The first planets beyond our solar system were discovered three decades ago. Since then almost 5,000 exoplanets have been confirmed in our galaxy and astronomers have detected another 5,000 planetary candidates that need a second examination to be confirmed.
During Medieval times Christian theologians accepted the Ptolemaic earth centered Greek view of the universe as an absolute universal truth. Some Christians still think that humans must be at the literal center of God’s creation.
Even in America today, many Christians avoid learning about new scientific discoveries. According to a February 2015 study “Religious Understandings of Science”, among members of non-Christian religions; 42 percent of Jews, and 52 percent of Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus (taken as a group) are twice as interested in new scientific discoveries compared to only 22 percent of Protestant evangelicals.
I do not know why they believe that the rarity of life in our universe proves that God must have created life only on this planet. Perhaps they believed that if intelligent life were found to exist on other planets; it would diminish the miracle of God’s creation of Human Beings. For me the opposite is true.
The Qur’an and the Hebrew Bible however teach that the Living God created the whole universe to be conducive to the universal evolution of life. The Qur’an says, “We have not sent you but as a blessing for all the worlds.” (Al-Anbiya 107) Many commentators say this refers to the 18.000 worlds created by Allah. Our world is one of them. (Mir’at-e-Kainat, vol.1, p.77).
The Hebrew Bible says in the Zabur of Prophet David, King of Israel; ” Your kingdom is a kingdom of all the worlds; and Your dominion is for all generations.” (Psalms 145:13) And the Zohar, the central book of Jewish mysticism, says there are 12.000 worlds. (2:196a)
I am a Reform Rabbi who first became interested in Islam 65 years ago, when I studied it at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I have continued my study of Islam off and on since that time. I now consider myself to be a Reform Rabbi and a Muslim Jew. Actually I am a Muslim Jew i.e. a faithful Jew submitting to the will of God, because I am a Reform Rabbi.
As a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant that God made with Abraham – the first Jew, to become a Muslim, and I submit to the commandments that God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. Thus, I see scientific things from the perspective of both the Qur’an and the Torah.
In 2013, astronomers estimated that there could be at least 17 billion Earth-sized exoplanets in just our galaxy; the Milky Way. They also said that one in six stars could host an Earth-sized planet in a close orbit.
Three recent scientific studies support a Muslim and Jewish view of God as the creator and ruler of all living beings, on all the inhabitable worlds. The number of observed exoplanets – worlds circling distant stars – has passed 3,000. Of these, dozens could be habitable – orbiting at a distance where it is neither “too hot” nor “too cold” for water to be liquid on the surface.
One study in the journal Nature found organic compounds of unexpected complexity exist throughout the Universe. Thus. complex organic compounds are not the sole domain of life. They can be made naturally by stars. This means that life is not a random fluke; the universe itself is formed to create life.
Organic substances commonly found throughout the Universe contain a mixture of ring-like and chain-like components. The compounds are so complex that their chemical structures resemble those of coal and petroleum. This discovery suggests that complex organic compounds can be synthesized in space even when no life forms have yet evolved on any planet.
By analyzing spectra of star dust formed in exploding stars, the astrophysicists showed that stars are in fact, making complex organic compounds, and doing so in extremely short time scales of weeks.
Not only are stars producing complex organic matter, they are also ejecting it into interstellar space, the region between stars. Thus, exploding old stars are molecular factories capable of manufacturing organic compounds. “Our work has shown that stars have no problem making complex organic compounds under near-vacuum conditions,” said researcher Kwok. “Theoretically, this is impossible, but observationally we can see it happening.”
Most interestingly, this organic stardust is similar in structure to complex organic compounds found in meteorites. Since meteorites are remnants of our early Solar System, the findings raise the possibility that stars enriched our early Solar System with organic compounds. The early Earth was subjected to severe bombardments by comets and asteroids, which would have carried organic star dust to planet earth; that then helped create life on earth.
Another study published in Astrophysical Journal found that methanol formation is the major chemical pathway to complex organic molecules in interstellar space and much more complex organic molecules are required to create life. The range in methanol concentration varies from negligible amounts in some regions of interstellar space to approximately 30% of the ices around a handful of newly formed stars. They also discovered methanol for the first time in low concentrations (1 to 2 percent) in the cold clouds that will eventually give birth to new stars.
If life only forms on planets with stars that have high concentrations of methanol, life would be very rare in our universe. But when scientists compared their results with methanol concentrations in comets in our own solar system they found that methanol concentrations at the birth of our solar system were actually closer to the average of what they saw elsewhere in interstellar space. “This means that our solar system wasn’t particularly lucky, and didn’t have the large amounts of methanol that we see around some other stars in the galaxy,” one researcher said.
As a Rabbi who believes in the verses of the Qur’an and the Hebrew Bible cited at the beginning of this article, I say that random luck has nothing to do with it. More and more evidence is accumulating that the laws of nature have been formed specifically to create life.
But planet Earth is essentially a ‘dry’ planet, with only 0.02% of its mass as surface water, so oceans must have come long after it had formed. Scientists think that happened when water-rich asteroids or comets in the solar system crashed into our planet. But there was no evidence to support this theory.
Now scientists have announced that for the first time both water and a rocky surface, two “key ingredients” for inhabitable planets, have been found together beyond our solar system. The star GD 61 is located about 150 light years away. It has a fragmented asteroid (so it can more easily be analyzed) which is composed of 26% water mass, very similar to Ceres, the largest asteroid in the main belt of our solar system. Both have a vastly higher percentage of water than planet Earth.
This new discovery shows that the same water ‘delivery system’ that delivered water to planet Earth, could have occurred in this distant star’s solar system.
For those who believe in the One God of all the inhabitable worlds, none of these new scientific studies are shocking. Unlike the Italian inquisition’s condemnation of Galileo, no Muslim or Jewish astronomer was ever condemned by a Muslim or Jewish inquisition, because Jews and Muslims never had an institution like the inquisition.
Also, because both Muslims and Jews had many philosophers who were critics of Aristotle’s and Ptolemy’s science, most medieval Jewish and Muslim religious leaders did not feel they had to prevent new science from disagreeing with Greek science.
Thus, even as new discoveries always change the scientific understanding of God’s universe; the religious belief that the whole universe exalts God and reveals God’s glory remains the same.
As it is written in the Zabur of Prophet David, King of Israel; “The heavens declare the glory of God. The universe proclaims God’s handiwork.” (Psalms 19:2) And as the Qur’an proclaims over and over again, “All that is in the heavens and all that is on the earth exalts Allah” (Qur’an 57:1, 61:1, and 64:1)