Schedule and details for the May 29 meeting on “Is there intelligent life in outer space? What are the stakes?”

“Is there intelligent life in outer space? What are the stakes?”

May 29, 2021. Webinar only. To register, go to this page.

All times Eastern Time

10:00 AM   Bijan Nemati

“Waiting for ETI: A Christian Scientific Perspective on Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence”

In 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus published his heliocentric theory in the classic work “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.” His idea challenged the long-standing geocentric cosmology that had reigned since the days of Aristotle. The modern-day “Copernican Principle,” meant to generalize that famous paradigm shift, holds that neither humanity nor the Earth which it inhabits can be “special.” Rather, these must be mere examples of what is repeated innumerable times in the Universe. An extension of this principle, to include the history of life on Earth, led most 20th century scientists to believe that extra-terrestrial life must be ubiquitous. It was against this expectation that by 1950, in a lunchtime conversation with colleagues, physicist Enrico Fermi famously quipped “Where is everybody?” The search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, or SETI, project has spent the last half-century looking for a telltale signal, and has come up short. In this talk, we examine from a Christian perspective the likelihood for extra-terrestrial life, taking into account what we have learned about extra-solar planets over the last two decades.

Bio: Bijan Nemati left Iran, his country of birth, in the weeks before the Islamic Revolution of 1979. He finished high school in the U.S. and studied physics in college. He received his Ph.D. in high energy physics from the University of Washington, and it was also there that he became a Christian. During his post-doctoral work at Cornell’s particle accelerator facility, he became interested in scientific apologetics, and has appeared in various documentaries on intelligent design, including the Privileged Planet and Science Uprising. For the last 20 years, he has been working on advanced space telescopes for astrophysics and exoplanet detection, mostly at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and most recently as a Principal Research Scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

10:50 AM   Kenneth Samples

“A Christian Perspective on the Space Aliens of the UFO Phenomenon”

This talk will briefly examine the UFO phenomenon identifying the three broad explanatory theories concerning “ufology.” The talk will also exam the general view of space aliens as set forth in common UFO experience and religion.

Bio: Kenneth Richard Samples is a senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe, an organization dedicated to demonstrating the compatibility of science and Christianity. Kenneth earned a BA in social science with an emphasis in history and philosophy from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. He worked for several years as senior research consultant and correspondence editor at the Christian Research Institute and regularly cohosted popular call-in radio program The Bible Answer Man. Today, Kenneth is author of several books, including Classic Christian Thinkers, Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, and his latest book, Christianity Cross Examined.

11:40 AM   Jay Richards

“The Privileged Planet and the Rarity of Habitable Planets”

A common way of organizing our speculations about extraterrestrial life is with the Drake Equation. The problem, as someone once quipped, that it is, in effect, a way of compressing a great deal of ignorance in a small amount of space. That is, there’s little certainty about the various factors. Still, we do know enough already, from both our knowledge of chemistry and astrobiology, to suspect that habitable planets are likely to be extremely rare, relative to uninhabitable ones. Moreover, we should suspect that any habitable planets will be highly earthlike. This alone is an interesting conclusion, but there’s more to it. It appears that habitable, earthlike planets, are also the best platforms, overall, for a diverse array of scientific discoveries. This suggests that the universe is not only fine tuned for life, but for scientific discovery as well.

Bio: Jay Richards, Ph.D., O.P., is a Research Assistant Professor in the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, and the Executive Editor of The Stream. He is author of more than a dozen books including the New York Times bestsellers Infiltrated (2013) and Indivisible (2012), as well as Money, Greed, and God (winner of a 2010 Templeton Enterprise Award). He is also co-author of The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery (2004) with astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez. He is also creator and executive producer of several documentaries, including three that have appeared widely on PBS. Richards’ articles and essays have been published in The Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Washington Post, Forbes, Fox News, National Review Online, The Hill, Investor’s Business Daily, Washington Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Huffington Post, The Federalist, The American Spectator, The Daily Caller, and many other publications. He has written and lectured on a wide range of topics, including culture, economics, public policy, natural science, technology, and the environment.

12:30 PM   Jonathan Barlow

“Towards a Protestant Christian Exotheology”

Thinking theologically about the possibility of plant, animal, or even sentient life native to non-earth locations impacts every Christian systematic theological category. From controversial ontological questions (e.g., what kinds of created beings exist?), to tamer questions about the centrality of human life in the larger created cosmos and the ethics of space travel, the nascent field known as exotheology provides a fascinating perspective from which to consider traditional theological commonplaces. Protestant systematic theology, especially of a variety that emphasizes the authority, sufficiency, and perspicuity of scripture, constrains speculation and establishes certain guardrails within which answers may be given to these questions. In this presentation, Barlow will discuss the history of Christian exotheology and attempt to sketch the meta-theological contours of a systematic exotheology that is both Christian and Protestant.

Bio: Jonathan Barlow holds a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Saint Louis University and a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary. He serves as an Associate Director at a research center at Mississippi State University that applies data science to education, workforce, human services, and economic development projects. Barlow serves as a ruling elder at Grace Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America. He grew up in south Mississippi where he enjoyed countless conversations about space exploration with his father, a career NASA employee.

1:20 PM   Panel Discussion

Beside the above speakers, we will include the following additional panelists:

David Snoke (PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pittsburgh.

Gavin Ortlund (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) serves as senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai in Ojai, California. He is the author of several books, including Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation and Why God Makes Sense in a World That Doesn’t.

David Snoke

About David Snoke

Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Pittsburgh
Astrophysics, Biblical Interpretation, Human exceptionalism, SETI

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