Well today sees Rick Santorum finally calling an end to his bid to become the Republican nomination for US president. I’ve been meaning to blog about his views on climate change for a while so hear goes.  Santorum went further than all the Republican candidates who ran for the presidental nomination, the vast majority have stated that the science on climate change is unsettled.  However, Satorum goes further and says climate change is “an absolute travesty of scientific research …”.  Indeed he has called Obama’s theology phony and not based on the bible because he sides with radical environmentalists!  For reporting on this Bible-tinged climate change denial see this article.

Unfortunately the Christian theology of “dominion” has and still is contributing to environmental degradation.  You can read my own views on the use of dominion in Genesis 1 here.  The Bible actually says is that the Earth is not ours to use and misuse as we please, but

“The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1)

According to recent polls evangelical Christians are the least likely to agree that humans play a role in climate change and also the most likely to indicate that there is no scientific proof that climate change exists.  Yet, some scientists and Christians are suggesting that this has nothing to do with theology, and more to do with political science.  Environmental issues are often seen as liberal agenda items and many conservative information sources present climate change as a theory rather than scientific fact.  A recent study stated that views were strongly partisan, with 78% of Democrats believing in climate change and only 47% of Republicans.  Although, I have heard of a study that shows that the carbon footprints of Democrats and Republicans are no different, in other words whatever you believe people are not doing anything about it! Incidentally I also heard that this is true of climate scientist themselves who have the highest carbon footprints of any discipline.

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In a previous post I discussed the scientific discovery of exoplanets and the race to find an Earth-like planet outside our solar system.  These discoveries combined with other recent work on exophiles (a related previous blog post here) have led to a renewed interest in the possibility of extra-terrestrial life.

For example, a great collection of current scientific papers in a recent issue of Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society are available from this link.

SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) has now been searching our ‘close vicinity’, within the milky way, for 50 years, but has yet to detect any signals that show signs of having been derived from an extra-terrestrial intelligence.  By the way, if you want to play a part in this search, you can sign up and get free software that enables your computer (while it is idle) to crunch through the data in search for interesting signals.

What would be the theological implications if a discovery of intelligent extra-terrestrial life were made?  The key theological issues surround our own place in the universe and the universal nature of salvation.  The Bible teaches that we (humankind) are the image bearers of God:

“God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

Could it be possible that other life forms are also made in the image of God?

How about the essential Christian doctrine of God incarnate in human form – would the death and resurrection of Jesus be sufficient for an alien’s salvation, as it is for humans?  In other words is one earthly incarnation, in Jesus of Nazareth, enough for the entire cosmos? Or are multiple incarnations a likely possibility?

Owen Gingerich has a nice little essay in his book God’s Universe, here’s what he has too say:

“I am personally persuaded that a superintelligent Creator exists beyond and within the cosmos, and that the rich context of congeniality shown by our universe, permitting and encouraging the existence of self-conscious life, is part of the Creator’s design and purpose.  Yet like many Christians steeped in a conservative ethos that human beings are central to God’s plan, my gut reaction is to disparage the possibility of the existence of intelligent life on other worlds.   But I remind myself, Beware!  Not only is such a view inonsistent with the notion that the universe has been deliberately established as a potential home for self-conscious contemplation, but it sets unwarranted human limitations on God’s creativity.”

“… as the physicist John Wheeler once suggested to me, perhaps the universe is like a large plant whose ultimate purpose is to produce one small exquisite flower.  Perhaps we are that one small flower.”

There is a also great discussion, on radio, between Paul Davies and John Lennox on this subject, the audio is available here.

I’m waiting for Paul Davies latest book to come out in paperback.  This is entitled The Eerie Silence – Renewing our search for alien intelligence.

“And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.”  Genesis 1:24 (KJV)

“How many are your works, LORD!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.”

Psalm 104:24 (TNIV)

Last month I attended a fascinating seminar by Dr. Brian Lanoil of the University of Alberta entitled “The Microbiologist Who Come in from the Cold: Adventures in Polar Microbiology”.  He studies the microbiology of extreme environments.  His investigations have led him to discoveries of mircoorganisms living in such harsh realities as subglacial systems, high Arctic tundra soils, ice cores, and sub-ice marine environments.  One such example includes Lake Vostok in Antarctica, this description is taken from his website:

“Lake Vostok, buried for at least 15 million years beneath approximately 4 km of ice that has prevented any communication with the external environment for as much as 1.5 million years …  Due to concerns about potential contamination of this pristine environment, samples are not available directly from the lake; however, water from the lake that has frozen on to the bottom of the ice sheet (accretion ice) is available for study.  Several studies have indicated the presence of low abundance, but detectable microbial communities in the accretion ice.  Our central hypothesis maintains that Lake Vostok microbes are specifically adapted to life in conditions of extreme cold, dark, and oligotrophy and that signatures of those adaptations can be observed in their genome sequences at the gene, organism, and community levels.”

Well where better to begin than the beginning!  Whole rainforests have probably been felled to produce the number of books written on the subject of the first couple of chapter of Genesis.  I don’t want to say much, but it may be prudent to start with the oft-quoted:

“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. ” Genesis 1:28 KJV

So it seems we have the Almighty’s permission to reap from the Earth whatever we can, to denude its resources and trample over anything that gets in our way.  This of cause is a very naive interpretation, but unfortunately not too far removed from the perspectives of some.  However, another view point emerges when we read on into the second creation account:

“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.  And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.”  Genesis 2:7-8 KJV

Now we see how we are not owners of the Earth, but have ourselves been lovingly fashioned from the earth (literally an earth clod) and placed in a garden with the imposition to serve and preserve it.  Therefore, could it be that we are commanded to master the Earth (a call to Scientific endeavour?) in order that we can fulfill our call of caring and nurturing the garden in which we have been placed.  The stewardship of creation can be achieved with the help of understanding and technology garnered from science.