Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Out of the Silent Planet

I think it is a new morning ritual for me now to check up on the Mars landing. The first picture above is from a Martian satellite which caught the Phoenix on camera as it descended to the surface of the planet with its parachute and reverse thrusters. This is one of those things that is so amazing it hardly seems real. I think we have science fiction movies partly to blame for that. However, we probably have science fiction movies partly to thank for stirring the imagination to even try such a thing.
Surreal as it is, its pretty amazing to think that right now there is a foreign object on our neighbouring planet. Its also pretty humorous to me that the first thing we did on Mars was litter.
So will they find life on Mars? I don't know how they're going to do it. Does the probe start drilling into the polar ground to excavate from the underground ice? I haven't read enough yet to figure this out. Regardless, the question is whether there is life there. For some reason I really hope there is. That would be so cool. And I'm not sure it would be a "theological problem" either. Maybe it would be, I haven't really heard the whole argument there. But as far as I'm concerned, truth and discovery can never ultimately be a "theological problem". It might make us change our perception on some things, but if it is to line up better with reality then that would be a good thing.
I'm sure when Copernicus discovered the earth was round there were a few paradigm shifts for people who thought the Bible had taught them the earth was the center of the universe. At first some Christians thought his discovery a fraudulent attack on the faith. At the same time there were others who were excited by it and got to work shifting their paradigm and examining the discovery. I think that's what you'd have to do, if life were discovered on Mars. I don't really think that would be a problem unless we found other human-like beings and had to start asking if humans were everything we thought they were and, therefore, if Christ was all we thought he was. (And it would be entirely likely we'd find out he was more than we realized he was. After all, the Bible already presents him as redeemer of the cosmos). That would pose a puzzle to be figured out, that's for sure, but if it were true, I have full confidence we'd figure it out. But we're a long way off from that.
This Mars landing really stirs the imagination doesn't it? Makes me want to read Out of the Silent Planet (ask yourself: which one is the silent one?) and Perelandra again. This is all talked about in there, and they are amazing stories too.


Tony Tanti said...

I don't think they'll find life but proof that life was once there, which of course brings to mind all of these questions anyway.

I like the way you've articulated how theology must adapt to new discovery here. The fear I think is that it will sell out but there is a line there that if not crossed keeps the whole search for truth totally legit.

I feel the same way about evolution, the more that scientists discover evidence that the it's real the more I'm inclined to believe evolution may be God's greatest creation.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

The top picture looks like a close-up of an eyelid. A messed up eyelid.

jon said...

maybe that's all it is. maybe they landed on zeus's eyelid or something.

although i don't know if i've heard much all that compelling in favour of full-fledged evolution in a long time, in principle i agree with what you are saying tanti. even on solely biblical terms, there are some good reasons to be open the possibility of an evolutionary design to things.

and yeah, i don't believe they'll find evidence of life on mars (aside from microbes), but perhaps of past life. even then i don't actually think they will, but the thing is that i think it is possible. obviously it is possible scientifically. but i mean theologically/biblically.

that said, it must be admitted that the bible does present us as holding a very special, redemptively "central", place in the universe. probably if they don't find a single microbe on mars, some christians will trumpet that as proof of the bible. that will bother me. but there is a sense where it might "jive" with the bible a little more easily, i'll grant them that. it certainly doesn't prove anything though, and the bible quite frankly gives us just as much reason to explore the universe as it does to think we're the only ones in it.

but even science has to admit that that earth is incredibly unique as well. the zillions of things that had to go right for this planet to support life, let alone human life, are pretty remarkable anyway.

Tony Tanti said...

I hear ya. I think I can acknowledge evolution (earth is older than 5000 years, snakes used to have legs etc...) without affecting my faith in any way.

Life, and the circumstances needed to sustain it, are quite remarkable for sure.