Dr. William Brown
Photo provided by MU

VIA Explores Relationship between Theology, Astrobiology

Miriam Erbaugh

In a VIA titled “Astrobiology, Theology, and the Future of Faith,” Dr. William Brown shared his view of science—and specifically astrobiology—through the perspective of his work as a biblical scholar. The presentation took place in Cordier Auditorium on Monday, Oct. 31, at 11 a.m. Though there were few students there, the VIA was attended by a mix of faculty members and people from the North Manchester community.

Dr. Brown is an Old Testament professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia and a scholar of the Hebrew Bible. He has written many books, conducted workshops, and presented papers both nationally and internationally. His connection to Manchester University is through English professor Dr. Beate Gilliar, whom Brown met almost four decades ago at the University of Arizona; where he learned German from her in preparation for studying abroad. When discussing her importance in his life, Brown credited Gilliar with “opening my eyes and broadening my cultural horizons.”

Unlike many of his colleagues in the field of theology, Brown is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He started his speech by pointing out the water bottle he had brought on stage which read “I am a force for science.”

Brown began his presentation by explaining that he sees the disciplines of religion, science, and art as connected by the feelings of mysteriousness, awe, and wonder. Looking at the perspective of science, Brown pointed to quotes by astrophysicist Howard Smith and Albert Einstein that drew connections between religion, science, and awe. “I strongly object to the notion that I need to compartmentalize my life,” Smith said. “I do not have the absolute answers to science or religion. I’m not religious because I’m ignorant. I’m religious because I’m in awe.”

He continued: “‘The most beautiful and deepest experience [someone] can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavors in art and science,’ Einstein said in his 1932 speech ‘My Credo.’”

The Bible, Brown pointed out, similarly praises the wonder of God’s creation on a cosmic level in verses such as Psalm 19, saying, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims [God’s] handiwork.”

Astrobiology, as defined by NASA is the “study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.” Brown elaborated on the definition by explaining that astrobiology asks questions about what is needed for life, whether or not life exists outside of earth, and what the future of life will be.

Brown explained that his interest in Astrobiology led him to reread the Bible from an astrobiological perspective. “There’s one book in the Bible which I consider to be the most astrobiological book in the Bible,” Brown said. “It’s not Genesis. It’s the book of Job.” Pointing to verses at the end of the book, Brown specifically highlighted that God said the stars rejoiced in the foundations of the Earth and that God showed Job that even inhospitable, “no-man’s” land such as the desert is full of life.

In the conclusion of the VIA, Brown drew connections between the uninhabitable desert and the environment of foreign planets. Brown suggested that if God were to speak to Job today, he might use astrobiology to convey a sense of wonder. To illustrate this, Brown spent the last several moments showing interesting creatures from science and using dialogue to show he believes God might poetically describe the awe of astrobiology.