The Real Alternative


Is your religion ready to meet ET?

David A Weintraub, Vanderbilt University

How will humankind react after astronomers hand over rock-solid scientific evidence for the existence of life beyond the Earth? No more speculating. No more wondering. The moment scientists announce this discovery, everything will change. Not least of all, our philosophies and religions will need to incorporate the new information.

Searching for signs of life

Astronomers have now identified thousands of planets in orbit around other stars. At the current rate of discovery, millions more will be found this century.

Having already found the physical planets, astronomers are now searching for our biological neighbors. Over the next fifty years, they will begin the tantalizing, detailed study of millions of planets, looking for evidence of the presence of life on or below the surfaces or in the atmospheres of those planets.

And it’s very likely that astronomers will find it. Despite the fact that more than one-third of Americans surveyed believe that aliens have already visited Earth, the first evidence of life beyond our planet probably won’t be radio signals, little green men or flying saucers. Instead, a 21st century Galileo, using an enormous, 50-meter-diameter telescope, will collect light from the atmospheres of distant planets, looking for the signatures of biologically significant molecules.

Astronomers filter that light from far away through spectrometers – high-tech prisms that tease the light apart into its many distinct wavelengths. They’re looking for the telltale fingerprints of molecules that would not exist in abundance in these atmospheres in the absence of living things. The spectroscopic data will tell whether a planet’s environment has been altered in ways that point to biological processes at work.

What is our place in the universe?
Woman image via

If we aren’t alone, who are we?

With the discovery in a distant planet’s light spectrum of a chemical that could only be produced by living creatures, humankind will have the opportunity to read a new page in the book of knowledge. We will no longer be speculating about whether other beings exist in the universe. We will know that we not alone.

An affirmative answer to the question “Does life exist anywhere else in the universe beyond Earth?” would raise immediate and profoundly important cosmotheological questions about our place in the universe. If extraterrestrial others exist, then my religion and my religious beliefs and practices might not be universal. If my religion is not universally applicable to all extraterrestrial others, perhaps my religion need not be offered to, let alone forced on, all terrestrial others. Ultimately, we might learn some important lessons applicable here at home just from considering the possibility of life beyond our planet.

In my book, I investigated the sacred writings of the world’s most widely practiced religions, asking what each religion has to say about the uniqueness or non-uniqueness of life on Earth, and how, or if, a particular religion would work on other planets in distant parts of the universe.

Extrasolar sinners?

Let’s examine a seemingly simple yet exceedingly complex theological question: could extraterrestrials be Christians? If Jesus died in order to redeem humanity from the state of sin into which humans are born, does the death and resurrection of Jesus, on Earth, also redeem other sentient beings from a similar state of sin? If so, why are the extraterrestrials sinful? Is sin built into the very fabric of the space and time of the universe? Or can life exist in parts of the universe without being in a state of sin and therefore without the need of redemption and thus without the need for Christianity? Many different solutions to these puzzles involving Christian theology have been put forward. None of them yet satisfy all Christians.

Mormon worlds

Mormon scripture clearly teaches that other inhabited worlds exist and that “the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (Doctrines and Covenants 76:24). The Earth, however, is a favored world in Mormonism, because Jesus, as understood by Mormons, lived and was resurrected only on Earth. In addition, Mormon so-called intelligences can only achieve their own spiritual goals during their lives on Earth, not during lifetimes on other worlds. Thus, for Mormons, the Earth might not be the physical center of the universe but it is the most favored place in the universe. Such a view implies that all other worlds are, somehow, lesser worlds than Earth.

Bahá’í without bias

Members of the Bahá’í Faith have a view of the universe that has no bias for or against the Earth as a special place or for against humans as a special sentient species. The principles of the Bahá’í Faith – unifying society, abandoning prejudice, equalizing opportunities for all people, eliminating poverty – are about humans on Earth. The Bahá’í faithful would expect any creatures anywhere in the universe to worship the same God as do humans, but to do so according to their own, world-specific ways.

Light years from Mecca

The pillars of the faith for Muslims require the faithful to pray five times every day while facing Mecca. Because determining the direction of Mecca correctly could be extremely difficult on a quickly spinning planet millions of light years from Earth, practicing the same faith on another world might not make any sense. Yet the words of the Qu’ran tell us that “Whatever beings there are in the heavens and the earth do prostrate themselves to Allah” (13:15). Can terrestrial Muslims accept that the prophetically revealed religion of Muhammad is intended only for humans on earth and that other worlds would have their own prophets?

Astronomers as paradigm-shatterers

Philosophers and scientists have forced worldviews to adapt in the past.

At certain moments throughout history, astronomers’ discoveries have exerted an outsized influence on human culture. Ancient Greek astronomers unflattened the Earth – though many then chose to forget this knowledge. Renaissance scholars Copernicus and Galileo put the Earth in motion around the Sun and moved humans away from the center of the universe. In the 20th century, Edwin Hubble eliminated the very idea that the universe has any center at all. He demonstrated that what the universe has is a beginning in time and that, bizarrely, the universe, the very fabric of three-dimensional space, is expanding.

Clearly, when astronomers offer the world bold new ideas, they don’t mess around. Another such paradigm-shattering new idea may be in the light arriving at our telescopes now.

No matter which (a)theistic background informs your theology, you may have to wrestle with the data astronomers will be bringing to houses of worship in the very near future. You will need to ask: Is my God the God of the entire universe? Is my religion a terrestrial or a universal religion? As people work to reconcile the discovery of extrasolar life with their theological and philosophical worldviews, adapting to the news of life beyond Earth will be discomfiting and perhaps even disruptive.

The Conversation

David A Weintraub, Professor of Astronomy, Vanderbilt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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A new generation of weird-looking space suits will take us to Mars

Image – NASA

David Andrew Green, King’s College London and Matteo Stoppa, King’s College London

When Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov conducted the world’s first space walk in 1965, the mission nearly ended in catastrophe. After 12 minutes outside the Voskhod spacecraft, the vacuum of space had caused Leonov’s suit to inflate so much he couldn’t get through the air lock. He was forced to manually vent oxygen from inside the suit to reduce its size and get back onto the ship before the effects of decompression sickness overcame him.

Amazingly, the design of many of the space suits in use today hasn’t changed that much. The Russians still use a variant of Leonov’s one-size-fits-all suit, the Orlan M, and the Chinese use the visibly similar Feitian. And while NASA’s Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) has been updated since its initial development in the 1980s, its primary life support system dates to the Apollo missions of the 1960s.

However, the advent of manned flights to Mars and advances in materials technology could change all this. For space tourism to take off and mankind to step on Mars, we need suits that may look very different to those used today. Engineers are now developing a new generation of space suits that could help astronauts withstand longer periods of time in space and deal with the hazards of exploring other planets.

Future template?
20th Century Fox

Mini spacecraft

Most space suits are essentially mini spacecraft. Although typically just a few millimetres thick, the suits have to provide life support and protection against the vacuum, temperature extremes and micrometeorites of space. Without this protection, the drop in pressure would cause the body to swell up and lethal bubbles of nitrogen gas to form in the blood.

Suits that maintain a lower pressure, such as the 4.3 pounds per square inch (psi) of NASA’s EMU, make it much easier to move and so are less tiring. This makes a huge difference when spacewalks can last up to eight hours. The downside is this also increases the time an astronaut needs to spend breathing pure oxygen to reduce the risk of gas bubbles forming in the blood.

For its Mars suit, however, NASA is looking at much higher pressure designs such as the soft Z-2 and the hard-and-soft hybrid Mark III. These would effectively “dock” into the spacecraft or Mars base building, allowing the astronaut to enter but leaving the suits – and the irritating and potentially toxic Martian dust – outside.

A completely different approach would be to replace suits that pressurise the gas around the body with tight-fitting, stretchy garments that provide mechanical counter-pressure. This idea was first proposed in the 1970s but has only recently become possible with the creation of suitable materials. One example is the “BioSuit” developed at the Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT), which uses nickel-titanium shape-memory alloys to form a “second skin”.

Such a suit would also be much lighter than the 130kg of the EMU. It could also increase resilience, as minor rips or tears would be less likely to cause immediate fatal depressurisation. But this kind of suit will still need a space helmet to deliver breathable gas to the astronaut. Interestingly, the BioSuit is rumoured to form the basis for the suit being developed by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX for its astronauts to wear inside its Dragon capsule.

In a spin: the SkinSuit.

Under pressure

Astronauts have always worn full-pressure suits during landing and takeoff and once they’re safely in space, for example on board the International Space Station, they can wear shorts and t-shirts. But since the 1970s, the Russians have recommended donning the Pengvin (Penguin) suit in an attempt to prevent the loss of muscle and bone and the spinal stretching that occur when astronauts spend a time in zero-gravity environments. This can increase their height by as much as 7cm, preventing them from fitting into their space suits or moulded seats in the Soyuz transport vehicles that at the moment are the only way back to Earth.

The Pengvin suit comprises a belt with bungee cords wrapped around the shoulders and feet. This compresses the body in a way that loads it with the equivalent of 40kg of weight in order to simulate gravity. The problem is we do not experience gravity on Earth as a weight on our shoulders, and so astronauts usually choose not to wear the suit because it is very uncomfortable.

To overcome this, we have worked with the European Space Agency and international colleagues to create another body-tight suit that creates resistance at each point around the body that is proportional to that of real gravity. This means the full force of the combined “weight” is only felt at the feet, making the suit feel much more natural and comfortable to wear. Our research has shown that this “Gravity-Loading SkinSuit” can significantly reduce spine lengthening in a weightless environment, with a force less than 30% of Earth’s gravity.

ISS astronaut Andreas Mogensen wore the SkinSuit during his mission to the International Space Station in September 2015 but we have yet to find out if he has found it tolerable and whether it reduced any back pain and spine lengthening. Ultimately though, we hope these suits will reduce the risk of back injury due to intervertebral disc prolapse (slipped disc) when the astronauts land – something that would be catastrophic for a mission to Mars.

The Conversation

David Andrew Green, Senior Lecturer of Human & Aerospace Physiology , King’s College London and Matteo Stoppa, PhD candidate in Electronic Devices, King’s College London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Delighted to have new live streams from ISS (International Space Station)

From his vantage point high above the earth in...

From his vantage point high above the earth in the International Space Station, Astronaut Ed Lu captured this broad view of Hurricane Isabel. The image, ISS007-E-14750, was taken with a 50 mm lens on a digital camera. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If by chance you hit the play button and see nothing, the transmission periodically times out. But this is usually for a short while.

Definitely worth checking out. Lively social media chat forum there too!

Live streams at right column.

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Reagan’s 1987 UN speech on ‘alien threat’ resonates now

Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan

Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Steve Hammons

(This article was featured 7/26/15 in “Knapp’s News” on the Coast to Coast AM radio show website. “Coast” has the largest late-night radio audience in the U.S. Award-winning investigative journalist George Knapp of KLAS-TV News in Las Vegas is a popular “C2C” host.)

On Sept. 21, 1987, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave an address to the United Nations General Assembly. In an often-quoted section of his speech, Reagan asked rhetorical questions and commented about the nations and cultures of the world uniting in common efforts to live in peace and avoid wars and bloodshed.

“Cannot swords be turned to plowshares? Can we and all nations not live in peace? In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity,” Reagan said.

“Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond,” Reagan proposed.

“I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our peoples than war and the threat of war?”

In these statements, Reagan seems to be noting that in addition to the diverse cultures and societies around the world, we should also keep in mind the larger human culture. And despite conflicts and wars throughout human history to the present day, this larger human culture has many unifying elements.


Among these are the major accomplishments of humanity, including the survival of our human species on this planet over hundreds of thousands of years. The development of agriculture, language, education, art, music and technology are common to most human cultures.

Reagan urged us to see the big picture – “how much unites all the members of humanity.” He warned us to take the long view instead of “our obsession with antagonisms of the moment.”

Of course, the nations of the world already engage in significant cooperation on many levels. These include efforts to improve trade and economic prosperity, share cultural resources and viewpoints, protect global public heath, and respond to disasters and humanitarian challenges.

Yet, there is room for significant improvement in how nations and cultures interact, and how individual humans treat one another.

These conflicts, of course, are not just between countries and cultures. Within the many nations and cultures on Earth, we often see internal conflict and strife when people within a society are divided and angry about real or perceived injustice, oppression, ethnic and religious differences or some other cause.

In his address, Reagan theorized that these many sources of discord and conflict around the world “would [quickly] vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.” And, he put forth the idea that, “Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond.”

Was Reagan correct? Would certain adverse developments help bring the human race together? Would the human race unify in the face of a devastating impending meteor strike, severe global disease pandemic, worldwide natural disaster or other threat?


Reagan appeared to hold an optimistic view of humanity. He seemed to indicate that he felt the human race would pull together in greater unity in the face of a larger danger. As a result, a greater awareness about what we have in common as humans would help us overcome the perpetual wars, death and destruction that have been a large part of the experience of the human race on Earth.

Implicit in his speech, the former president told us that we have the potential to transcend these destructive behaviors and seize opportunities to focus on unifying instincts, developments and events.

Would it really require “an alien threat from outside this world” for the people of Earth to make significant progress toward peace and prosperity instead of perpetual conflict?

Or, might we stumble on this truth without an impending disaster? Can we reach a tipping point when it becomes evident and obvious that our “universal aspirations” are more important and fundamental than war and destructive competition?

Instead of “an alien threat,” what if a positive kind of development emerged? Such a development could include scientific discovery of a remarkable nature or a change in global human psychology and consciousness.

Instead of Reagan’s concept of an “outside, universal threat,” what might happen if there was an inside, universal breakthrough that takes the human race on to the next levels of our development?

About the Author

Steve Hammons is the author of two novels about a U.S. Government and military joint-service research team investigating unusual phenomena. MISSION INTO LIGHT and the sequel LIGHT’S HAND introduce readers to the ten women and men of the “Joint Reconnaissance Study Group” and their exciting adventures exploring the unknown.

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“A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking

Originally posted on Stuff Jeff Reads:


This book has been on my list for a while and I finally got around to reading it. I had high expectations for a couple reasons. First off, I am fascinated by theoretical physics. Wormholes, black holes, quantum mechanics, string theory, all that stuff I find intriguing. But more importantly, as a technical writer, I am very interested in how other writers of scientific and technical information are able to present complex ideas in a manner that is digestible for the lay person. From this perspective, Hawking excels in communicating deep and complicated ideas in a clear and concise manner that we commoners can grasp.

There is a lot of deep information and I could not do the book justice by trying to summarize it. So instead, I will cite a few quotes that sparked some thoughts and questions for me. The first one concerns event horizons associated with black…

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Knowledge of Science Increases Faith in God

The Whirlpool Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy M51, NGC 5...

The Whirlpool Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy M51, NGC 5194) is a classic spiral galaxy located in the Canes Venatici constellation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Misam Hasan Naqvi

Everyday, we see so many buildings around us. These buildings are meant for various purposes like residential apartments, offices, schools, colleges, hospitals and shopping malls etc. Whenever we come across a building that is planned out in such a manner that it best serves the purpose for which it is built and also offers maximum facilities and convenience to the people using it, we can easily understand that there was an efficient architect behind it.

No matter how efficiently a building has been designed, there will still be room for improvement. But when we look at the universe, we simply find it to be flawless. No scientist could ever point out that it would have been better had the distance between any two planets been greater.

Our very own earth has everything that is essential for the existence of life. Air, water, soil, gravity, sunlight, plants, animals and so many other bounties which we could not have even imagined, have been made available to us. Now did all this happen on its own or was there some intelligent designer behind all this? Nobel laureate Physicist, Charles Town states, ‘No one can deny that the universe is the outcome of intelligent placing. It is unusual. We, too, are unusual. To make it possible for life to exist, special physical laws are required. So I would say that this is a very special universe. It has been intelligently planned. How can anyone confute that? So, there is indeed a spiritual world; a Creator.’ (Ref: The Speaking Tree column of Times of India).

Many people like Stephen Hawking have argued that it is all due to the consequence of the laws of physics. Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist was quick to agree by stating, ‘Darwinism kicked God out of biology but physics remained more uncertain. Hawking is now administering the coup de grace.’

English: Planets and dwarf planets of the sola...

Planets and dwarf planets of the solar system, sizes to scale. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I agree that a scientific approach may be adopted while trying to understand a natural phenomenon. But science is merely the study of these phenomena and not their creator. Therefore, the study of the creator is beyond the scope of science. But how the study of science will affect the faith of a person depends upon his/her initial understanding of God. If a person thinks that God is sitting somewhere in a physical form, holding a sprinkler to make it rain, then it is quite natural that on learning the true scientific cause behind rains, the person will lose faith in God. But if a person understands that God is the creator of all phenomena, and he has designed all the systems, then that person\’s faith can only become stronger with the increasing knowledge of science. So Darwinism or any other theory cannot pose any threat to faith.

Every time I watch the discovery channel or animal planet, or come to know about the scientific cause of any event through books or magazines, I find that the level of my faith has only increased.

Therefore, every person who believes in God cannot be labeled as irrational or vice-versa. In fact, science is the true means to understand the majesty of the Almighty.

Article Source:

About the Author

Misam Hasan Naqvi is a student of Islamic studies. He is also a qualified journalist.

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Cosmology Matters

Yesterday I tweeted about this program. I also wrote the television station, telling them how much I enjoyed the show and that it should be available on the web. I was pleasantly surprised to be informed that TVO is extremely web savvy. So if anyone read my comments re yesterday’s entry, I stand corrected!

More importantly, I’m glad that visitors to can watch this video too. I found it very helpful… nothing short of captivating.



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