Humankind’s Discovery of Extra-Solar Planets and its Effects on Religion
Scott R. Pelow
ITT Technical College
EN-1320: Composition one
Throughout the history humankind has looked to the stars and wondered if they are alone in the universe. Only in the past few hundred years have humans had the means to start answering this timeless and most important of questions and now that humans have begun to discover extra-solar planets in their galactic neighborhood they may soon find out. The sheer mathematical probability since there are hundreds of billions of stars that populate the Milky Way galaxy. Since 1995, more than 200 extra-solar planets have been discovered, demonstrating ...view middle of the document...
Effects such as convective motions near the surface of the star, or star spots combined with stellar rotation, can cause spurious Doppler shifts much larger than the Earth would induce. Remarkably, a system of Earth-sized planets has already been discovered in orbit around a pulsar, the remnant of a supernova explosion, using the extraordinarily precise timing of the radio pulses to deduce the displacement of the spinning neutron star induced by the planets.
Of course, there is much more interest in finding habitable planets orbiting stars like the Sun. Perhaps the most promising technique for finding other Earths is to search for transiting systems (Lathman, 2003). As of 2010 about 500 planets had been discovered, and the 2010 Decadal Survey cited extra-solar planet research as one of the three pillars of modern astrophysics. The growth and interest in extra-solar planet research remains impressive for a field that did not exist 15 years earlier. (Butler, 2012) the Catholic Church has finally admitted it was in wrong in the Galileo affair. And the new pope has acknowledged the basic facts of evolution: the Big Bang event, the age of the earth, the fossil record, and genetic connections across species. Moreover, in 2009 the Vatican hosted a conference on astrobiology and the question of whether there is life on other planets (Fiala, 2013).
Religions will have to evolve beyond an exclusive focus on the earth. While some critics may hope that this phase in the evolution of religion may lead us beyond religion altogether, it is more likely that religion will develop in new directions. While the discovery of exoplanets finally confirms the fact that there is nothing special about our planet, defenders of the rare earth hypothesis can focus on the specifics of temperature differentials, gravitational fields, the chemical composition of the atmosphere, and the presence of liquid water to argue that intelligent life remains special. It is more likely, however, that the earth is not so rare—especially if we acknowledge the billions of stars that may host inhabitable planets. We need, then, to reconceive our place in the cosmos. The discoveries of the Kepler telescope direct our attention to the vastness of the universe and our own insignificance. And they remind us how limited our terrestrial perspective is. Several generations hence, we may well look back on this discovery as the sort of turning point that we associate with the discoveries of Galileo, Kepler, and Darwin. But we should recall that these scientific geniuses ran afoul of traditional religious and moral teaching. Galileo was forced by the church to abjure his theory; his work was banned for several centuries. Kepler’s mother was accused of witchcraft and threatened with torture. Kepler used his influence to free her. He was eventually forced out of Prague when the emperor ended tolerance for Protestants. Darwin was not subject to the same threat of torture or...