Life on Mars, Part 1 – Asking the Question

I’m sure that the ideas that I am going to express today and in this series need to be “thought out” a bit more, but hopefully doing these entries will help me to do just that.  (Writing often helps in this way!)

Sunday a week ago (December 10, 2006 – That’s my blog: always striving to be on the trailing edge of news!) the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had an article — actually, more of a graphic than an article — focused on the question, “Is There Life on Mars?”  Essentially, it gave a timeline, from 1600 to 2005, of discoveries, writings, and events (serious and otherwise) relating to the question of life on Mars and was apparently motivated by the recent publication of a pair of photos taken by the Mars Global Surveyor about 6-7 years apart.  You may have seen them: one from 1995 showed a typical, seemingly arid Martian scene, while the one from 2005 shows the same scene with what clearly seem to be new deposits caused by what would appear to be a breakthrough flow of water.  (Here is a link to a NASA page showing the crater with new deposits, as well as linking to a gallery of other images, including an additional “flow” picture that has gotten less press: photo and gallery.  It may not work for everyone’s browser.)  While the surface environment of Mars would not allow such a flow of water for long before it evaporated, it could last long enough to make these deposits, which are “several hundred meters long” according to NASA.

The discovery has fired up people’s imaginations, again — in particular, that of scientists who would love to “demonstrate” that life on earth is not as unique as it seems to be.  Liquid water is generally understood as a prerequisite for life; this is why Mars and Jupiter’s icy moon Europa (which very well may have oceans of liquid water under its icy crust) represent the best non-Earth candidates in the solar system for life.  And, as inhospitable as Mars seems to be, life on earth has survived in worse environments in the form of microbes, bacteria and the like.  Finding liquid water on Mars — say, underground, where it would be more likely to last and stay liquid — would be (forgive me) a watershed moment in the search for extraterrestial life.

Like me, you may find this stuff fascinating.  I have found Mars fascinating since I was a little kid (just last week!), and I was quite enthralled with the early adventures of the two rovers we currently have there, Spirit & Opportunity.  I will even confess that a couple of years-or-so ago when I bought the Mars Rover Lego package for my kiddos, I was buying it a little for me, too.  (Only a little — like, 8% or so…)  What I find most fascinating is the possibility of “terraforming” Mars — that is, transforming the surface of Mars to be more like that of Earth.  Artists’ images of a Mars that has been so transformed — with green landscapes and ocean basins filled with water — simply captivate me.

[In the event that you are interested, the Wikipedia article on terraforming (found here) has some fantastic images, mostly of a terraformed Mars (some of which are supposed to be true to Martian terrain, elevation, etc.), but including a terraformed Venus and Moon, too.  Beautiful!  And for the record: I do personally believe that Mars will be terraformed one day, but not in the way that most scientists or futurists expect!]

Should the prospect of finding evidence of past life — or even current, microbial life — on Mars concern Bible-believeing Christians in any way?  Those who truly believe the Bible know that Earth is special.  They know that God created it for a purpose, and that He is working out a unique and divine plan here on our beautiful blue globe.  They know that the history of this world — that is, this society and this age — began 6,000 years ago with the creation of Adam and Eve from the dust of the ground.

How should all of this talk of a Mars that may have been capable of supporting life many thousands or even millions of years ago affect those of us who believe what the Bible says?  Or what of the more tantalizing possibility — a Mars that can now support life?  What would the discovery of, say, bacteria on Mars portend for our beliefs?  For that matter, let’s go all out: What if some fossilized remains of a fantastic creature or giant tree-like plant were one day photographed by the Spirit or Opportunity rovers, jutting out of the side of an exposed Martian hillside or crater?  Is that even possible, given that Adam and the lifeforms we see living here on Earth, today, were created only 6,000 years ago?  “Young Earth” creationists take great pains to try and wedge the ancient, extinct life we see in the fossil record here on Earth into that 6,000 years.  Must Bible-believing Christians do that?  And would there be room to wedge in a few Martian dinosaurs or redwood trees, as well?

Atheistic scientists would love to find evidence of life on Mars and then ask, with a mischievous twinkle in their eyes, “What does life on Mars say about the Bible?”  Bible-believing Christians too often allow themselves to be put on the defensive in such situations.  Let us preempt the issue a bit with a question of our own — a question asked from the right perspective.  Let’s ask: What does the Bible say, if anything, about life on Mars?

I’d like to take a look at the answer to this question in some follow up posts which I hope to do over the next couple of days.  Actually, I’d love to continue with Part 2 later today after the other tasks that I have scheduled, but don’t hold your breath!  Until then, I simply have to turn one of those Wikipedia pictures into my desktop background…

[Also, for those who have a decent internet connection speed:  You might want to watch the movie trailer found on the Mars Underground website.  The movie promoted by the website (which I have not seen but would like to) is part documentary, part propaganda, hoping to inspire people to want to go to Mars and make an Earth of it.  One technical note: If you watch the trailer (which opens in a window separate from the main website), you will either want to turn the sound off on the main website or close the main website completely.  It keeps playing some atmospheric music in the background, and might make it harder to hear the trailer.]

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All four posts in this series:

One thought on “Life on Mars, Part 1 – Asking the Question

  1. Pingback: So, I was on my Segway drinking my Starbucks and talking on my iPhone… « Thoughts En Route

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