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Kabbalah, Exoplanets, And Intelligent Lifeforms – OpEd

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In October, 1995 the discovery of the first planet revolving around another sun-like star was proclaimed. In the following 27 years, 5,000 additional exoplanets have been observed orbiting other stars. The catalog of planet candidates found with NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) recently passed 5,000 Objects of Interest. The catalog has been growing steadily since the start of the mission in 2018.

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Now a new study using gravitational micro-lensing suggests that almost every star in our galaxy has at least one planet circling it; and according to the research published 11/6/20 using data from NASA’s retired planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, about half the stars similar in temperature to our Sun could have a rocky planet capable of supporting liquid water on its surface.

We used to think Planet Earth was unique in our galaxy but now it seems that there probably are billions of rocky planets with masses similar to Earth orbiting stars in our Milky Way galaxy.
 
A 2021 study from Pew Research found that eighty to eighty-five percent of Jews, agnostics, atheists, and unaffiliated Americans, say their best guess is that intelligent life does exist beyond Earth. About two-thirds of Catholics and mainline Protestants and 55% of Black Protestants agree. In contrast, only 51% of Protestants — and 40% of white evangelicals — are open to the possibility of intelligent aliens.

In reality, the Qur’an refers to thousands of other worlds. inhabited by intelligent creatures capable of worshipping God, and since such worlds are very rare, there must be billions of planets that lack intelligent forms of life. The Qur’an says, “We have not sent you but as a blessing for all the worlds.” (Al-Anbiya 107). Muslim commentators say this refers to the 18.000 worlds created by Allah [for intelligent beings]. Our world is one of them. (Mir’at-e-Kainat, vol.1, p.77) 

As a Rabbi, I would point out that a prophet, as God’s messenger, is a blessing only for creatures capable of worshipping God. Since on our world, of millions of species of animals, only Homo Sapiens worship God, worlds inhabited by intelligent creatures capable of worshipping God must be rare; but it is no surprise that some must have intelligent life.

One of the fundamental questions regarding the origin of planets is how many of them there are. Now several teams of astronomers have estimated that there is roughly one planet per star. “There is at least 100 billion planets in just our galaxy,” says John Johnson, assistant professor of planetary astronomy at Caltech.  

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So each new discovery in astronomy yields new evidence of God’s wisdom and power. As the Qur’an says, “The heavens, We built them with power; and verily, We expand [them]” (51:47). 

As the Zabur of David says, “Your kingdom is a kingdom of all worlds; and Your dominion is for all generations.” (Zabur-Psalms 145:13) 

And the Qur’an declares, “Verily in the heavens and on the earth are signs for those who believe.” (45:3)

And Prophet David says, “The heavens declare the glory of God. The universe proclaims God’s handiwork.” (Zabur-Psalms 19:2) 

In my introduction to Modern Kabbalah, “God, Sex and Kabbalah”, I devoted an entire chapter to Extra Terrestrial Intelligent Life as evidence of God’s creative activities. In 1983 when the book was published, there was no evidence at all that any other stars had planetary systems.

Thirty seven years later astronomers have already discovered over 5,000 exoplanets.

This supports my assertion, based on Kabbalistic teachings, that God didn’t create a universe with millions of billions of stars and leave it devoid of intelligent, spiritually aware lifeforms, with the only one exception being on planet Earth. Earth size planets at the right distance to support carbon based life will be discovered in the next two decades. 

When my book on Jewish mysticism was published I used the very conservative analysis of Dr. Frank Drake, who estimated that only 10% of stars had planetary systems. Now there are estimates that over 50% of sun like stars have solar systems.

While surveys haven’t yet detected any Earth-mass planets with atmospheres that contain oxygen, as instruments become more precise and planet-finding missions like Kepler continue to stare at stars, finding Earth-like planets in life-friendly orbits looms closer and closer. 

Within a decade, astronomers hope to aim telescopes to spot the presence of oxygen or other biomarkers in their atmospheres. There is little doubt that we will soon discover extra-terrestrial life. But extra-terrestrial intelligent life will be much rarer. After all for 99.999% of the last 4 billion years there was life in Planet Earth; but intelligent life did not arise until the last 1/40,000 of 1% of years.

Still, with billions of planets in our galaxy there should be millions of planets with life and thousands of planets with intelligent life. But the most important factor has not yet been accounted for. How long do intelligent civilizations last?

While emergence of intelligent life could be rare, intelligent life might emerge frequently but subsequently fail to survive for very long. Every sufficiently advanced civilization will confront a suicidal technology or unsustainable trajectory like climate change or harmful Artificial Intelligence?

For 200-300,000 years humanity has survived super-volcanoes, asteroid impacts, and naturally occurring pandemics. But our track record of survival is limited to just a few decades in the presence of nuclear weaponry and AI. And we have no track record at all of surviving many of the radically novel technologies that are likely to arrive in the next few centuries

So the key ingredient that is essential for two advanced civilizations to meet is the half-life of advanced civilizations. 

If such civilizations last for only a few thousand years the odds against their being close enough in both time and space to be in contact are millions to one. Only advanced technology civilizations that achieve a fully peaceful society (called by Jews-The Messianic Age) have any chance to last the hundred of thousands of years that would make interstellar contact possible. Thus interaction between two advanced societies is a religious and not just a scientific issue.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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