it could be the chimpanzees were more highly motivated to perform well. Likewise, whereas the ordinary human memory is filled with millions of facts, memories, skills, etc., if memories of the captive chimpanzee are relatively untapped they may be more absorbent of such a special activity—like a prisoner in solitary confinement might quickly master an otherwise difficult game.
Second, even if chimps’ photographic memory was more acutely attuned than humans, would this indicate evolution? Certainly not. There are numerous animal capabilities superlative to human capabilities (think of the speed of a cheetah, for instance), and none of these overturn the clear portrait of humans made in the image of God. Human dominion, language use, civilization, and relationships with God are all reminders of that—and the proof is in Genesis chapter 1.
One last thing that the video sneaks in near its close: though “all chimps have this ability,” as the video’s narrator reports initially (at ~1:56 in the video), apparently some of the chimps were actually worse than the human attempts. The narrator reports that the skill needed for the test is similar to a skill in human children that fades with age. “In fact, the young chimps performed better than older chimps in the study. [The mother of a chimp that scored better than 80 percent accuracy] did even worse than the college students.” So perhaps we’re not even comparing bananas to bananas here: would chimps beat human children of comparable development in this game?
Creationists are fascinated with the life God created, including animals. Research into the created kinds and the amazing features God has endowed them with helps us understand the world around us and God’s creativity and ingenuity. With such incredible life forms, who needs such strange evolutionary stories and spin?
Is earth in a special place in the universe—and if so, what would that say about design? Two scientists writing in Physical Review Letters consider just how we could test that hypothesis.
The world of secular astronomy and astrophysics is dominated by the Copernican principle—the unproved idea that earth cannot be in a “privileged” nor central position in the universe. Rather, secular astronomers believe that earth’s vantage point to the rest of the universe is only as good (or as bad) as that of any other random observer in the universe. The “why” is obvious—unless you believe that earth was created and our place in the universe chosen (by the Creator or some other intelligent designer), any privileged position would be far too unlikely. Thus, rejecting the former option these scientists default to the latter view.
Now to the recent news. The report in Physical Review Letters centers on mysterious “dark energy,” an unknown substance invoked to explain why the universe seems to be expanding at an increasing rate. Dartmouth College’s Robert Caldwell and Albert Stebbins, of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, hypothesize that dark energy may actually be a “cosmic mirage” that would be caused if humans live in “a special place in the universe with a peculiar distribution of matter,” reports ScienceNews.
What if the earth is in the middle of a giant bubble—relatively free of matter—but this bubble is surrounded by a “massive, dense shell of material,” Caldwell and Stebbins ask. In this case, gravity would pull galaxies inside the bubble toward the dense edges, fooling an inside-the-bubble observer into thinking some form of “dark energy” existed.
Caldwell, too, recognizes the unprovable nature of the Copernican principle. “Although the Copernican principle may be widely accepted by fiat, it is imperative that such a foundational principle be proven,” he explained (emphasis added). Thus, Caldwell and Stebbins suggest a way to check whether our part of the universe is similar or different from other parts of the universe—a test that relies on the cosmic microwave background radiation, a supposed legacy of the big bang.
Ultimately, until humans (if ever) can deploy spacecraft across the universe, our estimations of the size, shape, and composition of the physical universe will always be subject to numerous assumptions because we can only rely on data gathered from earth. To secular astronomers, the starting assumption is that we can’t be in a privileged place (such as the center), even if we are in an unusual place. In Caldwell and Stebbins’s test, there are two possible results. First, if the tests indicate a bubble, this is a sign that we are in a “special” place, but secular astronomers would say it is not a privileged place. Second, if the evidence points to “Earth’s corner of the universe [being] just like everywhere else,” secular astronomers will say the Copernican principle has been upheld.
But what if the universe appears consistent because we actually are near the center—i.e., a very privileged place not likely to have happened by chance—a place that would indicate design? Secular astronomers have ruled out this possibility a priori because their entire model of the big bang is rooted in secular presuppositions.
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” —Matthew 6:25–27
LiveScience’s Robert Roy Britt takes a look at the health benefits of optimism, asking, “is it optimism that makes people healthy, or do healthy people understandably have a brighter outlook?” Britt cites several scientifically validated health advantages to optimism: longer life, lower blood pressure, lower likelihood of heart disease, and more. Even existing illnesses don’t override the health benefits of optimism, according to this month’s issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch.
Optimists do better, Britt reports, both because lower levels of stress hormones means less deterioration to the human body and because optimists tend to lead healthier lifestyles, build stronger social networks, and get better medical care.
Does the Bible have anything to say about all this? Christians are commanded in Scripture “let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1); “trust in Him at all times” (Psalm 62:8); “do not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34); and Proverbs 12:25 reminds us that “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.” Christians have every reason to be joyful and optimistic, and it’s no surprise that these godly behaviors has positive medical benefits. So keep a “big picture” mentality and keep a smile on your face!
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!
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