By Martin Carey
As of today, NASA has discovered 362 rocky, earth-like planets, and the number keeps growing. If we look at the web page on Exoplanet Exploration at https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/, we see an impressive array of instruments and programs at work. We almost wouldn’t be surprised to hear scientists say one day, “Life On Another Planet Found!” If that happens, the TV announcements will be over the top as usual, so we will investigate online. NASA and JPL scientists will use more cautious words: “The evidence for life on this planet is strong,” the lead NASA scientist might say; “we have detected liquid water, abundant oxygen, and methane, all in a life-friendly orbit around its star.” With prominent scientists agreeing that life signatures have been verified another planet, we may wonder, “Is this for real?”
The question of life on other planets presents a dilemma for many who claim to be Bible-believers. On one hand, Seventh-day Adventists generally believe that the universe is teaming with intelligent life, not because of scientific evidence, but because of the writings of their prophet Ellen White. Mormons also believe in aliens because of Joseph Smith’s writings. For them, if science supports their convictions, all the better—but their prophets’ testimonies are good enough for them.
However, many conservative Christians suspect that “big science” has an anti-Christian agenda in pushing stories about intelligent life on other planets. The secular view of our place in the universe is often called the “mediocrity principle,” the idea that humans are nothing special and that earth is an insignificant little planet among quintillions. Life is nothing special either, they say; our universe propagates life everywhere like an overstuffed popcorn machine.
Conversely, Christians believe that man is the only creature made in God’s image, and that gives us true significance. We are skeptical, not only about aliens, but about much of what mainstream science says. Discussing nature with non-believers is strained when conversations increase misunderstandings and harden positions. This discomfort is certainly true in the field of astronomy where scientists speak of great distances and long ages.
Where the Bible does not give specific answers, we should be humble in making assertions. This topic gives us an opportunity to examine our assumptions through the lenses of different Christian perspectives on alien life. We’ll discuss two opposing arguments and then place them next to the grandest theme of all, the eternal purposes of God in Christ.
Position One: There is No Intelligent Alien Life
Genesis 1 states that in all of God’s creation, only man was created in His image (vs. 26), and earth was the planet He outfitted for man (Isaiah 45:12). From those texts, some Christians reason that the image-bearer’s planet must be unique among all the planets. This view is represented by Answers in Genesis (AIG), an organization led by Ken Ham and known for its young-earth creationism and flood geology teachings. AIG holds that because God made man to rule creation, earth is the center of God’s attention. When Scripture states that the heavens were made for the Lord (Ps 115:16) and the earth was given to mankind (Is 45:18), this declarations are taken to mean that all the stars and planets in the universe have one function: to serve mankind on earth (Faulkner).1 Alien beings are therefore irrelevant to God’s purposes for the universe. Therefore, they reason, the Bible does not mention alien life, and that silence is evidence that it does not exist.2
Answers in Genesis staff member and former astronomy professor Danny Faulkner presents some theological problems with intelligent aliens needing salvation from sin. If ET sinned like Adam and Eve, his salvation could not come from the man, Christ Jesus. Human salvation requires that God became a man and lived on earth, died for our very human sins, and rose again so that we could be joined to Him forever. His life and death cannot be reversed or repeated for beings on another planet. His truly human life is permanent and necessary for our salvation. Fallen aliens would have to be saved by some alternate salvation that is not explained in Scripture.3 Here, Faulkner makes very good theological points. These are strong arguments against the existence of unfallen humanoid aliens on other worlds, such as we find in Ellen White’s writings.
On the other hand, there are difficulties with the AIG argument against alien life. We cannot assume that intelligent creatures would automatically possess the same spiritual status as Adam and Eve or that they would have the ability to sin as they did. In fact, the capacity for complex mental operations does not enable one either to know God or to rebel against Him. Sin is a vastly deeper problem than intellectual ability.
Many Christians share AIG’s concern that belief in aliens is motivated by a godless world view—that life and mankind were not created by God, but developed naturally by natural processes. It is true, some popular science media writers have a secular axe to grind, arguing that the discovery of aliens would disprove God’s existence.
Do these concerns mean that the all the excitement over alien life threatens Christian faith?
The Bible’s silence on alien life is not a good argument either for or against its existence. There are many valid discoveries that Scripture doesn’t mention. AIG writers can be very dogmatic about matters that are not clearly stated in Scripture and are subject to honest interpretation. Let’s be confident only in what the Bible clearly affirms: man’s creation in God’s image. We know that the heavens were made for the Lord, and earth for man (Ps. 115:16; Is. 45:9). These passages are not proof texts for or against aliens, and we want to avoid going beyond Scripture.
We can agree with Danny Faulkner that salvation must come through the man Jesus and is only offered to the human race, not to angels (or ET), as we read in Hebrews 2:14-17. This fact is strong evidence that Scripture presents significant problems for a belief in unfallen humanoid aliens.
Position Two: Intelligent Aliens May Exist
Another prominent Christian viewpoint on space aliens accepts their possible existence, but insists they are probably rare. Many Christians accept a view of progressive creation promoted by astronomer Hugh Ross and his organization, Reasons to Believe (RTB). Ross and his team teach a day-age model of creation (the days of creation are long periods of time) and accept the standard timeline of the Big Bang theory of cosmic origins. RTB also believes that man’s creation in God’s image makes him unique in the cosmos, limiting what kinds of life could live on other planets. However, the successful creation of biological life requires God’s direct action and protection over a long period of time, so life may be unique to our planet. Since the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago, RTB says, the cosmos was being prepared for planet earth to harbor life created by God through many precise steps, none of which could occur by mere chance.4
RTB’s website and books go into great detail how earth and its solar system are specially suited for life. Finding all the essential conditions for even “simple” life on another planet is very unlikely; a life-friendly planet is not a chance event. Even single-cell life is fragile and complex, demanding a super-intelligent, all-powerful Creator.
Furthermore, RTB argues, the development of intelligent life depends on even more extraordinary conditions, with extensive preparation of the hosting planet for emergence of intelligent life. Furthermore, those conditions allowing intelligent life and technology are fragile and short-lived—impossible without Divine design and protection. In fact, Scripture affirms that man’s days on earth are numbered by God, and the end of history is imminent. Thus, if there is intelligent life on another planet, it also survives only out of God’s providence.
Despite their emphasis on the rarity of life’s theoretical existence on other planets in the universe, RTB does not dogmatically oppose the idea that God created some kind of life on another planet. Although RTB accepts a slim possibility that science could find some kind of primitive alien life, they believe that intelligent, advanced, spiritual beings are extremely unlikely. They do believe that being made in God’s image gives man a unique cosmic identity, and that fact transcends anything science might say about us.
A Humble Proposal
The Bible opens with God’s creation of the heavens and earth culminating with the creation of mankind, but it gives precious little detail about the universe. Today, for all of the great discoveries of astronomy, we remain colossally ignorant. There are deeper mysteries in His creation that await our probing instruments. What if future telescopes are able to find an actual “life signature” on a distant planet? Should Christians be afraid of that possibility? The universe is nearly at least 92 billion light years across.5 God has many things in His cosmos that He hasn’t revealed, with purposes we cannot see or imagine, as He told Job (Job 38-41). Deep in our oceans, there are thousands of undiscovered species, all valued by the Creator. He is not obligated to satisfy our curiosity or explain all His actions (Rom. 11:33, 34). Like Job, we show our wisdom with our humility and repentance.
Exoplanet study is a young science, so we can expect many future adjustments in opinions about earth’s uniqueness. As biologist Joel Duff has said, “Scientific exploration is not a threatening exercise” for Christians, but it helps us appreciate the wonderful home God has made for us.6 He had us in mind even before He created His cosmos (Eph. 1:3-5), and His plans for us are glorious.
Thus we return to Clifford Goldstein’s unfallen beings on other planets. In Ellen White’s vision, she saw beings who all “bore the express image of Jesus.” They were human, even on other worlds, and were being tested by a forbidden tree. In Ellen’s universe, all of the aliens are tested like Adam and Eve because they are really humans:
- They look exactly like Jesus.
- They are tested with forbidden fruit.
- They are obligated to keep the 10 commandments.
- They will fall if they disobey Moses’ commandments, or eat forbidden fruit.
If the unfallen worlds are populated with beings who “bear the express image of Jesus”, who did God create in His likeness? Genesis 1 places His image-bearers only on planet earth. In contrast, Ellen White filled another planet, perhaps the entire universe, with humanoid aliens. This claim was apparently to make the 10 Commandments appear universal and eternal. After all, if the aliens she supposedly saw aren’t human, their keeping a covenant designed for Israelites could get complicated. Laws against stealing, adultery, or even a seventh-day Sabbath might not apply creatures on Trappist-1d.
Before the universes was created, the Lord Jesus planned a universe for Himself as a place to show His glory by suffering. All things were created through Him and for Him (Col. 1:16). He wanted to show grace to objects of mercy, sinners like you and me. When He came to earth as a human baby, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). He came to live and die, redeeming people from every human tribe and nation. His sacrifice is final and unrepeatable. Our redemption came with blood and suffering very much like ours, only more. He rose again, eternally as a man, to live to intercede for desperate men and women who trust in Him.
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus gives us a permanent and unique identity in the universe. We don’t need to complete with the unfallen universe for the status of God’s favorite species. It isn’t all that important what kinds of life God creates out there; our identity is sealed forever in the person of Jesus. He made the universe for Himself, for His glory. It is not made for some superior unfallen race out there, or even mankind as a whole. This universe was made for One, our creator and redeemer,
“So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11).
- Danny Faulkner, Is Belief In Alien Life Harmless? https://answersingenesis.org/astronomy/alien-life/belief-alien-life-harmless/
- Alien Life, Answers in Genesis, https://answersingenesis.org/astronomy/alien-life/
- Faulkner, Ibid.
- Hugh Ross, Reasons to Believe, http://www.reasons.org/articles/our-only-hope-a-new-search-for-extraterrestrial-intelligent-life
- Nola Taylor Redd, How Big is the Universe? http://www.space.com/24073-how-big-is-the-universe.html
- Joel Duff, Naturalis Historia, https://thenaturalhistorian.com/2017/02/23/more-planets-than-stars-exoplanets-and-our-little-blue-ball/