“One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”, these words uttered by Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969 have solidified themselves in human history. Once man placed his breath upon the embers of this phrase, a metaphorical flame was born. No longer is our species tied to the Earth by means of roots and rock. Rather, as a caterpillar molts into a butterfly, we leapt from the comfort of our homes into the infinite abyss of the cosmos. While the roots that allowed this dream to grow sprouted from the hate and greed of Cold War competition, they gave us an opportunity. An opportunity to go beyond our perennial habitation of Earth and indulge our wildest extraterrestrial fantasies.
The arrival of the Perseverance rover on the dunes of Mars, once again places us on the cusp of greatness. With the advent of advancing technology, we are now able to use this newly constructed instrument to explore the possibility that life is or was present on Mars. Hypothetically speaking, if we assume that Perseverance finds evidence of extraterrestrial entities then life will forever be changed. We no longer voyage through boundless darkness alone. While this event will question and reshape many theories that came before its arrival, I would like to focus on the dilemma that will face religion if this event comes to pass. With the majority of religious belief systems across the globe being egocentrically centered upon humans, how will these ideologies possibly survive in the wake of extraterrestrial life?
To the unread person it may seem that this discovery would deal a devastating blow to the institutions of religion. Some would argue that since many religions are so centrally focused on human beings and their nature, the discovery of life outside of our plant would confound religious text and thought. This argument does have some merit; human interpretations of the divine word have naturally been focused on humanity. With no one else on Earth capable of understanding, interpreting and living the Word of God, it is natural that we would focus the complete attention of religion onto ourselves. But what this argument fails to account for is the omnipotence and infinite wisdom of God.
Many religious people hail God as the creator and call upon him as Father and Lord. They wrestle with the understanding that human knowledge is fallible and finite, while praising the Lord, for his knowledge is infallible and infinite. They accept within themselves that they know nothing, while God is aware of everything. He is infinitely close yet far from our reach. Within all of creation lies his infinite wisdom; He sculpts the mountains, fills the oceans, flattens the plains, forms the plants and breathes life into the cosmos. So, after these descriptions I pose a counter question: How can a being like God truly not be aware of life outside of Earth?
There’s an important distinction to make when speculating about the death of religion: It is not God who is unaware, but his subjects. Considering that some believe that all of existence was forged upon God’s anvil, it’s safe to assume that he is aware of everything in the known universe. It is humanity that has erred, not religion. Anyone who is truly religious will understand this as simple fact and will be unbothered by developments brought by perseverance. Instead, religion will simply adapt to the new circumstance. Surely it will take time for religion to grasp and philosophically tackle this new dilemma, but in time it will adjust. Additionally, this is not the first time that scientific evidence has questioned the constitutions of religious belief. Think back to when the evolutionary model was first presented. We can only imagine the great trouble that this brought upon the religious institutions of the time. However, religion held fast and adapted to the new circumstances.
Science and religion, however different they may be, can both be appreciated equally without one jeopardizing the survival of the other. Science seeks to explain that religion worships God’s creations. In Islam, people are prompted by the Qur’an to discover and study the natural world because all creation reflects its creator. And by attempting to understand what God has created, it leaves a person in awe of the infinite wisdom it must have taken to create such complex designs. As such, in certain religions views, the study of the natural world is seen as another tool to appreciate God. The advancement of human understanding should not be seen as the axe that will cut the roots of religion; instead, let it serve as another path for devout people to appreciate their creators.