Discoveries in biology and developments in geochemistry over the past two decades have lead to a radical revision of concepts relating to the upper temperature at which life thrives, the genetic relationships among all life on Earth, links between organic and inorganic compounds in geologic processes, and the geochemical supply of metabolic energy. It is now apparent that given a source of geochemical energy, in the form of a mixture of compounds that is far from thermodynamic equilibrium, microorganisms can take advantage of the energy and thrive without the need for photosynthesis as a means of primary productivity. This means that life can exist in the subsurface of a planet such as Mars without necessarily exhibiting a surface expression. Theoretical calculations quantify the geochemically provided metabolic energy available to hyperthermophilic organisms in submarine hydrothermal systems on the Earth, and help to explain the enormous biological productivity of these systems. Efforts to place these models in the context of the early Earth reveal that substantial geochemical energy would have been available and that organic synthesis would have been thermodynamically favored as hydrothermal fluids mix with seawater.