Thursday, September 30, 2010

Aliens and Christ: We'd better get a wriggle on


It was bound to happen, the discovery of a planet with life-form potential.  I think we'll either discover the universe is empty or inhabited.  Given the enthusiastic and systematic search of the heavens, we're bound to find a planets with similar characteristics to our own.  This doesn't necessarily mean we'll find life but definitely the context for it as the recent news has demonstrated.  My title is provocative, we may indeed find we're alone in the universe but have we completed the mandate of Acts 13:47?
"For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’"
The discovery of aliens shouldn't be overly disruptive to our theology, we'd need to find their place in the order of creation, figure out how the fall has effected them and then how the good news about Jesus is a hope for them.  Given the seriousness of the fall and the incarnation I'd say any theological accommodation should be anthropocentric.


[Diagram © 2010 National Science Foundation]

30 comments:

Radagast said...

Seems to me that aliens raise 4 questions:

1) Are they sentient? If no, they can be treated like animals.

2) If sentient, are they fallen? If no, they can be treated either like angels or like the unfallen entities in Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet"

3) If fallen, are the redeemable? If no, they can be treated either like demons, or like the irreparably evil monsters in scary SF movies.

4) If redeemable, are they to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnated on Earth, or through some other way? The first option requires evangelism, while the second raises all kinds of possibilities and questions.

Luke said...

An excellent series of questions Radagast.

Jereth said...

Luke, Luke, Luke. What have you been smoking?

The universe does not contain any other sentient life. The Bible does not report the creation of any other sentient beings. Human beings are made in the image of God -- no one else is. And the unique, One and Only Son of God became a Man (and will forever be a Man) to save men.

Man is the highest being that exists -- all things will be put under his feet (Heb 2:6-9), and men will even judge angels (1 Cor 6:3).

If Romulans or Klingons hypothetically exist, they cannot be saved and the good news of Jesus is no good to them. See Heb 2:11-17.

If we find life elsewhere in the universe, it will only be plants and animals. SETI is a colossal waste of time and money.

Jereth said...

Hi Radagast,

2) If humans make contact with unfallen sentient beings, that would provide us with an alternative mediator by which we might attempt to achieve perfection. This is theologically unacceptable.

3) Why would God make sinful yet unredeemable intelligent beings? It does not seem very likely.

4) Non-humans cannot be saved through Jesus. See the point I made to Luke concerning Hebrews 2:11-17. And the Bible makes it clear that there is no salvation except through Jesus. Therefore non-humans cannot be saved.

cheers
Jereth

Radagast said...

@Jereth,

I can't understand your comment "that would provide us with an alternative mediator." Angels don't do that, nor would the kind of unfallen aliens in "Out of the Silent Planet."

You also say "why would God make sinful yet unredeemable intelligent beings?" but demons are indeed unredeemable.

As to "non-humans cannot be saved," that's a point of view, but a long bow to draw regarding a hypothetical situation of which the Bible says nothing.

Jon said...

I love your blog Luke because you raise such interesting issues. Personally I think the chances of there being intelligent life elsewhere in the universe are quite high, but the chances of us ever meeting them are very small because the distance between us is so huge.

I read somewhere (forget where) that aliens occupy the space in the modern imagination that used to be occupied by the various types of fairies. The general consensus in folklore was that the fair folk could not be baptised and were excluded from heaven, but that they were not especially evil, if approached correctly. However, they did have an uneasy relationship with the devil - in some stories they had to offer an annual sacrifice to him to keep their independence.

I'm not sure where this is heading, but what it says to me is that the human imagination likes to search for a third way. In various ways we're uncomfortable with a binary universe, we understand that it's a lot more complex than that, and we try to imagine what that extra complexity might be like.

jereth said...

Hi Radagast,

2) People do indeed attempt to approach God through angels. See Colossians 2:18, Heb 2:5, and more broadly about the "colossian heresy". Roman Catholics pray to departed saints. It is in our (sinful) nature to seek alternative mediators.

This is not an absolute reason why there could not be unfallen intelligent creatures in the universe, but it makes it unlikely. If humans contacted them, there would be an irresistable temptation to worship them, trust them, etc.

3) Yes, demons are irredeemable. But they are spiritual creatures with whom we cannot communicate normally, and thus we cannot preach the gospel to them. A physical alien intelligence would be different. Also, it does not make sense that the fall of Adam would cause a fall on another planet light years away.

4) Yes the Bible does teach that only humans can be saved. Have a read of Hebrews 2:11-17. This passage explains that humans can be saved because Christ became a man. He can function as our mediator because he shares our nature. Christ does not share the nature of a Klingon, so he cannot act as a mediator and saviour for sinful Klingons.

Cheers
Jereth

Radagast said...

@Jereth,

It may indeed be in our (sinful) nature to seek alternative mediators, but that didn't stop God from creating angels, so that isn't an argument against the existence of unfallen aliens.

And just as the fall of the demons was a separate event from the fall of Adam, it is theoretically possible that aliens somewhere in the Universe have had their own fall.

Hebrews 2:11-17 explains that we are saved through Christ's incarnation and death. It doesn't say that only humans can be saved.

Now it seems to me unlikely that there is intelligent life out there, but it is theoretically possible. You seem to be suggesting that the existence of intelligent aliens would invalidate Christian theology; I don't think that is the case.

jereth said...

Hi Radagast,

Angels are spiritual creatures so they (like demons) are in a different category. It is not part of our normal experience to interact with them, and God has explicitly forbidden us in Scripture from praying to them and worshipping them. If, on the other hand, God foreknew that we would make contact with an unfallen alien civilisation, then why has he not said anything about it in Scripture to warn or otherwise advise us?

Please read Heb 2:11-17 again, more carefully. It does say that only humans can be saved. Christ is the only Saviour, and he can only save those whose nature he partakes in. He does not partake in the nature of angels, and so cannot save them. The same applies with any other intelligent creatures.

I've also made a couple of other points here- the Bible teaches that humans are unique, that we alone possess the image of God, that we are destined to rule over all creation (including all spiritual beings and principalities and powers), and that the One and Only Son of God has entered the universe as a human. All of this taken together invalidates the existence of alien intelligence and I do believe that if sentient aliens are discovered, Christian theology would fall completely apart. But of course there's no need to worry about that because it'll never happen :-)

Allan said...

Jereth said: Why would God make sinful yet unredeemable intelligent beings? It does not seem very likely.

Allan replies: Couldn't have said it better myself. :)

Allan said...

Angels and demons are sentient, they're alien, and they're life-forms. Being creatures they're made of something, but I doubt they're made of atoms.

Luke said...

We never got round to talking about it Jereth, but I'm keen on thinking about aliens. In an idle sense not a I'm wearing my foil hat sense.

Heb 2:14Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,

The problem of human-animal hybrids or human-robotic hybrids will cause theological wrangling long before Aliens. Clearly the incarnation is in view here in this passage and the incarnation involves persons, from very small persons without arms or legs through to very senile grotesque persons.

I think the answers that we'll eventually come up with, or at least the orthodox ones will be anthropocentric, humans are the jewel in the crown of creation, their fall sullies the entire universe. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit the moon was changed as well, along with Mars and Alpha Centuri. All creation groans in expectation, this includes Venus.

(No sneaking universalist comments in Allan. :-P )

Radagast said...

@Luke,

I guess one question about aliens is whether we will ever feel the need to expand the category "Man" to include something with a somewhat different appearance. As you say, it already includes (or should include) "very small persons without arms or legs." Over the past 2,000 years, John 10:16 has shocked a few people who drew the boundaries of "Man" too narrowly. That might happen again one day.

Have you read Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet" (which includes unfallen aliens)? Or the "Underpeople" stories of Cordwainer Smith, where human-animal hybrids rediscover a suppressed faith?

I would tend to agree with you on the Fall, but *exactly* what God's plan for Alpha Centuri is isn't quite clear to me.

Jereth said...

Hey Luke,

Yes, it is an interesting topic.

Heb 2:16-17 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect

I don't think this could be any clearer. To be our Saviour, Jesus had to be made exactly like us. He had to take our flesh. He had to become a son of Adam.

Rom 5:14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one [Jesus] who was to come.

The Hebrews text actually makes another point. To be our Saviour, Jesus not only had to be like us, but he had to fit into our family tree so that we can all be called "brothers". Angels and aliens on another planet (if they exist) are not genealogically related to Jesus (or us), which is another reason why they cannot be saved by him.

their fall sullies the entire universe. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit the moon was changed as well, along with Mars and Alpha Centuri. All creation groans in expectation, this includes Venus.

Yes, that's right. And when judgment day comes, everything in the entire universe will be burned in the fires of judgment and renewal (2 Peter 3:12). The actions of the human race affect the entire universe. Which is why intelligent alien life elsewhere in the (physical) universe makes no theological sense.

If alien life exists, they would be intelligent animals at most. They would not have the capacity to commune spiritually with God, nor could they have the moral sensibility that we have.

Jon said...

@ Jereth I think your drawing a very long bow there, stepping from these passages to a bold assertion that there can be no aliens. The universe is an unimaginably big place and we are very tiny grains of matter. The things we don't know far outweigh those we do.

However, @ Radagast both Lewis and Smith, and various other SF writers, are basically writing about us. They use aliens either to signify things about ourselves that we find it hard to see, or to contrast with and critique human life and behaviour. As well as being fun, aliens allow us to see ourselves more clearly.

Radagast said...

@Jon, I agree, most SF about aliens is a discussion of the human condition. Lewis did a little more, though, in that he was deliberately writing a Christian counter to the SF of his day. And I have a feeling that my list of 4 questions derives from something Lewis wrote.

Though I disagree with Jereth, he's in good company: Melancthon apparently wrote “Our master Jesus Christ was born, died, and resurrected in this world. Nor does he manifest himself elsewhere, nor elsewhere has he died or resurrected. Therefore it must not be imagined that there are many worlds, because it must not be imagined that Christ died or was resurrected more often, nor must it be thought that in any other world without the knowledge of the son of God, that men would be restored to eternal life.”

Radagast said...

I was right regarding my debt to Lewis (see http://scientificintegrity.blogspot.com/2010/04/religion-and-rocketry-by-cs-lewis.html ):

Lewis' questions were:

1. Are there animals anywhere except on earth?

2. Supposing there were, have any of these animals what we call "rational souls"?

3. If there are species, and rational species, other than man, are any or all of them, like us, fallen?

4. If all of them (and surely all is a long shot) or any of them have fallen have they been denied Redemption by the Incarnation and Passion of Christ?

5. If we knew (which we don't) the answers to 1, 2, and 3 and, further, if we knew that Redemption by an Incarnation and Passion had been denied to creatures in need of it is it certain that this is the only mode of Redemption that is possible? Here of course we ask for what is not merely unknown but, unless God should reveal it, wholly unknowable.

Lewis goes on to comment on Romans 8:19-23, noting that this could "give man a pivotal position. But such a position need not imply any superiority in us or any favouritism in God. The general, deciding where to begin his attack, does not select the prettiest landscape or the most fertile field or the most attractive village. Christ was not born in a stable because a stable is, in itself, the most convenient or distinguished place for a maternity."

As part of his conclusion, Lewis says "If I remember rightly, St. Augustine raised a question about the theological position of satyrs, monopods, and other semi-human creatures. He decided it could wait till we knew there were any. So can this."

Luke said...

As part of his conclusion, Lewis says "If I remember rightly, St. Augustine raised a question about the theological position of satyrs, monopods, and other semi-human creatures. He decided it could wait till we knew there were any. So can this."

Good point, although part of me wants to lay foundations now, it may more prudent to have a robust framework that can cope with developments later.

Radagast said...

And part of the foundation, I think, is that the Universe was not created for the benefit of Man: it was created for the glory of God.

Allan said...

And I heard every created thing... crying out together, To Him Who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb be ascribed blessing and honor and majesty and the power forever and ever! Rev 5

John of Patmos is a generous soul. He thinks Christ's salvation will encompass the entire creation, including the dead. So the aliens of Alpha Centauri will certainly share the resurrection of Christ.

The author of Hebrews is less generous because he has less imagination. He fails to grasp the expanse of Christ's victory. For him, God isn't interested in helping fallen angels. "For surely it is not angels that he helps...". Nor will he rescue apostate Christians. "It is impossible...if they fall away, to be brought back..." (This reflects a question that was raging in their day: What will we do with Christians who cave in under persecution, but want to re-join the Church when things cool down? The writer thought such people should be permanently excluded.)

As for aliens on Planet Zorg, they'd be doomed by Adam's fall (bad luck), but excluded from Christ's salvation by being non-human (even worse luck.) In a word, they would add to the miserable and unfortunate and ever-burgeoning multitudes of the "non-elect". Yet this is a loving and gracious God who made them?

Andrew Bowles said...

A very fascinating question. I would want to challenge you, Luke, that the Biblical foundations for the idea that the Fall of humanity would have had repercussions on Alpha Centauri are weak. Gen 1:26-29, for example, makes it very clear that the dominion and influence of the human race is specifically over the planet Earth and its life. You are conflating the Earth with the entire universe. Even in Genesis, which of course lacks a modern cosmological perspective, humanity is never given dominion over the sun and the moon and the stars. 'All creation groans' in Rom 8 seems to be a call-back to Gen 3 and the curse on the earth. It's not as simple as just saying 'he said 'creation', so whatever we mean when we say 'creation' must be what he meant'. As Jereth points out (though I don't agree with his inference about the impossibility of alien sentience), the Gospel is for humanity, it would not make sense to 'evangelise' aliens because they do not share our curse and history.

The question of the eschatological destiny and purpose of humanity is a different one to our fall and redemption. There are two options that I think could be defended. The first is that the redemption through Christ restores us to proper citizenship of the universe alongside other peoples, to 'The Great Dance', like a rogue state rejoining the UN. This is the idea that C.S. Lewis was exploring. The other is that we are redeemed for the purpose of co-operating with God in filling and subduing the entire cosmos, we just got off to a bad start and Christ has brought us back into that path. In the absence of evidence of sentient life on other planets, I would back the second option, since it takes the importance of the Incarnation, Resurrection, Ascension and Return of Christ into account more easily.

Luke said...

I'd have to think about that Andrew a good challenge but some of your assumptions make me uncomfortable. I disagree Genesis 1-3 has only a terrestrial focus. I do want to be wary of conflation though so I'll think about that charge. I'd question though what exactly a modern cosmological perspective is let alone clearly identify the that comes to us via Moses.

But I honestly don't know if the aliens (assuming they exist) share our curse (or will, could or have!).

The question of the eschatological destiny and purpose of humanity is a different one to our fall and redemption. This is an interesting sentence, I don't want to read into it, can you elaborate.

Both your options are valid if the curse is limited to outer edge of the earth's atmosphere. This is such an interesting question I've just posted on it.

Andrew Bowles said...

Cosmology is just the structure of the universe as we perceive it to be. In the Bible there is the perspective that is natural before the invention of astronomical telescopes - the Earth is the inhabited centre of the cosmos, surrounded by a field of celestial bodies. The theological description that follows is based on that assumption. The idea of an uncentred cosmos with other inhabited worlds is not considered - hence your question as to how we do theology on that basis in our era. So to presume that Moses and Paul are answering questions based on our cosmological understanding, that they are speaking of other worlds apart from Earth, is not necessarily persuasive.

"'The question of the eschatological destiny and purpose of humanity is a different one to our fall and redemption.' This is an interesting sentence, I don't want to read into it, can you elaborate."

I am a sinner, I have been saved. What next? Go on being saved? Um, that's already happened. What am I being saved for? What goes on in the new heavens and new earth, what is the content of eternal life? What are human beings actually made for, if we take the reality of a redeemed creation seriously and don't fall into the error of thinking that we just sit around in 'heaven' somewhere? You can't answer that in soteriological terms, it is outside the scheme of salvation within history - we only get hints of it in the vision at the end of Revelation.

I've commented on your new thread in response to your last paragraph.

arthurandtamie said...

I just reread this thread -- I've unwittingly picked up on some of what Andrew's getting at here. :D

A.

Allan said...

Andrew said: the Earth is the inhabited centre of the cosmos, surrounded by a field of celestial bodies.

Allan replies: In Gen 1, we have God hovering above an ocean of chaotic water. First, God illuminates the scene with divine light. Now he can see what he's doing, he makes a bubble of order inside the chaos. The water above is the sky. It is blue, just as the ocean is blue. Then He creates more order, separating land from sea.

Perhaps this bubble is down so deep that God's divine light cannot illuminate it. God creates the sun, moon and stars and places them in the sky as lights.

If you go up, you hit water (the floodgates of heaven hold it back.) Above that you enter airy regions where the Spirit of God hovers in divine light. If you go down, again you hit water, the springs of the Great Deep. Who can say how far it goes?

So much for creation science :)

If Genesis was put together during the exile, no doubt a chaos monster inhabits the deep. His diminutive presence wormed his way into Eden.

This is the Bible's big story. God makes order out of chaos, and nothing but infinite order will do. (It takes energy to reverse entropy, but that's ok because God is boundless Light.)

It's very optimistic. There is no sea in the New Jerusalem. Unlike Eden, not one drop of Primeval Chaos remains. The Dragon of old is dead.

Putting this together, if there are aliens out there, they also will perfected by Christ. If there are no aliens, then one day there will be.

Darrell said...

Hi all, I'm a friend of Jereth's from a long way back, and I've just read all the comments on this blog post.

This actually reminds me of a book I recently finished, which some may find interesting:

https://secure.koorong.com/search/product/view.jhtml?code=0890514356

I think one topic that hasn't been covered yet is: "how" the aliens came to be at alpha centauri or the second nearest star system.
1. Did they evolve (like we evolved on Earth?)
2. Did God create aliens from the literal (historical) dust-of-the-alien's-planet (like Adam/Eve were created - EG: what the "Creation-Science movement" would advocate?)

I haven't found anyone that holds to #2 (today might change all that), but as far as the former - it is most definitely true that the majority of the populace (Christians and non-Christians alike) believe that the science shows that evolution by natural selection to have occurred on planet Earth and therefore it must also have occurred on other planets. After all, the Universe is beyond massive (to what we can imagine), and given the huge time-scales of the secular/pop-science, at least 1 or 2, if not countless species/life-forms must have evolved elsewhere.

Personally, I'm with Jereth re:SETI et al. But I also think that if you do not believe evolution by natural selection to be a viable explanation to the Origins of Species on Earth (and therefore cannot see evolution happening anywhere else), the "problem" of aliens almost "magically" goes away (IE: sentient life does not exist outside of planet Earth).

I say "almost"-goes-away because 'sightings' of UFOs do not all fit nicely into the "hoax" file cabinet. About 1-2% are deemed "real" and therefore require an explanation. For more, I recommend the book above; it explains what is going on behind UFO sightings (hint: Satan and the fallen angels) and explains a lot of other questions raised in this thread.

My 2c.

Jereth said...

And part of the foundation, I think, is that the Universe was not created for the benefit of Man: it was created for the glory of God.

Yes. And God has chosen to gain glory for himself by taking on the nature of Man and being glorified as a Man. The One who will receive everlasting worship and honour is a Man, the God-Man.

what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? ... You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet (Psalm 8)

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor (Heb 2)

that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Eph 1)

behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed (Dan 7)

If humanity is to be the most exalted creature in the entire universe -- exalted even over spiritual authorities and angels -- and if God joined himself permanently to Man, it is hard (I would say impossible) to see how there could be other physical beings in the universe with human-like wisdom and intelligence. Can anyone who believes in intelligent E.T.s suggest where Spock and Yoda would fit into this?

The other is that we are redeemed for the purpose of co-operating with God in filling and subduing the entire cosmos, we just got off to a bad start and Christ has brought us back into that path.

That's how I see it, Andrew. In Christ we will get on with the job that Adam was supposed to do but failed.

Jereth

jereth said...

@ Jereth I think your drawing a very long bow there, stepping from these passages to a bold assertion that there can be no aliens.

Just to clarify Jon, I do not think that aliens are ruled out per se; just aliens with human-like faculties (i.e. faculties which we would understand to be part of the "Image of God"). God may have created alien life, but they would be quite a fair bit inferior to us -- effectively animals, though creatures that are comparable to dwarves and leprechauns of folklore may not be completely out of the question. (They would have to be happy to submit to an eternity of human rule.)

Jereth

jereth said...

Hi Darrell, good to see you here.

Even if evolution is impossible, which we both agree on, God may hypothetically have chosen to create life on other planets in the universe. But for the reasons that I have outlined already here, I do not see how intelligent alien life (equivalent to humans or higher) would fit with the Bible's teaching.

Jereth

Allan said...

Jereth said: They would have to be happy to submit to an eternity of human rule.


Allan replies: What would this rule look like?

Suppose your task as God's glorified child is to oversee the evolution of a sentient species. You initiate a Big Bang in the quantum vacuum (the Great Deep) and enter into your own creation. Many friends and servants come with you. You flit through the cosmos like birds, seeking the perfect planet, and you find it. You begin your great labor. At last, after aeons of tender care, independent consciousness flashes into the eyes of your chosen creation.

But with freedom comes risk. Your creatures rebel against you and your heavenly Father.

In love, you initiate a plan of redemption. It will cost you your life, but like your great Brother before you, you willingly lay it down to save those who hate you.