Monday, August 6, 2012

Life on Mars and Jewish theology

NASA scientists at mission control cheer
as Curiosity lands safely on Mars. 
(Photo courtesy of NASA)
With the successful landing of the rover Curiosity on Mars today (way to go, NASA!) I'm already being asked what effect it would have on me as a rabbi if the rover does find evidence of life there.  My answer?  I'd be delighted!  And really, there would be no conflict with Judaism.  As I wrote in my 2009 book, Jewish Themes in Star Trek:

"Classical Jewish prayers refer to God as 'chay ha-olamin' -- Giver of Life to the worlds -- plural.  So there is no theological conflict with the idea of life on other planets.  There is also no conflict with the concept of being made 'in the image of God' if alien beings look different from us humans, because, in Jewish theology, God's 'image' is not a physical one.  If God has no physical body, then how can our bodies be in God's image?

"The Hebrew word often translated as "image" -- tselem -- really means 'likeness' or 'resemblance' and does not refer to a physical from.  Rather, it refers to the attributes of God that we are to imitate, such as mercy, love, creativity, etc.  As God is merciful, so should we be merciful, etc.  These are qualities that any sentient being can have, whether humanoid or not." (p. 128)

Of course, NASA isn't really expecting to find Martians in the science fiction sense.  The scientists will be delighted if the rover finds some complex carbon compounds.  But whatever they do or do not find, landing Curiosity successfully on the Red Planet is a magnificent accomplishment -- Congrats!

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