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Adam Frank, professor of physics at the University of Rochester in New York, has come up with a novel theory that he believes could serve as a guide on how to better understand how humans impact the Earth, and could also aid in the search for aliens. Seemingly, Frank is deeply concerned about climate change and laments that, “We don’t yet have the ability to communally respond in the best interest of the planet.” According to Frank, his theory “unites what we need to know to survive the climate crisis with what might happen on any planet where life and intelligence evolve.” He believes that pursuing this line of thinking can help humans better understand their impact on the Earth, serve as a guide on how to better it, and use those insights to search for life on other planets that have the same kinds of patterns.
Frank, and his colleagues, have published a paper exploring this topic and had it published in the International Journal of Astrobiology. Their theory presents the concept of “planetary intelligence” – which is touted to describe the collective knowledge and cognition of an entire planet. Their research has posed the question, “If a planet like Earth can be alive, can it also have a mind of its own?”
Now this guy has a PhD in physics. He is, supposedly, a scientist. Now it is certainly the job of scientists to ask probing questions for the purpose of finding the answers to mysteries that exist in the natural universe. And in order to explore areas that are still a mystery, it is sometimes necessary for them to ask what seem to be outlandish questions in order to explore possibilities no one else has thought about before.
But there are limitations to the kinds of questions scientists are permitted to ask. Science is strictly limited to exploring things that relate to the natural universe. When you move outside of that arena, you have moved away from science and into metaphysics (religious belief). That is the same problem social scientists run into. They try to come up with solutions using scientific methods for matters that science cannot actually deal with. But the hard sciences, like physics, are not supposed to even consider that kind of thinking. So what is going on here? What does a person have to believe to even entertain an idea like what Frank has proposed?
Probably the most common group that considers the earth to be “alive” or “intelligent” is Animists. These are people who believe that there are spirit beings residing in nature and that humans interact with them in a symbiotic relationship. Many of them are connected to the radical environmental movement because they believe humans are hurting Mother Earth.
But scientists like Frank are a different breed and have an entirely different underlying philosophy. They are Naturalists who believe that the natural universe, operating by natural laws, is all that exists. So if that is what these scientists actually believe, where does the idea come from that the Earth may be an intelligent entity? Well, they do have their theory, but to understand the theory you have to understand the underlying worldview beliefs that the theory is built upon.
For them, since the natural universe is all that exists, they are totally convinced that everything that goes on in the natural universe is able to happen because there are natural laws that allow it. In a case like this, they propose that there are, indeed, natural laws that provide the possibility of an intelligent earth – but we just don’t understand them yet. They believe that one day we will, and that when we do, we will come to a place where we are able to explain everything in all of existence.
For instance, as of now, we have no idea where the matter and energy came from that exists in the natural universe. We have no idea how life could have emerged from non life. We have no idea how the many life forms that exist on the planet came to be. We have no idea how consciousness could have emerged out of non consciousness. Yet since these things all exist the way that they do, and, according to their beliefs, the natural universe operating by natural laws is the only way to explain them, it is obvious that there are simply natural laws we do not yet understand. But they believe that as science and technology advances, we will ultimately be able to explain all of these things.
Now it is obvious that humans, and other animal creatures, have a conscious existence. It is also obvious that humans are “self-conscious.” Thus, Naturalists conclude that there must be some natural explanation for the existence of this kind of consciousness. So when it comes to planetary intelligence, what Frank and his colleagues are proposing is to apply this kind of reasoning concerning human intelligence to the Earth, and potentially other planets as well. For them, the problem science has right now is simply that it is not yet advanced enough to get all the answers.
But the real problem here is not that humanity is not yet sufficiently advanced, it is that these people who claim to be scientists are working on the basis of metaphysics, not science. Their underlying assumptions are based on religious beliefs, and they are seeking answers to questions that science cannot even deal with. These days we are all the time hearing politicians and the media telling us to “trust the science.” Yet they are pushing things as science that are not science. Frank and his colleagues have just given us another case in point. Animism and Naturalism are simply incapable of delving into areas where the only possibility is the work of the one true God.
Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication, and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.
You may also contact Freddy at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule him for speaking or leadership engagements.
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