Why science and religion come together to discuss alien life

A recent visit to the Washington National Cathedral began with a tour led by its dean Randy Hollerith, who showed me the fragment of a moon rock brought to one of its windows in 1974 by Apollo 11. I I was humbled by the remarkable architecture of the Cathedral.

The visit was followed by a fascinating Ignatius Forum on “The Future of Space”, to which I was invited along with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Jeff Bezos de Blue Origin and Durham University theologian David Wilkinson.

The forum touched on various perspectives of space exploration, including science, national security and business. The common thread that ran through all related conversations was the possible existence of extraterrestrial civilizations.

Hinting at this, David Ignatius of the Washington Post asked Nelson and Haines, “What’s the most exciting project in your organization? They both replied, “It’s classified.”

With pleasure, I had the chance to represent the Galileo project, which embodies a different answer to this question: “it is not classified”. Sometimes I feel like the kid of the famous Danish folk tale which noted that the emperor has no clothes, where the emperor in my case is the mainstream science that has ignored the search for extraterrestrial equipment in space for many decades.

As soon as I entered the cathedral, Dean Hollerith said, “I understand that you are not a person of faith.” I confirm. But during my discussion with him and Reverend Wilkinson, I admitted that based on my studies of the universe as a scientist, I came to three principles common to many religions:

1) The first and most important is the sense of modesty. The cosmic play began 13.8 billion years before we became actors in it. The realization that we arrived late and also that we are not placed in the center of the stage, implies that the play does not concern us.

In a previous conversation with Adi Ignatius of Harvard Business School, Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosSanders vows to oppose the defense bill: “We have to define our priorities well” NASA wants to pilot the obsolete space launch system for at least 30 years, Glen De Vries, passenger of Blue Origin, killed in plane crash in New Jersey MORE described the exhilaration he felt going to space recently. In my conversation with the Reverends, I noted that Bevos lifted his body barely one percent of Earth’s radius while the universe is 10 to the 19th power (or 10 quintillion) times larger than this. ladder. Showing off in space is an oxymoron.

2) The second principle that guides me as a practicing scientist is curiosity. By studying the universe, astronomers want to understand how man came to exist on a rocky planet like Earth near a star like the Sun in a galaxy like the Milky Way.

3) Finally, the cosmic perspective rewards us with a sense of calm. We live so short and there’s no point in getting too attached to our passing ambitions, given the grand scheme of things.

My convergence on these principles, which connect science and religion, may explain why Rabbi Rob Dobrusin gave a sermon to his congregation in Michigan about my recent book, “Extraterrestrial,” during the Jewish High Holidays this year.

Science and religion are not necessarily in conflict, as long as we are careful not to ignore the border between physical and metaphysical. Speaking with Rev. Hollerith and Rev. Wilkinson, I highlighted a scenario through which science and religion could actually be unified in the future.

By finding advanced alien intelligence, religion might just mirror advanced science with a twist. Traditional religions described God as the creator of the universe and the life within it. They also suggested that humans were created in the image of God. But these notions are not necessarily at odds with science. A sufficiently advanced scientific civilization might be able to create synthetic life in its laboratories – in fact, some of our Earth laboratories have almost reached that threshold. And with a good understanding of how to unify quantum mechanics and gravity, an advanced scientific civilization could potentially create a baby universe in its laboratories. Therefore, an advanced scientific civilization might be a good approximation of God.

Humans are currently creating artificial intelligence (AI) systems in their image. In the future, our civilization will likely launch AI astronauts into space. This would make more sense than sending many people into space, as Bezos envisions in this forum, since humans were selected by Darwinian evolution to survive on the surface of the Earth and not in the Earth. space. Cosmic rays and energetic radiation pose health risks to biological creatures like us more than to electronic AI systems.

How to unify religion and science? By finding AI astronauts from a scientific civilization much more advanced than us. The Galileo project aims to search for extraterrestrial equipment near Earth.

The question remains: Did God – in his religious or scientific interpretations – create humans in his image or did humans imagine the concept of God in their minds? The Galileo project can address the scientific context of this question.

Avi Loeb is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was the Longest-serving Chair in History in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University (2011-2020). He is the founding director of Harvard Black Hole Initiative, Director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Institute for Theory and Computation Center for Astrophysics, and the Chairs and Advisory Board of the Breakthrough Starshot Project. Loeb is the former chairman of the Physics and Astronomy Council of the National Academies and a former member of the Presidential Council of Science and Technology Advisors at the White House. He is the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth”, recently published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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