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Evangelicals and Extraterrestrials: Can They Coexist? — Pt. 1

“The discovery of life beyond Earth would be a triumph for science but might wreak havoc on certain religions.”

Flammarian engravingThat’s the estimate of Scientific American’s recent article, Did Jesus Save the Klingons? The piece is based on the new book Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How Will We Deal with It? (Springer Praxis Books, 2014), by David Weintraub, Professor of Astronomy at Vanderbilt University. When asked “Which religion will have the toughest time reconciling aliens with its beliefs?” Weintraub responds:

The ones that have decided that we humans are the sole focus of God’s attention. The religions that see the world through that viewpoint tend to be some of the Christian evangelicals.

At this stage, asking how Christians would respond to the discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life is like asking how scientists would respond to the discovery of intelligent evangelicals. From my perspective, discussions like these have one primary objective: to debunk or undermine Christianity. Why else would Christians always come out looking like Neanderthals?

For instance, in his article How Would Christianity Deal With Extraterrestrial Life? Mark Strauss suggests that

…Christianity, among other faiths, is the least resilient to the concept of extraterrestrial intelligence.

To illustrate this, Strauss quotes Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist from Arizona State University. Davies believes that the potential challenge the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence to Christianity “is being downplayed” by religious leaders:

The real threat would come from the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence, because if there are beings elsewhere in the universe, then Christians, they’re in this horrible bind.

But until there’s an actual discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life, as opposed to the discovery of celestial algae or space slugs, the “horrible bind” created by evangelicals is completely hypothetical. It’s sort of like asking how scientists would deal with the discovery of Michael the Archangel. In fact, the longer we go expanding our understanding of the size of the universe and its habitable planets and NOT discovering a life form above that of an amoeba or a ground squirrel, the more a biblical worldview is buttressed.

Nevertheless, the question of evangelicals and extraterrestrials always seems to cycle around.

For example, in the summer of ’08, the Vatican issued a statement saying that belief in aliens doesn’t negate faith in God. Father Jose Gabriel Funes, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory was quoted as saying the vastness of the universe means it is possible that there could be other forms of life outside Earth, even intelligent ones.

“How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?” Funes said. “Just as we consider earthly creatures as ‘a brother,’ and ‘sister,’ why should we not talk about an ‘extraterrestrial brother’? It would still be part of creation.”

In the interview by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Funes said such a notion “doesn’t contradict our faith” because extraterrestrials would also be God’s creatures. Ruling out their existence would be like “putting limits” on God’s creative freedom, he said.

Funes’ view was backed up by fellow Vatican Observatory astronomer and Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno in his essay Intelligent Life in the Universe?: Catholic Belief and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life, in which he writes

“The limitless universe might even include other planets with other beings created by that same loving God… The idea of there being other races and other intelligences is not contrary to traditional Christian thought. There is nothing in Holy Scripture that could confirm or contradict the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.”

Compound this with Pope Francis’ recent (and rather bizarre) statement that he would welcome martians being baptized and you get the sense that Galileo’s heliocentric heresy is a thing of the way distant past.

But as much as the Catholic church wants to open its arms to an ‘extraterrestrial brother,’ there’s legitimate reasons for Bible students to hedge.

On the one side of the spectrum are Christians who claim the Bible leaves no room for extraterrestrial life. Aliens, they assert, are New Age, atheistic constructs, designed to supplant God and undermine our theology. On the other hand are those who suggest the universe is a vast place, God’s wildly creative, and if E.T.’s real, he’s just one of God’s many creatures. So what gives? Is belief in God incompatible with belief in little green men?

This debate is important for several reasons. One is our continued infatuation with the idea of life in outer space. Whether it’s SETI projects or the proliferation of pop cultural noodlings about alien life (see Prometheus, Contact, Super 8, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Avatar, 2001 A Space Odyssey, etc.), the human race cannot seem to help but look to the skies.

But also at stake in this debate is the authority of Scripture. Imagine if Klaatu landed on the White House lawn, but along with his message of global peace, he said the Bible was a hoax, that God was a myth, and that Christians were a speed bump in the roadway of planetary evolution. As I said above, some advocates of extraterrestrial life cling to their beliefs in the hopes that a similar scenario will unfold; that a biblical worldview will, some day, be knocked back to the stone age by a more advanced civilization. Of course, allowing Scripture to inform our understanding could make evangelicals “the least resilient to the concept of extraterrestrial intelligence.” As a result, believers DO have much at stake in this discussion.

So is belief in God compatible with belief in extraterrestrial life? It’s a tough call to make because the Bible is relatively silent on the subject. As a result, both sides end up arguing from inference. What follows is a compilation of inferences that influence this discussion.

Scripture is clear that the universe is a vast, mysterious place, full of bizarre beings. Seraphim, cherubs, archangels, territorial spirits, principalities and powers, inhabit the dimensions around us. In fact, when the apostle John is caught up to heaven in the Book of the Revelations, he describes some of the most exotic beings in ancient literature — winged, glowing, snarling beasties that would make even George Lucas envious. So in this sense, the believer must concede a cosmos filled with outlandish, albeit inter-dimensional, creatures.

However, Scripture is also clear that humans are the pinnacle of God’s creation. Not only are we created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), but we are given authority over creation (Gen. 1:28). In fact, after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus claimed “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18), and on the basis of that “universal authority,” commissioned His disciples. So in this way, human beings are presented as a superior life form. God’s imprint separates us far above animals, and Christ’s authority empowers us in the cosmos.

For the Christian, this simple but most basic belief in the Nature of Man, has serious repercussions regarding the possible Nature of Extraterrestrials.
Since man is at the apex of creation, invested with supreme authority, Christians must then assume that extraterrestrials — if they exist — are either

  • Angels  (fallen or otherwise)
  • Animals  (living organisms NOT created in God’s image), or
  • Humans  (in the sense they share the imago dei)

“Any entity,”  said Consolmagno, the Vatican’s astronomer, “no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul.” However, many tentacled entities exist on our own planet. And unless Consolmagno believes that squids and jellyfish have souls, we are forced to conclude that if extraterrestrial squids and jellyfish were discovered, they too might not. In that case,

  • If extraterrestrials are animals then they have no more moral impact upon us than a platypus or a pufferfish. Other than speculation regarding their place in the evolutionary food chain, humans are still above them.
  • If extraterrestrials are angels, then, Scripturally speaking, we must discern their Master and/or Message (i.e., are they fallen or unfallen?).
  • If space aliens are created in the image of God then we ARE indeed “brothers.”

What throws a monkey wrench into this last scenario (actually several monkey wrenches), is Adam’s blunder (the Fall) and the atoning work of Jesus Christ that occurred some 2,000 years ago on the third rock from the sun.

Continued…

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{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Tim George October 20, 2014, 9:38 AM

    It’s a tough call to make because the Bible is relatively silent on the subject. As a result, both sides end up arguing from inference.

    And there is the rub. One major wing of Christianity follows the maxim, “Where Scripture speaks, we speak – where Scripture is silent, we are silent.” When speaking from a place of authority, I agree. Where things get murky is when Christians speak with authority about things of which God is silent. Thus I recommend works by Spurgeon, and Tozer, and Bridges from the pulpit without hesitation. I use illustrations from the works of Tolkien, and Lewis, and Asimov as well. However I never recommend speculation when teaching or preaching. Inference is interesting but holds no weight of authority.

  • Travis Perry October 20, 2014, 9:43 AM

    I addressed objections I have heard from Christians about the existence of aliens in a blog post I’m going to copy below. Basically, I dismissed such objections, largely on “evidence insufficient” grounds. Though I said more than that and also addressed different types of aliens from a Biblical perspective. I also think overall that Evangelicals will prove to be much more resilient that critics believe. Their argument is partially of the “straw man” type.

    My blog post is at:

    http://travissbigidea.blogspot.com/2013/03/7-christian-objections-to-existence-of.html

    • Greg - Tiribulus October 20, 2014, 12:38 PM

      And I was in the process of demonstrating that intelligent morally accountable life, bearing the image of God CANNOT exist except as descendants of Adam on this planet or the bible is a lie, but we got sidetracked.

      I did make the mistake of addressing part of that in a near comatose state of insomnia. Maybe I can continue helping you with tha…. UHHHH I mean maybe we can continue discussing that here for Mike’s entertainment as well. 😉

  • Kessie October 20, 2014, 10:30 AM

    Yeah, this is one of those questions that gets chased round and round. Meanwhile, we’ve discovered tons of uninhabitable planets that are nonetheless very cool.

    I saw a comment somewhere remarking that “maybe all aliens are made of dark matter, and that’s why we haven’t seen them”. If “dark matter” is the material of the spirit world, I think that person might be on to something. After all, in Ephesians 3:10,

    [The purpose is] that through the church the complicated, many-sided wisdom of God in all its infinite variety and innumerable aspects might now be made known to the angelic rulers and authorities (principalities and powers) in the heavenly sphere.

    So we are an object lesson from God to what are essentially alien life forms.

  • R. L. Copple October 20, 2014, 2:25 PM

    One other possible option. Alien races could be descended from Adam.

    Also, Adam’s sin affected all of creation, including any potential aliens living in it. Their need for a savior would be just as acute as any of ours.

    And another consideration. Intelligence doesn’t necessarily equal image of God. If it does, it introduces a lot of problems even without adding an intelligent alien race to the mix.

  • Michelle R. Wood October 20, 2014, 5:34 PM

    There are two rebuttals I’d like to offer to the classical argument against alien brethern in Christ.

    One: “We are made in the image of God, the pinnacle of creation, and therefore other life can not exist OR must not have a soul.”

    Such a statement assumes that the Genesis account only refers to life on Earth. Leaving aside intelligence or souls, does the existence of water or vegetation, any kind of life, negate God’s Word? If so we’re already in a pickle. But Genesis 1 does not speak to specific species or even refer to earth in the modern planetary sense. I find it just as likely that we can infer that when God created life it could as easily be on Earth (the planet) as earth (anywhere in his created cosmos), and that later discoveries are still part of this miracle. Hence, the discovery of water or moss on Mars won’t rock my faith.

    Now, moving on to the issue of souls, Genesis 1:27 says “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” But in Genesis 2 we read about the specific place Eden, how “the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” and the creation of Eve. We then move on to their temptation and fall. I could very well be persuaded that Genesis 1 refers to total creation of the cosmos, including any other “man” created in God’s likeness, while Genesis 2 speaks to our specific ancestors here on Earth. Hypothetical, obviously, and until the discovery of other such “men,” hypothetical it will remain, but to my mind possible.

    That brings up objection two: “Adam’s sin doomed humanity, and Jesus as his descent saves mankind.”

    Though this objection appears the most spiritually sound, I find it the weakest. It assumes that any who are not physically like Adam (and thus like Jesus) may not be saved. What of women, the daughters of Eve? Genesis 1 says that females are made in the likeness of God, and yet in Genesis 2 we find that Eve was produced by a different method than Adam, and there is no reference to a breath of life for her. Yet I fully believe Eve has a soul, as do I, and that I am saved by Christ, though I am not a son of Adam. If such can be true here on Earth, why not on other earths, with other potential first men?

  • HG Ferguson October 20, 2014, 5:53 PM

    The real reason evangelicals fear a “belief” in aliens is because, to some, this overturns the authority of the Bible — which is ridiculous. The Bible is God’s revelation to THIS world, THIS PLANET. Of course it has relevance to the larger cosmos. But the notion that the Bible may not say everything means, particularly to the Reformed and hardline fundamentalists, that it is insufficient, incomplete. Rubbish. This earth YHWH gave to the children of Adam. Jesus did not die for Klingons, He died for the children of Adam. IF aliens exist, then they too have a relationship with the SAME GOD, but it is a DIFFERENT RELATIONSHIP, which is something many Christians just can’t accept. The film ENEMY MINE deals with this very concept — an alien race that has a relationship with a being called “Shizmaa’aa [SP?] The Great Teacher” whose “Talman [SP?]” or Words sounds an awful lot like something Jesus Christ said. To allude to the words of Hawkeye (Lee Horsley) in that series, your God must be mighty small if He can’t handle aliens. If aliens were to be discovered, we’d find they too have THEIR relationship with the One we call YHWH. He is the same Lord over all. Rather than destroying the Scriptures, they’d be confirmed. And if a Klaatu appeared “debunking” God, we’d know what he is too and whom he serves. There is no problem — if your God is big enough. He ought to be. He’s bigger than any of us can scarcely fathom.

  • Kathy M. Storrie October 20, 2014, 6:02 PM

    Hi Mike,
    I love this topic but few people study or listen to other teachers enough (including me) enough only to speculate not get a revelation. After reading EXO-VATICANA, PETRUS ROMANUS, PROJECT L.U.C.I.F.E.R. by Chris Putnam & Thomas Horn, I decided to step out of my southern Baptist box.
    Here’s what I believe:

    This Earth is millions of years old as the scientists say. (Don’t tell my relatives I said that)
    There was a pre-Adamic race; inhabitants who lived on Earth before Adam & Eve.(Too much evidence with dinosaur bones, Mayan temples & calendar, Atlantis, Stone Hinge, Easter Island, Machu Picchu, etc
    God made the Earth for several stages to use for His purpose.
    God’s main purpose for Earth was to gain sons and daughters for Himself and brothers & sisters for His only Son. He has gone to great trouble to accomplish this especially sending His Son to suffer and die for the sin curse that Adam brought into the world.

    10 REASONS WHY GOD MAKE THE EARTH:

    1. To give his anointed arch angel Lucifer a testing ground to expose his latent sin of pride (This when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth.) God gave His most beautiful angel Lucifer a sinless race to rule over with the help of 1/3 of the angels of heaven. After a few thousand years Lucifer became a successful ruler before he sinned. The sin began when he didn’t stop the inhabitants of earth from worshipping him. Lucifer rebelled against the most high because he wanted to be the god of earth. An angry God threw Lucifer and 1/3 of Lucifer’s cohort angels out of heaven, down to the Earth.

    2. Angry God turned the pillars of Earth (Job 9:6) upside down and dissolved the inhabitants and quickly froze it solid for a long time. (The Ice Age). Excavators have uncovered dinosaurs with grass still in their mouth as if they died in a swift catastrophe. Lucifer and his angels were chained in a place deep in the Earth during this time. God won’t do away with any creation permanently that has an eternal spirit.

    3. When it was time, GOD hovered over the face of the deep to unthaw the frozen waters of the covered earth. (Genesis 1:2) In 6 days (equals 6,000 year lease) HE restored the light, land, vegetation, fish, birds, animals, and added Adam & Eve who are made in His Image with a soul. God announced that the Tree of Life was untouchable in order to build Adam & Eve’s integrity of choice and their respect for God’s one rule.

    4. Finally, God let Satan loose to tempt Adam & Eve. The human drama began. When Adam & Eve ate the forbidden fruit they sinned and now the only way they could have fellowship with God was through the blood sacrifice of a perfect animal. It represented what the perfect Jesus’ blood would accomplish later. Now, Adam was under a curse and had to work to eat and live. The woman was to obey her husband and she had pain in childbirth. Satan’s scheme gave him power over the air or first heaven where he could tempt & influence men for evil. Every time a man didn’t refuse a sin so many times another angel or demon was released from hell to Earth.

    5. Satan can communicate through a snake, a person, a Ouija board, séance, and through aliens from a spaceship. Cave drawings all over the world show similar pictures of spacecraft with the same large headed creatures with big eyes. (Aliens are demons from hell not outer space. Fallen angels can materialize to look like anything they want). Ever since Lucifer/ Satan learned that God would put enmity between him and woman (crush his head after he crushes Jesus’ feet) he became busy demoting women and trying to stop the blood lineage to Christ. Satan had his fallen angels lay with women of Earth to try and spoil the blood lineage to Christ but all it did was produce Nephillim giants that filled the Earth.

    5.The wicked giants brought so much evil God had to flood the Earth. Noah and his family were the only ones who had no Nephillim blood in them. i believe that during the flood was when the Pangaea shape of the Earth separated into 7 continents.

    6. The Pope and Obama have something in common; one wants as many converts as possible to baptize including aliens and the other wants as many liberal votes as possible through campaigning. Putnam & Horn visited Mt. Graham in Tucson, Arizona where the Jesuit priests study outer-space daily using a new infrared laser telescope called L.U.C.I.F.E.R. The two men learned from the proud priests that the daily alien activity in deep outer space was so common they have become bored documenting it! The priests don’t know that Satan has them fooled with his own supernatural tricks of kidnapping people as aliens to collect DNA; some believe satan uses the DNA with his to recreate a new species of Nephillim that walk among us(called liberals).

    7.The Shi’ites believe their mahdi (a Christian’s anti-christ, one and the same) will be the return of the Mohammed’s grandson who disappeared into the Syrian desert at ten yrs old in the late 600s. I personally believe that Satan will orchestrate the mirage landing of a space ship (like the one in E.T.) in the desert that will attract many Shi’tes. They will witness an alien as the promised mahdi (antichrist) exiting the ship on a white horse (from Revelation 6:2). The Assyrian with distinguishing features will have 4 of the worst fallen angels (who are released from under the Euphrates River) that go inside him to lead the world into a false peace. He will choose a false prophet to make an image of the beast and performs miracles; he fools the world & causes millions to die and lastly tries to attack Israel.

    8. Jesus returns to Earth with the saints. He touches the Earth and an earthquake swallows thousands of soldiers who gather to attack Jerusalem. He stops the war of Armageddon with His two edged sword that gives the signal for His good angels to zap 200,000,000 soldiers’ heads off. The blood flows as high as a horse’s bridle. The antichrist and false prophet are thrown into the Lake of Fire. Satan and his 1/3 cohorts are gathered by God’s 2/3 good angels and are thrown into the bottomless pit for 1,000 yrs. Meanwhile, Jesus reigns on Earth with His 12 tribes of Judah and 12 disciples from Jerusalem. Believers will have access to Earth from Heaven for assignments or to do things or see things on Earth they never got to do or see. It takes months to bury the dead and clean up the Earth. Life on Earth goes back to normal (people working, marrying, having babies, vacations, worshipping God/Jesus, but it is much better since Satan is gone. The lion lies down with the lamb; the child plays near an asp hole. Prisons are mostly empty. Government and schools will be set up by Jesus’ 24 elders to run perfectly all over the world and be a blessing to the people. People won’t be over-charged for living expenses; taxes will be much lower; work and school days will be shortened so people can have more time with their families; people will have more opportunity to vacation. It will be like alittle Heaven on Earth.

    9. After 1000 yrs. of this bliss a few people will still complain and want their own way and refuse to follow Christ. Jesus will let Satan and His Angels out of the bottomless pit for a short time. They will influence the disgruntled humans to march against Christ who sits on His throne in Jerusalem. Just as they near Jerusalem, Jesus sends His angels to stop them. The people die and are thrown into the Lake of Fire with Satan and his 1/3 fallen angels with the antichrist and prophet in Hell forever. The people who died after Christ died on the Cross and never accepted Him as their Lord and Savior are brought before Christ, one at a time, to be judged. If their name is not found in the Book of Life they are thrown into the Lake of Fire in Hell with Satan & his angels and the beast and the prophet. FOREVER

    10. The believers are now the only ones left on the original Earth. After a worship and praise session of the One Who Died for Them hey are evacuated from the Earth to Heaven which is hovering above the Earth a few hundred miles up. God will not destroy the Earth but He will burn all the evilness left behind by man and the curses (weed seeds, animal bodies, garbage, cities, houses, deep basements, etc.) left in the upper crust of the Earth. God will recreate the beautiful Earth similar as before but with no great waters or oceans to separate the land. The people in Heaven hovering above Earth will have access to and from the Earth forever. I believe this is when God sets up His Universal projects for people to volunteer to help Him finish the Universe as He intended before Adam & Eve sinned. Who knows…each child of God might be given his own planet or a solar system to organize.

  • Gary Whittenberger October 21, 2014, 8:48 AM

    The discovery of intelligent extraterrestrials would undermine belief in God slightly, but would undermine belief in the validity of the Bible greatly. It is just as important what the Bible does NOT say as what it does say. It does not give any clear statement that there are intelligent extraterrestrials living on other planets or even that there are any other planets on which any life at all resides. But if the Bible were the “word of God,” then these things would be mentioned and clearly described. There would be a huge blow to the Abrahamic religions, especially Christianity, but only a minor blow to belief in God. The aliens would probably regard our beliefs in God as primitive.

    • Mike Duran October 21, 2014, 10:47 AM

      Gary: “…if the Bible were the ‘word of God,’ then these things would be mentioned and clearly described.”

      Mike: Not mentioning or clearly describing something does not imply either disavowal or ignorance. There’s plenty of things a biblical worldview could concede without mentioning or clearly describing them. The Bible’s silence on extraterrestrials could mean nothing more than it being peripheral to the Author’s main objective.

    • D.M. Dutcher October 23, 2014, 6:31 AM

      My science text doesn’t teach me anything about literature, therefore it is useless.

  • Greg - Tiribulus October 21, 2014, 9:47 AM

    For the record? I WANT there to be aliens. I find the whole idea immensely intriguing and just plain cool.

    The following is copied and pasted from a conversation I had a couple years ago about this. It is the substance of two comments and is intentionally a bit redundant:
    =================================================
    Animal life is not subject to the Adamic covenant as only man is a moral agent bearing the image of the creator God. The whole creation fell in Adam and groans awaiting the redemption of the sons of men (Romans 8:18ff). This means there cannot be moral agents bearing the image of God but not descended from Adam or else God has cursed innocent intelligent moral life by sheer caprice. A thing unthinkable of the just and holy God who reveals Himself in the bible.

    If there are intelligent moral agents not descended from Adam and not under his curse on other planets then the “creation itself” would NOT need to “be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (8:21 NASB) Not all of it anyway and not the highest part, us. Is there life on other planets? Bottom line? Animal and or plant life maybe (and even that’s doubtful biblically speaking), but there CANNOT be intelligent morally accountable life anywhere in this creation except dear old earth.

    Also If there IS life anywhere but here, it is amoral low intelligence animal life. WE will have to find IT. IT will never come to US. ET was cute and close encounters a cool flick but if we are to take our scriptures seriously, they are literally just movies.
    …………………………………………………………………………………………..
    Romans 8:
    18-For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19-For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20-For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21-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. 22-For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23-And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24-For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25-But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

    ………………………………………………………………………………………..
    All of the vast cosmos, “the creation itself”, “ALL the creation” (???? ? ?????? (pasa hey ktisis for those without the font) fell in Adam who was it’s covenant representative. In some eschatological sense, the now cursed creation will be glorified with us through the redemptive work of Christ. If there are moral agents anywhere who are not sons of Adam then they have been capriciously and hence unjustly “subjected to futility”. A monstrous impossibility with a flawlessly just God.

    If there are moral agents anywhere but earth who have NOT been “subjected to futility” then this passage is a lie. Another impossibility for it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18). Therefore, there are no moral agents anywhere except earth and unless someone is wiling to posit the notion of beings capable of space travel and exploration who are nonetheless not moral agents THEY will never find US if they exist.

    There are VERY limited lines of argumentation against this that are not laughably preposterous from an actually biblical standpoint and hence immediately immediately dismissible to anybody who takes it seriously. Travis was doing pretty good actually. It’s not that the subject of intelligent morally accountable life is in itself that important. What IS important is the way this subject reveals somebody’s view of scripture.

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