Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Life on Other Planets

When an A-list director joins forces with a stellar cast to explore religious questions, I’m there. When that director is Ridley Scott of Bladerunner and Alien fame, I’m there opening day.

And I was.

As a movie, Prometheus (2012) was visually stunning but poorly conceived, and even more poorly developed. From the suggestive name of the ship which gives the movie its name (In ancient mythology, Prometheus stole fire from the gods to bring to human beings.) to our search for origins and meaning, grand themes are introduced but never seriously engaged.

But the largest question the movie raised was, to its credit, snappily answered. If we were to find life on another planet – even life that matches our own – does that do away with God?

As one scientist in the film responds, “Then who made them?”

Exactly.

Yet this is the central theme of the movie, and not a particularly original one. Remember Chariots of the Gods from the 70s? There has long been pop culture fascination with the idea that aliens from another planet either spawned life on Earth, or have at least made frequent visits to help things along.

Somehow, this suggests we should experience a crisis of faith.

Fast forward to breaking news of the discovery of seven Earth-like planets orbiting a star, each of which are capable of hosting water (and therefore life), a mere 40 light-years away. Three of the planets are situated in such a way that they could have oceans, provided they have atmospheres.

This isn’t our first burst of excitement about potential life on other planets. The hunt for life on Mars, through the search for chemical biosignatures of life in soil and rocks and biomarker gases in the atmosphere, has been going on in earnest for some time. 

And don’t forget how, in August 1996, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) called a press conference after giving a special briefing to the President. To a room full of reporters, NASA put forward a team of scientists who announced that after two years of staring into a 4.3-pound meteorite from the planet Mars, they had found indications of life in the form of microscopic structures resembling fossilized bacteria.

Okay, not exactly E.T. trying to phone home.

But what does the Bible have to say about the possibility and potential of life on other planets?

Absolutely nothing.

The Bible offers no explicit or direct teaching about the possible creation – much less existence – of life on other planets.

It does, however, offer three theological truths that can guide our thinking:

  1.  First, God is bigger than we think. This is good to remember when it comes to things like life on other planets, or any other scientific discovery that might present itself. Remembering the size of God reminds us to be humble, and to be slow to draw conclusions. All of science is simply finding out what God has designed, and it’s an ongoing process of discovery.
     
  2. Second, all life is from God. No matter where we find it, or what it’s like, it’s from God. The opening verse of Genesis speaks of God creating the “heavens and the earth” which literally refers to “everything that is.” What “everything” means, we do not know. There could be many worlds, many universes, many realities and many dimensions that God may have created. To think that we’re the extent of His creative energies borders on arrogance.
     
  3. Finally, all of creation matters to God. No matter where there is life, that life matters to God and should be valued by us. Going further, if we find intelligent life on other planets, we can be assured that God loves them just as He loves us, and has provided a way for them to know Him and to share eternity with Him.

Like us, the scientists aboard Prometheus are consumed with ultimate questions: What is life all about? What is our purpose? Where did we come from? Where are we supposed to be going? What happens to us when we die?

In the film, the trip to find the answers cost their backers over a trillion dollars and the passengers themselves two years in cryogenic sleep. 

The irony is that the answers we long for aren’t found through life on other planets.

They’re found in the One who gave all of the planets their life.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Traci Watson, “Newly Discovered Network of Planets Could Harbor Water and Life, Scientists Say,” USA Today, February 22, 2017, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

150 Years of Laura

I love to read. 

As a young boy, I can remember devouring Ellery Queen mysteries on long vacation drives, taking a hot bath and reading The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, curling up in the bay window of a local library as cascades of rain dripped down the glass with a harrowing tale of Blackbeard the Pirate. 

I still have the copy of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, worn from countless readings, given to me on my 12th birthday by my grandmother. The perfect day was one with a sky full of dark and heavy clouds, promising a furious storm or inches of snow, with a fire in the fireplace and a book waiting to be devoured by my side.

It’s still true.

Aside from being raised in a post-Christian context, perhaps the greatest impoverishment of today’s children is the lost art of reading for pleasure and, particularly, the great books of children’s literature. Among these, the “Laura books” (as we called them), written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, are among the most significant.

The famous opening line of the first book, “Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs,” introduced the world to her childhood as part of a family of homesteading pioneers.

Of course, this is now far more than 60 years ago.

But just recalling that opening line reminds me how much I would enjoy sitting down and reading the entire set again. (In fact, I just might.)

So imagine my delight to read an article marking what would have been her 150th birthday (She was born February 7, 1867.), noting how her books are still finding a place in imaginations young and old.

Why were her books so popular when they appeared, and why have they endured?

Elaine Showalter writes that, “During the Depression and World War II, they offered images of family protection from the storms of history: coziness, security and the simple homemade pleasures of music, holidays and crafts. Boys also read the books for exciting details of pioneer history and exact descriptions of male skills of hunting, building and self-defense. But in the 21st century, they survive for their art, their precision of language and depth of characterization.”

But there’s more. The “Laura books” embody values such as selflessness and courage, honesty and duty; they drip with simple but deep faith and unswerving commitment to family. Quite simply, these are not only good books or entertaining books – these are books that are good for the soul.

Former First Lady Laura Bush has written that the stories “have captured and preserved our nation’s past for each new generation of readers.” Let’s hope and pray that it’s true for the coming one as well.

For it is a past that our present desperately needs.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Elaine Showalter, “At 150, Laura Ingalls Wilder Still Speaks to Readers Old and New,” The Washington Post, February 6, 2017, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Annual Singles Survey

What is the current state of sex, dating and singles? Look no further than the Annual Singles Survey funded by the Dallas-based dating service Match and conducted by Research Now.

  • Millennials are 48% more likely to have sex before the first date (Yes, that says before.). 
  • 28% view sex as a way to decide whether they love someone. This goes up to 73% of all men.
  • Almost 70% of singles approve of polyamorous relationships, or sexual relationships with a deep connection with more than one partner.

So if sex is trivialized, what isn’t?

The use of a phone. As in:

  • 75% find answering your phone on a first date a big turn-off.
  • 66% don’t want you texting someone on a date.
  • 58% don’t want to see your phone face up on the table.

No… really… this matters to them. Android users are 15 times more likely to judge someone negatively for having an iPhone. But turnabout is fair play – iPhone users are 21 times more likely to judge Android users negatively.

And the biggest turn-off of all?

A cracked screen. For Millennials and Gen Xers, this is what will get you judged the most negatively of all. Particularly by women, as they are 86% more likely to negatively judge a man for having a cracked screen.

This new set of values, putting tech manners in the driver’s seat and sex in the trunk, led even the liberal-leaning USA Today to headline its article on the survey, “Sleeping Together Before a First Date Is a-OK, But Cracked Phones Are a Put Off.” 

So what does this mean for intimacy?

“We used to think of sex as you crossed the line now you are in an intimate zone, but now sex is almost a given and it’s not the intimate part,” says Kimberly Resnick Anderson, a certified sex therapist. “The intimate part is getting to know someone and going on a date.”

Oh my.

So let’s add this up: feel free to sleep with someone before dating them, but don’t text when you get around to that first date. And if there’s a second or third or eighth date, no worries about continuing to have sex with others.

You’ll just want to make sure that everybody involved has the right kind of phone.

The irony?

They also long for intimacy and marriage. 

The tragedy?

They have no idea how all of this wars against it.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“Singles in America Survey,” SinglesinAmerica.com, read online.

Mary Bowerman, “Survey: Sleeping Together Before a First Date Is a-OK, But Cracked Phones Are a Put Off,” USA Today, February 6, 2017, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

I like Stephen Colbert.

I particularly like it when he engages religion.

And I’m over the moon when he takes on skeptics… because most of the time, he’s good. Really good.

Case in point? His classic takedown of Bart Ehrman, which you can view here.

But recently he egged Ricky Gervais into a mini-debate on Gervais‘ atheism. Colbert started off, perhaps a bit too aggressively for my tastes, but with a good and pointed classical question: Why is there something rather than nothing?

Gervais good-naturedly dismissed it by raising a different and, to him, more pointed question: How is there something rather than nothing? Which, if accepted, would throw everything into what science has to reveal. 

Fair enough.

(Colbert’s initial question remains, however.)

Gervais then scored a rhetorical point by saying that there are around 3,000 different deities floating around the religious landscape. Colbert believes in One and so, Gervais suggested, therefore disbelieves in 2,999. So he was being a type of “atheist” too. Ricky was simply adding “one more” to the list.

That would make for what seems like an effectively snarky tweet, but it’s quite specious upon reflection. It’s not about an arbitrary belief in one out of thousands; it’s about the larger question of whether there is a God at all. If there is, it doesn’t matter how many false gods might be engineered. If there is a God, there is only One.

It’s not about selective atheism, but the pursuit of truth and reality.

But where Colbert missed his moment, and even (unfortunately) ceded a point, was when Gervais opined that you could take all of the religious texts of the world and burn them, and in a thousand years, they would never be recreated.

Translation: they were nothing but air; the fiction of a particular charismatic leader or movement. Nothing real, nothing substantive, nothing transcendent. 

But if you took books on science and burned them, in a thousand years they would all be re-written and come back into existence. Why? Because science is there to be observed, studied and learned from. The laws and principles are universally available to be studied and extrapolated.

To this, Colbert said, “That’s a good point.”

And it was. 

But in favor of the existence of God.

The birth of modern science was predicated on a single idea: the universe was not random or chaotic, but created by an intelligent Being. Therefore there could be principles and postulates, theorems and replicable experiments. We could think God’s thoughts after Him, or at least discover a few.

This was Paul’s great argument in his manifesto to the church at Rome: 

… since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20, NIV)

In other words, not only would the science books be re-written, so would the testimony to the existence of God.

But it wouldn’t stop at natural revelation.

The pursuing God of the universe would see to it that His gospel would once again be made known.

He’s that kind of God.

And more atheists need to know it.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“Watch Ricky Gervais and Stephen Colbert Debate the Existence of God,” Relevant Magazine, February 2, 2017, watch online.

“Stephen Discusses Bart Erhman’s Theory that the Bible Contradicts Itself,” The Colbert Report, April 9, 2009, watch online.


About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

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