Would proof that intelligent life exists on distant planets overturn the Christian religion?
THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:
Religious skeptics say very likely yes.
Why? They argue that given the unimaginably vast number of planets throughout space, there seem to be heavy odds that life would have evolved on some or many of them. If so, we earthlings no longer stand at the center of God’s plan for the cosmos, and that overturns the biblical viewpoint.
The answer is “no,” according to the consistent view of Christian thinkers who’ve pondered this since ancient times. The Bible naturally focuses on homo sapiens, not theoretical species elsewhere.
Space is red hot just now.
It’s Roswell 1947 all over again. The latest fuzzy videos and reports from the Pentagon suggest something may be going on up there that’s not merely the stuff of science fiction novels. Are we no longer alone in the universe? Are aliens from another galaxy spying on us from those UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects)? Is SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) poised for its devoutly desired breakthrough?
Even strict Bible literalist Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis sees a chance because “the Bible does not state whether life exists elsewhere in the universe,” though he “strongly” suspects it does not.
University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank pooh-poohs the current UFO buzz because the real story is that super telescopes may well bring us proof of life by other means, for instance spotting light gleaming on the dark sides of distant planets. He also poses a common-sense objection. If we’re really being visited by aliens “why don’t they just land on the White House lawn and announce themselves?”
That “I” in SETI is all-important. There’s only mild excitement about microbes or simple organisms or life-giving water elsewhere in space. What interests most people is whether conscious beings like us exist beyond our solar system capable of the technological skill to reach out and communicate with humanity.
The noted 20th Century British literary scholar C.S. Lewis, a Christian whose works included space fantasies, addressed these scenarios in the 1958 Christian Herald article “Will We Lose God in Outer Space?,” retitled “Religion and Rocketry” in his 1960 anthology The World’s Last Night. (See this essay at CSLewis.com.)
Lewis wisely observed that “those who do not find Him [God] on earth are unlikely to find Him in space.” To Lewis faith is unshaken by the possibility there are other lives on other worlds. He was more interested in speculating on this: If there are other spiritual beings like ourselves somewhere, are they also, like us, “fallen”? Have they been granted or denied salvation through Jesus Christ? Does God have other forms of redemption unknown to us? Or did God even create the vast distances of space to quarantine unfallen races from us troublesome humans?
Heavy and fascinating ideas to think about.
Cameron Hilditch recently reviewed pertinent history on this for National Review: “UFOs Don’t Cancel Out Christianity.” Even with crude telescopes by modern standards, ancient scientists like Ptolemy were well aware that we inhabit one little planet in a vast realm of stars and planets. His contemporary, the pioneering Christian theologian Origen (circa A.D. 185-254), assumed that the universe is populated by many unknown intelligent beings and supposed that they’d have greater powers than we exercise.
The idea of Earth’s and humanity’s centrality was as much the product of Aristotle and other pagan Greeks as of Jewish and Christian thought. That outlook was refuted by the 6th Century theologian John Philoponus, who also argued against the apparent changelessness of heavenly bodies and proposed that there is one Creator so his rational laws operate throughout the cosmos.
The high medievalist Thomas Aquinas pondered non-human persons. By the 15th Century, theologian Nicholas of Cusa would declare, “We surmise that none of the other regions of the stars is empty of inhabitants.”
Why, then, would anyone suppose that believers, ancient or modern, would be thrown by extraterrestrials?
CONTINUE READING: “UFO buzz: Will life on distant planets overturn Christianity?”, by Richard Ostling.