Science in Christian Perspective




By H. Harold Hartzler, Ph.D.

Is there Life in other Worlds?
From: JASA 7 (March
1955): 24-25.

In the February 1955 issue of "Sky and Telescope" Otto Struve of the Leuschner Observatory, University of California has an interesting article on this subject. Dr. Struve refers to several sources which should be investigated by any one seriously interested in this subject. First one should mention the famous book by Sir Harold Spencer Jones entitled "Life on Other Worlds". This book published in 1940 presents most of the evidence. available at that time on this subject. In the preface he quotes from Bernard de Foritenelle, "La Pluralite des Mondes" with reference to those who think that this subject will prove dangerous to religion,

"I know how excessively tender some are in religious matters, and therefore I am very unwilling to give any offense in what I publish to people, whose opinion is contrary to what I maintain. But religion can receive no prejudice by my system, which fills our infinity of worlds with inhabitants, if a little error of the imagination be but rectified ... And to think there may be more worlds than one, is neither against reason or scripture. If God glorified himself in making one world, the more worlds he made, the greater must be his glory."

The second reference is Gerard P. Kuiper, "The Atmospheres of the Earth and Planets". This is a symposium volume edited by Dr. Kuiper. The chapter of most direct concern to us is that by Kniper on "Planetary Atmospheres and Their Origin". Another reference which should be mentioned and which should be read by every member of the American Scientific Affiliation is that by George Wald entitled "The Origin of Life" which appeared in the August 1954 issue of Scientific America. The following quotation is quite interesting,

"The reasonable view was to believe in spontaneous generation; the only alternative to believe in a single, primary act of supernatural creation. There is no third position. For this reason many scientists a century ago chose to regard the belief in spontaneous generation as a 'philosophical necessity'. It is a symptom of the philosophical poverty of our time that this necessity is no longer appreciated. Most modern biologists, having reviewed with satifaction the downfall of the spontaneous generation hypothesis, yet unwilling to accept the alternative belief in special creation, are left with nothing.

I think a scientist has no choice but to approach the origin of life through a hypothesis of spantaneous generation."

Of course one has to accept such a conclusion if there is no belief in a supreme being who is the creator and sustainer of this vast universe. There is thus bound to be a conflict in the conclusions reached by the Christian and the unbeliever.

In his article on "Life on Other Worlds", Dr. Struve takes essentially the same point of view. For instance he says,

"We take the view that life is an intrinsic and inseparable property of certain aggregates of very complex organic molecules. No such aggregates have been produced artificially but if we could make them in the laboratory, we would undoubtedlv find them to be ,alive'."

In the present article the point of view is taken that it is just as reasonable to postulate a creation as it to postulate spontaneous generation. We are interested in finding out whether Astronomy is able to give any evidence as to the emstence of other planets where the conditions are favorable for the existerice of life. If such planets exist we may then postulate that God has created life there and thus there may be life on other worlds. Conditions favorable to the existence of life on a planet which may be examined by the astronomer are amount and kind of atmosphere, amount of water present, and average and extreme temperatures existing on surface. Each of the nine planets of our solar system have been extensively investigated with reference to these conditions. Six of them have such conditions as to rule out entirely the possibility of life on their surfaces. Of course we know that life exists on the earth. The other planets to be considered are Mars and Venus.

The temperature on Mars averages 30 to 40 degrees centigrade lower than that on the earth. It would nevertheless be able to support life. Observations show that very little free oxygen occurs in its atmosphere as well as very little water vapor. However it is inferred that some water does exist due to Kuiper's demonstration that the polar caps, which are quite conspicuous at t~nies, consist of hoar frost. There is a corisiderable amount of carbon dioxide present. The atmosphere of Maffs is very thin, its total weight bein- only about one-tenth of that of the air above the earth. Nitrogen is thought to constitute about 98 per cent of its atmosphere though it is unobservable in the accessible region of the spectrum.

Since the spectral features of chlorophyll are absent over the green areas of its surface, it is quite certain that no advanced types of vegetation are present. Still there may be some lichens and mosses present. It is thcught by some that Mars may be a planet where the conditions favorable to life existed many years ago. Of course this is just speculation so all that can be said with any degree of certainty is that if there is life on Mars it is of a rather primitive kind.

The planet Venus resembles the earth in mass and size. Being nearer to the sun it is warmer than the earth. Since its surface is completely covered by clouds of unidentified composition at all times it is impossible to say much about the existence of any plant or animal life there. No observable free oxygen or water vapor is present in its atmosphere. However the spectroscope does reveal a large amount of carbon dioxide.

Until recentiv astronomers concluded that the surface of Venus was lacking any water. Hokiever in the November 1954 "Sky and Telescope" D. T-T. Menzel and F. T. Whipple have suggested that its surface is completely covered by water. It has been suggested that Venus is a planet where the conditions favorable for life are about to take place.

Thus we reach the conclusion that in our  solar system there is but one planet with an abundance of life and one that may have some low forms of life. We now seek for other solar systems like ours where the conditions favorable for life may exist. All recent astronomical study on the sun has shown that it is very like a large number of the 100 billion stars in our galaxy. If this likeness extends to the method of its origin, then presumably there would be many solar systems like our own. Struve concludes his article as follows,

"It is unreasonable to suppose that one in a thousand or one in a million of these billions of stars underwent a catastropic process resulting in the formation of planets-without at the same time producing other observable differences in such properties as the axial rotation of the stars.

Since. we cannot adduce a proof one way or the other, we must rely upon what seems to be the most logical hypothesis. And this is without doubt the assumption that all, or at least most dwarf stars of the solar type have planetary systems. The total number of planets in the Milky Way may thus be counted in the billions.

As to how many can support life, we might adopt the solar system as a typical example. This would give us one out of nine for the kind of advanced organisms we find on earth, and perhaps one out of nine which we might describe with Spencer Jones as 'a planet of spent life', and another one out of nine with life in the embryon;c state. Thus, the total number of planets with some form of life on them could still be in the billions."

It should be added that this is indulging in a large amount of theorizing and that therefore we can be certain at present of life only on one planet.

107 W. Plymouth Ave.
Goshen, Indiana
February 16, 1955