In this episode we’re going to take a look at a movie about traveling to the far reaches of space to find life as well as a surprising discovery found in an asteroid from 1998, and how those two things relate to one another when it comes to the way we approach discovery and scientific advancement.
This is THE first episode of the Reasonable podcast and I’m very excited to jump in, so let’s get to it.
I’m Don and this is Reasonable
A few days ago, I came across a movie titled Magellan 1 which is about a United States mission to outer space put together to track down the source of what they believe to be some form of communication being transmitted from another part of the solar system. Commander Roger Nelson, our protagonist, happily takes on a mission to outer space which promises much in terms of scientific discovery but also requires a very large commitment from his wife who will have to live on earth, away from her husband, for around a decade while he carries out the mission.
At least partly funded from an almost $50,000 Kickstarter budget, the (compared to similar box office hits) considerably low budget film was executed decently well in my opinion cinematically. It wasn’t perfect, but given that films today can easily reach into the millions when it comes to production costs, it was pretty impressive to see what they could do with less than a fraction of what other production companies have at their disposal.
It was the greater narrative of the film that caught my attention and caused me to stick around to the very end. From the time Commander Nelson is called into the briefing where he was to learn about the mysterious signals from space up until the final scene, there were very obvious but unspoken premises driving the progression of the film and the decisions of its characters.
When it comes to space exploration and modern astronomy, there are two large questions at play:
- What is the history and origin of the universe?
- Is there life on other planets and did that life have anything to do with the origin of life here on earth?
It seems most films about space today seek to answer these questions. It’s almost inevitable, especially when dealing with an audience hungry for answers to their questions concerning where we all came from and a deep desire for meaning and a personal purpose.
This film actually doesn’t really try to answer these questions as much as it seeks to apply an emotional storyline to the process of figuring out answers to these questions. In so doing, the film safely sidesteps theoretical minefields when it comes to providing answers to these questions from a secular mindset. However, there still was an adventure to be had for the protagonist, Commander Nelson, and that’s where we find those underlying premises I think Christians should be very well aware of when taking in stories like this one.
Clip 1 of Nelson being told about the “music” sent by the assumed intelligent beings
This is the moment in the film where Commander Nelson and the viewers finally learn about the possible alien signals coming from space. The characters are in awe as they realize that what they’ve been suspecting for some time might actually be true. They and so many today are working off of the hope or tacit assumption that there not only exists life on other planets, but said life is willful, sentient, intelligent, much like humans - or even more so.
This is premise number one in the film. The question of whether there is life on other planets has been hotly debated with really no evidence on the pro-alien side of the argument. Most of what we end up hearing are theories of probability based on the estimated number of stars and planets surrounding those stars. Even though scientists have named certain elements “the ingredients for life”, we still have not seen anything close to the creation of life from those elements in any controlled way even though they are all in abundance here on this planet. From that reality, somehow we’ve gotten to the point where scientists and many laypeople believe that we are not alone in terms of created biological life in this universe. This is for a reason, but first let’s take a look at the mindset with which they approach the task of discovery.
Clip 2 explaining that the mission is really about the possibility of first contact
Quickly, due to the signals, the crux of the movie is defined - find out who is transmitting the signals and establish contact with them, because they must have done it for a reason. Now, if we’re critically thinking about this, we’ll realize this whole enterprise is fueled by a desire to figure out man’s place in the universe and to give him a duty or a mission to work toward.
At first glance, the human task of discovering as much as he can given the amount of time he has on earth seems noble. Again, space discovery and exploration in general are worthwhile activities to devote one’s self to, however, we need to examine motive here in order to get at the heart of what’s going on - and in this case, what’s being portrayed on the screen.
Let’s take a step back and acknowledge something about the search for life outside earth. Many scientists today have come to the realization that archeological findings, when viewed through the lens of the theory of evolution, do not support the idea that life originated here on earth. Even by their calculations, the amount of time it would take for life to develop as it is today does not match what we actually see when we look at the fossil record. Basically, there exists no explanation here on earth for life to have been sparked outside supernatural intervention. So their attention, now, has been turned to the heavens for answers to where life came from.
This is the second premise in the film - that it is incumbent upon man to explore outer space…not to see what the Lord has made and to examine what we see in order to know more about Him through what is called Natural Revelation, but instead to search for answers which ultimately have already been provided us.
Clip 3 where Nelson finds “life”
Let’s take a second to unpack the word “life” here given the context of it’s usage at this point in the film. What Commander Nelson is referring to here is an orange gel which was analyzed by the computer on the ship named Ferdinand. Nelson finds this gel on one of the planets while looking for one of the devices transmitting the signal NASA picked up. The gel was located on and around the device which leads Nelson to believe it came from the beings that set the device there.
This life the computer picks up in the scan not only contains a similar biological make-up as bacteria here on earth, but it also contains DNA. This, for someone working off of a Christian or even just a Theistic point of view, or in other words, the view of science practiced all the way up until the 17th and 18th centuries (by the way, the same worldview practiced by the likes of Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal amongst others) these findings would be extremely exciting pieces of information which would inform our knowledge of the creation of the heavens and the earth.
The bible tells us who the maker of the heavens and the earth is and a little about the means and order He created it in. There isn’t sufficient evidence to either confirm or deny the existence of life outside our atmosphere other than perhaps the ascension of Jesus who was actually, physically raised, walked around and ate, talked with people and was touched and embraced, then ascended to a place that is not here. It’s also completely legitimate to believe that a supremely creative God might have created living creatures to circle other stars far far away from ours. Biblical scholars may debate over this issue but what we need to keep in mind here are three things.
First, we need to keep in mind that God created all that there is and exists outside that creation in a relationship wherein He is superior to said creation. The secular mindset suppresses it’s awareness of God and therefore misses completely on this point.
Second, we need to keep in mind that Man, while in an unbroken relationship with the Creator, broke the law of that creator and was punished…and all of creation was thrown into a cursed state. This is where death and decay enter into the picture. It is easy to see the upheaval and turmoil here on this planet but this is even evident to a lesser degree (I believe, because of our limited knowledge so far) when we look to the sky and consider the second law of thermodynamics.
Third, we need to recognize and not lose sight of the exclusivity of Christ as the means to a right relationship with God. We also need to not lose sight of His exclusivity in terms of Him being the only begotten of the Father. There is no one else like Him, not on this planet or any other.
Standing on these pillars we can discover and understand better than the secularist what our discoveries actually mean. We’ll talk about this again in the second segment of the podcast.
Clip 4 Nelson decides to extend his journey indefinitely.
By the end of the movie, Commander Nelson has dived head first into what he believes is his new found purpose. He believes in this so much that he is willing to completely abandon his wife who’d been waiting back on earth for him for at least ten years as well as the rest of humanity indefinitely in order to find out where the transmitter device came from. He seems to believe the makers of these devices are calling him in some sense to come where they are.
Catch the subtle arrogance at play when we think of human endeavors to propel ourselves into the stars to understand them better, while completely ignoring the God who created them. It would be a shame to travel to other planets to get to know them better while not only forgetting about the God who’s laws of nature we’re actually relying upon to get to those planets but also attempting to use the information we’ve collected to purposefully undermine His written word. There is no benefit to this kind of exploration. It’s not a noble thing to use God’s creation to fashion for ourselves a new purpose based on fantasies that we’ll someday reach some unknown galactic community where we’ll finally learn what humans are here for and where we came from.
We as Christians should dive into the sciences and take full advantage of the abilities advances in technology afford us, but with a correct view of God and our relationship to Him. Imagine Christian schools and homeschool curriculum educating children about everything from the deepest parts of the ocean to the farthest reaches of the universe, not from a secular point of view that has ultimately no foundation, but from the Christian understanding that it is God who holds the universe together. We need to, as parents and educators, make sure that we and our children truly understand and believe that math, physics, astronomy, biology, you name the discipline all make sense because they’re the study of the makings of an intelligent Creator. The universe makes sense because it was created by a Master Orchestrator. We live in a world of order, not chaos. Without a correct view of origins as explained in the book of Genesis, we too will end up trying to etch for ourselves, like Commander Nelson, a place in the universe, allowing our curiosity to define our purpose instead of the revealed Word of God. I don’t think this movie is exactly out to get us to think this way, but it is easy for viewers to get caught up in the storyline to the point that they don’t realize the assumptions the film has already undertaken at the outset.
The third and final premise of the film is that it would be the pinnacle of man’s achievements so far if he were to establish contact with alien life. Without any sense of what humans are here to do, this makes sense. In fact, without knowing what purpose man is supposed to fill we could say that our greatest achievement could be anything. As Christians though, we understand that there not only exists a God who created all things with perfect order, but also we understand that He has created humans in His image and charged them with certain responsibilities. Our chief purpose as humans is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever and that includes exploration, risk, discovery - but we’re mistaken if we believe that is the only or most important expression of our purpose here on this planet. Believing that, we run the risk of thinking more along the lines of the secularist who sees space exploration and scientific discovery as the primary means of solving man’s problems. The stars are beautiful but they along with the rest of the universe are waiting and groaning for the day God restores His creation to the state it was in before sin set in.
I dislike the following phrase for a number of reasons but I think it’s appropriate here given that we are taking about space so I’ll close this segment with it - do your best not to be so heavenly minded that you are of little earthly good.
Keeping along these same lines, let’s briefly take a look at an article published at ScienceDaily.com 2. Sometimes it really is difficult to tell what’s happening on the big screen apart from what’s happening in real life. It turns out that a group of planetary scientists have been examining an asteroid for about 20 years now in order to find exactly what it brought to earth when it crash landed back in 1998.
The article begins:
Two wayward space rocks, which separately crashed to Earth in 1998 after circulating in our solar system’s asteroid belt for billions of years, share something else in common: the ingredients for life. They are the first meteorites found to contain both liquid water and a mix of complex organic compounds such as hydrocarbons and amino acids.
Two things in that excerpt should catch our attention. First, there is an assumption about the amount of time the asteroids have been circulating the solar system. Again we encounter this assumption like we did with Commander Nelson and we need to point it out for what it is: a means to hold the door open, as it were, for evolutionary “random chance” explanations of life to enter. It’s difficult to imagine one billion years passing by, let alone multiple billions of years, so the average person understandably tends to leave most claims open to a possibility when hearing this sort of thing from trusted sources.
The second thing we should notice from the excerpt is the fact that they call what was found the “ingredients for life.” Now, there is overwhelming evidence that we living creatures tend to be made up of similar pieces. Using observational science, we can see clearly what we and lower life forms are made of. What isn’t safe at this point is to assume that those building blocks are all life is made up of. We know that isn’t the case from the way man was created
Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.3
We see that Adam was created, then he was given what the Bible names the “breath of life” and after that he became a living being. We see this come up a number of times in the Bible.
And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”4
What that breath of life is, we do not know, but we know that it is something more than just ingredients sitting together for billions of years which is the prevailing idea among secular scientists.
The effort to uncover these elements encased in this asteroid took two whole decades. We can be thankful for the ability of scientists to look into rocks and see intimately its building blocks. We can be thankful for researcher and the donors who fund them who do particularly tedious and non-glamorous work in order to document and classify all that there is.
Queenie Chan, the lead author of the study which was published at the scientific journal Science Advances was interviewed on the findings and said
Everything leads to the conclusion that the origin of life is really possible elsewhere…there is a great range of organic compounds within these meteorites, including a very primitive type of organics that likely represent the early solar system’s organic composition.
As thinking Christians, we know that life is possible outside our atmosphere. We also know that life was created and ordered by the God who created us for a purpose. We don’t need to rely on theories involving chance or billions of years in order to know why everything was made. God has revealed Himself to us and that revelation, via the written Word and the things that were created both physical and theoretical, inform the way we discover.
As long as we are observing correctly the written word and the cosmos, we can be absolutely certain to come to a greater knowledge of God, and because of that we can get just excited about this study and it’s findings. More than that though we can pray and work to convince those hearing and doing the research of the obviousness of God’s creative power - in all that we find. We have tremendous hope when it comes to scientific discovery. We’re learning more about God every time we discover something new about the world and the cosmos around us. There is a purpose for us and every atom in the universe.
I’ll leave you with this - secularists might have believed Carl Sagan when he said
We are the representatives of the cosmos; we are an example of what hydrogen atoms can do, given 15 billion years of cosmic evolution.
But we have a firmer foundation who is still alive and who knows more about the cosmos than we ever will. The Bible teaches us about Him this way
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.5
Thanks for listening. If you benefitted from this podcast, consider subscribing. You can contact me online at twitter.com/imdonaldjohn or at my website www.donaldjohn.com where you can find my email address as well as links to my other social media accounts. I look forward to hearing from you.
I’m Don and this is Reasonable.