Note: The Shownotes and Transcript below are a bit of a trainwork editing wise. I'll polish them up soon!
C.S. Lewis from His essay The Seeing Eye, found in Christian Reflections: 1963, 6 years before the Moon Landing. (Discussing Space travel) a more practical issue will arise when, if ever, we discover rational creatures on other planets. I think myself, this is a very remote contingency. The balance of probability is against life on any other planet of the solar system. We shall hardly find it nearer than the stars. And even if we reach the Moon we shall be no nearer to stellar travel than the first man who paddled across a river was to crossing the Pacific.This thought is welcome to me because, to be frank, I have no pleasure in looking forward to a meeting between humanity and any alien rational species. I observe how the white man has hitherto treated the black, and how, even among civilized men, the stronger have treated the weaker. If we encounter in the depth of space a race, however innocent and amiable, which is technologically weaker than ourselves, I do not doubt that the same revolting story will be repeated. We shall enslave, deceive, exploit or exterminate; at the very least we shall corrupt it with our vices and infect it with our diseases.
We are not fit yet to visit other worlds. We have filled our own with massacre, torture, syphilis, famine, dust bowls and with all that is hideous to ear or eye. Must we go on to infect new realms? It was in part these reflections that first moved me to make my own small contributions to science fiction. In those days writers in that genre almost automatically represented the inhabitants of other worlds as monsters and the terrestrial invaders as good. Since then the opposite set-up has become fairly common. If I could believe that I had in any degree contributed to this change, I should be a proud man.1
The same problem, by the way, is beginning to threaten us as regards the dolphins. I don’t think it has yet been proved that they are rational. But if they are, we have no more right to enslave them than to enslave our fellow-men. And some of us will continue to say this, but we shall be mocked.
C. S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, ed. Walter Hooper, EPub Edition. (HarperOne, 2014), 173–174.
This science (astronomy) ought to be the special delight of ministers of the gospel, for surely it brings us into closer connection with God than almost any other science does. It has been said that an undevout astronomer is mad. I should say that an undevout man of any sort is mad,—with the worst form of madness; but, certainly, he who has become acquainted with the stars in the heavens, and who yet has not found out the great Father of lights, the Lord who made them all, must be stricken with a dire madness. Kepler, the great mathematical astronomer, who has so well explained many of the laws which govern the universe, closes one of his books, his Harmonics, with this reverent and devout expression of his feelings:—“I give thee thanks, Lord and Creator, that thou hast given me joy through thy creation; for I have been ravished with the work of thy hands. I have revealed unto mankind the glory of thy works, as far as my limited spirit could conceive their infinitude. Should I have brought forward anything that is unworthy of thee, or should I have sought my own fame, be graciously pleased to forgive me.” And you know how the mighty Newton, a very prince among the sons of men, was continually driven to his knees as he looked upwards to the skies, and discovered fresh wonders in the starry heavens. Therefore, the science which tends to bring men to bow in humility before the Lord should always be a favourite study with us whose business it is to inculcate reverence for God in all who come under our influence.
C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students: The Art of Illustration; Addresses Delivered to the Students of the Pastors’ College, Metropolitan Tabernacle, vol. 3 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1905), 145.
Today’s Question: At the very beginning of this podcast, I promised you that we would sometimes delve into wild and wacky areas of the Bible, and today is the day we begin that journey! Most of the time, we will play it straight, but the fact is that there are many interesting/mysterious and downright strange parts of the Bible, and I don’t think we should ignore them, nor explain them away with a handwave. Let’s embrace the weird! And, by the way, if this topic is interesting to you at all, then please check out my book Monsters in the Bible. It’s my bestselling book of this year, which is funny, and from time to time, it ranks in Amazon’s top ten for Occult Satanism...which is strange, to say the least, for a southern Baptist pastor. (I did NOT choose that category!)
Vanderbilt astronomer David Weintraub reports that 55 percent of atheists believe in alien life, but only 32 percent of Christians. Weintraub wrote, "Most evangelical and fundamentalist Christian leaders argue quite forcefully that the Bible makes clear that extraterrestrial life does not exist. From this perspective, the only living, God-worshipping beings in the entire universe are humans, created by God, who live on Earth." DOES THE BIBLE REALLY, REALLY MAKE THAT CLEAR??!
Calvary Chapel Church in Roswell, New Mexico (80 miles away from the Mac Brazel ranch, Roswell 1947 incident), would half-way agree. for instance, “Biblically IF there are aliens, there is no way we would have contact with them or God would have told us about it in the Bible and He did not. The Bible never speaks of Aliens from another planet. Further, there is no way they would crash and die here on planet earth. Death entered our world through Adam and effected everything on this planet. If there are Aliens, they would not be exposed to this curse.” LOTS OF SUPPOSITIONS HERE THAT AREN’T BACKED UP BY SCRIPTURE. “She smiled at me, therefore she likes me.” maybe, maybe not. It’s a supposition, but is it supported by fact?? Let’s take that first sentence and see how it logically holds up. “If there are aliens, there is no way we would have contact with them or God would have told us about it in the Bible, and He did not.” How about this: “IF Man were to travel to the moon, God would have told us about it in the Bible, and He did not.” “If the United States of America would be the dominant superpower of the world in the 21st century, God would have told us about it in the Bible, and He did not.” “If atoms were the building blocks of all matter, God would have told us about it in the Bible, and He did not.” Such statements suppose that God is OBLIGATED to tell us about everything in the Bible. He is under no such obligation, so we can’t assume things that we are left in the dark about. All the love in the world to Calvary Chapel, Roswell, though. I’m a fan.
So, I’m also a fan of podcasts...a podcast connoisseur. I am subscribed to over one 100 podcasts of all shapes and sizes. Many of them are Christian podcasts, but many are not. In case you’re curious, here’s my current top ten podcasts. I’d love to hear yours too - tweet them to me at @bibleqpodcast. In no particular order:
Anyway...I was listening to one of the above, the Astonishing Legends podcast a few weeks ago. They were talking about a fairly fascinating object called the Betz Sphere that a family in Florida found in the woods in the 70s. The Betz Sphere demonstrated all sorts of unusual properties, and drew the interest of some news organizations and government people, including the former head of Project Blue book, Dr. J. Allen Hynek.
Project Blue Book:(wikipedia): Project Blue Book was one of a series of systematic studies of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) conducted by the United States Air Force. It started in 1952, the third study of its kind, following projects Sign (1947) and Grudge (1949). A termination order was given for the study in December 1969, and all activity under its auspices officially ceased in January 1970. Project Blue Book had two goals:
In later years he conducted his own independent UFO research, developing the "Close Encounter" classification system. He was among the first people to conduct scientific analysis of reports and especially of trace evidence purportedly left by UFOs.[
Anyway, during his time researching the Betz sphere, Dr. J. Allen Hynek became good friends with the Betz family, getting to know them pretty well over the course of several visits. According to the Betz family, Dr. Hynek told them that the U.S. government was aware of several alien encounters/visitations, including Roswell, and had covered up most of them, so that the general public wouldn’t freak out. Why would the public freak out? Well, apparently Dr. Hynek believe that, at least in part, that major religions, including Christianity, would have a large negative reaction to the existence of aliens, because that would seemingly contradict the teachings of the church, and the teachings of the Bible. Hynek believed that society might fall apart, if people knew that aliens actually existed.
Now, let me pause for a moment. As much as I’m interested in this sort of thing, today’s episode is NOT fundamentally about whether aliens exist and have made contact with us or not. I do actually know the answer to that question, but I can’t give it to you now, its classified. ;) In truth, actually, I have no idea. BUT, because I can’t help myself, I will say this one thing about the possibility of aliens.
A Washington Post article at the end of April really got my attention:
Recently, unidentified aircraft have entered military-designated airspace as often as multiple times per month, Joseph Gradisher, spokesman for office of the deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare, told The Washington Post on Wednesday.
He said, “We want to get to the bottom of this. We need to determine who’s doing it, where it’s coming from and what their intent is. We need to try to find ways to prevent it from happening again.”
Luis Elizondo, a former senior intelligence officer, told The Post that the new Navy guidelines formalized the reporting process, facilitating data-driven analysis while removing the stigma from talking about UFOs, calling it “the single greatest decision the Navy has made in decades.”
Elizondo, who ran the AATIP, (This is the multi-million dollar Pentagon program that investigates UFOs and was on the government budget books until 2012, when it was delisted on those budget books) said the newly drafted guidelines were a culmination of many things, most notably that the Navy had enough credible evidence — including eyewitness accounts and corroborating radar information — to “know this is occurring.”
“If I came to you and said, ‘There are these things that can fly over our country with impunity, defying the laws of physics, and within moments could deploy a nuclear device at will,’ that would be a matter of national security,” Elizondo said.
With the number of U.S. military personnel in the Air Force and Navy who described the same observations, the noise level could not be ignored.
“This type of activity is very alarming,” Elizondo said, “and people are recognizing there are things in our aerospace that lie beyond our understanding.”
Before you get excited that this new initiative might finally clue in the public, I need to tell you that the WaPost ran an article the next week that basically said that the Navy was NOT going to be released to the public. Mr. Gradisher said, ““Furthermore, any report generated as a result of these investigations will, by necessity, include classified information on military operations. He added, “Therefore, no release of information to the general public is expected.”””
So yeah, expect to be in the dark a few more years, at least. But today’s question is not whether or not the U.S. Government will finally disclose Alien interactions, but whether or not the Bible rules out the existence of aliens at all! Is Dr. Hynek correct - if the Government suddenly announced alien contact of some kind - would that somehow invalidate the Bible?
And the answer is…. I don’t think so. Not at all.
But, I could be wrong, and many theologians disagree with me. Let’s look at the anti-alien case:
GotQuestions https://www.gotquestions.org/aliens-Christian.html, “We do not believe that aliens exist. The Bible gives us no reason to believe that there is life elsewhere in the universe; in fact, the Bible gives us several key reasons why there cannot be.
Those who contemplate the existence of aliens and the impact their existence would have on the Christian faith commonly discuss the identity and work of Jesus. God sent His only begotten Son, God incarnate, to save mankind and redeem creation. Does that redemption include life on other planets? Or would God have manifested Himself on those other planets, as well (in the manner of Aslan in Narnia)? Does “only begotten” mean “only physical representation”? Or is it more limited, referring only to the human species? WE DON’T KNOW!!
Another topic of discussion concerning the existence of aliens and Christianity is what it means to be made in the “image of God.” Since God has no physical body, we take this to mean a reflection of God’s non-physical aspects—rationality, morality, and sociability. Would aliens, if they exist, embody the same characteristics? WHY NOT?
Considering what we know about space and life and the world as the Bible portrays it, we already have an explanation for so-called alien activity on Earth. Reports of “close encounters” describe the ethereal, transient, deceptive, and malevolent. Accounts also record that encounters with supposed aliens can be stopped by a real, authentic call to Jesus. Everything points to the activity of demons, not extraterrestrials. In fact, it is plausible that the “powerful delusion” spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 2:11 will involve an alien-abduction theory to explain away the rapture. I actually don’t think most UFO reports - reported by seasoned Navy and Air-Force pilots, for instance, really has much in common with demonic episodes we see in Scripture.
The “discovery” of alien life would have no effect on genuine Christianity. COMPLETELY AGREE The Bible stands as written, no matter what secular theories are advanced or discoveries are claimed. The Bible says the earth and mankind are unique in God’s creation. God created the earth even before He created the sun, moon, or stars (Genesis 1).
Genesis 1: 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and He called the darkness “night.” Evening came and then morning: the first day.
(It actually seems to say that God created the Heavens first...then the earth.)
Matt Slick/CARM: The Bible does not mention extraterrestrial or alien life. However, it does mention angels and demonic forces which are, in a sense, not of this world. This is not the kind of alien, extraterrestrial life that most people are talking about when the subject comes up. Nevertheless, the Bible makes no mention whatsoever of aliens from other planets who might be visiting us.
Now, Slick goes on from here to argue against alien life being likely, because he believes that the Bible declares all creation on all worlds fallen by what Adam did. That is certainly one way of reading the text, but I don’t think that is the necessary way of reading the text. Paul could be speaking of all of creation on the earth. For instance, in Colossians 1:23, Paul writes: This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become a servant of it.
What does this mean- that the Gospel has been proclaimed on Pluto? I don’t think so. I believe Paul meant that the Gospel had been proclaimed in all of KNOWN creation.
Michael Houdmann: Above all, let me say, I do not believe aliens exist. Let's also differentiate between sentient aliens and non-sentient aliens. While I would not necessarily have a theological problem with the concept of non-sentient beings (fish, birds, dogs, etc.) existing on other planets, I do have a huge theological problem with the concept of other sentient beings existing elsewhere. It just does not mesh with the teachings of the Bible. The Bible presents humanity as uniquely created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). Angels are not created in the image of God. Animals are not created in the image of God. According to the Bible, we are unique, specifically created to have a personal relationship and connection with God the Creator.
Intelligent/sentient life in other parts of the universe destroys, or at least weakens, this uniqueness. And it raises all kinds of questions. When did God create the aliens? Do the sentient aliens have an eternal soul? Did they fall into sin? Did God reveal Himself to them? Does their understanding of God match what the Bible says? Did God provide them with an alien Bible? Did God provide for and offer them redemption and salvation? If so, how? Did Jesus die for them too?
Genesis 1:26 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” Notice how it doesn’t say Let us make man - and man alone in all of the universe - in our Image.
Houdmann goes on to say: All joking aside, if God intended for humankind to meet alien life, He would have outlined these encounters in the Bible, along with an answer to what He has done for them regarding sin.
I just don’t agree with that speculation. I like Houdmann and Got questions a ton, and find them very faithful to the Bible, but this is speculation that I find unbacked by biblical truth. HOW do we know that God would do this? How can we prove such a thing? I just don’t think we can.
I feel like such speculations are very similar to Lactantius’ (an early church father in the 200s) scoffing at the possibility that the earth was round. He could NOT cite a Scripture to prove the earth was flat - as he thought - but he assumed that Scripture taught such a thing, WHEN IT DOES NOT. Similarly, Augustine poo-pood the existence of Antipodes on the other side of the world, thinking that Scripture backed that belief up, but it doesn’t, and Augustine was wrong.
GIVE ME CLEAR SCRIPTURE THAT SHOWS LIFE ON EARTH IS UNIQUE and I will believe it against all charges...but such a Scripture does NOT exist.
TBR Baptist Facebook Group:
Jim I thought this was a serious group Well - He’s new. Also, I genuinely think this is a serious topic!
Wes Apparently, some were aliens at one point
Ephesians 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God Similarly Doug Hibbard 1 Peter suggests that *you* are the aliens
Jim Spiritual Wickedness in heavenly places, Rulers and authorities. Demons dressed up like them.
Jacob I think the possibility of aliens falls apart when discussing the fall. As best as we can tell the whole universe is subject to the natural effects of the curse. If that is true, then another rational species, which did not fall, is out there subjected to the consequences of it. Do these aliens have their own Salvation history? Did they, somehow, simultaneously fall alongside Adam, and have their own Jesus? If, in keeping with Scripture, the crucifixion of Christ is a one time event, then another race would be subject to a punishment that they do not deserve with no possible hope for salvation.
Pro Brandon Ambrosino on BBC.Com http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20161215-if-we-made-contact-with-aliens-how-would-religions-react : But how could a believer reconcile this with their faith that humans are the crowning achievement of God’s creation?. How could humans believe they were the apple of their creator’s eye if their planet was just one of billions?
The discovery of intelligent aliens could have a similar Copernican effect on human’s self-understanding. Would the discovery make believers feel insignificant, and as a consequence, cause people to question their faith?
According to the Talmud, God spends his night flying throughout 18,000 worlds
I would argue that this concern is misguided. The claim that God is involved with and moved by humans has never required an Earth-centric theology. The Psalms, sacred to both Jews and Christians, claim that God has given names to all the stars.
Billy Graham as a notable exception, as he was vocal about his beliefs that "there are intelligent beings like us far away in space who worship God."
J. Warner Wallace:
What impact does this question (and even more importantly, the answer to this question) have on the claims of Christianity and the truth of the Christian worldview?
Jeff Zweerink, astrophysicist and Christian:
Many people seem to think that discovering life on another planet would mean that naturalism is correct and Christianity is wrong. One thing I found fascinating is that for centuries Christians have thought about the implications of intelligent life in the universe. As I investigated the truth claims of Christianity, I realized that the existence of life of any sort beyond the confines of Earth is a great theological question—without a definitive answer. At this time, I am convinced that any hypothetical discovery of life in the universe will still point to God’s creative work and ultimately help us understand God’s revelation better.
I’m with Jeff here. Some people do indeed seem to think that finding life on other planets would prove the Bible - or Christianity wrong somehow. To that, I saw - How and Why would such a thing disprove God or the Bible? If God made life on planet Earth - and He did - then why couldn’t He make it elsewhere? To those Christians who seem to think that God would only make life on earth - I say, again, why would He do that? Why would He create billions of planets - most outside of our ability to see or observe...and leave them devoid of any inhabitants? In absence of Scripture, or absolute proof of alien life, conjecture proves nothing, but that cuts both ways. Merely speculating that God would not create life on other planets does not prove that it is so. The question we are grappling with today is this one: Does the Bible rule out alien life, and the answer - the CLEAR answer...is NO! It does not.
William Lane Craig, 2008 episode of Reasonable Faith: Dr. Craig: Yeah. Well, I think that it’s possible. [that there is alien life] One would argue that if there is life on other planets it would have had to be created by God because on a naturalistic basis I think we’d say that the evidence against there being intelligent extraterrestrial life anywhere in the observable universe is extremely great. The probabilities on naturalism that there is extraterrestrial intelligent life is virtually nil. So actually being a theist would be the best grounds for thinking that it could be possible because as a theist you think God created life here on this planet so then you could say, well, maybe God created life as well on some other planet somewhere in the universe. It is really the theist who is, I think, a lot more open to the possibility of extraterrestrial life than the non-theist….
Kevin Harris: This brings up the issue of UFOs and aliens invading earth and all the things that are in pop culture to this day – flying saucer phenomena and things like that. Well, the Vatican astronomer has just said it could be. You can make up your own mind about that. It seems, Dr. Craig, that the Bible is largely silent about this issue.
Dr. Craig: I think it is silent, Kevin. The Scriptures are given to human beings as God’s revelation to people on this planet. Therefore, there is no reason to think that there could not be persons that God has created in some unknown galaxy that we have no idea about, and he has provided a revelation of himself to them as well. I think it would be presumptuous to say that we know that he hasn’t done that.
Kevin Harris: He says that the possibility of extraterrestrial life does not contradict our faith. In other words, if a flying saucer landed on the White House lawn today, nobody could stand up and say Christianity is false.
Dr. Craig: That is right. That seems to me to be correct. I am puzzled by folks who seem to think that if intelligent life were discovered somewhere else or that if it were to come here that somehow this would be a disproof of Christianity. That seems to me to be a complete non sequitur. It doesn’t follow because Christianity simply doesn’t speak to the question of whether or not God has created life elsewhere in the universe.
If somebody tells you that there could be no aliens from a Bible/Christian perspective, ask them to show you clear backing for such a thing from Scripture. If you believe that, then please, please, please send me your Scriptural reasons for such a belief. Just Be sure you aren’t making VAST leaps in logic. For example, the Bible clearly says Jesus died for our sins, if there are aliens, then how would God redeem them? That’s a great question, and I don’t know the answer, but it certainly doesn’t prove that there are no aliens. Perhaps our hypothetical aliens did not fall, like Adam and Eve did. Perhaps they are indeed redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice in a way that we don’t understand. Who Knows?! But I do know that I can find no Scripture that clearly denies the possibility of alien life, or that clearly affirms the existence of alien life. I can also find no Scripture, the implications of which would logically rule out either outcome.
Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights above. Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created. (Ps. 148:1–5)
Are there aliens? I’ve no idea. I think the wisest and best and most biblical answer is either “Maybe” or “I don’t know.” To assert otherwise is borderline irresponsible. BUT - if there ARE aliens, does this pose a threat to Scripture? Absolutely not. You can’t contradict what isn’t there. In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin, the first true antibiotic. Did this MASSIVELY IMPORTANT DISCOVERY contradict the Bible? Of course not - because the Bible never discussed nor addressed such a thing. Similarly, the discovery of alien life - if it happens at all - will not at all shake any Scriptural truth in the Bible - NOT A ONE. Will it shake our lives? Maybe so. But, you can’t find aliens in the Scripture. Not clearly. Likewise, you can’t find the United States in Scripture either, and that ‘omission’ seems to rightly bother no one. It is not incumbent upon God to reveal to man all important future events in His Word.
Ultimately, I stand with Spurgeon, and actually stood with Spurgeon before I knew his position on this question. It took a lot of research to find this quote, but here you go:
What God has done in the eternity which we call the past (but which to him is as the present), we do not fully know. We have no reason to believe that we know much of what God has done. There may be as many other worlds and sorts of beings existent as there are sands upon the sea shore, for aught we know; and the Lord may have been occupied in ages past with ten thousand glorious plans, and economies, as yet unrevealed to man. We cannot tell what he doeth, or what he hath done. We are creatures of a day, and know nothing; we are like insects that are born on a leaf, and die amid our fellows at the setting of the sun, but he lives on for ever. We talk of the “eternal hills,” but they are babes that were born yesterday, as far as he is concerned. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” We say, “Roll on, thou ancient ocean!” but the ocean is not ancient; it is a drop that fell yesterday from the tip of the Creator’s finger.
C. H. Spurgeon, “The Eternal Truth of God,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 21 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1875), 651.
Spurgeon: To us, to-day, the coming of Christ to seek and to save the lost is an accomplished fact, a matter of history, most sure and certain. And what a fact it is! You have often thought of it, but have you ever worked your mind into the very heart of it,—that God has actually visited this world in human form,—that he before whom angels bow has actually been here, in fashion like ourselves, feeding the hungry crowds of Palestine, healing their sick, and raising their dead? I know not what may be the peculiar boast of other planets, but this poor star cannot be excelled, for on this world the Creator has stood. This earth has been trodden by the feet of God, and yet it was not crushed beneath the mighty burden, because he deigned to link his Deity with our humanity. The incarnation is a wonder of wonders, but it does not belong to the realm of imagination, or even of expectation, for it has actually been beheld by mortal eyes.
C. H. Spurgeon, “Christ the Seeker and Saviour of the Lost,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 58 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1912), 314.
SKIP. INCLUDE IN BOOK. There are also triple stars, or systems, and quadruple systems, and there are, in some cases, hundreds or thousands all spinning round one another, and around their central luminaries. Wonderful combinations of glory and beauty may be seen in the stellar sky; and some of these stars are red, some blue, some yellow, all the colours of the rainbow are represented in them. It would be very wonderful to live in one of them, and to look across the sky, and see all the glories of the heavens that God has made. On the whole, however, for the present, I am quite content to abide upon this little planet, especially as I am not able to change it for another home, until God so wills it.
C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students: The Art of Illustration; Addresses Delivered to the Students of the Pastors’ College, Metropolitan Tabernacle, vol. 3 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1905), 177.
CLOSE WITH EXTENDED READING OF LEWIS’ ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION: From Christian Reflections: an essay Called, “The Seeing Eye”
Some people are troubled, and others are delighted, at the idea of finding not one, but perhaps innumerable rational species scattered about the universe. In both cases the emotion arises from a belief that such discoveries would be fatal to Christian theology. For it will be said that theology connects the Incarnation of God with the Fall and Redemption of man. And this would seem to attribute to our species and to our little planet a central position in cosmic history which is not credible if rationally inhabited planets are to be had by the million.
Older readers will, with me, notice the vast change in astronomical speculation which this view involves. When we were boys all astronomers, so far as I know, impressed upon us the antecedent improbabilities of life in any part of the universe whatever. It was not thought unlikely that this earth was the solitary exception to a universal reign of the inorganic. Now Professor Hoyle, and many with him, say that in so vast a universe life must have occurred in times and places without number. The interesting thing is that I have heard both these estimates used as arguments against Christianity.
Now it seems to me that we must find out more than we can at present know—which is nothing—about hypothetical rational species before we can say what theological corollaries or difficulties their discovery would raise.
We might, for example, find a race which was, like us, rational but, unlike us, innocent—no wars nor any other wickedness among them; all peace and good fellowship. I don’t think any Christian would be puzzled to find that they knew no story of an Incarnation or Redemption, and might even find our story hard to understand or accept if we told it to them. There would have been no Redemption in such a world because it would not have needed redeeming. ‘They that are whole need not the physician.’ The sheep that has never strayed need not be sought for. We should have much to learn from such people and nothing to teach them. If we were wise, we should fall at their feet. But probably we should be unable to ‘take it’. We’d find some reason for exterminating them.
Again, we might find a race which, like ours, contained both good and bad. And we might find that for them, as for us, something had been done: that at some point in their history some great interference for the better, believed by some of them to be supernatural, had been recorded, and that its effects, though often impeded and perverted, were still alive among them. It need not, as far as I can see, have conformed to the pattern of Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection. God may have other ways—how should I be able to imagine them?—of redeeming a lost world. And Redemption in that alien mode might not be easily recognizable by our missionaries, let alone by our atheists.
We might meet a species which, like us, needed Redemption but had not been given it. But would this fundamentally be more of a difficulty than any Christian’s first meeting with a new tribe of savages? It would be our duty to preach the Gospel to them. For if they are rational, capable both of sin and repentance, they are our brethren, whatever they look like. Would this spreading of the Gospel from earth, through man, imply a pre-eminence for earth and man? Not in any real sense. If a thing is to begin at all, it must begin at some particular time and place; and any time and place raises the question: ‘Why just then and just there?’ One can conceive an extraterrestrial development of Christianity so brilliant that earth’s place in the story might sink to that of a prologue.
Finally, we might find a race which was strictly diabolical—no tiniest spark felt in them from which any goodness could ever be coaxed into the feeblest glow; all of them incurably perverted through and through. What then? We Christians had always been told that there were creatures like that in existence. True, we thought they were all incorporeal spirits. A minor readjustment thus becomes necessary.
But all this is in the realm of fantastic speculation. We are trying to cross a bridge, not only before we come to it, but even before we know there is a river that needs bridging.
C. S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, ed. Walter Hooper, EPub Edition. (HarperOne, 2014), 174–176.
Religion and Rocketry - 1958 RELIGION AND ROCKETRY
In my time I have heard two quite different arguments against my religion put forward in the name of science. When I was a youngster, people used to say that the universe was not only not friendly to life but positively hostile to it. Life had appeared on this planet by a millionth chance, as if at one point there had been a breakdown of the elaborate defences generally enforced against it. We should be rash to assume that such a leak had occurred more than once. Probably life was a purely terrestrial abnormality. We were alone in an infinite desert. Which just showed the absurdity of the Christian idea that there was a Creator who was interested in living creatures.
But then came Professor F. B. Hoyle, the Cambridge cosmologist, and in a fortnight or so everyone I met seemed to have decided that the universe was probably quite well provided with inhabitable globes and with livestock to inhabit them. Which just showed (equally well) the absurdity of Christianity with its parochial idea that Man could be important to God.
This is a warning of what we may expect if we ever do discover animal life (vegetable does not matter) on another planet. Each new discovery, even every new theory, is held at first to have the most wide-reaching theological and philosophical consequences. It is seized by unbelievers as the basis for a new attack on Christianity; it is often, and more embarrassingly, seized by injudicious believers as the basis for a new defence.
But usually, when the popular hubbub has subsided and the novelty has been chewed over by real theologians, real scientists, and real philosophers, both sides find themselves pretty much where they were before. So it was with Copernican astronomy, with Darwinism, with Biblical Criticism, with the new psychology. So, I cannot help expecting, it will be with the discovery of ‘life on other planets’—if that discovery is ever made.
The supposed threat is clearly directed against the doctrine of the Incarnation, the belief that God born of God ‘for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was . . . made man’. Why for us men more than for others? If we find ourselves to be but one among a million races, scattered through a million spheres, how can we, without absurd arrogance, believe ourselves to have been uniquely favoured? I admit that the question could become formidable. In fact, it will become formidable when, if ever, we know the answer to five other questions.
1. Are there animals anywhere except on earth? We do not know. We do not know whether we ever shall know.
2. Supposing there were, have any of these animals what we call ‘rational souls’? By this I include not merely the faculty to abstract and calculate, but the apprehension of values, the power to mean by ‘good ’something more than ‘good for me’ or even ‘good for my species’. If instead of asking, ‘Have they rational souls?’ you prefer to ask, ‘Are they spiritual animals?’ I think we shall both mean pretty much the same. If the answer to either question should be No, then of course it would not be at all strange that our species should be treated differently from theirs.
There would be no sense in offering to a creature, however clever or amiable, a gift which that creature was by its nature incapable either of desiring or of receiving. We teach our sons to read but not our dogs. The dogs prefer bones. And of course, since we do not yet know whether there are extra-terrestrial animals at all, we are a long way from knowing that they are rational (or ‘spiritual’).
Even if we met them we might not find it so easy to decide. It seems to me possible to suppose creatures so clever that they could talk, though they were, from the theological point of view, really only animals, capable of pursuing or enjoying only natural ends. One meets humans—the machine-minded and materialistic urban type—who look as if they were just that. As Christians we must believe the appearance to be false; somewhere under that glib surface there lurks, however atrophied, a human soul. But in other worlds there might be things that really are what these seem to be. Conversely, there might be creatures genuinely spiritual, whose powers of manufacture and abstract thought were so humble that we should mistake them for mere animals. God shield them from us!
3. If there are species, and rational species, other than man, are any or all of them, like us, fallen? This is the point non-Christians always seem to forget. They seem to think that the Incarnation implies some particular merit or excellence in humanity. But of course it implies just the reverse: a particular demerit and depravity. No creature that deserved Redemption would need to be redeemed. They that are whole need not the physician.Christ died for men precisely because men are not worth dying for; to make them worth it. Notice what waves of utterly unwarranted hypothesis these critics of Christianity want us to swim through. We are now supposing the fall of hypothetically rational creatures whose mere existence is hypothetical!
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? For of course it is no very new idea that the eternal Son may, for all we know, have been incarnate in other worlds than earth and so saved other races than ours. As Alice Meynell wrote in ‘Christ in the Universe’:
I wouldn’t go as far as ‘doubtless’ myself. Perhaps of all races we only fell. Perhaps Man is the only lost sheep; the one, therefore, whom the Shepherd came to seek. Or perhaps—but this brings us to the next wave of assumption. It is the biggest yet and will knock us head over heels, but I am fond of a tumble in the surf.
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. It may be that the further we were permitted to see into His councils, the more clearly we should understand that thus and not otherwise—by the birth at Bethlehem, the cross on Calvary and the empty tomb—a fallen race could be rescued. There may be a necessity for this, insurmountable, rooted in the very nature of God and the very nature of sin. But we don’t know. At any rate, I don’t know. Spiritual as well as physical conditions might differ widely in different worlds. There might be different sorts and different degrees of fallenness. We must surely believe that the divine charity is as fertile in resource as it is measureless in condescension. To different diseases, or even to different patients sick with the same disease, the great Physician may have applied different remedies; remedies which we should probably not recognise as such even if we ever heard of them.
It might turn out that the redemption of other species differed from ours by working through ours. There is a hint of something like this in St Paul (Romans 8:19–23) when he says that the whole creation is longing and waiting to be delivered from some kind of slavery, and that the deliverance will occur only when we, we Christians, fully enter upon our sonship to God and exercise our ‘glorious liberty’.
On the conscious level I believe that he was thinking only of our own Earth: of animal, and probably vegetable, life on Earth being ‘renewed’ or glorified at the glorification of man in Christ. But it is perhaps possible—it is not necessary—to give his words a cosmic meaning. It may be that Redemption, starting with us, is to work from us and through us.
This would no doubt 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.
Only if we had some such function would a contact between us and such unknown races be other than a calamity. If indeed we were unfallen, it would be another matter.
It sets one dreaming—to interchange thoughts with beings whose thinking had an organic background wholly different from ours (other senses, other appetites), to be unenviously humbled by intellects possibly superior to our own yet able for that very reason to descend to our level, to descend lovingly ourselves if we met innocent and childlike creatures who could never be as strong or as clever as we, to exchange with the inhabitants of other worlds that especially keen and rich affection which exists between unlikes; it is a glorious dream. But make no mistake. It is a dream. We are fallen.
We know what our race does to strangers. Man destroys or enslaves every species he can. Civilised man murders, enslaves, cheats, and corrupts savage man. Even inanimate nature he turns into dust bowls and slag-heaps. There are individuals who don’t. But they are not the sort who are likely to be our pioneers in space. Our ambassador to new worlds will be the needy and greedy adventurer or the ruthless technical expert. They will do as their kind has always done. What that will be if they meet things weaker than themselves, the black man and the red man can tell. If they meet things stronger, they will be, very properly, destroyed.
It is interesting to wonder how things would go if they met an unfallen race. At first, to be sure, they’d have a grand time jeering at, duping, and exploiting its innocence; but I doubt if our half-animal cunning would long be a match for godlike wisdom, selfless valour, and perfect unanimity.
I therefore fear the practical, not the theoretical, problems which will arise if ever we meet rational creatures which are not human. Against them we shall, if we can, commit all the crimes we have already committed against creatures certainly human but differing from us in features and pigmentation; and the starry heavens will become an object to which good men can look up only with feelings of intolerable guilt, agonized pity, and burning shame.
Of course after the first debauch of exploitation we shall make some belated attempt to do better. We shall perhaps send missionaries. But can even missionaries be trusted? ‘Gun and gospel’ have been horribly combined in the past. The missionary’s holy desire to save souls has not always been kept quite distinct from the arrogant desire, the busybody’s itch, to (as he calls it) ‘civilise’ the (as he calls them) ‘natives’. Would all our missionaries recognise an unfallen race if they met it? Could they? Would they continue to press upon creatures that did not need to be saved that plan of Salvation which God has appointed for Man? Would they denounce as sins mere differences of behaviour which the spiritual and biological history of these strange creatures fully justified and which God Himself had blessed? Would they try to teach those from whom they had better learn? I do not know.
What I do know is that here and now, as our only possible practical preparation for such a meeting, you and I should resolve to stand firm against all exploitation and all theological imperialism. It will not be fun. We shall be called traitors to our own species. We shall be hated of almost all men; even of some religious men. And we must not give back one single inch. We shall probably fail, but let us go down fighting for the right side. Our loyalty is due not to our species but to God. Those who are, or can become, His sons, are our real brothers even if they have shells or tusks. It is spiritual, not biological, kinship that counts.
But let us thank God that we are still very far from travel to other worlds.
I have wondered before now whether the vast astronomical distances may not be God’s quarantine precautions. They prevent the spiritual infection of a fallen species from spreading. And of course we are also very far from the supposed theological problem which contact with other rational species might raise. Such species may not exist. There is not at present a shred of empirical evidence that they do. There is nothing but what thelogicians would call arguments from ‘a priori probability’—arguments that begin ‘It is only natural to suppose’, or ‘All analogy suggests’, or ‘Is it not the height of arrogance to rule out—?’ They make very good reading. But who except a born gambler ever risks five dollars on such grounds in ordinary life?
And, as we have seen, the mere existence of these creatures would not raise a problem. After that, we still need to know that they are fallen; then, that they have not been, or will not be, redeemed in the mode we know; and then, that no other mode is possible. I think a Christian is sitting pretty if his faith never encounters more formidable difficulties than these conjectural phantoms.
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.
‘But supposing,’ you say. ‘Supposing all these embarrassing suppositions turned out to be true?’ I can only record a conviction that they won’t; a conviction which has for me become in the course of years irresistible.Christians and their opponents again and again expect that some new discovery will either turn matters of faith into matters of knowledge or else reduce them to patent absurdities. But it has never happened.
What we believe always remains intellectually possible; it never becomes intellectually compulsive. I have an idea that when this ceases to be so, the world will be ending. We have been warned that all but conclusive evidence against Christianity, evidence that would deceive (if it were possible) the very elect, will appear with Antichrist.
And after that there will be wholly conclusive evidence on the other side.
But not, I fancy, till then on either side.
SPURGEON: I suppose you are all aware that among the old systems of astronomy was one which placed the earth in the centre, and made the sun, and the moon, and the stars revolve around it. “Its three fundamental principles were the immobility of the earth, its central position, and the daily revolution of all the heavenly bodies around it in circular orbits.”
Now, in a similar fashion, there is a way of making a system of theology of which man is the centre, by which it is implied that Christ and his atoning sacrifice are only made for man’s sake, and that the Holy Spirit is merely a great Worker on man’s behalf, and that even the great and glorious Father is to be viewed simply as existing for the sake of making man happy. Well, that may be the system of theology adopted by some; but, brethren, we must not fall into that error, for, just as the earth is not the centre of the universe, so man is not the grandest of all beings. God has been pleased highly to exalt man; but we must remember how the psalmist speaks of him: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him; and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” In another place, David says, “Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him! Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away.” Man cannot be the centre of the theological universe, he is altogether too insignificant a being to occupy such a position, and the scheme of redemption must exist for some other end than that of merely making man happy, or even of making him holy. The salvation of man must surely be first of all for the glory of God; and you have discovered the right form of Christian doctrine when you have found the system that has God in the centre, ruling and controlling according to the good pleasure of his will. Do not dwarf man so as to make it appear that God has no care for him; for if you do that, you slander God. Give to man the position that God has assigned to him; by doing so, you will have a system of theology in which all the truths of revelation and experience will move in glorious order and harmony around the great central orb, the Divine Sovereign Ruler of the universe, God over all, blessed for ever.
C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students: The Art of Illustration; Addresses Delivered to the Students of the Pastors’ College, Metropolitan Tabernacle, vol. 3 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1905), 149.
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