Podcast: Stephen Freeland | Life on Earth and Elsewhere

Stephen Freeland joins Jim to talk about astrobiology, the rich benefits of a multidisciplinary and faith-centered approach to the subject, and his take on the possibility of life, intelligent or otherwise, beyond our planet.

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Was a really interesting podcast. I have nothing to contribute to the scientific aspects of it lol. I was hoping he was going to jump into the Mars mushrooms theories lol. I keep seeing it popping up in the mushroom groups I’m in on and off lately.

I wish I would still be alive when there are discussions abkut how earth microbes jacked up other planets and how can we fix it and prevent it. Definitely a lot of things I’ve wondered but never really tried to dig into because I felt it was impossible like “‘does Christ’s life and resurrection play into extraterrestrial life and it’s salvation”.

I guess if pressed I would fall on no. I would presume if needed the Holy Spirit would have incarnated into other forms.

I was also thinking about how stewardship extents to beyond our planet and galaxy. I would say it does, but I don’t think that’s what the authors was thinking about. For a fact I believe they viewed angels as the stewards of the celestial realm.

The very first comment is somewhat incomprehensible to me.

“Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection is literally the center point of physical reality.”

What???

Sounds a lot like the notion that the Earth is the center of the universe.

Uh… no…

How can one be so self-absorbed as to think that ones religion is the center of the universe. I just don’t get that. It is just YOUR religion… ok mine too… but it is not even the religion of the whole planet.

Why???

Why??

Why does Christianity require anything of the sort?

???

Yeah, Jesus is God. I agree.

Yeah, Jesus is our savior. In Him we can find liberation from the self-destructive habits which are making a hell of our world and future. I agree.

But why would this require this anthro-Christo-Eartho centrism. I don’t get it.

Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection is certainly the lens through which I will read the Bible.

But the lens through which everything is understood? Why?

Does Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection have anything to do with how my computer works? No.

Does Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection have anything to do with how to make enchiladas? No.

Does Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection have anything to do with how all the different species came into existence? No.

Does Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection have anything to do with how the human brain works? No.

etc… etc… etc…

This frankly looks to me like an exaggerated self importance of religion mongers blown to narcissist proportions. I don’t understand it.

Or is the point that this is the center point of Stephen Freeland’s experience of physical reality? And that this does not stand in the way of scientific investigation for him.

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Did you listen to the whole episode and hear that quote in context? Might help.

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Now I have listened to the rest of it…

And what have I found?

I certainly found plenty of things to interest me in this podcast, so my objection to that first statement is no reason not to listen to the rest of it. The majority of the discussion was science rather than religion.

But was there any answer to my objection to the first statement? No. If there is an explanation it is perhaps in his religious upbringing which I don’t have.

I would have assumed that any statement regarding Jesus would be in the form of laying his cards up on the table, a profession of his necessarily personal view point. I can’t imagine it plays an active role in the science so much as the manner he engages it. Probably not a bad idea to take that into account but I haven’t et listened to it myself. I may have an opportunity later today.

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Listening to the last part again… I wonder…

Does this have to do with some belief that Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection transform the entire universe much like some think the fall did also?

I certainly don’t believe any such thing. I didn’t think most of Christianity thought like that, but it was just some rhetoric to support creationism. I have no need to make Christianity out to be of such all consuming importance.

It makes me think of when someone has an exaggerated sense of responsibility where they think that things happened because of some insignificant thing they did. I really don’t think the whole universe revolves around human beings – such that our fall would ruin everything everywhere in the entire universe.

The point Stephen Freeland makes about physicists saying there is no NOW, that is particularly relevant in making a disconnect between an event on the earth with the rest of the universe. It basically means that the only effect events on the earth are going to have on the rest of the universe has to travel out from the earth at the speed of light. Anything else would contradict the very space-time structure of the universe to claim there is such a NOW, when there is not.

You raise interesting points/topics/questions.
I think GOD dwells in an other universe and is here and everywhere always.
Entanglement is certainly challenging what we thought we knew about the maximum speed attainable in the universe. I think God is still present 13 billion years ago when He spoke and from absolutely nothing that we can measure, matter and energy and time exploded. I think He is already at the end of time and always has been and will be, that He exists independently of the dimensions that define our world.
I think He lives in a civilization occupied with an unimageable cast of characters including all those who have joined Him there because of what Jesus achieved. He’s in hell, too. It is not possible to be somewhere that He isn’t and hasn’t been, always.
Religion is for people who don’t want to go to hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there.

Probably. I didn’t listen yet but I don’t think anyone means we should use the Cross to learn how to make a specific dish of food or fix a computer. Lots of Christians believe in original sin and something like penal substitution. The Cross is where God scored the decisive victory over both original sin and death. He probably defeated the Devil and necessary atonement was made so that God could actually forgive us ( he couldn’t before hand?). Apparently God paid himself our debt and couldn’t even look on Jesus who happens to be himself (say what?). The idea for some though is Jesus literally took on all sin, past, present and future. He somehow paid the price for our sins (as if this makes any moral sense outside simply being a replacement in a culture built around sacrifice). For most Christians I would guess it is the penultimate event in human history and somehow it changed the e tire state of Creation. Since these proponents believe that God made the universe for us it’s easy to conclude the cross, which was foreordained per scripture) changed the world in some actual way. Even for those who don’t subscribe to these theories the Cross and getting closer to God are always at the center of our existence, or at least they should be.

Vinnie

Yeah… You do make it all more clear to me. You hit that nail on the head. It doesn’t make any sense to me, because I don’t believe in any of that.

I certainly do not believe in penal substitution. As for original sin, there are many different understandings of that: guilt for someone else’s sin? don’t believe in that, an evil nature making us do bad things? don’t believe it, consequences of a first sin which loads the deck against us so to speak? yes – that I can believe.

Yeah… very strange and hardly admirable God, that. Doesn’t agree with the gospel story either, where Jesus was constantly forgiving sins. Salvation was never about forgiveness, but about what Jesus always said next, “therefore go and sin no more.”

You cannot literally pay for sin. That sort of indulgence nonsense is the bread and butter of the ancient pagan religions (and thus why it was explained that way). It is a metaphor, just like when we say soldiers pay the price for our freedom. Of course you cannot literally pay for freedom any more than you can pay for sins. And it is not just about paying a bigger price. Frankly all this indulgence garbage is really about entitlement – the biggest evil in religion.

And you certainly can’t literally satisfy any sort of sane justice by having an innocent person pay for the crimes of the guilty. That is another one of those notions remaking Christianity in the image of the mafia – with a rule by fear Godfather, a protection racket saving us from his wrath, and patsies to keep their soldiers free.

It all comes from taking the metaphors too literally, because I certainly think there is truth in all that the Bible is telling us. For example, in a sense the innocent do pay for our sins by bearing the consequences of them, and when this happens, that is often enough to make us want to change. Thus we can look at Christ on the cross and repent.

The only way any of the stuff make any sense whatsoever is if there is no escape from the consequences of our actions – none whatsoever. That is not what salvation or heaven and hell are about. It is about getting rid of our sins (self-destructive habits) for they will make hell of our existence no matter where we are.

I agree with most of your points. The problem is there is some weighty scripture defending many of these positions including the centrality of the Cross. Any good systematic theology text, whether we agree with the conclusions or not, will usually lay out the most relevant passages on the issue. Plus some of your questions have answers, whether good or bad. That Jesus forgave sins (and God as well) before the Cross has not been overlooked. God, being outside time, or containing extra-dimensionality knew of the Cross and forgave in light of it. There are quite a few scriptures talking about how the cross was foreordained (1 Peter 1:20, Acts 2:23). God knew divine justice would be settled (is or was settled from His Divine perspective outside time) so all forgiveness was in light of it. That is the pat answer I hear. I go to Bible study every Monday night with conservative friends. I suppose your comment “You cannot literally pay for sin. That sort of indulgence nonsense is the bread and butter of the ancient pagan religions” would be met with, “So because you can’t understand it, then it isn’t true.”

That the Cross actually changed things in the world:

All things in heaven and earth were reconciled by the Cross:
1 Col 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

The devil and death was defeated on the cross. See John12:31 and quoted here, Hebrews 2:14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,

I am sure every Bible story is true for someone in some sense just like every poem and other extra-biblical story is. Whether or not every single thing stated in the Bible is objectively true of reality is a bridge built too far for me. I don’t believe in harmonization. Each text and passage speaks on its own, sometime conflicting with others. Nonetheless, a big picture emerges and I think in the overall message, conveyed in the limited ideologies of a specific time in history, the Bible is true. I see Jesus being a necessary blood sacrifice required for forgiveness as entirely scriptural (it is!) but also just based on a society fully immersed in religious sacrifices. It was the best way to explain Jesus’ death for them in that culture. At any rate, this will probably sidetrack this discussion quite bit but I think down the road a thread on “what exactly Jesus’ death did/ accomplished” may be a worthwhile pursuit. I must say I rely on a solidarity model of atonement but don’t rule out all others. In a sense ransom theory but certainly not to the Devil or Himself, but maybe to us. He saved us from ourselves.

Vinnie

Yeah, and I pretty much haven’t read those texts or ever cared what they said. My story is one of reading the Bible for myself without a guide, though with filters like modern science, trying to decide whether I could find anything of value in it. That story gives away much of my hermeneutics and bias. I frankly discarded meanings which would have made me toss the Bible in garbage can as worthless to me. There is very little pretention to objectivity in this or my understanding Christianity. Coming from hard physical science with its standard of objectivity, I couldn’t see much point in pretending to anything of the sort with religion and the Bible.

With my physics background they would be very much at a disadvantage on that topic with me.

To which my reply is that the garbage can is waiting for anything with such terrible perversions of concepts like justice which are sacred. I have no problem whatsoever with being an atheist or non-Christian, if such things are insisted upon.

As for life and death there is as mentioned before plenty of Biblical justification for the distinction between physical and spiritual death. As for the devil, I can believe its existence but I am quite sure it is better to give it no power over you by crediting it with responsibility for anything.

I can work with the other metaphors as well but all going in this same direction of God saving us from ourselves – and not by magic either, but in the usual ways that we see people change. I can see the work of God in that.

I’d suggest a bit more grace and latitude for comments made on a podcast. This is not the same process as when you write, edit, and revise. Speaking extemporaneously, you’re never quite sure what is going to come out of your mouth. Believe me, I know this first hand!

“Literally the center” might very plausible be taken to mean that he is advocating a Christo-centric view of the universe–everything is interpreted in light of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

Beyond that, certainly there must be more important things to criticize. (Or maybe more important things to do!)

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Looking at the research of others is an excellent way to decide if something has value or not since it helps us properly understand a work from 2,000 years ago. The Bible itself comes from a publisher and a translation committee based on the works of textual scholars. The books of the canon also comes popular opinion of the Orthodox Church. I certainly advocate for studying the Bible for yourself but that hardly is limited to just reading what’s on its pages. I am indebted to countless New Testament scholars for a deeper understanding of the Gospels and 1st century background of Jesus. The Bible is the most discussed and researched work in world history. And peer review as you know is extremely important in science. It is important in every other subject. I can’t see how an intellectual who professes to take the Bible seriously would border on disdain for a systematic theology when trying to ascertain what exactly the Bible teaches and to see if it’s of value.

Obviously if we read the Bible and only accept whatever agrees with us we are not letting sacred scripture serve as conscious and corrector. We are elevating our own intellectual thoughts and moral positions above it. I say this full well admitting there are many deal breakers for me in conservative thought and the Bible. There has to be a balance somewhere though. Otherwise we are just picking and choosing and reconstruct ourselves—putting our thoughts and views into God’s mouth.

To them, and virtually all Christians, scripture is a vastly more reliable source than your purported knowledge of physics. I am sure they could also find a physicist who thinks God is somehow outside time and that past-present and future might fuzzily be one thing to him. That God possesses exhaustive, definitive foreknowledge is accepted by many and that we honestly don’t really understand the fullness of God’s being, reality or of creation always leaves wiggle room. God knows the future in scripture in many places. That God is outside of time is an unfalsifiable statement. I say that as one who tinkers with open-view theism.

Vinnie

But that is not what I said.

The choices were to toss that meaning of the text or toss the whole Bible. It means looking for a meaning of the text which does not make the entire text worthless to you. Obviously, not tossing the whole thing into the garbage is the ONLY way you are going to learn anything from the text. Frankly your rhetoric is of the sort which supports Weinberg’s claim that religion gets good people to do evil things. Much much better to put it in the shredder.

Don’t forget that I have not and will not start with the premise that Christianity is a good thing. That would be expecting way way way too much of me. As it is I am already setting aside all the bias of my childhood against Christianity.

But to me that sounds like a formula for keeping the physics of Aristotle. No! If I cannot arrive that the same conclusions from reading the text myself. Then all that gobble-dee-gook in those theology texts are nothing but justifications for what they have decided to believe. Not interested.

I am not dictating what everyone must do, but only what I have chosen to do according to what is worth something to me. And I do learn a lot of things in dialogue with others, very possibly because they have read those texts.

Fair enough. I was under the impression you thought the Bible was inspired by God. My comments are given in that context. If you do not believe that then there is no reason to ever give it the benefit of the doubt or trust it over your own reasoning at times.

And why would anyone want to start with the assumption that Christianity is good? If Christians live as they are called and act as the salt of the earth then I think this could inspire some outsiders to question what makes these people tick. But that’s not always the case. One time Jesus was called “good teacher” and his response was, “why do you call me good, God alone is good.” Anyone or anything following the will of God is good. I think Christianity is a good only because of my experience with God while reading the Gospels and Christian ideals. In worldly terms, Christians have done a lot of good but also some unspeakable evil just like most others. In the US a lot of Christians supported slavery with solid Biblical exegesis in the 1800s and a lot of them argued against it with solid Biblical exegesis. We could also tske a tour through church history. I have no interest in tallying up a score list on that front. Christians claim they are sinners, they were hopelessly lost and in complete need of God grace to be saved. The world is fallen in some sense to most Christians and Jesus has saved us. Christians don’t claim to be good. They claim to be bad but forgiven by God’s grace.

You are missing the point. A systematic theology is more about finding questions than answers. It will provide an overview of all relevant scripture and then the main viewpoints on each issue. Usually a stand will then be taken. But the stand isn’t why you read it. You read it for it’s broad scope and ease of access to pertinent information if you want to understand what the Bible teaches and discuss theology. The same is true with any New Testament Introduction. They are not meant to give you all the answers but to give you an overview of the current state of scholarship and the issues it is grappling with.

You can arrive at the same conclusion on your own but sometimes that would require an immense amount of background knowledge and expertise in many different fields, including the ability to read Koine Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic.

The majority of English readers would never arrive at a synoptic problem and find chiastic structure of Mark 2:1-3:6 that interrupts the narrative of 1:45 and 3:7 and countless other things with studies done in the original language by scholars.

Reading someone else’s thoughts is about the process. Dialogue going with reasoned arguments important and often helps us pick up on things we may have personally missed. Forming your own opinions is easy. Defending them during cross examination is harder.

Take Jesus’s comment about “the dead burying the dead” as an example. Billy Graham and countless others (Bailey in Through Peasant’s Eyes) have softened this verse. Bailey makes it an idiom of the time about discipleship. Graham (and a multitude of others read foreign details into the text and question the man’s motives and said he was just making excuses. The need for theological fabric softener is obvious here. Wtf Jesus? You want me to not bury my father? So impious and harsh it can’t be true!

I ended up getting Bailey’s work since many scholars reference it along with Hengel’s (Charismatic Preacher) which offers a diametrically opposite interpretation and builds a the book around this issue. I have several full academic commentaries on Matthew and reviewed them and read five full length academic journal arguments on the issue (e.g. Kingsbury’s Reluctant Scribe and Eager Disciple) putting forth diverse points of view. I learned a lot in doing this. Saw many arguments that were excellent and things I had missed in the text.

If you truly want to know something, why not read what the experts have to say and see how they argue? You certainly don’t have to believe any of them and can still form you own opinion. But peer review is an integral part of real research and there is nothing wrong with letting someone else do a little legwork for you.

Vinnie

Only as a conclusion I came to AFTER reading the Bible – NOT as a premise for reading and by which I read the Bible in the first place. Expecting “because the Bible says so” to be reasonable when talking to non-Christians is ludicrous. Accepting the Bible as a authoritative is generally part of the self-identification of oneself as Christian.

You are missing the point. A guide like that only ends up dictating the questions and is part of one giant rut which has more to do with everything my childhood upbringing found wrong with Christianity. The point was to find something valuable in Christianity despite all those criticisms. Following the old rut isn’t going to do that. So I will find my own questions, thank you very much.

And I repeat the part you ignored: I am not dictating what everyone must do, but only what I have chosen to do according to what is worth something to me. And I do learn a lot of things in dialogue with others, very possibly because they have read those texts.

Good example of how the questions you ask are guiding thoughts…
Their question: “Does this mean we shouldn’t bury the dead?”
My question: “Why does Jesus speak as if some people walking around are dead?”
I was never going waste any time on a stupid question like theirs. To me that would be like asking whether the possibilities discussed in the parable of the sower were scientifically justified… are plants in shallow soil really scorched by the sun?

Because I do not acknowledge their expertise.

In case anyone wants to talk about the subject of this episode, here is a new article summarizing what the experts think so far about UFOs and their evidence for life elsewhere in the universe. Spoiler alert: not much.

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Pretty much what I thought. Only 1 of the 5 seems committed to advanced, intelligent life (humanish). One is a no and the others think bacterial life of some form or possibly life as we don’t know it. Even the one who thinks there probably is technologically advanced life says space if so vast we may never know it.

As far as we know, a lot of stuff has to line up for advanced intelligent life. Of course, this is using us as a case study and a sample size of one. We have learned of primitive life’s resilience on this planet in extreme conditions But advanced life as we know it seems improbable to me. I don’t deny there may be bacteria or even primitive life out there somewhere but what ultimately interests me is the possibility that other advanced civilizations exist, if we can call ourselves that.

I have always found the belief that aliens visit the earth in UFOs to be absolutely without merit or credibility in any way, shape or form. Based on the conditions necessary over time, the size of space and the speed of light alone this seems vastly improbable.

I share Helen Maynard-Casely’s thoughts: “Considering all of the above, it really does feel more and more inevitable that we will find a niche for some active biology somewhere. Whether it can say hello to us? Well, that’s a different question.”

Vinnie

Yes the basic physics makes this highly improbable.

The size of the universe is one of the best arguments for the existence of alien civilizations elsewhere. But this argument is a two edge sword because it also make contact between them unlikely.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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