The news is exciting today! I write this following the tremendous announcement made by NASA that flowing water has been discovered on Mars. That means that an important prerequisite to life existing other than on earth has been met. Not that this is the discovery of extraterrestrial life itself, but it is a necessary precursor for such a discovery. And who knows perhaps when briny water is collected from the Martian surface scientists will discover that swimming in the samples are microorganisms unique to Mars? People thinking on this possibility are already saying, “This changes everything.”
Suppose that happens. Suppose that our assumptions regarding life and the universe are challenged in such a way that we will have to reevaluate our theology. Could our understanding of our universe change in such a way that some could even lose their faith in God?
Well I’ve got some good news. First, there is absolutely nothing that is written in scriptures that would be contradicted by a discovery of life beyond our planet. The fact that some may think that is probably due more to the interpretations of those who have decided that such a thing is not possible. Secondly, bear in mind this would not be the first scientific discovery that caused the church to return to the drawing board (or better yet the actual teachings of scripture). The discovery that the earth revolves around the sun causes us no concern today. I honestly do not know a single Christian who rejects that idea because they think that in some way it invalidates the truth of their faith. But such was not the case when the news first broke. Some religious folks were so concerned that they openly repressed the emerging science and even persecuted the discoverers. Now it is no problem, even for the most conservative believer. If the church could get through that, I think accepting the idea of extraterrestrial life is not only possible, but probable.
A better way for the church is to see ourselves as discoverers. We are leaning forward to explore the world and the universe we inhabit. We are not afraid to learn from science about who we are and where we might go. We do not desire a return to a “Dark Age” but to be full of the light that God is giving to us as we move boldly into our future. And as we go forward we do not carry our faith. We go forward carried by our faith. We believe that God is up on all the science and it’s our job to catch up to him.