Question: Does Genesis make provision for life elsewhere in the universe?
Answer: There does seem to be a biblical precedence for the possibility of life on other planets.
Firstly, let’s look at the scientific angle. Vast amounts of money have gone into the space exploration missions to Mars with the purpose of looking for signs of biological life – “Perseverance Rover will search for signs of ancient microbial life” is NASA’s mission statement. So, we conclude they must think there is a reasonable chance that some form of organic life can be discovered.
Scientists do an excellent job and follow the Lord’s commission – “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings” (Prov 25:2). But if ever we begin to think that science has highlighted some new universal truth we find that the Bible got there first. Genesis (with a smile on its face) makes provision for new scientific discoveries.
The Church has had to change its position throughout the ages, which takes humility, and we know that the Lord requires humility from us: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
So, scientists have a God given role to play and we thank God for them because they help us in our path to be like Christ – “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matt 11:29).
The detection of methane in the atmosphere of Mars is of interest to astrobiologists because of its potential biological origin. Over 90% of methane on Earth is produced by living organisms.
Methane on Mars could be the result micro-organisms existing under the surface. We know that microbes can exist 2 to 3 kilometres beneath earth’s surface so scientists are keen to search out the possibilities on Mars.
But would God create life elsewhere in the universe? The Bible does give us some information that will be useful to us.
God created laws into the fabric of the universe, and the principles we see in creation are still around us today. For instance, a salmon may lay 15,000 or more eggs. Yet the number of fish that return to spawn is maybe one or two, perhaps three from that parent fish. But salmon continue as a player in the earth’s ecosystem. There are many examples in creation of this law of large numbers that God employs. It is the “Work of God”.
Researchers have calculated that each of the billions of the stars in the Milky Way have at least one planet. Why the need for so many planets when only earth is needed? But that's the way God has designed the universe, things have a way of working out well using the "law of large numbers". One of those planets will be at the optimal distance from its star to support life.
Animals often flock together because there is safety in numbers. An animal by itself is in jeopardy if a predator sees it, but if it is in a group of animals, its chances of being attacked have lessened according to the number of animals in the group. The Lord has placed this instinct within them. Large numbers work towards a given end.
The Bible teaches us to have a similar method: "Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that" Eccl 11:6. This is the "Way of God." See more on this in Ping There’s A Pig.
To engender humility within Job and his friends, God shows Job his ignorance concerning the earth. “Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?” (Job 38:5). This explains to us that God was working to a plan that had measurements attached to it. Much the same as an architect will draw up a design and then a building will be measured and built according to the specifications of the design.
Proverbs gives us more insight into God’s original thought-out wise plan: “I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth, before he had made the earth” (Prov 8:23-26).
So if God’s design at the outset of creation included laws for the optimisation of organic structures to flourish we may be getting closer to the possibility of seeing if there may be biological life elsewhere.
We know that included in the plan were predetermined universal laws - inherent in the universe are the four fundamental forces:
Plasma is one of the four fundamental states of matter, the others being solid, liquid, and gas. The universe first began as plasma, science informs us that it took 370,000 years for simple Hydrogen atoms to form within the plasma and then gravity got to work forming stars.
The stars eventually yield other types of atoms. The stars are “atom factories” that God uses to make the atoms and molecules needed to form planets and life. We can see the process still occurring in the current stars.
So the question we ought to ask now is was the predisposition for life to form in God’s original design or was it a specific feature of God speaking it into existence?
God who said, "Let there be light" can step into the affairs of the universe that he created if he is so inclined. He can issue a command anytime he pleases. Hence we are asked to pray: “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray," says James 5:13.
On the third day of the creative week we read, "God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants" (Gen 1:11). We know that plants do not stand alone: they harbour quite a range of microorganisms both inside and outside their tissues. Bacteria has a symbiotic relationship with vegetation, plants interact with diverse microbial communities, and the microbial support that plants receive was in place for the plants to thrive.
Science explains that the formation of life started soon (in relative terms) after the earth’s formation. In August 2016 researchers found what look like fossils of microbes dated to 3.7 billion years ago - the earth is said to be 4:5 billion years old. So the microbes were already in place for the seed-bearing plants to grow. Latest data shows that plant life began colonising land 500 million years ago.
When God said, “Let the land produce vegetation” microorganisms were already in play but God doesn’t tell us about the different types of soil microbes: bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, protozoa and nematodes. Each of these microbe types has a different job to boost soil and plant health. We get to hear the larger story in Genesis and the details are left for humanity to study.
So life began on Earth early. We are informed that the biosphere arose 3.8 billion years ago, simple organisms helped with atmospheric changes. Over time the increase of oxygen supported aerobic life, eventually we arrived at the fauna and flora of our modern biosphere.
If there is some sort of biological life in the rocks of Mars that informs us that God placed it in his original design and didn’t need to speak it into existence later on in the creative process.
And perhaps we ought to remember that Genesis informs us “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. God's design was already there - well thought out from the beginning. So if there is life on other planets they were in God’s blueprint along with the fundamental forces of the universe. His original design included the predisposition for abiogenesis.
"The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths" (Psalm 135:6).