Sunday, May 14, 2006

Küng on alien life

Review of Küng’s Der Anfang aller Dinge, section D, part 1.

The review of section D of Der Anfang aller Dinge has turned out to be rather longer than planned. Why? Well, because it is such a fascinating chapter, one that really gets to the nitty-gritty questions. I hope you enjoy reading these following posts as much as I have writing them. Without a further ado ...

Section D. Life in the cosmos?

In section D and E, Küng turns to address that hotly debated question: If the shape of the cosmos and life itself can be explained with the laws of natural cause and effect, is there room for a special intervention of God in this process? In this section, Küng specifically asks: If God did intervene, did it happen when life first appeared on earth (the question of biogenesis)? In section E, he asks whether any special ‘intervention’ happened with the appearance of Homo sapiens.

1. Since when has there been life?

After dismissing that the Genesis account of creation is to be understood as anything other than a symbolic story, Küng, as the initial step in his argument, asks: ‘What is life’? In concluding, along with the modern scientific consensus, that life is characterised by three things (reproduction, mutation and metabolism), he proceeds to ask the fascinating question: ‘Where is there life?’

Directly asked: ‘Is there alien life’? Though this is somewhat of a digression from the subheading of the section, Küng spends a number of pages detailing the initially positive estimates for extraterrestrial life, but notes that the search for alien life produced by such optimism returned exactly no concrete evidence. This leads him to suggests that perhaps we are in fact all alone in the universe. Indeed, observation of the known universe hasn’t, as yet, lent itself to the notion that there are life-friendly places for life to evolve; the universe outside of our solar system appears rather unsuited to support any reproduction, mutation or metabolism. Nevertheless, he is clear that ‘One can, of course, certainly not forever excluded the notion of extraterrestrial life’ (cf. p. 153), and theology has nothing to fear were it found - even if E.T. were to finally be discovered ‘moonying’ us from planet Zob.


At 5/15/2006 7:46 AM, Anonymous Eddie said...

Random, At my youth service on sunday nite we had an open discussion, and one of the questions i got asked was 'do you believe in aliens?'

Of all the (way off the) side issues...

At 5/15/2006 11:09 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

... and what was your answer?

At 5/15/2006 3:20 PM, Anonymous john mcbryde said...

Hello Chris,

Glad to see your back reviewing Kung's book. I tend to agree with Peter Ward(paleontologist)and Donald Brownlee(astronomer)who believe that lower order life forms are probably pretty common through out the universe. But that complex life forms are probably an extremely rare event. They give a pretty exhaustive -- and exhausting -- run down of the issues at hand in their book Rare Earth.

Basically, the higher you go up the latter of complexity, the narrower the parameters become that allow for life.

For example in our case:

our optimal distance from the sun, the positive effects of the moon's gravity on our climate, plate tectonics and continental drift, the right types of metals and elements, ample liquid water, maintainance of the correct amount of internal heat to keep surface temperatures within a habitable range, and a gaseous planet the size of Jupiter to shield Earth from catastrophic meteoric bombardment, just to mention a few.

Anyway, that's my take.


At 5/15/2006 6:35 PM, Anonymous john mcbryde said...

Oy vey!

Sorry about that. What I meant to say was:

Glad to see that your back is reviewing ... :-)


Glad to see you're back ...

That's what I get for commenting from work.

At 5/15/2006 10:35 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi John, nice to hear from you. And my back did enjoy doing this review, I must say!

I think you are probably spot on in your opinion. To be honest, this is why I added the word 'intelligent' in the poll question, and why I voted 'probably not'.

At 5/16/2006 4:32 PM, Anonymous Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


It could be that Kung is not versed in M-Theory or String Theory. I will not bore you with either of these two advanced concepts via quantum physics. However, if you want I could email you some bibliography on the essence of M and String theory. Suffice to say, it could be that all of the world is looking into the space that we can "see" but it is like my daughter looking into my backyard and thinking that it is the known universe.

At 5/17/2006 1:03 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Joseph,
I do believe I've still got your mug kicking around here! I must send it!

As for M-Theory or String Theory, Küng does discuss the related possibilities, but dismisses them as less than likely speculation. He seems to be an empiricist at heart!

All the best


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