... in 'The Planets'

Published on 29 Jun 2019
Some toy planets

I started watching the new BBC series 'The Planets' recently with a very good friend of mine. At various points in the programme, which mostly focused on the presence or absence in different planets of the conditions needed for life, I wanted to exclaim 'and doesn't that show that there's a God!' but I didn't, because my friend is aware that's what I think, although she disagrees, and we're perfectly in peace while not agreeing on that subject.

The idea that there might be life somewhere on a distant planet, which is apparently physically possible but actually really unlikely, has never troubled my faith in God.  My theology expands to fit this possibility. But the presenter of the programme, Brian Cox, seemed to find the possibility that we might be 'it', the only ones here, a little harder. He said that the fact we might be the only life in the universe lent us more 'meaning.' Yes, but what meaning, exactly? It struck me that atheism can struggle to expand to fit these existential, philosophical questions, and a believer is actually better prepared to cope than an atheist.

None of this is meant as a criticism of the programme or the presenter (he didn't mention God at all). It was my friend who commented on one of the paradoxes in the programme, that apparently you need life on earth in order to sustain life. This keeps going certain processes which keeps the environment friendly for us. Yet of course, we are completely capable of destroying life on the planet, and without pushing this argument too brashly, this point came across quite strongly. 

It also struck me how many people of different backgrounds, disciplines and faiths (or lack thereof, and a lot of astrophysicists are apparently religious as well as atheists) needed to work together to discover other planets, and to solve the problems we have created on our own. A fine argument for integral ecology.