Allen S. Maller
During Medieval times almost all Christian theologians accepted the Ptolemaic, earth-centered Greek view of the universe as an absolute universal truth. The Catholic Inquisition punished those who dared to voice other ideas.
Looking back, I'm not sure why they believed that the rarity of life in our universe proved that God must have created life only on this planet. Perhaps they believed that if intelligent life were found on other planets, it would diminish the miracle of God's creation of Human Beings.
For me, the opposite is true; that God's universal creation is filled with life is simply the result of God's mercy and love of living things. What science can teach us is the awesomeness of God. As Said Nursi, an influential early 20th century Turkish Muslim theologian, taught, "God created the universe as a 'book' to be 'read' by those who want to learn of and draw close to Him."
I am a Reform Rabbi who first became interested in Islam 55 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 – i.e., a faithful Jew submitting to the will of God.
As a Rabbi I am faithful to the covenant that God made with Abraham – the first Muslim Jew – 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.
The Qur'an and the Hebrew Bible 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 God. 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).
Both of these readings suggest the likelihood of other planets with life on them – and new science suggests the same thing.
In January 2013, astronomers estimated that there could be at least 17 billion Earth-sized exoplanets1 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.
Now, two years later, two new studies have offered additional evidence favoring widespread solar systems with earth-like planets, thus providing more proof that God's universe is filled with life.
First, at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in January 2015, the NASA Kepler Space Telescope team announced its 1,000th discovery of a planet outside our solar system. This brings the total number of confirmed exoplanets to 1,795, with an additional 4,000 possibilities also located by Kepler.
Twenty years ago we had no proof at all that our planetary system was not unique in the universe. Now we know that we are one of thousands, perhaps even millions or billions, of systems.
Second, the Kepler Space Telescope has discovered a star with three planets only slightly larger than Earth. The outermost planet, which is 50% larger than Earth, orbits in the zone where surface temperatures could be moderate enough for liquid water, and perhaps life, to exist. This means that proof that God's universe is filled with life is literally coming closer and closer.
The star around which this planet rotates is a cool, red M-dwarf, about half the size and mass of our own sun. At a distance of 150 light years, it ranks among the 10 nearest stars known to have orbiting planets. The star is close enough for astronomers to study the planet's atmosphere to determine whether oxygen is present and if it could possibly be conducive to multicellular life forms.
For those who believe in the One God of all the inhabitable worlds, these two new scientific studies are not shocking. For unlike the 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 sciences, 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.
The Qur'an proclaims over and over again, "Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth exalts God" (Qur'an 57:1, 61:1, and 64:1); and the Zabur of Prophet David, King of Israel, states, "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Zabur of David-Psalm 19:2).