Is there life on Mars?
The question of whether there is life on Mars or elsewhere in the universe, and what this life may be like, is one that continues to fascinate people. It is a question that has been addressed in numerous works of science fiction and it is also the subject of serious scientific enquiry. For example, NASA is currently conducting a series of missions to address the issue of whether life has ever existed on Mars and the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) projects have employed a number of scientific methods to look for signs of intelligent life outside this planet (such as monitoring electromagnetic radiation for signs of transmissions from advanced civilizations on other worlds).
In this blog I want to consider the Christian approach to the issue of whether there is life elsewhere in the universe.
The first and most obvious point to make in this connection is that Christians know that they are not alone in the universe. They know that there is a God who created all things (Genesis 1:1) and who is present everywhere and at all times. As the Psalmist notes in Psalm 139:7-12, there is literally nowhere that we can go to get away from God:
‘Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there thy hand shall lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Let only darkness cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to thee,
the night is bright as the day;
for darkness is as light with thee.’
This universal presence of God means, for instance, that whatever other forms of life there may be, or may have been, on Mars the life of God is most certainly there.
Christians also know that alongside God and the created beings that exist on our planet, the universe also contains a whole host of created spiritual beings who come in two classes, angels and demons.
According to Scripture there are innumerable multitudes of angels (Revelation 5:11 talks about ‘myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands’) and what they all have in common is that they are spirits who are servants and messengers of God. In Psalm 103:20-21 we read:
Bless the LORD, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
hearkening to the voice of his word!
Bless the LORD, all his hosts,
his ministers that do his will!
In similar fashion Hebrews 1:14 describes angels as ‘ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation.’
In Scripture we are also told in more specific terms that angels offer God unceasing prayer and worship (Isaiah 6:1-3) and that they convey God’s messages (Luke 1:26-37) and serve and protect God’s people (Psalm 34:7). On occasion they also act in a military capacity, waging war on the enemies of God and on the demons (Joshua 5:13-15, Revelation 12:7-9).
The demons are described collectively in the Bible as ‘the devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25:41). The devil (also called ‘Satan’) is their leader and the demons are his followers. They are ‘anti-angels’, angelic spirits who have rebelled against God. In the biblical narrative the devil is responsible for the first humans turning away from God (Genesis 3) and throughout the rest of the biblical story the devil and his angels continue to have a malign influence on human history, making accusations against human beings before God (Job 1:6-2:9), tempting them to sin (Matthew 4:1-11) and instigating the persecution of God’s people (1 Peter 5:8-9). The demons have been decisively defeated by Christ (1 John 3:8) and will be condemned to eternal punishment at the end of time, but at the moment they are still active and still spiritually dangerous.
The biblical account of angels and demons makes it clear that just as human history cannot be reduced to the activity of human beings, so also it cannot simply be reduced to the story of human beings and God. The reality is that human history is the result of a complex interaction between the providence of God and the activities and decisions of angels, demons and human beings in the context of a cosmic struggle between spiritual good and evil, a struggle in which the good is triumphant, but evil is still active. A good fictional depiction of this truth can be found in C S Lewis’ science fiction trilogy Out of the silent planet, Voyage to Venus and That hideous strength.
In this trilogy Lewis imagines that as well as creating angels and demons and the material life on this planet God has also created other material beings on other planets. From a Christian perspective we need to be open to the existence of such beings, but whether or not they exist is a matter for further discovery.
Unlike God who necessarily exists, all created beings are contingent. That is to say, they do not have to exist and the only reason they do exist is by God’s will. As the heavenly elders sing in Revelation 4:11: ‘Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created.’ Whether God has willed to create material life elsewhere in the universe is something that at the moment we simply do not know.
Reason tells us that God has created a universe which is fine tuned to allow the existence of material life. This is why the universe is as old as it is and as large as it is. The physical processes which make life possible require this to be the case.
Reason can therefore say that material life elsewhere in the universe is possible. What it cannot tell is whether such life is probable or actual. That is because, as I have said, the existence of such life is dependent on whether or not God wills it and we do not know whether he does or not.
The two sources of possible information about the matter are Scripture and experience. In the case of angels and demons Scripture tells us that they exist and what Scripture says is supplemented by experience of numerous human beings down the centuries who have encountered them. In the case of material life on other planets both Scripture and experience are silent.
The silence of Scripture does not rule out the existence of material life elsewhere in the universe. All it tells us is that God has not thought it necessary to tell us about such life, if it exists, for the sake of our spiritual wellbeing. Scripture has a practical focus on fitting us for God’s kingdom and the answer to the question ‘is there life on Mars?’ (or elsewhere) is not relevant to this.
What the silence of Scripture means, however, is that we are dependent on what experience tells us and it has not told us anything yet. However, it may do so in the future. By the time you read this the Vulcans may have made first contact and told us to ‘live long and prosper.’
All this is uncertain. What is certain, however, is that if there is material life elsewhere in the universe it was created by God the Father through Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 8:6), has been redeemed by Christ (Colossians 1:20) and will one day be united in Christ in God’s eternal kingdom (Ephesians 1:10). What all this might mean in detail is something that we don’t currently need to know about. What we do know is that, as they say, ‘there’s a war on.’ What we have been informed about is the cosmic conflict between God and the angels on one side and the devil and his demons on the other, and we have to decide which side we want to be on. It is this decision that matters for us today.