This has been a good week for those searching for life beyond the earth. The BBC Science and Nature web page links to three separate new articles pointing in this direction. Salt deposits from dried up lakes have been found on Mars, suggesting that once, billions of years ago, there were lakes of salty water which could have supported life, and that traces of this could be found in the salt. Beneath the icy surface of Saturn’s moon Titan, according to new evidence, very likely still today there are oceans of liquid water, which could well support life as organic molecules are also present. And for the first time these organic molecules have been found on a planet outside our solar system; although this particular planet is too hot for life, this finding, combined with the recent discovery of a planet of similar size and temperature to our earth orbiting a distant star, suggests that there may be billions of planets in our galaxy capable of supporting life.
It is highly unlikely that any life on Mars or on Titan will be anything like the intelligent aliens we know of from science fiction. Large organisms simply could not survive on Mars today; indeed it seems unlikely that any life could. Much more likely, both there and deep inside Titan, would be something like bacteria.
As for planets in other solar systems, from a scientific point of view anything is possible. But people have been listening for radio messages from aliens for 50 years and have so far not heard anything suggesting intelligent beings out there.
Would the discovery of life on other planets be a threat to the Christian faith? Certainly it should not be. If God can create life on earth, whether through natural processes (as I believe) or by direct creation (as other Christians prefer to understand it), he certainly can do so in other places, and we have no reason to think that he has not done so.
If there are non-human intelligent beings out there, one might speculate, or conceivably in future be able to study, whether they are also self-aware and spiritual beings, whether they too have sinned, and whether they too need to be saved by the sacrificial death and resurrection of the Son of God. CS Lewis memorably speculated in his novels Out of the Silent Planet and Voyage to Venus (also known as Perelandra) about intelligent inhabitants of Mars and Venus living in an unfallen Garden of Eden kind of environment. Of course we can’t know, until and unless we make actual contact. But the possibility of this should not be any kind of threat to our faith.
Thanks to Tim Chesterton for this quote from CS Lewis, which complements my rather similar recent quotation from NT Wright:
It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, which is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers will bring us to him. When it becomes really necessary (i.e. for our spiritual life, not for curiosity or controversy) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is Myth (but of course Myth specially chosen by God from among countless Myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer. But we must not use the Bible (our fathers too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and read without attention to the whole nature and purport of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons.
From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume III, p.246.
This was C.S. Lewis’ custom at Christmas, as quoted by Ben Witherington, and the reason was because of “the horrid commercial racket they have made out of Christmas”. If it was good enough for him, it is good enough for me. Indeed in the 44 years since he died (I remember the day, but only because it was the same day that JFK died!) his reason for this has only become stronger.
Well, I do give presents and/or cards to my immediate relatives – but not to anyone else. So, sorry to anyone who is expecting a present or card from me, perhaps because they gave me one. I don’t want to be like Scrooge, but I don’t believe in wasting my time and money buying gifts for people who probably won’t appreciate them, when the real beneficiaries are the shops.
But I do wish all my readers and everyone else a very merry Christmas.
John Richardson caught my attention with a post on The Debt Disaster, mainly because in his introduction he quoted Psalm 15:5 and highlighted the words “without charging interest”. The highlighting was in fact a link to an older post which further linked to an essay which John wrote called Losing Interest, where he argues from the Bible and from Luther that it is wrong for Christians to accept interest. I commented on the debt disaster post, and John responded quickly with a new post about The wrongs of loans, in which he appeals additionally, but inconclusively, to CS Lewis.
Now I entirely agree with John that irresponsible lending and borrowing have got out of hand. Many people who were not especially poor have fallen into a poverty trap by taking out loans larger than they can afford to repay, in many cases to buy things they didn’t need, but in others to buy the bare necessities of life such as houses to live in.
But it seems to me that the steps which John proposes for solving this problem are neither soundly biblically based nor effective.