As a lifelong Science Fiction fan, as well as a believer in God, I've often pondered the long and tumultuous interaction of Faith and Science. In this article I present a future where that interaction won't be antagonistic, but instead bears wonderful fruit.
First published in the Unification News in its June and July 1997 issues. These are the updated versions from January and Febraury 2005.
In this article we’ll examine humanity’s situation on this busy planet Earth, and also the potential of other planets. In a second installment we’ll discuss the best ways to reach, and settle, alien worlds.
An earlier version of this article appeared in 1997.
In 1798, Thomas Malthus wrote an essay on population. He believed that God, as a method of punishment, strikes lazy humans with famine. In 1838, Charles Darwin read Malthus’ essay. He decided it was partially correct, but with natural causes only, such as inadequate food supplies.
In the two centuries since, the world’s population has increased dramatically. Scenes of hunger in Biafra and elsewhere galvanized many people. By the 1970s, books such as The Population Bomb were predicting massive starvation, plus dire shortages of virtually every resource–in the 1980s. Zero Population Growth became a popular cause.
That alarmist mindset has since fallen afoul of ‘political correctness’ and ‘multiculturalism.’ The concern remains, largely unspoken, in the background of many sociopolitical debates.
The American government is always debating whether to fund birth control programs in poor nations. In fact, prosperity is the surest brake on population growth. Where children have an excellent chance of reaching healthy adulthood, couples will plan their family, and provide their kids with the best upbringing possible. Including college, each American child requires almost half a million dollars; a huge investment, but well worth it.
In the poorest countries, most women bear numerous children. In part, this is because her kids will cost relatively little to raise. Typically, she’ll consider herself lucky if half of them survive, and grow up to labor in nearby fields.
Is the world overpopulated, or even close? Anyone who’s flown across the United States knows just how vast, and largely empty, this nation really is. Some areas of the Great Plains are actually depopulating, as farming towns decline, and the land reverts to prairie.
Parts of Asia are far more crowded. Still, the Green Revolution has enabled China and India to feed themselves. Ocean farming is opening up a new source of food, and genetic engineering another. How much further can humanity increase?
There are limits. Roughly, the Earth has fifty eight million square miles of land area, and seven billion people. That comes to about five acres per person. But this includes Antarctica and Greenland, mountain crags, sand dunes, Arctic tundra, and other inhospitable areas. On average, then, each family of four “has” about ten livable acres.
To a family with a minuscule city dwelling, ten acres may sound big. However, that includes parkland, industries, and the farms which provide their food. Modern agriculture, not to mention timber and mining, requires large tracts.
Futuristic tales depict an Earth covered by towering structures, the bedrock honeycombed and the oceans mastered. Several trillion people could fit into such a ‘world city.’ (Think of Star War’s galactic capital Coruscant, or Asimov’s master planet Trantor.) Assuming you could sustain that many people, in reality, such a planet’s waste heat would be difficult to get rid of.
The family is central to human existence. Every traditional faith holds the marriage vow sacred, and honors mother and child as the closest bond of all.
Most faiths encourage large families. There are many reasons for this. At best, every person is seen as a unique expression of God’s nature, and each new child brings that much more beauty and joy into the world. At worst, organized religions are beset by rivals, and thus, seek to outpopulate them.
Zoroastrians are not known for large families, and some insist they don’t even want new converts. Israeli Jews face a local Arab Muslim population with a much higher birth rate, yet most have small families. While Israel does accept converts, as recounted in Jerusalem Report magazine, their leading Orthodox Rabbis make it a very difficult process.
Catholics are subtle, rejoicing in motherhood, while forbidding all but the oldest (and least reliable) method of birth control. The Mormons are out front with their ambitions, quoting Daniel 2:35, and comparing themselves to its world-filling rock.
True Father applauds large families. He explains that, in nature, animals raise all the offspring they can, as best they can. Outspoken Unificationists, such as John Godwin, have encouraged all our Blessed couples to have a dozen children.
This call has sparked lively debate, here in the Unification News and elsewhere. Some women have medical problems, and rare is the couple without financial concerns. Korea has long been a source of adoptable babies, and just recently, this has become true in Unificationist circles also.
There’s more to it than having babies. True Father says it’s unhealthy, physically and spiritually, for children to grow up in cities. He teaches that kids should come of age surrounded by nature, on a farm or in a small village. The Internet can facilitate a good education, and sophisticated careers, for even the most remote family.
There is one problem. If every family headed into the countryside, then rural areas would vanish, blanketed by a sea of humanity. ‘Empty stretches’ only remain because of the crowding in urban areas. Thus, the Earth is already too small. How would a Heavenly government deal with this issue?
Historically, when things got too crowded at home, folks would migrate. It’s only been a hundred twenty years since the wild frontier days of the American West, South Africa, and Australia. In Brazil, they’re still expanding into the Amazon basin. In every case, the aboriginals were driven back, or worse . . .
Now those frontiers are gone. However, in this same time period, we’ve developed aviation, then space flight. New worlds beckon.
A famous scientist once said, “The Earth is our cradle, but humanity cannot remain in the cradle forever.” There are many reasons to spread out. Deadly plagues have swept the world. The dinosaurs were wiped out by a gigantic asteroid. Tsunamis, and other natural disasters, affect entire regions. These can happen again.
Mars is relatively close, but no one could live on its surface without substantial protection. The twin Mars Rovers have found that water once flowed there. Microbial life may yet survive, deep underground.
Buck Rogers and Captain Kirk have been “visiting alien worlds” for a long time, but only in the past decade have astronomers confirmed the existence of planets around other stars. Gradually they’re refining their methods, and spotting smaller planets.
When better telescopes are developed (and funded), scientists will be able to observe Earth-sized worlds. If liquid water and oxygen are detected, we can be fairly certain that life exists there also.
It may be that, under the proper conditions, life will arise quickly on any planet. Possibly those conditions are quite broad. Imagine animals with plastic bones, breathing a chlorine atmosphere. Or creatures living in ammonia slush, where different types of snow can fall upward and down–at the same time. How about fish with silicone blood, happily swimming in sulfuric acid? It gets even more bizarre. (Read Stephen Gillett’s book World-Building, and Robert Forward’s novel Dragon’s Egg.)
Is life common in the universe? We’ll soon know! Yet life does not imply intelligence, much less technology. After all, the Earth itself was without both for %99.999 of its history. (If you posit that dolphins, chimpanzees, and maybe giant squids are intelligent, it’s still recent.)
Astronomers are listening carefully for extraterrestrial radio messages. They have detected nothing. Despite the Hollywood hype, there is no solid evidence that alien spacecraft have ever visited this planet. Modern claimants are either confused, or frauds, or they have a screw loose. They may have had spiritual experiences. (Also, the Air Force is testing classified ‘wingless’ aircraft.)
If there are technologically advanced beings out there, they’re leaving us humans the hell alone. Perhaps rather literally . . .
Barren, lifeless worlds wouldn’t be very appealing to prospective settlers. Neither would planets with poisonous air or inedible plants. We could ‘terraform’ such worlds, making them habitable, and even pleasant, but that would require centuries at least. As noted above, we’ll soon be looking directly for verdant, earthlike worlds.
Any such worlds are extremely distant. Next month we’ll discuss how we might reach them, and how best to settle there once we do.
In the previous article we discussed how crowded this planet Earth is becoming. Ideally, children should be raised amidst nature, yet rural areas only remain because almost everyone prefers to live in cities.
Humanity needs more room! Fortunately, new worlds beckon. An earlier version of this article appeared in 1997.
Astronomers have found more than one hundred planets around other stars. So far they’re all big ones, Jupiter-sized and larger. No one knows whether any of those solar systems bear life. We still haven’t found any civilized aliens out there.
Humankind may settle on the Moon, and then Mars. Eventually, millions could dwell there. Once settlers get established, those worlds could fill up quickly. To really have enough room, we’ll need to expand into the galaxy.
Trouble is, the stars are immensely far away. How far? It takes several days to drive a car across the United States. The Apollo spaceships reached the Moon in several days. But it took years for the Cassini probe to reach Saturn.
Yet Saturn is nearby, compared to the stars. The fastest existing probes, the Pioneers and Voyagers, would take tens of thousands of years to reach the nearest star, several light years distant. (They are aimed in a different direction.) Presumably, we’d like to complete such a journey within our own lifetime.
Past explorations were carried out by hardy pioneers, as were the first jet and space flights. (As depicted in the novel and film The Right Stuff.) It wasn’t long before air travel became routine. Soon, space will be opened to regular travel. The successors to Burt Rutan’s amazing Space Ship One will likely provide the means.
However, those private ships (also NASA’s troubled space shuttles) can only reach low Earth orbit, a mere fraction of the way to the Moon. Better ships must be built for routine flights there, much less to the Sun’s other planets.
Enthusiastic scientists are already planning genuine starships. Most of the starships in popular fiction depend upon imaginary propulsion systems, such as ‘warp drive,’ that might as well be sheer magic. The actual plans take many forms. Most would accelerate a craft to a substantial fraction of the speed of light, and still their journeys will take years.
The first starship might be unmanned: a tiny, swift Starwisp. Or crewed: a fusion-driven Daedalus. Even a populous space ark: a lumbering O’Neill Colony. Several web sites have good information. (See, www.centauri-dreams.org)
The universe has a built-in speed limit, the speed of light itself. Nothing material can reach, much less exceed, that velocity. The universe does provide one helpful advantage, first taught by Einstein, called time dilation. Crudely put, the faster you go, the slower time passes. Above 90% of lightspeed, time ‘slows’ dramatically. A voyage of a century might seem like only a year, but back home, the full time would pass. Such voyages would require true pioneers.
The first starships will be risky, and the cost enormous. Nothing but wilderness would await their lonely crew. Similar objections were raised when Christopher Columbus headed across the Atlantic Ocean. He took tiny ships on a long and arduous voyage, with no assurance as to their eventual landfall.
Columbus didn’t imagine that, five centuries later, jumbo jets would routinely fly thousands of people across the Atlantic, in a matter of hours. Or that bustling cities like New York would receive them.
The best starship plans are entirely realistic. Any computer-company billionaire could, if he wished, invest a portion of his wealth to back such a venture. What a legacy!
There might even be better ways. Many science fiction writers posit a ‘jump’ technology that allows spaceships to leap across huge distances in an instant. Best of all would be a ‘stargate,’ a doorway that directly connects distant locations. (Theoretical physicists call it an ‘EPR bridge.’)
It is said that the gap between the stars is too great. We shall see.
Our Earth is covered by the works of humanity. Graded road and rail beds, dams, mines, and canals leave marks that can be seen from orbit. Metal and wooden pole lines crisscross the landscape. Factories and power plants occupy, and often pollute, large areas. Farms require vast acreage.
Need a new world be scarred in this way? No!
Technology will enable its settlers to dispense with all those things. Many Third World nations are already leaping ahead, installing cellular phone systems instead of wires.
Flying cars, perhaps hydrogen powered, will be common. Graceful, elevated trains, speeding along on magnetic cushions, will carry passengers and freight between cities. These could supplant surface roads almost entirely.
Prodigious energy, whether from fusion or some other compact source, will be needed to power a starship. That same source will also power the new worlds, so pole lines will never be strung. Such energy could distill fresh water directly from the seas, and pipe it, deep underground, across great distances. Dams and canals will not be so important.
Robotic fabrication, perhaps nanotechnology, will bring clean, versatile manufacturing into homes and business. Large factories will only be needed for special purposes. Bulk facilities like warehouses could be located underground, as is already done in several cities.
Genetic engineering will allow robust, customized food to be grown anywhere. Huge, commercial farms and ranches would be nearly obsolete.
Hopefully, there are many verdant planets. If only a few are found, humans could alter themselves to live on harsher worlds. Gills to live underwater, special organs to neutralize alien toxins, blood that endures intense heat or cold; the possibilities are endless.
There are ways to make more room. Asteroids, which are numerous, could be converted into orbiting colonies, each housing thousands. Barren planets could be ‘terraformed.’ Robots could go on ahead to begin that work.
Ultimately, a star’s Jupiter-sized planets could be dismantled, and a Ringworld, or even a Dyson Sphere, built from their substance. Those fantastic constructions would encircle a star, their entire inner surface made habitable. The living area would equal millions of Earths!
Human society will have a fresh chance as well. To usurp an old communist term, Earth societies host countless ‘parasitic’ individuals and occupations. Investments, advertising, and art can help a free society flourish. Bloated bureaucracies, violent criminals, and financial skimmers contribute less than nothing.
Does that imply a planet-load of workaholics? Hardly! I’ve had some interesting discussions with science fiction writers, about how humanity might spend its time (and feel its worth), once clever robots are doing all the work.
True Father speaks of an ideal ‘hobby culture,’ and we’d have many great places to realize it.
Such paradises will be popular destinations. What agency would provide transit to the new worlds? Today, many nations are embroiled in border arguments. Who, if anyone, would regulate interstellar emigration? No doubt every nation, company, specialized organization, and visionary religion, will feel that they are best qualified.
If there are many new worlds, all those entities will probably have a chance. But if, at least initially, there are only a few available planets, this could be a source of great contention. Wealthy people might want the utilize best places, and penal systems the worst.
The initial landings will be tightly organized exploratory parties. The first colonists will be scientists and pioneers, too busy to quibble. Soon enough their populations will grow, and various factions (in the broadest sense of that term) will arise. Each colony, or settled world, will have unique conditions, and differing inclinations.
They will be starting with a clean slate. Internally, there will be no Providential history to replay. Externally, rival castes and cliques can be left behind. The opportunities for manifest wisdom will be great. Opposite this, familiar tragedies could unfold. (Read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series.)
Will this new chapter of history be a triumph or a tragedy?
Spiritual restoration must take place first. The science mentioned above could be turned into weaponry. An unbraked lightspeed ship, impacting a planet, would shatter continents. Chlorine-metabolizing organisms, let loose in an ocean, would convert the salt into poisonous gas. Nanotech devices could inflict bizarre tortures.
Everyone hopes that humanity will export its best to the stars. In this regard, we Unificationists have our own special dreams. Perhaps our children will have an opportunity to fulfill them.
© 2005 by Paul Carlson
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