Monday, February 23, 2015

Reader question: But what about INTELLIGENT life on other planets?

After my post on extraterrestrial life, I was asked directly about intelligent life on other planets.  I want to preface my thoughts by saying that this is not my thing.  I know that this question has a long, long history in Christian thought, and I know that lots of Christians (including some prominent creationists) have some pretty strong opinions on the matter.  I've never really lost much sleep over this, and I'm bound to step on somebody's toes with this post.  So if you're sensitive about this subject, you've been warned!

The basic question is this:  Would the discovery of intelligent life from another planet falsify the Bible or invalidate Christian theology?  Frankly, after thinking about it all week, I'm not sure what the big deal is.  I understand that there are a few verses and passages in the Bible that make it seem like humans are the most important part of creation.  Certainly, Revelation portrays the coming kingdom as God being with His people on the earth in the New Jerusalem.  That seems important.

Another point that young-age creationists would raise is the idea of the universal Fall.  Creationists (like me) believe that human sin altered creation so that now "the whole creation has been groaning" (Rom. 8:22).  That groaning came from the curse placed on creation because of Adam's sin.  So if there is intelligent life on another planet, then that would seem to be part of the creation that is groaning, which means they've also been cursed because of human sin.  That seems unfair.

We could also look at the passages of the New Testament that emphasize that Christ died once for sin (I Pet. 3:18, Heb. 9:28, Rom. 6:10), which is taken to imply that there would be no redemption available to intelligent life on other planets, since Christ died here and not there.  Otherwise, He would have died twice, and that's not what the Bible says.  This flows into the exclusivity claim of Christianity: Christ is the only way to God.  Religious pluralism is false; therefore, there can be no alien Jesus, because that would be a second way to God.

And so, conclude some, intelligent life on other planets would falsify Christianity (or the Bible or theology or whatever).  As I write it all down, I can see how this would be persuasive, but there are a few hangups that I have.

First, this notion of fairness strikes me as really strange.  Christians (or at least Christian creationists) already have a fairness problem.  We believe that Adam's sin was the source of the curse on creation and the sin nature that all humans now possess.  How is that "fair?"  I didn't eat the fruit in the garden, but now I have to suffer for it.  More than that, why should my cat die for something humans did?  How is that "fair?"  I don't know.  Christian thinkers have been pondering that for ages, and I don't know that we have a good answer, other than just asserting that that's the way it is.

I rather think our human concept of fairness is the problem.  We seem to operate under a sort of economic concept of morality: You get what you pay for.  If you're good, you'll be rewarded; and if you're bad, you will be punished.  If someone's good and they get punished, we decry the unfairness of it.  But that's exactly the problem that Job wrestled with millennia ago, and I'm not sure that God ever really gave him a good answer.  What Job got though was much better than an answer.  Job encountered God, and that turned out to be enough for him.  (I suspect God's presence is what we're really after when we complain about fairness anyway.  That, and we're rejecting our own depravity, but that's a topic for another time.)

That brings me to my second concern about these sorts of arguments.  What kind of truly Christian argument says, "If this happens [whatever it is], then my faith is false."  Really?  Your relationship with God is so tenuous and theoretical that an alien invasion would cause you to abandon Him?

For me, the reality is fairly simple.  If a Klingon battlecruiser or Dalek invasion or even the Death Star suddenly showed up in orbit around earth, I would pray like I've never prayed before.  I wouldn't think twice about it, because my God is the God who delivers.  Just like He delivered Noah through the Flood, Israel out of Egypt, Judah back from exile, I know He can deliver again.  He preserved Joseph and David and Elijah, and I know He has guided me.  I can look back over my Christian life and see His provision and guidance over and over.  ET isn't going to change my experiences with Him, and it wouldn't change my confidence and faith that He will deliver me again.  I don't know that I can explain how the exclusivity of Christianity would work in a universe with alien life, but I think we could figure it out.

OK, I think that's enough about aliens.  This isn't a UFO blog after all, so in the next post let's direct our attention back to the creation as we know it now.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.