I read an article recently by David Weintraub titled “How Will Our Religions Handle the Discovery of Alien Life?”i While it is tempting to delve right into that question and try to answer, “How would (or how should) Christians handle the discovery of alien life?”, I am going to do something different. I am going to deny Weintraub’s premise.
Weintraub does not state a premise directly, but it is fairly obvious from his article that he presumes that scientific observation describes reality and that religions must follow suit with that reality. The first indication that this is Weintraub’s premise is the question itself: how will religions, not science, handle the discovery of life. In his article, he basically states that the discovery of alien life would be a scientific discovery. He compares a first contact with aliens to the discovery of heliocentrism in the seventeenth century, stating that “our religious leaders have been forced to wrestle with major scientific discoveries.” (By the way, religion did not have a problem with the discoveries of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo: the Catholic Church and its adherence to Aristotelian cosmology had trouble with those discoveries. While the Catholic Church certainly found these discoveries to be heretical, it was not due to their knowledge of the Bible, but rather their acceptance of ancient Greek ideas.) While alien contact is treated as science, religions are treated as flexible, up to and including their ultimate demises. Weintraub addresses “which religions are likely to remain intact in the wake of the potential discovery of alien life,” notes that “Seventh-day Adventism would either need to find a way to adjust or vanish into history,” and that “[f]or Creationism to remain viable, its followers will need to accept divergent views on a wide range of scriptural matters.” From these statements and the general tone of the article, it is clear that Weintraub holds a low view of religion. I am not saying that he is areligious or anti-religious, just that he deems it necessary for religion to change in light of scientific discoveries. In other words, religion is a lesser concept that science.
I, on the other hand, hold that science, which is a human endeavor, is subject to God’s creation. First of all, science is a human construct. Sure, it is logical and built around observation, but the scientific method is something that humans created as a way to help us understand the world around us. As a human construct, science is necessarily subject to God, since God created humans and the thing created is inferior to the creator (Romans 9:19-21, Hebrews 7:6-10). Thus, the Word of God will trump science, since the Word of God comes directly from God Himself while science comes merely from the mind of the creature. Thus, my premise is that scientific discoveries will fall in line with the Bible. Rather than addressing the question, “What happens to religion if aliens are discovered?”, my premise would lead to the question, “Should Christians expect there to be alien life?”
Now, some may accuse me of dodging the question. “Weintraub is just asking a ‘what if’ question. Why can you not simply answer that question?” Because to answer his question is to accept his premises, and to accept his premises is to accept a premise that I consider to be false. It is a bit like the question, “When did you stop beating your wife?” Such a question will result in entrapment because the question presumes that the one being questioned has beaten his wife: to answer the question is to accept the premise and inadvertently admit to wife-beating. Thus, I am not dodging the question because it is “too difficult” for me to answer, I am denying the premise because to answer the question is to deny my faith in the validity of the Bible.
With that said, I do want to address the question, should Christians expect that alien life will be found? As far as intelligent, sentient life goes, I think it is pretty clear that such life cannot exist in the world that God created. We know that “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the option as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:21-23). This passage clearly shows that Adam’s curse (Genesis 3:17-19) is not limited to the Earth alone, but to all of creation. Would God condemn sentient alien life to a cursed world due to the actions of humans on a distant planet that they do not know anything about and can do nothing to affect? That would be a gross injustice on God’s part. Moreover, it is clear that Humans occupy a special place in creation (Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7, I Peter 1:12). Furthermore, since God’s creation began with the Earth (Genesis 1:1-2, and the Sun, Moon, stars, and planets were only created on Day Four of Creation Week (Genesis 1:14-19), it certainly appears that our home, the Earth, holds a central place in God’s creation, even if we are not at the physical center of the universe. For all of these reasons, I do not believe that God created extraterrestrial intelligence, and thus first contact with aliens will never happen.
What about non-sentient life? Is it possible that God created some form of plant, animal, bacteria, or some other form of clearly non-human life on other planets? I find this unlikely as well. Plants were created on Day Three (Genesis 1:11-13), which precedes the creation of the planets on Day Four, which certainly seems to preclude the existence of plant life on other planets. Since animals were originally created to eat plants (Genesis 1: 30), if God had created animal life on other planets, they probably have died by now. There is one caveat I want to mention, though: bacteria. First of all, I do not know when bacteria were created in the Creation Week. Are they considered to be part of the plants created on Day Four? Since bacteria are a critical part of the health of the soil, were they created as part of the Earth on the Day One of the Creation Week? If the latter is the case, were other planets created with their own compliment of bacteria? I do not know the answer to these questions. However, because the Earth is clearly the focus of God’s creation, I find it unlikely that God created life of any kind on other planets. After all, the planets (they would be included in the stars of Day Four) were created for the purpose of being “for signs and for seasons and for days and years…to give light upon the earth” (Genesis 1:14-15). Since even the planets were created to be Earth-centric (again, in terms of importance, not in terms of physical center of the universe), it would seem odd that God would create life on other planets. However, I will not be dogmatic on the idea that Earth is the only planet with living things, largely because of the ambiguity of when bacteria were created.
In summary, I believe that it is impossible that God created sentient, intelligent life outside of the human race. We should not expect to meet ET at any point in the history of the Earth. While I find it highly unlikely, there is an outside chance that some type of life, such as bacteria, may exist on some other planet. That is the best that I can glean from the Bible, and as that is the Word of God, that is how I expect the universe to be.
Written by Steven King
iDavid A. Weintraub (2019) “How Will Our Religions Handle the Discovery of Alien Life?” Pocket Worthy, getpocket.com, retrieved from https://getpocket.com/explore/item/how-will-our-religions-handle-the-discovery-of-alien-life?utm_source=pocket-newtab on August 17, 2019