Science in Christian Perspective
The Loneliness Factor
John W. Haas, Jr.
Gordon College, Wenham, MA
From: JASA 30 (March 1978): 41
The Loneliness Factor is a 28 minute Planetarium Sky Drama developed by the
Hansen Planetarium, Salt Lake City, Utah and produced under a grant from the
American Chemical Society and W.R. Grace and Co.
The American Chemical Society in celebrating its first century of existence has developed a number of projects which highlight specific challenges to chemical science. The Loneliness Factor features some of the ways that the emerging field of cosmic chemistry can deal with such questions as the origin of life on earth, the presence of other intelligent beings in the universe, and means of communication with this extra-terrestial life. This show is being distributed to more than 500 planetariums around the world and will be seen by more people than have ever viewed a specific planetarium presentation.
The show has the usual visual and aural delights found in presentations of this type. The lightning and thunder, the motion of the stars and tracing of cosmic events on ceiling and was with a background of appropriate music and authoritative sounding voice overlay are a delight to the eye and ear.
The film begins with a retelling of "how" life began on Earth. It postulates that in the death of super giant stars 15 billion years ago were born the elements of life that are scattered in space. As our planet cooled an environment favorable for the production of the molecules of life became possible and in time life emerged in a pattern suggested by the Oparin-Haldane scenario.
If life arose spontaneously on Earth, could it not have developed on any planet that had an environmental history similar to Earth? There are an estimated 200 billion stars in our Galaxy and perhaps 100 billion galaxies in the universe. It is not unreasonable to suggest that with all these possibilities a million planets exist where life could arise. Man is not alone. How then can we communicate with extraterrestial man? Space probes are too slow. Radio signals provide one means. Today our neighbors in near-by stars are receiving bits of "The Lone Ranger" and "Jack Benny" broadcasts from a quarter century ago. Can they understand these signals? Can we understand their signals as we point the radio telescope to outerspace? Some interesting speculations on the physical characteristics of space-man as a function of different environments (gravity, gas composition, etc.) drew the only laughs of the presentation.
The program concludes "that humanity stands now on the shoreline of a sea of unthinkable infinitude, awaiting that first message from the stars." "This communication will mean, in a sense, that the forever journey is beginning, that man can go home to the stars from which he came-lonely no more."
The film is aimed at a popular audience-many times children. As such it cannot be expected to contain scientific detail or indicate more than one approach to a particular issue. A clear and direct message is portrayed. Unfortunately, the line between speculation and certainty especially in recounting Earth history is ignored. The booming voice comes across saying how it was-not how it might have been.
There is no sign in the show of meaning or purpose in any of the cosmic events portrayed. The fourth dimension of Will Durant is missing. One cannot expect a sectarian view in such a presentation, yet to avoid any reference to this area seriously limits the overall usefulness of the film. For the Christian the scientific aspect of nature must be viewed with an eye of faith. Take a Sunday School class of kids or adults to see this show. It is a great way to begin a discussion of origins.