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Evangelicals and Extraterrestrials: Can They Coexist? — Pt. 2

The doctrine of the Fall and, consequently, the Atonement, are potentially Godthe biggest areas of incompatibility between belief in God and extraterrestrials. If one believes what the Bible teaches, that the human race is fallen and Jesus has died for our sins and been raised from the dead, then those beliefs have serious repercussions upon the possible nature of life in outer space.

God’s redemptive program, which is the over-arching narrative of Scripture, is set in motion because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden. Their fall not only damaged their relationship with God, but it set the entire earth out of whack. As a result, Satan is described as “the god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4) and “the whole creation groans” (Rom. 8:22 NKJV), subject to the blowback of Man’s rebellion. In this way, global catastrophes, disease and human suffering are often seen as the fruit of the Fall.

But how far did these dominoes tumble? Does Satan’s reign and the pollution of creation through sin extend to the Milky Way and beyond?

The answer to this question is important because it forces us toward one of two conclusions:  If extraterrestrials exist they are either fallen or unfallen, subject to the law of sin or not. (Of course, this assumes that they are moral beings infused with God’s image. If they are angels, animals, or vegetables, then our approach to them must be adjusted accordingly.)

This concept was explored by C.S. Lewis in his Space Trilogy, most notably the first and second books, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. In them, the fallen earth has been quarantined lest it pollute the rest of the cosmos. Thus, to the citizens of outer space, earth is the silent planet. Lewis conjectures that space travel only extends the arm of sin, and speculates what Man’s interaction with unfallen entities might look like. But even then, sin is not inherent in worlds outside of earth, only potentially polluted by encroaching humanity.

Some go so far as to suggest that the entire concept of Original Sin would need reworking if extraterrestrials were discovered. In the Scientific American interview with David Weintraub, the astronomer conjectures,

Let’s say you discover some aliens on some other planets and you decide that you should convert them to Christianity. A reasonable question should be why? If they live on planet Earth, they could be descendants of Adam and Eve but if they are Klingons living on planet whatever, they couldn’t suffer from original sin because they’re not descendants of Adam and Eve. Christianity would make no sense for these creatures, unless our understanding of original sin makes no sense.

While it follows that a race not descended from Adam and Eve may not require redemption, such a scenario would hardly dent the doctrine of original sin. Indeed, Weintraub appears to stray far from his field of expertise by concluding,

The idea of original sin may be recast not as sin that comes directly from a literal Garden of Eden and a literal Adam and Eve but that original sin somehow simply exists in the fabric of the universe.

Suggesting that original sin “simply exists in the fabric of the universe not only pivots away from historic Christian interpretation, but it forces numerous other implications. Like where did sin originate and where, exactly, does it reside? Jesus’ death on the cross assumes that the death of a Man was a necessary penalty for sin. But if Man is but the victim of a universal contagion, why is he held accountable and punishable? Interpretations like these, I believe, reveal an underlying motive in much of the speculation about evangelicals and extraterrestrials: It seeks to undermine and reinterpret Scripture. The bottom line: It is not necessary to tweak our conception of original sin to conjecture intelligent life outside of earth. Unless, of course, those beings are found to be sinners.

So while the Bible teaches that sin’s power is corrosive and far-reaching, it is unclear how life outside our planet might, if at all, be affected. Once again, we must construct our conclusions by inference.

Scripture plainly declares that the Atonement was a one time shot:

“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (I Pet. 3:18 NIV, emphasis mine).

If this is true, it implies that Jesus cannot die multiple times, for multiple people groups — or extraterrestrial ones, for that matter. So once again we are left with limited options. If aliens exist, they are either

  1. Non-moral beings (animal, vegetable, mineral) outside the scope of redemption
  2. Unfallen moral beings not needing redemption, or
  3. Fallen beings whom Jesus died for, meaning they are awaiting The Gospel of Earth (i.e., the proclamation of Christ’s sacrificial death on the third rock from the sun).

There’s other biblical positions that provide more clarity to this issue.

Not only does Scripture teach that Man is unique in the cosmos, but that the fate of the entire universe revolves around Planet Earth. The apostle Peter described Christ’s Second Coming as the consummate cosmological event:

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” (II Pet. 3:10 NIV)

Furthermore, Christ’s return to earth and the final judgments of humankind herald the creation of “a new heaven and a new earth” (vs. 13). This Blue Planet is the theater of God’s power, love, and judgment; ultimately, the destiny of Man determines the Fate of the Universe and all life in it. In this light, extraterrestrial life appears somewhat inconsequential.

But what makes speculation about extraterrestrials so difficult for evangelicals is the message typically attached to them. Nowadays, most aliens are portrayed as conveying a humanistic, anti-Christian, even occult, message. (It’s no coincidence that Weintraub, in his SA interview, suggests that Buddhism and Mormonism are the two religions that would be most open to extraterrestrial life. Both Buddhism and Mormonism are considered far outside orthodox historic Christianity.) This is why, for believers, the authority of Scripture is central to this debate. The apostle Paul wrote:

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal. 1:8 NIV)

Yes, there are beings not of this earth who have a message for homo sapiens. But even more important than the nature of these extraterrestrial entities is the message they carry. As much as one would like a close encounter of the third kind, if that encounter involves the conveyance of “another gospel,” the Bible warns that it is not from God. Again, from my perspective, the proposition of “another gospel” is indeed the impetus behind much of this conjecture. At the least, many of those who speculate about the coexistence of evangelicals with extraterrestrials do so with the hope that the Christian Gospel will be found wanting. In other words, part of the hope that propels those to conjecture about alien existence is that, in such a discovery, the Bible will be debunked.

However, until there’s an actual discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life, the problem it creates for evangelicals is completely hypothetical. In fact, the longer we go without such a discovery, the more a biblical worldview is buttressed. Man, indeed, appears to be the crown of creation and Earth, the center of this cosmic theater.

In summary, then, belief in God — at least, the God of historic orthodoxy — is NOT incompatible with belief in extraterrestrials. The real issue is not whether one chooses to believe in alien life, but to what degree they allow the Bible to inform that belief. If Scripture is to be taken literally, believing in extraterrestrials is not as important as the type of aliens we believe in and the type of “gospel” they convey. In this sense, then, the real (potential) incompatibility is not between belief in God and extraterrestrials, but between the Bible’s assertions, and our own chosen beliefs.

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{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Travis Perry October 23, 2014, 5:46 AM

    Good post, but the “once for all” quote you gave is not quite so clear as it seems to be it you apply some imagination to the situation. What if the Logos simultaneously occupied a number of bodies, from Jesus to a number of aliens on other worlds, simultaneously? What if then ALL these incarnations were crucified on all the pertinent worlds needing a savior at the same time?

    Then the “once” one be an indicator of time, that it happened at “one time,” rather than an indicator of occasion, i.e. “it only happened on Earth.”

    If that were true, Scriptural references including the reference to “earth” in II Peter 3:10 would be seen as referencing the material substance of the planet, the dirt, and would by extension apply to all the piles of dirt, all the planets made and inhabited. And translations of the Greek word “cosmos” as is used in John 3:16 would no longer say “For God so loved the world” but instead say “For God so loved the cosmos”…

    I’m not saying these are the probably interpretations of Scripture, but I think as an Evangelical writer of science fiction it is important I maintain such a think is possible. It frees me up to create aliens who are sinners who need salvation–and the point of doing that is reaching the human being reading science fiction, who has been acculturated to believe aliens are real, and pointing out to him that IF they are real, the God we know would surely reach out to them as well. Which is of course a means to reach the READER…

    So I do not agree with your assessment and believe I have excellent reasons for disagreeing. 🙂

  • billgncs October 23, 2014, 6:37 AM

    aren’t you just crazy curious to know what their religion would be ?

  • Teddi Deppner October 23, 2014, 11:32 AM

    To Travis’s question, one need not even speculate on Jesus inhabiting multiple bodies across the cosmos simultaneously for the “once for all” to work. Distance is no problem for the work of salvation.

    When Jesus died on the cross and rose again, the message of His gospel went out to the known world. At that time, it didn’t include the New World. When we discovered a far-flung land across the ocean, the gospel of Christ went with the pioneers. Just because folks on another planet were far away when Christ died for them doesn’t make his sacrifice less applicable, right?

    “All have sinned” can be applied as easily to sentient non-terrestrials as it can to those we discovered living in the New World. Oh, wait. But if they’re not descendants of Adam and Eve, then it doesn’t quite fit, does it?

    Well, maybe some humans were kidnapped by fallen angels and put on another world somewhere for kicks.

    Heh heh. Good arguments, Mike. Thanks for providing some food for thought. Is this the last part of the series, or do you have more coming?

  • Greg - Tiribulus October 23, 2014, 9:52 PM

    Very VERY good Mike! Of course I agree.

    Travis. 🙂 Until you said this:

    “I’m not saying these are the probably interpretations of Scripture,”

    I was preparing to maybe write you off as perhaps the most unbelievably creative mangler of scripture I’d ever heard of. Good save.

    But THEN, you follow it immediately up with this:

    “but I think as an Evangelical writer of science fiction it is important I maintain such a thing is possible.”
    No sir, that truly ambitious interpretation of scripture is in fact IMpossible and I have to believe you know that. See, fiction is, by definition, made up stuff. It doesn’t requite anything to be true. If it actually IS in your case, a requirement for you to leave this sort of thing open for possibility, I might humbly propose that you reconsider the spiritual propriety of such an activity due to the effect it has on your treatment of scripture.

    And what, pray tell, is this?:

    “And translations of the Greek word “cosmos” as is used in John 3:16 would no longer say “For God so loved the world” but instead say “For God so loved the cosmos”…
    Why stop at the transliteration? (actually this is the accusative case here. You know that too, which would make it “cosmon” (jist nit pickin)) Why not go all the way and just boldly render it: “for God so loved the universe”? That’s what you’re getting at anyway.

    I’ll tell you why that is an exceedingly bad idea. Because the given evidence for this love of the “cosmos”, is the sending of His Son to EARTH so that the EARTHLINGS believing on Him could be saved from eternal perdition caused by their first EARTHLY parent, and given everlasting life. Who can “believe” except on this planet? Therefore the “world” in THIS usage means earth and specifically us divine image bearing critters in it.

    As I said before. Personally? I LOVE the idea of space neighbors. I really do. I also love the idea of world peace, but neither one is a reality.

  • Gary Whittenberger October 24, 2014, 8:35 AM

    Extraterrestrials would probably be advanced in morality as well as in intelligence and technology, and so their worldview would not contain mistaken ideas like the Fall or the Atonement. If God did exist, there would be no Fall. God would not punish all humankind for the disobedience of two persons. Instead, he would implement INDIVIDUAL ACCOUNTABILITY. And, of course, if God did exist, there would be no Atonement for the same reason. God would punish INDIVIDUALS in a proportional way for their sins and would not transfer penalties to a scapegoat. Chrisitanity is based on primitive ideas of morality which would be long gone from the worldview of advanced aliens.

    In conclusion, the existence of aliens is not incompatible with the existence of some kind of god, a creator god, but it is incompatible with the notions of Christianity and the assertions of the Bible.

    • Greg - Tiribulus October 24, 2014, 9:15 AM

      Boys n girls meet god. His name is Gary Whittenberger. (who knew)
      In one fell swoop he has told us that “ET’s would be advanced in morality, intelligence and technology, and that their worldview would reject ideas like the Fall or the Atonement.”

      We are also now thankfully possessed of the divine knowledge that he would not punish all humankind for the disobedience of two persons (actually Christianity says one, but we’ll let god slide on that one). “Instead, he would implement INDIVIDUAL ACCOUNTABILITY” (emphasis his)

      He has also told us that “Christianity is based on primitive ideas of morality which would be long gone from the worldview of advanced aliens.”

      Only God could know all of the preceding, But THIS is how I KNOW Gary Whittenberger must be him!!

      “the existence of aliens… is incompatible with the notions of Christianity and the assertions of the Bible.”
      Absolutely true!!! Since God’s word IS truth, Gary must be Him.

      I would like to thank god for stopping by and settling all this, not only for us brain dead, antique, anachronistic Christians, but ALSO for all the unnecessarily toiling astro-scientists out there as well. All anybody had to do was ask Gary. Do you have an email address sir? I’d like to know where to send my prayers 🙂

    • D.M. Dutcher October 24, 2014, 7:26 PM

      Uh man, this is begging the question. We have no idea that they could be advanced in morality. We really have no idea what they could be, period. Science fiction writers tend to explain their morality based on the evolutionary track that they use to justify their existence.

      Like one novel I’m writing has aliens come and invade the earth. They aren’t particularly more moral than we are, but because they evolved from low-grade telepathic common ancestors, their moral code is based on the prevention of suffering at all costs. So they seem more moral than us in some ways, but in other ways they do things we’d find horrific, like physically or mentally altering people who they perceive as suffering in order to cure them, or being perfectly fine with taking over another planet or species in order to prevent aberrant behavior. What happens when a species like this finds a planet where one of the major religions is about a suffering God isn’t pretty.

      There’s a good SF book which even takes up your point too, James Blish’s A Case for Conscience. It has an unexpected end to the question of what happens when Christianity discovers a race of beings that call their tenets into question, and the answer is not what anyone would expect.

  • HG Ferguson October 24, 2014, 11:11 AM

    Here we go again, folks, chasing round and round the notion that if it’s not in the Bible, it’s not true, can’t be real, etc. etc. etc. How much about the invisible world does God tell us? Precious little. How much about Heaven and Hell? Just exactly what we need to know, no more and no less. The existence of “aliens” is not in and of itself incompatible with the Bible. The Bible doesn’t tell us either way, just like it doesn’t tell us the details of the invisible world. 99% of the invisible world WE DO NOT KNOW. But thay doesn’t mean those details aren’t real, aren’t true — we just don’t know them because God did not see fit to tell us very much, did He? And as far as salvation goes, the Sovereign YHWH could say to another planet GO LICK THAT TREE AND YOU WILL BE SAVED had He so chosen. The idea that salvation can ONLY come through the sacrifice of God in some other world limits Him. If He so chose, His way would be DIFFERENT for some other people. It contradicts nothing. It overturns nothing. The sacrifice of Christ is for OUR WORLD, OUR PEOPLE. For the sons of Adam, there is no other way to be saved. But for others, perhaps, not the sons of Adam? It could be completely different. How the sin of Adam affects the rest of the cosmos, like the details of Heaven, is not for us to know precisely. So, Christian writers of science fiction, write on. You destroy nothing. You affirm…everything.

  • DD November 1, 2014, 3:02 PM

    Is E.T. something to “believe” in? Or is it something to be proved or disproved? True, “belief in God…is NOT incompatible with belief in extraterrestrials,” but the more fundamental question is whether or not they exist. They do make for good sci-fi, a genre a bit too rare in Christian fiction.

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