February 16, 2005

Life on Mars: Theological implications

MSNBC.com is carrying a front page story (courtesy their relationship with Space.com) that a pair of NASA scientists will soon publish strong evidence that life currently exists on Mars, specifically in caves or other subsurface formations. Quote of note:
What Stoker and Lemke have found, according to several attendees of the private meeting, which took place Sunday, is not direct proof of life on Mars, but methane signatures and other signs of possible biological activity remarkably similar to those recently discovered in caves here on Earth.
Reading this pushed to the front of my mind a question that has been rolling around up there like a loose cannon for some time: What are the theological implications of the discovery of extra-terrestrial life? Would it, as one author recently speculated, mean the end of human religion? Or can Christianity adapt? Does it even need to?

I'd love to do some real thinking on this. What are your thoughts?


At 10:07 PM, Blogger DesertPastor said...

Some questions I've pondered in the past regarding this:

What role does Christ have in the lives of a (non-human) race that never "fell"?

Was Christ's death "once-for-all" humans, or for all created beings, period?

Nuances of "limited atonement" begin to surface here, don't they?

Is it theologically viable to believe in multiple incarnations of God's Son?

At 11:12 AM, Blogger Nathan said...

I've thought about this before and toyed with the idea of writing a short story about aliens discovering us - aliens that had never fallen and were living an Edenic life. Or, aliens that had fallen and been rescued by Christ who had Incarnated their race. I don't doubt that the existence of alien species, especially sentient species, will force some profound changes in Christian thinking but I doubt it will be the end of the Christian religion. I can foresee newly formed "space missions" boards sending missionaries into the void to convert the heathen Martians! :)

At 12:08 PM, Blogger Mark Hunsaker said...

As a 32 year old American, I consider myself part of the "Luke Skywalker" generation. I was 5 when I watched Star Wars 8 times after it was initially released into the theaters.

Years later after being introduced to the Star Trek universe and other excellent science fiction sources, I've come to accept the fact that my generation simply assumes life exists elsewhere than earth.

I do not share such an assumption, even if it is such a fascinating concept.

Theologically, if one is to hold at all to the Scriptures, ET life has to be considered unlikely. Instead, I think the entire concept is the result of a major shift in philosophy since the so-called "enlightenment".

A Biblical view would cause me to suspect the Deceiver is involved. All sorts of smoke and mirrors about ET life, but no hard evidence.

Watch what happens as they find more evidence of what could be evidence of life on Mars. I have friends now that are questioning their very faith over this deal. That convinces me the Deceiver is involved.

At 5:22 PM, Blogger Chera said...

I had to encounter this issue when writing my sci-fi book, which takes place in the future when humans have met other races... etc etc. One of the ways I explained it was to look at Romans 1:16 and to replace "Jew" with "human" and "Gentile" with "non-human"... And to also really read into the idea that with the Fall of Man, all of Creation was tainted, so it's our fault that other races need to be saved. It worked for the story, at least. I'm not sure how well it'd stand in reality however.

(oh, and hi *waves* How's Waco? I haven't been around much, and we're still trying to get Hard Soap back up, it's just taking longer than we thought...)

At 6:39 AM, Blogger Robbymac said...

I kinda like Larry Norman's take on it, as expressed in the song "UFO":

"And if there's life on other planets,
Well I'm sure that He must know
And He's been there once already,
And has died to save their souls."

Maybe I'm theologically shallow, but I don't see why the supposed existence of other civilizations means anything needs to change in our understanding of how God interacts with life on our planet?

At 9:56 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

Sorry it's taken me so long to get back with this one, friends.

DP, your questions remind me of the fact that in John 3:16, the word Jesus chooses to describe the object of God's love, which we usually translate "world," is the Greek word cosmos. Interesting, isn't it?

Nathan, have you read C.S. Lewis Outer Space trilogy? I think you'd really resonate with it, the first two books in particular.

Mark, you wrote, "A Biblical view would cause me to suspect the Deceiver is involved." I wonder if the Inquisitors said the same thing about Copernicus' heliocentric theories and Galileo's confirmations of them? (I feel a post coming on...)

Chera, I've had imaginings along similar lines, but the twist about it being man's fault that the other races need saving is new to me. Wow...write that book and I'll buy it! Waco is nice, by the way; we really like it here! That's why we're a bit sad to be (probably) moving again soon, although just a little ways down the road. More news on that soon...

Robymac, thanks for stopping by, brother! You wrote, "Maybe I'm theologically shallow, but I don't see why the supposed existence of other civilizations means anything needs to change in our understanding of how God interacts with life on our planet?" I wonder if any of the Inquisitors said anything like that when they read Copernicus and Galileo? Unfortunately, I bet they didn't.

At 10:58 PM, Blogger Hannah Im said...

At this point, I haven't seen a single scientist claiming with proof that another race of intelligent beings exists on another planet, just that a low level form of life seems likely to exist. That neither surprises me nor prompts me to rethink my theology. What is really the difference between finding life in Antarctica or the deep ocean and finding it on Mars? The difference is only that Mars is father away and that our brains conceive of it as being "another world." Mars exists in the same universe as we do and was created by the same God. Should we be surprised to find that a God who loves life has placed it in some faraway places? Maybe we should have expected it. Besides, we who believe in the Bible know that there are other forms of life in the universe--ie angels, demons--we just know many details about their existence and their interaction with our universe.

At 4:11 PM, Blogger Rachel said...

Life on other planets wouldn't trouble my theology one whit. I would argue that God manifests through all worlds and all realities; so what's to keep God from manifesting in ways we don't yet know or understand?

Tangentially-related, one of the things I enjoyed about Kim Stanley Robinson's excellent "Mars" trilogy is that he addresses the question of how religion changes when Terrans emigrate to Mars. He shows us some Mars-centered religion, as well as some Terran religion that shifts in interesting ways once it's playing out on a Martian canvas. Fascinating and beautiful stuff.


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