What Does Allah Tell You About Astrobiology?
by N. M. GUARIGLIA
June 20, 2012
'The following letter should be translated into Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, and Punjabi and dropped as a leaflet all throughout the Middle East and South Asia.'
Dear Fellow Human Being,
If you are reading this, there is a good chance you are of the Islamic faith. I do not question your right to be a member of this religion. In the United States, Muslim-Americans have a right to worship God as they see fit. Nor do I intend to challenge the tenets of your faith on ethical grounds. I write you, rather, regarding some empirical observations I wish to share with you.
While many of you have earthly grievances-even, in some cases, I will concede, legitimate grievances-the cosmic nature of our most irreconcilable differences should not be ignored. There is obviously a wide gulf between us. This is unfortunate. We should discuss these disagreements with a spirit of candor; not as members of one religion pitted against another religion, but as rational men and women-with humble deference to our innate curiosity. There was an American songwriter. His name was Jim Morrison. He wrote: "Into this house we're born. Into this world we're thrown." That you are who you are, over there-that I am who I am, over here-is but a chance. We are all riders on a storm. Maybe we can start with this commonality.
There was another American. His name was Carl Sagan. He was a man of science and he said: "The universe is within us. We are made of star stuff." Many of my countrymen have come to learn that this is not mere poetry. We take great pleasure in knowing this. It is a source of awe and inspiration for us. Another scientist-this one a Canadian-American-frames it like so: "Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn't be here if stars hadn't exploded, because the elements-the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution-weren't created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode."
So, this is what we think over here. And we have good reason to think it. We consider it a fact, not a theory; a fact of physics, of chemistry, and of biology; the fact that unites these sciences together. For many, this fact does not undermine their religion. For others, this fact is their religion. We consider this a transcendent issue because it pertains to objective reality, independent of our personal beliefs.
You see, my friends, the Sun is our stepmother. Our biological mother is trillions of suns that no longer exist. They existed for billions of years and then blew up, as stars eventually do. This creates enormous molecular clouds throughout outer space; "sun guts," if you will. These clouds are the coldest places in the universe. Over a few billion years, this stellar debris, the star stuff, coagulates into new generations of stars. Hydrogen fuses with helium and new stars are born.
Through a gravitational process known as accretion, rocks form around these young stars. These rocks eventually become the planets and their moons. They are coated with the chemical elements. The amazing thing is that these organic molecules, these elements, given certain conditions and a billion years or so, can come to life. Inanimate matter awakens. And given additional conditions-extremely rare conditions-and an additional few billion years, this awakened stardust may come to understand itself and its origins, as we do now (and only now). It is a privilege to know this, to be alive when this wonderful thing was discovered. Our ancestors did not know this: the beginning of the universe is literally, materially, within all of us.
Maybe I shouldn't be telling you this. It is, after all, one of the reasons I believe America has such a large technological and psychological advantage over her enemies. It is also the main reason I laugh at the vapid stupidity of the suicidal terrorists in your region of the world. But I couldn't help myself. The genius and beauty contained in the truth should be tested, analyzed, and verified... then it should be shared.
There was yet another American, a respected general who became a president: Eisenhower. He said: "If you can't solve a problem, enlarge it." I am admittedly courting this advice. There has been much fighting this past decade. We have debated politics, and society, and the freedom of women, and the artful arrangement of government. The problem has not been solved. I now propose we enlarge the conversation.
I do not expect you to accept what I have written at face value-or at all. You have your convictions and they will not be infringed upon. However, I believe when one knows something, it is important to know why one knows it. There are reasons we know what we know, particularly techniques like astronomical spectroscopy and fields like astrobiology, which I cannot adequately explain. But I do have some book recommendations. If you are interested, write to me with a request at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington D.C., 20500.
Sincerely and respectfully,
The President of the United States of America
Contributing Editor N.M. Guariglia is an essayist who writes on Islam and Middle Eastern geopolitics.