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Extraterrestrial Life and the Bible
Extraterrestrial life, if it exists, is any life that did not obviously originate on the earth. It has been a staple of science fiction since the Edwardian era, but has also lately become the subject of intense speculation, scientific debate, and even theological debate. The following is an examination of the compatibility, if any, of such life with Christianity and other selected faith traditions.
No discussion can proceed without an agreement on definitions. For the purposes of this analysis, therefore, a brief glossary will follow.
Extraterrestrial means "arising from out of this earth."
Life means living things, regardless of size, appetite, or condition of sentience.
Microbe (from the Greek mikros small) means a form of life too small to see with the naked eye.
Sentient life, also called sapient life (from the official binomial name of man, Homo sapiens), means life that is aware of itself and has language and the ability to reason.
Person means a sentient individual.
Race means a species of sentient individuals. The use of the term race to mean a clan-like "subspecies" is not in view here. In this context, humans all belong to only one race, i.e., the human race.
Civilization means the organization of a large group of persons to facilitate learning, justice, order, management (or acquisition) of resources, and mutual defense.
Types of Supposed Extraterrestrial Life
Discussion of extraterrestrial life centers on two distinct categories of such life. When most laypeople speak of "extraterrestrial life," they mean sentient life--that is to say, persons from another world, who are here either to reconnoiter, to trade, or to perform other such acts as a human explorer or soldier might perform. But this is not the sole category of life, nor even the sole category of life that, according to scientific speculation, might be found on another world or somehow come to ours. The other category of extraterrestrial life, besides the sentient, that has been the subject of speculation in scientific circles is the microbial. Consideration of the existence of extraterrestrial microbes is at least as important, if not more important, than is any consideration of the existence of extraterrestrial persons, races, nation-states, or civilizations.
Compatibility with the Bible
Could the finding of extraterrestrial life in either form invalidate the Bible? That depends entirely on whether microbes or races are in view.
The Bible and Extraterrestrial Races
Surprisingly, the opinion of persons other than fundamentalist Christians, as to whether the existence of extraterrestrial races or civilizations would invalidate the Bible, is split. Many have stated that the Bible nowhere rules out the existence of extraterrestrial races. Their assertion is that no single verse explicitly says that God made man on this earth and did not make any man-like or other sentient race on any other "earth." In sharp contrast, others have stated flatly that the finding of an extraterrestrial race would invalidate the Bible's claims of the uniqueness of man, and the singularity of Jesus's death for man. Those others have faced that prospect with an enthusiasm bordering upon exhilaration.
A careful read of the Bible does not allow for the existence of any race other than man. Indeed, the presence of such a race would give the lie to the claim of Jesus Christ that He came to take away the sin of the world., and that He died once and only once to bring this about. The only Kingdom that is not of this earth is the Kingdom of Heaven--and that Kingdom is also not of this universe, or "cosmos".
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 (KJV)Note carefully: the earth. Not an earth, and not one earth among many, but the earth.
The Gospels, especially the one according to John, refer repeatedly to "the world," in the context of both its beginning and its ending. Again, it refers to the world, not a world, nor to more than one world.
The Revelation to John (probably the Apostle, though he never explicitly identifies himself as such) also makes references to the world, both in the sense of the cosmos (the natural world) and to the oikoumenes (the inhabited world, the world of men). Again, quoting:
Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee out of the hour of temptation that is to come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Revelation 3:10 (KJV)The world--and more than that, the whole world, the entire world. The word translated world here is oikoumenes, which originally stood for all the known world over which the Roman Empire held sway but which now stands for everywhere that humans live. As if to press the point, John here adds the feminine form of the word holos, whence the English word "whole." He also quotes Jesus as referring to "dwellers on the earth." Again, the earth, not an earth or even this earth, or any other article or pronoun, demonstrative, personal, or otherwise, that might suggest that any earth other than or in addition to our familiar earth exists, much less is inhabited.
But suppose, as some have suggested, that our familiar human race is not the only race that God made? Then Jesus would have had to die for that race as well, thus setting at nought the verses that say that He died once for our sins. But again, suppose that other race did not fall? Would Jesus have had to die to redeem them? No--but God would surely have ordered that all members of this race stay a billion miles away from this earth until the "hour of temptation" had passed. Therefore, if any contact whatsoever takes place between humans and sentient non-humans, then God is proved to have lied.
The spectacle of persons not conversant with the Bible, and in any event not willing to abide by its precepts for daily living and man's relationship with God and man, nevertheless presuming to suggest that the existence of, and contact with, extraterrestrial races would not affect the truth of the Bible, is nothing short of marvelous. But perhaps one conversant with, and adherent to, the fundamentals of the Christian faith ought not to marvel. After all, the history of ancient Israel is rife with religious compromise of every sort.
The chief symbol of this compromise was the high place (Hebrew bamah, plural bamot). This was always at root and at heart a place to worship pagan gods of fertility, husbandry, and so forth. The children of Israel often presumed to worship God at such places, but God was not pleased. Inevitably, the high places returned to their original purpose: the paying of homage to pagan gods, not to the True God. Yet the confused dual use of the high places sometimes confused even the enemies of ancient Israel.
Today, the classic high place is symbolic of anything that dilutes the Message of God, or presumes to add to It. The belief in extraterrestrial persons or races--many of which are looked to as God-substitutes--is indeed a figurative "high place."
And again, not all those who believe in the existence of extraterrestrial races are would-be Bible compromisers. Some are openly hostile to the Bible. They not only acknowledge that extraterrestrial races are incompatible with the Bible; they explicitly declare and even celebrate this incompatibility. They also are among those who search the hardest for evidence of non-human races or civilizations--even though, if such civilizations existed, they might be far more powerful militarily than the combined militaries of all human nation-states, and worse yet, be disposed to attack and conquer the earth.
This last point bears emphasis. Our present understanding of physical law--that is to say, the Special and the General Theory of Relativity--strongly militate against the possibility of extraterrestrial visitation. Thus, if a non-human scout craft were ever shown, that finding alone would suggest that its builders have knowledge far beyond the reach of our sciences--certainly our flight sciences and possibly all other areas of military science as well. We then could only pray (to whom?) that we dealt here with a modern Christopher Columbus--and not a scout for a modern Shalmaneser V or Sennacherib or Nebuchadnezzar II or Cyrus the Great or Alexander the Great or Pompey the Great or Julius Caesar or Napoleon Bonaparte--or Adolf Hitler.
Why, then, is the universe so large?
Whether the universe is infinitely large or bounded is in dispute. No creationist disputes, however, that the universe is quite large. So the question remains: if humans are alone in the universe, why is it so large?
The Bible tells us why:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalms 19:1
And what a glory it is. Indeed not even a universe can possibly do God justice.
The Bible and Extraterrestrial Microbes
The finding of extraterrestrial microbes need not militate against the Bible. The Bible tells of the most serious natural disaster ever to befall the earth, known as the Great Flood. At least one theorist suggests that this Flood resulted from the rupture of a ten-mile-thick crust that once formed the surface of the earth and held most of what today we call the oceans in a sealed chamber. The seam of this rupture persists today as the Mid-oceanic ridge system. The salient point is that this rupture released billions of liters of water, all of it geothermally heated, and under tremendous pressure. Much of this water shot high into the atmosphere and fell as rain--and much of the water so propelled, was ejected into space, along with a vast quantity of mud and rock. This water, rock, and mud now persists as comets, asteroids, and meteoroids--all of which might well have been laden with microbes at the moment of the initial ejection. Thus, if these microbes were to be found again, whether in a comet's tail, or in a meteorite, or even on the surface of another celestial body, then they might be "extraterrestrial" only in the sense of being descended by several generations from other microbes that originally came from the earth.
The themes of the singularity of the earth, and of man, pervade the Bible. King David remarked upon it himself:
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? Psalms 8:4 (KJV)Non-Christians call such a position arrogant, and even suggest that it constitutes special pleading. It is not. It is a recognition that our very existence, far from being entirely-to-be-expected, is nothing short of a miracle.
A concurring perspective
I heartily recommend Gary Bates' richly detailed treatment of the subject. He also has an insight on why we needn't worry about "inoculating" Christianity against an actual ET visit.
- ↑ Any planet would be "earth" to those that lived on it, just as any given people would be "the people" to its members. Consider, for example, the Inuit, whose name means the people in their language. (Until recently, Westerners called these people "Eskimos," or literally, "the eaters of raw meat.")
- ↑ I_John 2:2 (NASB)
- ↑ Genesis 1:26-28 (NASB)
- ↑ Romans 5:14 (NASB)
- ↑ Revelation 3:10 (KJV)
- ↑ God permitted people to come to a high place only as a temporary provision, when they had neither Tabernacle nor Temple--but once the Temple was built, the high places ought to have been abandoned.
- ↑ Among these was Sennacherib, whose chief officer, Rabshakeh, once ridiculed Israel for trusting in God after they (under King Hezekiah) had just finished removing "His" high places. Little did Rabshakeh or Sennacherib realize that God in fact detested the high places and wanted them removed.
- ↑ In this regard, consider John the Revelator's explicit warning against adding to, or subtracting from, the Bible (Revelation 22:18-19 (NASB)).
- ↑ Author Shane Johnson, in Ice, showed his readers what might have happened had Project Apollo continued for more missions, and an Apollo crew had then discovered a functioning military base on the moon. One of the astronauts experiences a replay of the last events on that base, and asks himself, Why haven't they attacked the earth? They could own it in five minutes. Eventually he answers his own question: the base crew did not attack the earth because they were from the earth--because the base was a product of pre-Flood man.
- ↑ Bates, Gary. "Did God create life on other planets?" Australia:Creation on the Web, Creation Ministries International, July 11, 2006. Accessed April 25, 2008.
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