Life on Mars? (Part One)

In honor of his passing, the title of this posting comes from David Bowie’s song, “Life on Mars?”  Lyrically, the song is both meaningful and quirky, and the refrain of the song furthers the question, “Is there life on Mars?”  But, Bowie’s song has nothing to do with this first of two postings with the same title.

“Is there life on Mars?”  The origin of the question of this first part of posting comes from another source: the mid-late nineteenth century telescopic observation of Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli.  He observed canali on the Martian surface, yet never proposed any cause for his observation.  Others also observed the same phenomenon, or so they thought.  The appearance of canals was proven decades later to be an optical illusion when better telescopes were developed in the early twentieth century.  However, in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, speculation of a civilization on Mars emerged in more popular articles.  Such a fiction persisted until proven impossible when the harsh physical conditions on the Red Planet were discovered in the early twentieth century.  


Perhaps here we have the historical origin of the hope and search for life beyond earth.  We have moved beyond such nineteenth century speculation with advancements in technology.  We now have the long established existence of SETI, and Martian unmanned exploration has now proven the existence of water on the surface of Mars.  So, in these recent decades the topic of extraterrestrial life has been given new life and legitimacy.  This of course, has been refined (or reduced?) to microscopic life within our solar system — Mars included.  What, if any, life lies beyond our solar system will probably remain unproven, but not disproven.

So, in this hunt for alien life we have more than a bit of division and controversy.  There are secularists who cheer at the prospect of discovery of such life hoping for the death of Christianity and faith.  Then, there are those Christians who would deny any possibility of any form of life beyond the bounds of earth.  The existence of such life is unscriptural in their minds.  Yet, the human mind and its energy seeks the existence of life beyond earth.  With this latter camp I give in my allegiance — I fully expect evidence to be found confirming that microbial life exists, or at least existed on Mars, and even elsewhere within our solar system.  This declaration will be declared “unbiblical” by many Christians.  And, of course, any discovery, it is feared, would threaten the faith of many.  I do not see why, and I disagree for at least two reasons.

First, the Old Testament Scriptures were written from the perspective of the bronze and iron ages.  “In the beginning God made the heavens and earth” (Genesis 1: 1) comes from a far different cosmology than one offered by the Hubble and Kepler Space Telescopes.  The cosmological structure of the day would be something like a snow globe in reverse:  the earth is surrounded by a firmament which separates the earth from waters of the heavens above.  Additionally, the structure of the land separates the soil and “sweet waters” of rivers and streams, from the “dark” waters of the abyss that are found below the habitable land.  The stars and planets were understood to move along the surface of the firmament.  This cosmology is put forth in a variety of the Psalms including these:

You stretch out the heavens like a tent, you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot… (Psalm LXX 103, MT 104)

…The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers (Psalm LXX 23, MT 24)

To judge our current cosmology by such ancient standards simply does not stand.  Neither can a judgment of the biblical cosmology by current concepts hold.  Both are a  form of cultural imperialism.

Secondly, from the Nicene Creed we declare, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life…”  Then, in the opening of Matins (Orthos) we have this declaration that summarizes the scriptural teachings:  “Glory to the holy, consubstanial, life-creating, and undivided Trinity!”  There is no place within the created realm that God can not touch.  There is no place within the universe that the creative, life giving power of God cannot act.  Thus, the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and the soil of Mars may now contain, or at one time sustained microbial, or other simple life forms.  I state we should rejoice, marvel, and give thanks to God for such a mind expanding revelation when it comes!  It will be to his glory!


Why do we so search for such life?  We search because we are made for relationship.  The Triune God is the source of relationship, for God exists in three co-eternal Persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We have three distinct Persons existing in eternal loving, self-giving, and other-receiving relationship, which is in turn the basis of existence, and source of all relational unions.  Then, as God’s image bearers, by extension, we are to have relationship not only with God and each other, but also the entirety of creation — the entire, enormous expanse of it.  Hence, we search, at least in part, because we seek to ever expand human relationships with “other”, and receive that “other” to ourselves.

Yes, I would put forth that Christians are to seek for such other life — and relate to it eucharistically — that we may gather in some wild way — such life into the Feast of the Eucharist to be given union with, and in, and for, Christ, as is appropriate for its species.  This is all in accordance with our priestly call to bear God to the entirety of creation, and bear even the extremes of creation to God by our prayers and ministerial actions.  And all of this is to be to the glory of God!

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus

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