What the Discovery of Liquid Water on Mars Says About God’s Great Universe

 A desert planet that has seen a thousand fictional civilisations rise and fall. (Photograph: Alamy)
A desert planet that has seen a thousand fictional civilisations rise and fall. (Photograph: Alamy)

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own.”

That great opening line is, of course, from HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and the other world is Mars.

The Red Planet has always fascinated science fiction writers. It’s so near, and yet so far. I grew up reading Edgar Rice Burroughs, who called it Barsoom and populated it with near-immortal humans, giant green-skinned warriors and white apes. Hubble may have expanded our knowledge of the universe, but Mars is still our favourite exoplanet: it’s the setting for Total Recall (1990 and 2012) and of course who can forget Mars Attacks! (1996)? Matt Damon is to star in another one, The Martian, out in November.

One day we will go there. Now, scientists have found evidence of liquid water on the planet’s surface. It is still not a very hospitable place, but if an expedition doesn’t need to take water along, it makes the voyage much more straightforward.

The discovery of water also means that the chances of finding life there have risen a bit. Without water, as far as we know, life can’t evolve. On the other hand, Mars is bathed in cosmic radiation because it has no global magnetic field to protect it, so any life that did evolve – and we’re talking microbes, not mice and definitely not men – would need to be quite a long way underground.

Mars, though, is only one planet. Of all the ones in our solar system it’s the most habitable, though that isn’t saying much – we’d be fried if we tried Mercury and crushed by Jupiter’s gravity before we got near the surface.

Maybe we’re alone in the universe. Given its sheer size and scale, that seems unlikely – though if there are other civilisations out there, some of them must be more advanced than us and it’s odd that they’ve never dropped by.

But say we did find life on Mars – or, which is more likely, on another planet. What would it mean for Christian theology? Did Jesus die for all humans, or for all sentient beings everywhere? Was he incarnate only on earth, or has he been incarnated many times?

At the beginning of The War of the Worlds, HG Wells ruminates: “At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise.”

If there are other sentient beings out there, do they need salvation? Should HTB start developing an Alpha for Alpha Centaurans, just in case? Or does God have different ways of relating to each world, redeeming each one in its own terms? Sydney Carter, the hymn writer, thought so: in his song Every Star shall Sing a Carol, he wrote:

Who can tell how many crosses,

Still to come or long ago,

Crucify the king of heaven ?

Holy is the name I know.

Who can tell what other cradle

High above the Milky Way

Still may rock the king of heaven

On another Christmas Day ?

 

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SOURCE: Christian Today
Follow @RevMarkWoods on Twitter.

 

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