108
NORMAN LAMM
EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE
109
Copernican revolution displaced the earth from the center of the universe and set in motion a religious and philosophical upheaval that has but recently run its course. One of the most persistent advocates of a radically new philosophy is the famous Harvard astronomer, Harlow Shapley, who in 1918 located the center of our galaxy (the Milky Way) some 50,000 light years away. Shapley finds in the probability of intelligent extraterrestrial life "the intimations of man's inconsequenti-ality." Vannevar Bush, one of the world's most distinguished men of science, has already detected one of the resulting tendencies—a "new materalism" espoused especially by "young men."2
That this challenge must be met forthrightly and honestly is quite evident. It is unnecessary to belabor the parochial and provincial viewpoint that would shrink from pursuing it. Some religious thinkers have already begun to grapple with the problem. Much of what has been written by Christian theo­logians so far has been predictable and unconvincing. Ap­parently there has not yet been any serious Jewish thinking on the subject. This essay is a preliminary attempt at what might be called a Jewish "exotheology," a religious conception of a universe in which man is not the only rational inhabitant.
The Scientific Background
That the universe contains an enormous number of heavenly bodies was already known in ancient times. In the Bible, the expression for a very large number is "like the sand on the seashore" or "like the stars of the heavens."3 The vastness of astronomical distances, although not measured in terms of light-years, was also known before modern times. Thus, Maimonides (Guide 3:14) estimates the distance from the center of earth to Saturn as 125,000,000 miles. Nevertheless, the universe was considered closed, limited, and well-defined with the earth at dead center. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with the Renaissance, came the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, Brahe, and Kepler, and a century later the laws of gravitation were formulated by Sir Isaac Newton. The sun, not the earth, was the center of a world that had begun to open up. Then,
in 1918, as the result of probing with powerful photographic telescopes, Shapley's findings displaced the sun as the center of the universe. The world as such is eccentric, or acentric (with­out a center); the center of our particular galaxy lies an enormous distance away from our solar system.
Now the estimated number of suns or stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way, is over 100 billion, many of them bigger but most smaller than our sun. Shapley estimates that there are about 100 billion galaxies in the universe containing, all told, more than 1020 (a one followed by twenty zeros) stars.* Of these, approximately 20 percent are identical to our star, the sun, in size, luminosity, and chemistry. The Harvard spectrum catalogues note some 40,000 such stars in the nearby areas of the universe.
The question is, how many of these stars contain planets in orbits about them, as does our sun? No one has yet seen or photographed a planet of a star other than our own. How­ever, the fact that our sun has planets means that it is likely that other stars do too. According to astronomer Frank D. Drake, the most optimistic reckoning would lead us to expect that a quarter of all stars not only have planets, but bear civilizations advanced enough to communicate with us. Shapley is much more conservative in his estimate. He argues that even if only one star in a hundred is a single star (the others are thought to be incapable of supporting planets), that of them one in a hundred has planets, of which one in a hundred are earthlike, of which one in a hundred are of the right tempera­ture, and of which one in a hundred have a chemistry similar to that on earth, we still remain with about ten billion planets suitable for organic life. Less conservatively, he prefers to multiply that figure by a million. Stephen H. Dole, of the Rand Corporation,5 estimates the number of life-bearing planets in our galaxy at 640 million. Harvard astronomer Carl Sagan believes there are one billion planets in our galaxy that have developed advanced civilizations. Otto Struve, one of the greatest names in contemporary astronomy, in 1960 esti­mated that there are about 50 billion solar systems in the
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