On 3 December 1999, NASA’s Mars Polar Landing spacecraft blasted off in hope of finding life on Mars. It appears now that the effort failed, as the craft cannot be contacted. The costly vehicle appears to be lost.
The Mars Polar Landing project is just one of many attempts to discover life somewhere in the universe beyond Earth. For instance, ‘SETI’ is a mammoth effort using radio telescopes to intercept radio and other electronic emissions from intelligent life maybe hundreds of light years away.
There is enormous interest in such matters, as the fascination with aliens and UFOs on the non-scientific level illustrates. NASA’s efforts are certainly directed by some of the best minds in the scientific community, and I follow their activities closely.
Mark Lupisella is a scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute in Greenbelt, Maryland. When interviewed in connection with the Mars Landing Probe, he said that the discovery of life outside the Earth could have implications for the traditional religions – presumably meaning Judaism and Christianity. He implied that such a discovery would be a ‘deathblow’ (my terminology) to these religions and that people would no longer find them credible or need them. (See Michael McCabe’s article ‘Idea of Alien Life Gaining Credibility’ in the San Francisco Chronicle, 2 December 1999.)
Mark Lupisella claims that the discovery of life elsewhere in the universe would mean that life could spring up anywhere, as long as the conditions were right. This would diminish, or even eliminate, the need for a creator God.
And this seems to be the prevailing mood I encounter as I watch scientific attempts to find extraterrestrial life, intelligent or not. Such a discovery would reinforce the extreme view of many Darwinists that evolutionary theory accounts for the existence of life, and that all creation stories are therefore mythological. Indeed, the fevered search for life elsewhere may actually be driven by a desire to dismiss God from his universe once for all.
Does the Bible say anything directly about the existence or non-existence of extraterrestrial life? I do not think it does. Does the Bible, or any doctrine derived from it, imply that there is or is not physical life elsewhere in the universe? Again I do not think so, though I know there are differing opinions within the Christian community.
In Genesis we read that God the Creator made man in his own image, male and female (Genesis 1:27). This creation took place on planet Earth, and there is no record of life being created anywhere else. The Scripture does not explicitly say that God’s work of creating life only occurred here, but that is the picture one gets.
However, because the Bible is silent on the matter, it seems to me that either opinion is acceptable biblically. Neither view should warrant the application of ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ labels.
A discovery that life exists elsewhere would certainly not be a deathblow to my faith. As a matter of fact, I do not believe there is life created in the image of God anywhere else in the universe, but I cannot prove this from Scripture – it is pure speculation. Nevertheless, I would be surprised if intelligent beings having an accurate (by which I mean biblical) concept of God were to be discovered off-Earth.
But even if such life were found, even life-forms resembling human beings, it does not mean that such creatures are created in the image of God. Why not? Because the image of God is spiritual and not physical.
The existence of life-forms in places other than our Earth, albeit interesting, is ultimately irrelevant. The reason for this lies in the actuality of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
That God the Father sent his Son to planet Earth is incontrovertible. If life-forms anatomically similar to human beings were found on every planet in the universe, it would not change the reality of who Jesus is and what he did.
This is not a case of hiding my head in the proverbial sand, or refusing to face scientific fact. No; Jesus is the one unchangeable fact, the one Truth by which I measure everything else. He is the same yesterday, today, and for ever, the only constant in a chaotic, ever-changing universe, where even scientific ‘truth’ comes and goes.
C. H. Spurgeon was a student of astronomy. An amateur, certainly, but well versed in the science of his day. In his Lectures To My Students is this somewhat lengthy but significant statement.
‘The nearest planet that revolves around the sun is mercury, which is about 37,000,000 miles from the great luminary. Mercury, therefore, receives a far greater allowance of light and heat from the sun than comes to us upon the Earth. It is believed that, even at the poles of Mercury, water would always boil; that is to say, if the planet is constituted at all as this world is. None of us could possibly live there; but that is no reason why other people should not, for God could make some of his creatures to live in the fire just as well as he could make others to live out of it. I have no doubt that, if there are inhabitants there, they enjoy the heat. In a spiritual sense, at any rate, we know that men who live near to Jesus dwell in the divine flame of love’.
Spurgeon, then, would not be shaken by the discovery of life-forms outside Earth. No ‘deathblow’ to his faith would occur if life were discovered even on nearby Mercury. He would only find it interesting and use it to illustrate some truth of the gospel!
My concern is that people in the scientific community, and those who are influenced by them, may dismiss or reject the gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of a faulty notion like the one expressed by Mark Lupisella. Whatever may or may not be out there, it cannot damage or compromise the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. To think it can is error, and error of a most dangerous kind.
If we need the concept of a creator on Earth, how much more do we need that concept to explain the universe at large! And if men find undreamed-of wonders beyond the skies, will this not simply render greater glory to the Maker of heaven and earth?
Men would do well to turn their telescopes, metaphorically, on Jesus himself. For in him ‘are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Colossians 2:3).