The Mars rover Curiosity has discovered organic compounds on Mars. The evidence may be a sign of extraterrestrial life but does not yet support any conclusions. But for the sake of this discussion, assume that microbial life is about to be discovered on Mars.

1. How important is such a discovery? Will most folks see this as a big deal?

2. How does it change the conversation between atheists and religious apologists?

3. What are the implications for science and reason, theology and dogma, and the word of "holy" books?

4. Would we see Martian Life Deniers join the ranks of Evolution Deniers, Climate Change Deniers, and Holocaust Deniers?

I'm curious to hear the thoughts of the Think Atheist community.

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I would love to think that it could get more than just a small percentage to reevaluate their religious beliefs, but honestly if they can rationalize a worldwide flood and dinosaurs living with humans, then they can rationalize microbes on another planet. I don't think anything will change. We'll keep spouting facts and those who are adamant in their beliefs will keep up their mental gymnastics and jump around the issue with nonsense. The only thing it will change is our level of frustration.

I can just hear it now, "But it's not intelligent life!" And, "The Bible only talks about Earth, not other planets!"

And, oh yes, will they deny it. If there are people who think that the President is a Kenyan-born Muslim, global warming is a myth propagated by George Soros to take our money, the WTC was not attacked by terrorists, the moon landing didn't happen, and that the holocaust wasn't nearly as bad as people think, then absolutely will they deny that life has been found somewhere other than Earth.

I doubt it would make any difference at all.  Did discovering that the "spiral nebulae" were in fact other galaxies change anything?

1. How important is such a discovery? Will most folks see this as a big deal?

2. How does it change the conversation between atheists and religious apologists?

3. What are the implications for science and reason, theology and dogma, and the word of "holy" books?

4. Would we see Martian Life Deniers join the ranks of Evolution Deniers, Climate Change Deniers, and Holocaust Deniers?

1) Interesting, and opens up the number of nitches for life even further. Earth could be seen, by the Martians, as a great beach retreat with lots of fast food on the hoof.

2) To me it is unclear if theists have to be involved. They could use it as a battle cry for the evils of science, or just go quiet because they look like dejected sad sacks.

3) Theists will hit the books again to try and find an esoteric entry that suggests that they 'knew this already'. Evangelists will try and get next flights out to Mars so they can try to 'save' anything bigger than yeasts! If they are lucky, there will be a moment similar the a scean in the Martian Chronicles, where one the surviving Martian life forms shows no interest and rejects the message.

4) Yes, but so what. These folks can write more books, speek to the true believers in 'Earth Only' life, and claim that Martian life is by definition 'atheist', and not worth mentioning.

Martian life could just see humans as so many 'bags of mostly water', and pre-seasoned for taste!

Wait and see...;p)


Reminds me of a Heinlein book that I read once. Can't remember what it was for the life of me. It was like a planet full of Mormons, but they're mission was to go to war as well as spread their religion, and there was a double agent involved. It was pretty good.

I read a short story once concerning an alien invasion. During the war, humans were slowly losing ground, and human spies attempted to infiltate the alien base. During the infiltration, the spies discover a strange building at the near center of the alien camp. There, upon entering, the humans find the reason for their growing failure, the aliens actually have 'God' on their side.  

To some, the discovery of life outside of Earth would have serious implications. Sure, there are those that are already open minded to life elsewhere. But they tend to be the ones that are the more generic forms of followers or are not as literally religious. There would also be those that would say that life on Mars simply wasn't mentioned because Earth was what was important, or that 'God had a plan for them as well', or that the Bible doesn't explicitly say that there is no other life. But the most interesting ones would be those that will claim that the Bible always has the truth about everything, and that life on Mars is included as well. I have a feeling that it would go something like the following... The story of Adam of Eve would suddenly become less literal then they usually claim. Mars would be Eden, and Adam & Eve would be the microbes in the Martian soil. Then a meteor impact carried them to Earth to seed it. 'The fall' would become the literal fall of the meteor to Earth. Finally, the life of work and toil that followed after Eden/Mars would be the life that then flourished on our wet globe. Obviously there are still terminal problems with such a claim though.

I know of at least one group of old earth creationists who claim to follow the bible literally (yes even though they think the universe is as old as it actually is--it's a long story...) who are adamant there can be no other intelligent life in the universe and probably no other life at all.

Obviously they'd lose some credibility if we found microbes--especially microbes clearly unrelated to our microbes--but people would just go to some other form of Xianity.

Best thing I’ve read on this topic from a theological point of view was actually C.S. Lewis’s old essay “Religion and Rocketry”. Lewis wrote a “space trilogy” himself and had thought about this question. He brings up some good points and debunks the idea that such a discovery would immediately ‘disprove’ God or the Bible.

Thou protesteth too much, my overly-presumptuous friend; although I was for most of my life a Christian believer, I am here in Think Atheist as a non-believer, to receive moral support and contextualization for my loss of faith. I hoped to find logic and clear, unemotional thinking, and usually—with a few exceptions (ahem!)—I have. In my above response, I approached nothing “from the wrong angle”: one of the original questions beginning this thread was "How does it [the potential discovery of extraterrestrial life] change the conversation between atheists and religious apologists?”. C.S. Lewis is a religious apologist, perhaps the most well known of the 20th century. His stance is clearly delimited in the essay I cite. And his nimble mind does indeed find no contradiction between extraterrestrial life—even intelligent life—and the Bible. In his opinion, we are left with several possibilities: 1) the universe may be teeming with intelligent life, and God may have provided a plan of salvation for each race, perhaps visiting each planet and taking on the form of their inhabitants; 2) there may be other intelligent races, but some of these might not have ‘souls’ per se, and may not therefore be in need of salvation; 3) there may be intelligent races which have never ‘fallen’—as portrayed in his science fiction work Perelandra—and are therefore not in need of salvation; and finally, in perhaps the strangest scenario of all, 4) our humble Earth is “the Visited Planet”, and other intelligent races stand in awe of how the Creator came to dwell among us and await our spreading the Good News to the rest of the Universe.

Aristotle wrote, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”. That’s what I just did above, see? So please keep your ‘magical gnomes’ to yourself, and open up your mind. And sheesh, find some more convincing evidence than the ‘discovery’ that the sky is not a solid dome; that one is not going to persuade anyone who understands poetry and figures of speech.

I think what he's trying to point out is that most (and my most I mean a small majority of) people don't take the creation myth to be absolutely 100% accurate. They read it as a metaphor that in a poetic way tells that God is the creator. Even the Catholic church teaches that it's simply a story and not to be considered as a portrayal of how the Earth and universe truly came about.

Considering that Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of Genesis give two different accounts, it's hard to see how they even manage to think there is something real to it at all even metaphorically.

I'm not sure if you aren't getting the point or just think it's inconsequential.


It's silly to try to get someone to not believe in something they already don't believe in. Pointing out the fact that the sky is not a solid dome is not going to change the perceptions of someone who already doesn't think of the sky as a solid dome. They'll just say, "Yeah, I know." Likewise, pointing out to someone that there is alien life on another planet won't matter one bit if they already think that life on another planet doesn't contradict their religious beliefs. C. S. Lewis would be one of those people.

That's what Darrel was trying to say.

What I said in my very first post on this thread is that people will rationalize what ever they can to fit their world and worldview. That's why so many Christians if pressed would say that the word of God is unerring, yet still say that some parts of the creation myth aren't correct with the world as it is. They pick and choose what they think is "true" and what isn't. (My friend calls them buffet Christians.) The whole thing is just an exercise in cognitive dissonance.

So you can try to argue with a Christian all you want to that because the story of creation is wrong therefore the Bible is not inerrant, but you won't convince anyone that the whole Bible is wrong that way. You'll just change what that person picks and chooses is true.

You can refuse to accept it all you want to, but some people are unconvinceable and you'd just be wasting your time, which could be better spent on someone who can be convinced. I'm a fan of picking and choosing my battles.


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