WITH GRATITUDE FOR KEPLER 452b: EXOPLANETS AND FAITH

Having relegated us to cosmic insignificance, astrophysicists now force us to deal with a question that cannot be comfortable even to them.

The question is: Could it be that humans on this planet are the only beings in the universe who are conscious of it at all?

Believing that there is a God who is mindful of the universe, and of our mindfulness of it, can offer solace in the midst of struggling with a question like this. But not enough to overcome fully the dreadful awareness that the “it” may be just that — a mindless matrix of matter infinitely extended in space and time to which nothing can ever matter, even itself.

Is it any wonder, then, that we crave assurance that we are not alone in the universe? And that with our own solar system incapable of satisfying our craving, we go to such great lengths to find even the minutest hints of human-like life beyond it?

It has been exciting to follow NASA’s Kepler Mission and its recent discovery of Kepler 452b. This is a planet beyond our solar system — 1400 light-years beyond, to be more exact — that appears to bear a greater similarity to earth than does any other exoplanet currently under investigation. “Similarity” here refers, most importantly, to the possibility of the planet’s supporting life.

There is of course much, much more to unearth about Kepler 452b, if I may extend the referent of this word for the moment, before we dare even to begin entertaining hypotheses — including strategies for calculating probabilities — about what and perhaps who we may find there. But for now, the planet is offering hope, and we owe it one for doing so.

A wonderful thing about hope is that it holds up so well in the midst of turbulent uncertainty. One hope aroused by Kepler 452b, and discoveries like it, is the hope of making contact with higher beings who can teach us how to act more intelligently than we have managed to act thus far in our history as homo sapiens. Sapientia doesn’t mean being a sap.

My hope is a little different. It is for a renewed sense that in every galaxy life forms are stirring, consciousness is emerging, and that the whole universe is becoming aware of itself as and in the mind of God.

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