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What about Life on Mars?

By October 5, 2015No Comments

Mars2_inlineBy Mark Snoeberger

The scientific community is abuzz this week with the announcement that liquid water has been confirmed on Mars. Of course scientists have long known that water is abundant in our universe (including on Mars), but specific evidence of a stable supply of liquid water has been lacking. It seems that we now have evidence of recurring seeps involving liquid that has, at a minimum, a water base. Not exactly the Amazon River or Lake Superior, mind you, but water nonetheless.

The reason this discovery is important, it is argued, is that the presence of water allows for the possibility of sustainable, carbon-based life somewhere other than Earth. Furthermore, it suggests that the provincial theory of biological evolution on earth now has a clear path to acceptance as a universal law. And if that is true, we finally have the last nail for the coffin of the Genesis account of origins.

Let’s look at the scientific data on its own terms and see how big this discovery really is:

  • We begin with the observation that the discovery of water is nothing more than that—the discovery that two inorganic substances quite common to our universe have combined to form the compound we call water. That’s it.
  • That water is necessary to life means nothing more than that either. It certainly doesn’t mean that life is necessary to water. That’s called affirming the consequent, and it’s usually one of the very first fallacies covered in your basic class on logic. Water on Mars does not prove life on Mars.
  • However, even if we eventually discover carbon-based life on Mars (or anywhere else in the universe), this does not prove that evolution is occurring. It simply means that there is carbon-based life somewhere other than on Earth. This bare discovery, of itself, says nothing about the origin or development of that life.
  • Furthermore, if we eventually discover carbon-based life on Mars (or anywhere else in the universe), this does not prove that personhood exists anywhere else. This is an unwarranted extrapolation from woefully incomplete data.

Now let’s consider the pertinent biblical/theological data:

  • The discovery of any sort of inorganic matter (including water) outside of Earth is, theologically speaking, a non-event. I offer no proof texts because there just aren’t any. I have no idea why this discovery would carry any theological significance at all.
  • The discovery of carbon-based life outside of Earth, were it to occur, might be an eyebrow-raiser, but would also be a theological non-event. It is an eyebrow-raiser because the Bible says that the whole creation suffers as the result of Adam’s sin (Rom. 8:18–22), recovers as a result of Adam’s redemption/resurrection (v. 23), and is ultimately replaced at the commencement of the eternal state (2 Pet. 3:10–13; Rev. 21:1). How Martian amoebas would suffer as a result of Adam’s fall is not readily apparent; still, the fact that the whole creation needs replacement due to Adam’s sin means that every atom in the whole universe (even the carbon ones) must be made new. As such, the idea of carbon-based life on other planets, while perhaps unlikely, offers no threat to the biblical system.
  • The discovery of personal life—life in God’s image complete with self-consciousness, freedom, moral and religious sensibilities, etc.—on the other hand, would offer serious hurdles to the biblical system. Such a discovery would mean that sentient life on other planets would, without explanation, consciously suffer irreparable harm and annihilation due to Adam’s sin (see the point above) without any possibility of emancipation (Heb. 2:14–17). There is no room in the biblical system for alternative redemptive plans for other species; mankind alone receives this honor. God supplies one and only one unified end for the whole universe, funneled through his singular purpose for man-in-his-image, and no exceptions are possible.
  • This speaks, finally, to the revealed purpose of God for the universe. Mankind is not only the singular object of God’s redemptive plan, but also the pinnacle of his civil structures (Psalm 8:5), with the whole of God’s creation subjected to man for man’s own service (Gen. 1:28–30). The idea of undiscovered and rival sentient life forms on other planets seems quite incompatible with God’s overarching decree.

In summary, then, I would suggest that the discovery of water on Mars is no cause of alarm at all for believers, and certainly offers us no reason to amend the biblical paradosis. Nothing has happened.

Mark Snoeberger (PhD, Baptist Bible Seminary) is associate professor of systematic theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. This article is reposted by permission from DBTS’s blog, Theologically Driven.