Eric Metaxas’ ‘Science turns to God’ article in The Australian (29 December, 2014) provoked a spate of hostile letters and the newspaper’s editorial comment.
In brief, the article contrasted what we know today about the conditions for life on this planet with what we knew back in 1966. In that year Time published the opinion of Carl Sagan that there were ‘two criteria for a planet to support life ? the right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star’.
Metaxas’ argument is that the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), despite high levels of funding, has not discovered any signals pointing to life elsewhere in the universe. He claims there are octillion planets (1 + 24 zeros) in the universe, surely more than enough for their signals to be picked up by our vast telescopic networks. But, says, the author, ‘silence of the rest of the universe has been deafening’.
The article then turns to what scientists today think are the necessary criteria for a planet to support life. Metaxas claims that ‘there are now 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life — every single one of which must be perfectly met’. He cites the example of a large planet like nearby Jupiter, whose gravity draws to it asteroids that would destroy Earth.
His argument is that greater faith is required to believe the universe depends on random, accidental forces that belief in an intelligent creator.
The major statistic relates to the creation of the universe itself. If the four necessary forces — gravity, electromagnetic force, the ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’ nuclear forces — were determined less than a millionth of a second after the big bang, there would be no universe.
(i) Metaxas is not a scientist, and his style is a little over-confident.
(ii) Letter writers to The Australian complain that his appeal to Fred Hoyle and Paul Davies were inaccurate.
(iii) His reference to SETI seems to be an example of the ‘God of the gaps’ argument by which God’s existence is positively asserted because of what we don’t know.
Reflections of a non-scientist:
(i) The contrast between current multiple known criteria for life on the planet relative to the known criteria in 1966 is helpful. But Metaxas doesn’t say who are these more modern authorities.
(ii) The 200 criteria, if accurate, are very important. But their importance needs to be stated cautiously and humbly, without any hint of coercion so as to drive unbelievers into a corner.
(iii) The arguments of ‘natural theology’, which seem to be Metaxas’ approach, may arouse interest, and the beginnings of faith. But it is the testimony of the Gospel that arouses a genuine and true faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.