The Kingdom of God: Lessons from Exploring Earth and Beyond

Episcopal Priest and NASA Astrobiologist Pan Conrad reflects on what space exploration has taught her about the Kingdom of God, both here and beyond.

1 Like

All living things explore their surroundings

Not all living things are mobile and using the word “explore” for what non-mobile living things do is a bit of a stretch. I would say it is more accurate to say all living things interact with their environment and one important enhancement of such interaction is to gather information about that environment.

I have explored some amazing “extreme” environments.

The adaptation character of living things even to the point of extremophiles is an interesting aspect of biology to be sure.

I am not only an explorer of my physical environment like all living things. I am also a Jesus follower, so I am eager to explore beyond the material world.

This is true of me also. Though you don’t have to be a Jesus follower to have such an interest. You only have to believe there is something beyond the material world to have an interest in exploring it.

I thirst to understand more about the spiritual environment in which we live. This territory is even more interesting to me than potentially habitable planetary environments. Yet, it can seem harder to access for many people.

It is harder for everyone to do especially if you expect to do so objectively as scientists do exploring the physical universe. And that is really the starting point of my own exploration… to realize that this lack of objectivity is the essence of the spiritual.

First I observe that while science is based on objective observation (where what we want and believe is irrelevant), life requires subjective participation (where what we want and believe is central). This tells me that the subjective aspect of our existence cannot be ignored. And this leads me to think that the spiritual is all about this subjective aspect of reality where what we want and believe is right at the heart of the matter.

If we would ferret out truths about the spiritual we need to begin with truths we can find about human desires. For example, are all desires equal? Or are some desires superior? Religions certainly seem to claim that the latter is the case. And when we compare the different things people can invest their lives in, I think there is a logical difference in how much we can fully engage ourselves or expect responses to fully engage all of ourselves. For example… compare a pet rock to a pet plant, and that to a pet animal, and that to child. Each that follows is more capable of responding to the full spectrum of our investment in them.

Analog exploration is one approach I have adopted from my experience exploring both Earth and Mars. Scientists use this approach for environments that are challenging. We can explore field environments on Earth that have similar features

And this is why I am as excited to explore the Church

I am dubious of this premise that the church is an analog to the spiritual environment – any more so than any other venue and human activity. To be sure I go to church and I do it as an aid to develop my relationship with God. But this seems to me a different issue than exploring the spiritual environment.

I guess it is understandable that the kingdom of God is the only part of the spiritual environment which interests the author. Understanding the subjective nature of the spiritual I do not hesitate to embrace a subjective understanding, but I suppose it is hard for me to let go of my methodological naturalism. As a physicist it is perhaps too much my habit to seek an understanding of the general nature of things first.

What a blessing to be a scientist as well as a disciple of Christ. It affords me opportunities to reflect on what I have learned from being both.

I can say amen to that. Many here speak of nature as another way in which God communicates to us. I don’t think the rivalry between clergy and scientists is doing anyone any good. And I don’t think clergy should pretend to speak for God any more than a scientist would make such a claim. We are all blind guides led by God to pearls which transform us as God intends . But we should not jump to the idea these pearls are better than the pearls God has lead others to.