Mars

This tag is associated with 5 posts

Really Recommended Posts 5/22/15- Mars, Hinduism, Prosperity, and more!

postI’m pretty sure we’re not going to get nice weather here in MN for anything more than one 5 hour period at a time. Alas. Anyway, I took the chilled days to find you some more good reading. As always, be sure to let the authors know you appreciated what they wrote and let me know what you think here.

Curiosity Rover Update: Diverse Geological Formations on Mars– Not only does this post have some really beautiful imagery from Mars (seriously, it’s like a science fiction story come true!), but it also discusses how the geology of Mars might pose an interesting problem for young earth creationists.

Self-knockout: A Twitter dialogue with a Hindu against Christian Evangelism– The Nepalese Earthquake led to many Christians praying not just for the physical but also spiritual needs of those impacted. This led to major pushback from many Hindus who argued that Christians are “soul vultures” and should not evangelize. Here’s an interesting look at a dialogue with one of these Hindus who attacked Christians for sharing their faith.

The Biology Professor Who Hated our Outreach Exhibit– Pro-Life advocates continue to show how embryology and related sciences help support the case against abortion. Here’s a post about one biology professor who took issue with the use of scientific evidence against abortion.

How “faith” works in the prosperity gospel (Comic)- A nice flowchart depicting the way faith allegedly works according to the prosperity Gospel.

Upon the Ground of Men– There is a lot of anger (I don’t think this word is to strong) towards those who argue for gender-inclusive translations of the Bible and the like. Here’s a post that looks at some of the difficulties gendered translations face.

Bonus Link: Sam Harris’ performance in a discussion with Noam Chomsky left much to be desired. Sam Harris, one of the “new atheists,” has activated wanton violence against Muslims and other peoples of faith. Here, he had a dialogue with a noted activist against state-sponsored violence. How did it go?

A Solar System and Cosmos Filled With Life? – A reflection upon Ben Bova’s “Farside” and “New Earth”

bb-farside

Ben Bova’s contributions to science fiction are monumental. A six-tme Hugo Award winner (!!), he is established as one of the most successful and entertaining authors of our time. I have quite enjoyed a number of his works, though I have at times been critical of his portrayal of religion. Bova’s major series, the “Grand Tour,” follows human exploration of the solar system (and at some points, beyond). The series is constructed in such a way as to not require readers to follow it chronologically. They are interlinked and interrelated, but not interdependent. Here, we’ll look at two recent books in this series which look at the discovery of an Earth-like planet. There will, of course, be major plot SPOILERS for both books in what follows.

Farside

After telescopes on Earth discover an Earth-sized planet relatively local to our own Solar System (ten light years away), the race is on to learn more about this planet. Farside portrays the struggles of a number of people in their efforts to build an observation base on the dark side of the moon. Jason Uhlrich seeks his Nobel Prize in his attempts to be the first to observe and chart the planet.

Life has already been found within the Solar System, and now two rivals rush to be the first to discover it in the great beyond of the stars. What is interesting is to note some of the assumptions that go into Bova’s characterization of life beyond Earth. First, one primary assumption seems to be that where there is water, there must be life. Second, life should be expected in all corners of the universe.

These assumptions are the subjects of much debate within the scientific community around the possibility of life on other planets and the origin of life. Regarding the former, there are those who do believe that life will be found in abundance throughout the universe. After all, given that we exist, life cannot be all that improbable, right? The other primary way of thinking is to argue that life is, in fact, quite rare in the universe and our own existence is a wonderfully improbable jackpot win.

bb-neNew Earth

New Earth picks up some time after the events of Farside. Humanity has sent an expedition to “New Earth.” Upon arrival, there is a great mystery: “New Earth” is eerily like Earth itself. It turns out that a machine known as a “predecessor” has created the planet and grown these human-like aliens as a way to break it to humanity that there is, in fact, more intelligent life “out there.” Moreover, there is a catastrophic event coming towards the whole arm of the Milky Way which will wipe out these intelligent species, and humanity needs to help preserve themselves and the other species.

Though skeptical, ultimately all the members of the expedition are convinced, and the book ends with the message reaching Earth and the gearing up to proceed on this mission given by the Predecessor.

Reflection

There are, of course, any number of things that one could nitpick regarding the plausibility of the scenarios Bova envisions (one would be the rewiring of Uhlrich’s brain to “see” via hearing and touch… how does that work?), but here we’ll focus on two aspects of the work: the plausibility of life outside Earth and the mythos of the benevolent alien.

In Farside, readers who haven’t surveyed the body of Bova’s work discover that the Solar System itself teems with life: life once flourished on Mars, and its vestiges remain; on Jupiter, creatures soar in the skies; life is found elsewhere throughout the System. Bova’s vision of the origin of life seems to be that if there’s water, there may be life. Yet one has to wonder about the plausibility of life forming on a planet like Jupiter. How might biochemical interactions with delicate balances of material be maintained for long? What of the distance to the sun? The origin of life requires all kinds of factors to be “just right” and it simply is not enough to fudge the numbers by saying “It could have happened this way.” To develop a hypothesis around ad hoc assumptions is faulty.

Intelligent life, as explicated in New Earth, is even more problematic. It is easier to have single celled organisms than to have the complexity needed for intelligence. Even granting a naturalistic scenario, the conditions must be even more tuned for life and allow for the nurturing of that life for extremely long periods of time. The universe is indeed huge beyond belief but one has to wonder if even that immensity is enough to repeat the conditions which occur on Earth.

Of course, in the end, one must acknowledge that these are tales of science fiction, not proposals about how science fact might be. There is a certain sense of awe and wonder involved in considering whether life could exist all over the Solar System. It seems to me, however, that if that is the case, it probably got there by means of Earth–blown off the surface of our planet by an asteroid and traveled through space to Mars and possibly beyond.

Another major theme found in both books is what I dubbed the “Myth of the Benevolent Alien.” There is a kind of pervasive battle in science fiction between the notions that aliens want us dead or that aliens are going to be ultimately some kind of saviors of humankind. New Earth brings this benevolence front and center: some unknown life form created these “Predecessors” to find and aid intelligent life. It’s a scenario filled with wonder and hope. But it’s also a scenario which I’ve found time and again in materialistic literature.

The way this story goes: wherever possible, life is certain. It’s a kind of appeal to a fantasy of a godless universe wherein it may be possible to find hope and meaning in the stars. As one character (I believe it is Grant) said in Farside: Ad astra! (To the stars!). Second, the actual inherent implausibility of life both leads to this longing (we don’t want to be alone) and to a search for meaning (how did we get here?). My own answer is that theism provides a more plausible explanation of both the longing for meaning, meaning itself, and the way in which life arose. Interestingly, however, the atheistic accusation that theists are engaged in wishful thinking is perhaps mirrored through various declarations made by naturalists themselves (see the post linked above and in the links below).

Bova’s novels thus serve as a way forward in this discussion. By illustrating our longing and loneliness through the fulfillment of our desires (the discovery of life and the notion that we are not alone), Bova grants readers their wishes. However, we ultimately come to realize that these are indeed just wishes. Perhaps, one day, a “New Earth” will be discovered. But even if that happens, it will not be enough to satisfy our loneliness, nor will it answer our ultimate questions. Theism is the ultimate antidote to loneliness, the ultimate answer for our questions.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Materialists: Where is hope? Look to the stars!– I analyze one aspect of materialism: the way that some look to hope in the “beyond” of the outer limits of the universe. Hope, for materialists, may come from the stars. Our salvation may lay beyond our solar system, in benevolent aliens who will bring great change and advances to us.

Our Spooky Universe: Fine-Tuning and God- The incredible circumstances which allow for life to exist and thrive on Earth are the cause for not merely fictional speculation, but actual reflection upon our place in the universe and how it might relate to the transcendent. Check out this post which surveys the evidence for the existence of God found in “fine-tuning.”

Sources

Ben Bova, Farside (New York: Tor, 2013).

Ben Bova, New Earth (New York: Tor, 2013).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

A Christian look at “John Carter”


Disney’s “John Carter” is based off a series of science fiction novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs which originated in 1912 and helped shape the genre. I admit I have not read the books–though I now plan to–so I can’t comment on how closely the movie adheres to the storyline of the novels. As always, there will be spoilers for the movie. I have left the outline of the plot out of this post, but as usual a succinct summary can be found on wikipedia.

Heroism and Just War

John Carter is a hero with a haunted past. The movie, unfortunately, never really explores his history much. From what I could tell, he went to war and came back to find his family had all been killed and his house burned as part of the conflict. He thus swore off fighting for a cause and instead decided to seek his fortune.

Once Carter reaches Mars (Barsoom), however, he is thrown into a conflict in which he realizes that the fate of an entire planet rests upon the victory of the city of Helium. Once he realizes the implications of this battle (and conveniently, finds the princess of Helium particularly attractive) Carter aligns himself with the Tharks, a race of aliens largely viewed as savages by the humanoid aliens on the planet. He is able to seal victory for Helium by making the Tharks realize that they, too, have a place on Barsoom which is influenced heavily by the conflict between Helium and Zodanga.

The movie touches, then, on the notion of a just war. Helium is trying to save the planet, while Zodanga does little but consume and subjugate. The Tharks view both sides as neutral and prefer them to continue fighting, as long as the war stays away from them. Yet it becomes clear that due to the influence of the Thern–an extremely advanced (technologically speaking) race which seeks to orchestrate the destruction of planets–that the conflict has implications for everyone on Barsoom, and indeed, on Earth.

Sin

The Tharks have a tradition in which they brand their people as punishment for their sins. The brands are placed so that they continue to cover one’s skin throughout their lives. If one has committed enough offenses that there is no longer any place for a branding, then one is either killed or thrown into the arena to fight against impossible odds. One’s sins literally cover their flesh. One cannot escape from one’s offenses. There is no redemption.

Christianity affirms that sin is something for which one can make no redemption for themselves. One’s sins are, in a sense, branded onto one’s past. Only by repentance and grace through faith can one be saved. There is no escape from one’s offenses except through the full and free forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord. There imagery in the movie of one’s sins being displayed on one’s flesh is powerful, and it resonates with the Christian view that our sins condemn us forever. Only by grace can we be saved. There is no removing the sins–branded onto us–by our own power.

Religion

The Therns are supposedly oracles of the goddess. However, it turns out that they are actually dedicated to manipulating civilizations across the galaxy. It is never discussed whether the goddess and the Therns were ever actually genuine, but it seems fairly clear that those calling themselves Therns are just using the title in order to gain power.

Religion is therefore seen as a kind of way to manipulate and enthrall the masses. All of the sides of the conflict are shown to be dedicated to the goddess, but none seems to have the full truth. However, it does seem that the dedication of the Tharks, in particular, shows a resonance with truth and a genuineness that reaches beyond the mere use of religion as subjugation. The movie, I would say, gives an overall neutral view of religion. In some ways it can be used for ill, but it nonetheless is not inherently evil.

Yet another aspect of religion in the movie, however, is that one can observe the difference between genuine faith and exploitative faith. It is clear that many of the Therns genuinely believed in the goddess and there are scenes which convey a sense of awe over the faith on Barsoom. Religious practice is seen as taking place on a genuine level and being an important part of the lives of the practitioners. These religious persons are seen as genuine and largely trustworthy. On the other hand, those who seek to exploit the faith are seen as inherently evil. Such a view should resonate with Christians, who are instructed to be aware of those within the church who would seek to lead us astray (antichrists).

Alien Life and social (in)justice

Social justice is an underlying theme in the movie. By portraying the alien Tharks as the outsiders, the movie is able to focus on the notion that the downtrodden and overlooked can rise above the limitations of their position. Although viewed as unequals, they are equals.

One poignant scene early in the film showed a hatchery for the Tharks. They came to collect the hatchlings and it turned out that some eggs hadn’t yet hatched. The Tharks then fired on all the eggs with their gun and destroyed the “weak” young. I couldn’t help but think that this is largely what is happening in the real world with abortion [a topic I have written on extensively].

Here again, worldviews rear their ugly heads. The faith of Barsoom is a bit enigmatic. The goddess seems largely uninterested in the goings-on of everyday life. Furthermore, those who follow her are fully willing to kill their own young in order to ensure the survival of the strongest. One can’t help but think of the prioritization of desires over objective morality in our own world.

Conclusions

The film was a lot of fun. One can easily see how the source material influenced science fiction in a number of ways. As a huge fan of science fiction, I can’t help but love the movie. It is so awesome to see the origins of sci-fi play out on screen. Christians watching the film will find areas to discuss social justice, just war, and heroism. Furthermore, there are some poignant scenes which can bring up issues related to abortion and racism. A final talking point would be to discuss religion as a transcultural entity and see how it has been used in both good and bad ways. I go into this issue in my own post on the “Myth of ‘Religion.'”

John Carter” is another film with a number of worldview discussions happening in the background and it’s worth a watch both in order to start discussions about religion, justice, and the like but also to explore the origins of science fiction, a genre steeped in religious dialogue.

Links

Check out another review of the movie over at Sci-Fi Christian, which looks into the background of the movie more, as well as exploring some Bible texts in relation to the movie: Barsoom or Bust!

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies– I discuss how Christians can view movies with an eye towards worldview.

Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber– I look at how science fiction is frequently used to discuss worldviews and analyze two major authors in the field along with their view of religious dialogue.

Alien  Life: Theological reflections on life on other planets– What would it mean for Christianity if we discovered life on other planets?

Check out my other looks at movies, including the Hunger Games and the Dark Knight Rises here (scroll down for more).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber

I love science fiction. One of the main reasons is because it provides a medium for authors to share their philosophical outlook for the world. Some authors portray their vision of what the world would like like if…. and what fills in that “if” is that which the author would like readers to be wary of our condemn. For example, distopian fiction often takes some aspect of society and shows how if we allow it to run rampant, we will create a world wherein we would not want to dwell. Other authors use science fiction to portray an ideal (or nearly ideal) society and show how the things they are promoting or believe fit into that ideal society.

Ben Bova and David Weber are two of my favorite science fiction authors. Bova blends hard science fiction (sci-fi which is largely focuses upon the applications of science that is at least seemingly possible) with great storytelling. His “Grand Tour” series of books is the story of humanity spreading across our solar system and even finding life on mars and founding a colony on the moon. David Weber writes military science fiction on an epic scale, complete with amazing battles in space (and who doesn’t like some big explosions in space?). I was fascinated to see both authors interact with Christianity, particularly on a fundamentalist level, and see how they took that discussion.

David Weber

David Weber’s book, The Honor of the Queen portrays its main character, a woman named Honor Harrington, becoming involved in a wartime crisis between two nations which are complementarian in nature. Complementarianism is the belief that women should not be ordained in the church and it is a very real and somewhat pervasive view within the Christian church today. I have discussed it and the rival view that women should be ordained/treated as equals (egalitarianism) at length elsewhere [scroll down to see other posts].

What really struck me is that David Weber fairly presented firm believers as a spectrum. He showed that believers can be reasoned with and even persuaded to believe differently based upon evidence. Furthermore, he showed that even those who may line up on the side with which he disagrees [presumably–I don’t know where he stands on the issue] are not all (or even mostly) blinded by faith or foolishness. Rather, although there are some truly evil and disillusioned people, Weber shows that many are capable of changing their position or at least acknowledging that rival views are worth consideration.

The most vivid portrayal of this theme is found in a conversation between Admiral Courvosier and Admiral Yakanov. Courvosier is from the same nation as Honor Harrington and wholly endorses his female officer in a position of command. They discuss Captain Honor Harrington:

[Yanakov responds to Courvosier’s question about his society’s reaction to Honor]: “If Captain Harrington is as outstanding an officer as you believe–asbelieve–she invalidates all our concepts of womanhood. She means we’re wrong, that our religion is wrong. She means we’ve spent nine centuries being wrong… I think we can admit our error, in time. Not easily… but I believe we can do it.”

“Yet if we do[” Yanakov continues, “]what happens to Grayson [their world]? You’ve met two of my wives. I love all three of them dearly… but your Captain Harrington, just by existing, tells me I’ve made them less than they could have been… Less capable of her independence, her ability to accept responsibility and risk… How do I know where my doubts over their capability stop being genuine love and concern?”

The exchange is characteristic of the way Grayson’s people are treated throughout the book. They are real people, capable of interacting with other views in honest ways. They feel challenged by a view contrary to their own. Some react poorly, and there are extremists who are blinded by hatred and anger. Yet all of them are treated as people with real concerns shaped by their upbringing and backgrounds.

Honor Harrington ends up saving Grayson, and at the end of the book, she is commended by the rulers of that planet. She talks to the “Protector” [read: king/president]:

“You see,” [said the Protector] “we need you.”

Need me, Sir?” [Responded Honor]

“Yes, Grayson faces tremendous changes… You’ll be the first woman in our history to hold land… and we need you as a model–and a challenge–as we bring our women fully into our society.”

Weber thus allows for even ardent supporters of specific religious backgrounds to respond to reasoned argument and to change. They are capable of interacting on a human level and deserve every bit of respect as those who disagree with them. Again, there are those who are radicals and will not be reasoned with, but they are the minority and they do not win out.

Weber therefore presents religious dialogue in The Honor of the Queen as a genuine interaction between real people from differing backgrounds. Those who are “fundamentalist” are capable of changing their views when challenged with a rival view which out-reasons their own. Religious dialogue is possible and fruitful.

Ben Bova

Ben Bova’s whole “Grand Tour” series has a number of dealings with “fundamentalists.” He never really defines the term to be specifically Christian but one can tell when reading the books that it is pretty clear he is referencing hardcore fundamentalist evangelical Christianity.

I recently finished reading Mars Life, one of the latest in the series. The book focuses upon the continued research following the discovery that there was once once intelligent life on earth. There are major forces that are slowing down the exploration of Mars in the book. First, Earth is dealing with a number of major problems from global warming. There is flooding that has almost submerged Florida and other areas of the Midwest (in the U.S.) and the rest of the world is suffering even worse. Thus, people are wary of giving money to research on Mars when there is so much to do more locally. The primary impediment to Mars exploration, however, are the “fundamentalists” (again, an ill-defined term which seems to include some version of Christianity, given that they reference the Bible) who are actively working to cut off funding because they perceive the discovery of life on Mars as a direct threat to fundamental beliefs like anti-evolutionism and the like.

Bova’s treatment of extremist positions in religion is somewhat disingenuous in my opinion, particularly when one compares his portrayal with that of Weber. Bova tends to illustrate religious fundamentalists as a black and white issue. Basically, if you are a hardcore believer, you’re in it for power and control, you are willing to incite violence to achieve your ends, and you are incapable of reasoning. Again, note the contrasts with Weber’s depiction above. A few examples will help to draw this out.

On page 142 and following there is a discussion about putting together a panel to discuss the finding of a fossil on Mars. The interaction shows that no matter what, fundamentalists cannot accept scientific findings:

“Look,” said the bureau chief… “everybody’s calling it a fossil…. …”Call it an alleged fossil, then,” insisted the consultant (from the fundamentalists)… [The group then continues to suggest terms for the fossil:] “A probable fossil?” …”A possible fossil”… [Then, finally] “Say that the scientists believe it’s a fossil and until proven otherwise that’s what we’re going to call it.”

Here one can see that fundamentalism is intrinsically tied to an anti-science mentality. The key for them is to use words which deny absolutes, essentially skirting issues rather than discussing the truth. But that’s not all there is to it. Later on, one of the fundamentalists is engaged in a discussion about “requesting” that some lyrics in music they view as morally reprehensible be changed. The musician flat out refuses, angering the fundamentalist in the process. The section closes as follows:

[The musician] was shot to death at a Dog Dirt concert three months later. His killer surrendered easily to the police, smilingly explaining that he was doing God’s work.

What is interesting about this example is that it is illustrative of a number of such examples throughout the book. These are completely unrelated to the main plot. Rather, it seems what Bova is doing is very explicitly showing that fundamentalists are unafraid to use immoral tactics, censoring, and even incite violence in order to get their way. Theirs is an unquestioned and unquestionable faith. Those in power in fundamentalism are inherently evil and devious. They only want to control. Again, these asides are in no way tied to the plot of the book. It’s almost as though Bova is preaching a different worldview, one which views religiosity as inherently dangerous and violent, with few exceptions.

There is one positive example, however. A Roman Catholic, Monsignor Fulvio DiNardo, who is also a world-renowned geologist decides he wants to go to Mars to find the answer to a question about faith which is pressing on him. Namely, why God would exterminate an entire intelligent species. His thread in the story seems to show two things: first, that fundamentalism is inherently incapable of responding to reason; second, that it is possible to have reasoned faith and science together. The second point is illustrated very well when DiNardo is finally on Mars. He suffers from a likely stroke and is dying and begins a dialog with God:

Why did you kill them, Lord? They were intelligent. They must have worshipped You in some form or other. Why kill them? How could you–

And then DiNardo understood. Like a calming wave of love and peace, comprehension flowed through his soul at last… God had taken the Martians to Him! Of course. It was so simple, so pure. I should have seen it earlier. I should have known. My faith should have revealed the truth to me.

The good Lord took the Martians to Him. He ended their trial of tears in this world and brought them to eternal paradise. They must have fulfilled their mission. They must have shown their Creator the love and faith that He demands from us all. So He gave them their eternal reward…

The light was getting so bright… Glaring. Brilliant… Like staring into the sun. Like looking upon the face of… (297-298)

So Bova does offer a counterbalance to fundamentalism, and I appreciate that portrayal. Although DiNardo’s death and his revelation receives very little further comment (and no further comment at all on the revelation), it seems as though it is positively portrayed.

A reason for criticism is that Bova is uncompromising with fundamentalists. I’ve already drawn out his portrayal of them, and it seems to me to be a bit disingenuous. Although there are plenty on the “religious right” who would be all too happy to be able to legislate all morality, control the media, and deny well-attested scientific findings, I have hardly found that to be the majority. And certainly, fundamentalism is not a homogeneous entity filled with people who are trying to control everyone else. I’ll grant that this is a work of fiction, but in light of how Weber was able to handle a fairly similar issue with respectful portrayals of the ‘other side,’ I had hoped for more from Bova, whose work I enjoy greatly. For Bova, it seems, religious dialogue is not a real possibility, with few exceptions. Fundamentalists are incapable of reasoning and are barely even convinced believers; rather they are using their positions of authority within their organizations to consolidate power and execute their own prerogatives on their witless followers.

Fair Discussion

It seems pretty clear to me that David Weber provided a better model for utilizing science fiction in religious dialogue than Ben Bova did. The people representing the ‘bad guys’ in Weber’s book did have some who were truly evil and/or beyond reason, but also had many with whom reason resonated. When confronted with rival views, they were thoughtful and even receptive. On the other hand, the characters with whom Bova disagreed were a true black/white dichotomy with the “good guys.” Fundamentalists were bad. Period. He portrayed them as power-hungry, censor-happy maniacs. Although there was one notable exception (the Catholic priest, DiNardo), who showed a bright spot for “believers” at large, he was by far the exception.

It seems clear this study has applications for real-world dialogue about religion. When we interact with other worldviews, we should be capable of treating the other side with the same kind of dignity we would like to be treated. Although other worldviews may have their extremists who will not respond to reason, our attitude should be that of the humble friend trying to explore the beliefs of the “other.” The “other” is not that which must be demonized, but rather understood and with which to interact.

More Reading

I explore the theological implications of life on other planets.

I discuss a book which will change the way you think about about the notion that religion is violent. It also deals with the notion of the religious “other” as a construct.- William Cavanaugh’s The Myth of Religious Violence.

Sources

Ben Bova, Mars Life (New York: Tor, 2008).

David Weber, The Honor of the Queen (New York: Baen, 1993).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Alien Life: Theological reflections on life on other planets

I have two general beliefs/feelings when it comes to life on other planets which are in conflict. Part of me is extremely skeptical. The probability of their being life on other planets given the extremely precise conditions needed to sustain life is exceedingly, vanishingly, absurdly low. Sure, there are unimaginably numerous planets in our universe, any number of which may be earthlike, but I just do not see why we should think that life is inevitable or even likely. On the other hand another part of me thinks that God could just as easily have brought life forth in various places throughout the universe, utilizing it much like an artist uses a tapestry. Our universe could be teeming with life, just waiting to be discovered.

Reading a couple books recently, along with the recent exploration of Mars, have turned me to reflect on the implications of life on other planets for Christian theology. One book, Vast Universe [link at bottom of post], was on Christian theology of life on other planets. Here, I shall be setting aside my extreme skepticism about life “out there.” Instead, I shall consider the following statement: “If there is other life in the universe, what does that mean for Christian theology?”

Science and Christianity

The topic is so oft-discussed that I will not dedicate too much time to it. What would the discovery of life ‘out there’ do for science and Christianity?

I think that Christian theology already has the resources built in it to adapt itself to life on other planets. Although some would be disturbed by such a possibility or reality, I do not see how such a discovery would be damaging to Christianity as a whole. The real problem would lie with those willing to abuse the text of the Bible in order to try to make it say there is no possibility of life outside of Earth or that our planet is the focal point of all creation. Theologies which take such a path those would indeed suffer greatly.

Humanity’s Place in the Universe

The discovery of life on other planets would almost certainly remove the notion that humanity is some kind of privileged being in this universe. It was not all created by God for us. What would that mean for Christian theology?

Again, I do not think this would be very damaging. Although the notion that humanity has a special place in the universe has a traceable line throughout the history of Christian theology, it is hardly a necessary component. In fact, life on other planets would be a great illustration of another thread of Christian theology: the notion of God as a cosmic artist who delights in creation. On this view, God takes such pleasure in the creation of and interaction with various living species that He caused them to arise across the universe. Furthermore, our discovery of these other living creatures could be a reflection of His providence, having set up the world in such a way that we could discover other life and marvel at His creation.

Salvation

What about salvation on other planets? Did Jesus go to other planets in His incarnate form and save them as a human? Was there more than one crucifixion? Thomas O’Meara, in the book I mentioned above, reflects upon questions just like these. He argues that “All three persons can become incarnate because incarnation is one aspect of boundless divine power… The divine motive for fashioning a universe of galaxies is God’s goodness; the same motive brings incarnation” (47, cited below). He establishes the notion of more than one incarnation as a live option throughout Christian history (63ff).

It therefore seems as though other life in the universe would not destroy God’s salvation plan. The Bible tells us about God’s salvation history for humanity. We know God is good, and we therefore know that God would providentially interact with other beings at their own levels and needs.

Finally, one thoughtful reader pointed out to me one area I had forgotten to add in here. There is the possibility that if there are aliens, then they have not fallen. Perhaps they have lived in communion with God instead of in rebellion against God. The possibility is very real, and must be considered in this kind of speculative theology. Such aliens would possibly be corrupted by meeting humanity; but they may also have much to teach us. As O’Meara notes, they may be some kind of “Star Mentors” with spiritual insights we may miss in our fallen state.

The Sentient Alien and other faiths

What kind of challenge would a sentient alien present to Christianity? What of their faith, their religion?

As far as other sentient species’ religions, I think that Christianity could interact with them in the same way that Christian theology has considered other human faiths. Seek truth where truth exists, and critique where it is untrue. (For my fuller vision of world religions, check out my post on A Vision for Christian Apologetics to World Religions.)

Some could even argue that a Christian interaction with other sentient races should be open to their own incarnations and truth in their religion as revealed by God. What of an alien Bible? Again, it seems that a good God, as we know God is, would interact with all life in a way that reflects His omnibenevolent nature. God’s providence would extend to life across the whole universe.

Alleged Disproofs

Would life on other planets somehow discredit Christianity? What of panspermia? How should we treat the discovery of life in the universe, were it to happen?

The Bible does not seem to make any kind of statement about life outside of our planet. However, it does make it clear that there is a spiritual realm of angels and demons. Thus, there is at least life outside of our easily accessible realm. No verse in the Bible states that there is no life elsewhere in the universe. It seems that the possibility is certainly open.

Furthermore, I don’t see any reason to think that life on other planets would somehow justify belief in panspermia or some other pseudo-scientific explanation of the spread and origins of life. We would have to deal with the same questions about life on other planets that we must deal with on our own.

Created life and the universe

Overall, I think that as a purely rational standpoint there is reason for immense skepticism about life on other planets. Although many express optimism and point to the sheer volume of planets in our universe as somehow necessitating life elsewhere, I am not convinced that sheer numbers somehow increase the likelihood of life on other planets. To put it plainly, it is my opinion that the only rational way to hope for life elsewhere in our universe is to conjoin that hope with belief in a God who loves creating and interacting with created life.

A final disclaimer

I realize that many of the points I wrote about in this post are likely to be extremely contentious. What I want to say is that this has been an exercise in speculative theology. I have been writing about something which is a mere possibility and offering possible answers to a number of questions from a perspective which takes this possibility seriously. I am quite possibly wrong on any of these. What I have tried to do here is offer a number of things for Christians to think about when they consider life on other planets. For a great post on the possibility of life on other planets, check out this guest post by Greg Reeves on that very topic.

Source

Thomas O’Meara, Vast Universe (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012).

SDG.

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