If aliens landed on the South Lawn of the White House tomorrow, would it be “game over” for the Christian faith?
Many people assume the discovery of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, generated through natural-process evolution, would eliminate the need for a supernatural Creator. The probability of a universe with extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) is a matter of scientific debate, with no data yet supporting it.1 But let’s say for the purposes of discussion that ETI does, in fact, exist. Would this compromise historic Christianity?
It’s interesting to observe the way alien beings are often described––as having super, almost godlike, intelligence. Prominent physicist Paul Davies asserts, “Who can guess what scientific and philosophical insights might be imparted to us from a community with billions of years of contemplative existence?”2
Popular science writer Carl Sagan said that “it would change everything. We would be hearing from other beings, independently evolved over millions of years, viewing the Universe perhaps very differently, probably much smarter, certainly not human.”3
From the standpoint of the Christian worldview, there are at least three key theological issues at stake.
- Sin: Adam and Eve plunged all of their progeny into sin. Many wonder: Would the same be true of ETI? It certainly seems possible, since we know that humans aren’t the only ones marred by sin. Lucifer and his followers also rebelled against God’s commands.
- Salvation: If alien creatures do exist, and if they are fallen, that doesn’t automatically mean they are part of God’s salvation plan. The fallen angels, for example, do not benefit from Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. So while we cannot definitely answer whether alien beings would be saved, it doesn’t undermine the credibility of Christianity if they aren’t.
- The Incarnation of Christ: When Jesus came to earth, He came as the God-man. While remaining fully God, Jesus took on a human nature, but one untainted by the sin of Adam (Philippians 2:5-11). In order to die for humanity, Christ took on the form of the beings He intended to save.4 Some have suggested that Jesus went to other planets to die for the sins of those creatures as well. But if that’s the case, then it seems that He would have had to take on their nature as well. Such an idea seems awkward, given that Christian theology affirms that Christ retains His divine and human natures forever.
In short, science doesn’t support the notion of life elsewhere in the universe. But, if there is––Reasons To Believe scholars document the demonic nature of a tiny fraction of residual UFO sightings and abductions5––those creatures are still under the authority of their Creator just as we are. For even the demons believe in God and tremble (James 2:19).
- Some of this debate is summarized in a book by Hugh Ross, Kenneth Richard Samples, and Mark Clark, Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002).
- Paul Davies, Are We Alone? (New York: Basic Books, 1996), 54.
- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot (New York: Ballantine Books, 1997), 300.
- St. Athanasius, The Incarnation of the Word of God (New York: Macmillan, 1959).
- Ross, Samples, and Clark, 107–58.