Life on Mars

A TV Interview by Don Glover
Monroe, LA

(Portions of this, the complete interview, were telecast August 22-23, 1996)

KTVE/NBC-TV (Monroe, LA): Pastor, Reverend, Minister do I address you?

GLOVER: Mr. Glover or even Don is fine with me.

TV: Mr. Glover, how does the recent NASA announcement that its researchers have found evidence of life once existing on Mars affect your religious beliefs?

GLOVER: Not as much as some may think. Mark Twain was in London in 1897 when he cabled the Associated Press: "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Discovery of Rock ALH84001 (the Mars rock) with its supposed traces of life prompts me to say that reports of God's death are greatly exaggerated.

TV: Yes, but isn't this new information troubling to you?

GLOVER: Revolutionary new knowledge unsettles. That's what makes it revolutionary. Nevertheless, enlightened religious people will be circumspect. For example, they will avoid duplicating the error of some misguided people in the sixties who opposed the project to land on the moon.

TV: Why did they take that position?

GLOVER: They believed humans were trespassing on God's celestial territory. Some of the most notable--and, as it turns out, most embarrassing--clashes between religion and science occurred in the Middle Ages; the great one being that between the Catholic Church and Galileo, the Italian astronomer and physicist condemned by the Inquisition for demonstrating with his telescope the validity of the Copernican theory; that the sun, not the earth, is the center of our solar system. Clerics of the time insisted that if Galileo was right, Christianity was wrong. So, like Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor, they felt obliged to oppose him out of love for the Faith. Tragically, they also felt compelled to persecute him. Years after his death, Galileo was vindicated, but the church lost a level of credibility from which it has never completely recovered. Similar questions face us now. Some of them are akin to those that arose when Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain in 1492: Should humans be messing around with the mysterious? Are there other "worlds," and "life forms" out there?

TV: Except that now we're dealing with life on other planets.


TV: Isn't it arrogant to say that we humans have the universe all to ourselves, that no life exists on other planets?

GLOVER: I wouldn't put the issue that way. Even taking into account the Mars rock, no one has proved the existence of life on other planets. It's a theory, only one interpretation of the data. Even the NASA scientists have joined other scientists in recommending that much more research be done (which of course will require much more funding!). Until definite proof is forthcoming, it would be arrogant to conclude dogmatically that life was ever or never on Mars. Let's first get the facts. And the fact is, neither theologians nor scientists have a monopoly on arrogance--or truth.

TV: Do you have doubts about life on other planets?

GLOVER: Yes, but I have an open mind.

TV: Suppose--just suppose--there is intelligent life on some other planet, maybe in another galaxy yet to be explored. How would such knowledge affect the traditional belief of Christians that this world is the object of God's special concern?

GLOVER: I would assume that if there is life elsewhere in the universe God has other purposes for these other life forms or creatures, just as he has other purposes for angels. None of these other purposes, whatever they may be, would invalidate his plan for us here. Let me, however, repeat: Nobody is claiming to have discovered evidence of little green men with funny eyes and ears--not yet, anyway!

TV: What, then, is your take on the NASA declaration?

GLOVER: It's important to know what NASA said: First, the rock, which weighs 4.2 pounds and resembles a large Idaho potato, was found in 1984 buried in Antarctica. The theory is that it penetrated our atmosphere and fell to earth 13 million years ago. Second, the scientists are looking at elements on or in the rock that resemble or suggest a life form. One of these elements, one hundredth the width of a human hair, may be evidence of life on Mars 3.6 billion years ago. NASA's research team leader, David McKay, concedes, "There are alternative explanations for each of the lines of evidence that we see." UCLA paleobiologist William Schoph, known for discovering the world's oldest fossils, urges further research but says, "The biological explanation is unlikely." He says the life trace may only be mud.

TV: You think the NASA claims are unwarranted?

GLOVER: If the scientists don't know for sure, neither do I. I must say that I detect an almost religious enthusiasm in some scientists. Carl Sagan, an avowed atheist (or agnostic depending on what mood he's in and how he wants to argue his case), started speculating lavishly the moment the news came out. Let's keep our shirts on. It amazes me that scientists like Sagan can see extraterrestrial life in a 3.6 billion-year-old microscopic thread and even higher life forms in foreign galaxies everywhere but can see no trace of God anywhere.

TV: Is there anything you care to add before we close?

GLOVER: Our perceptions of God's creation have necessarily enlarged with every new discovery. We speak now in the plural--of worlds, universes, galaxies. Remembering that humility is a virtue, we all might ponder Hamlet's words: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio; / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy"; and those of Tennyson: "Our little systems have their day; / They are but broken lights of thee, / And thou, O Lord, art more than they."

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