Would the Discovery of Alien Life Undermine Christian Theology?

On Thursday, July 23rd, 2015, NASA announced a major discovery. NASA announced that scientists had discovered another Earth-sized planet “orbiting a sun-like star brings us closer than ever to finding a twin of our own watery world” (Brennan 2015). Astronomers have named the planet Kepler-452b. What is especially interesting about the planet is that it is in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone” which is an area from the sun that is just right to allow water on the planet.  Too far away from the host star and any potential water would freeze. Too close to the star and any potential water would burn out.  NASA said nothing about alien life except that Kepler-452b receives “about 90 percent of the energy we get from the sun. That’s a point in favor of life, if the planet’s atmosphere is something like ours” (Brennan 2015). From the previous point, many sensationalist websites proclaimed that alien life had been found. But a further reading of NASA’s statement indicates that such an announcement is premature since “The planet’s true size and density remain unknown, however, which means it could still turn out to be a gas planet, hostile to like as we know it. And powerful magnetic fluxes also could mean periodic drop-offs in the amount of energy reaching the planet, by as much as 40 percent. These drop-offs could last for months” (Brennan 2015). In addition, the planet is around 500 light years away which would take us around 2,932,848,000,000,000 (2 quadrillion, 932 trillion, 848 billion) years to arrive at Kepler-452b. While life on Kepler-452b is highly unlikely, many have posed the question, “What if alien life is discovered in the universe? Would it affect or destroy Christian theology that holds that human life is made imagio dei (in the image of God)?” While it is highly unlikely that one would discover alien life in the universe, it is not impossible. Such a topic is, at least at the time of this writing, a theological exercise. But if alien life were to be discovered, obviously it would affect everyone—much as Columbus’ discovery of the New World sent shock waves to Europe. However, I do not think that the discovery of alien life would destroy Christianity or religion in general, for the following reasons.

God is a big God.

If there is one thing that the Bible notes, it is that God is a big God. John writes that “All things were created through Him, and without Him nothing was created that was created” (John 1:3, MEV).[1] John demonstrates that God is the source behind the existence of everything in existence. Therefore, God would be the creator of alien life in the universe, should such life exist. Thus, Christianity is not damaged by the existence of alien life should it exist.

The Bible mentions of other forms of life in existence.

Before going any farther on the topic, understand that other kinds of life exist on earth. All kinds of animals exist. Yet, one would rightly note, “Yes, but they are all on this planet.” Nevertheless, if alien life were on the same level as the beast of earth, the bird of air, or the fish of sea, then it would appear only that animal life exists on other planets. Perhaps there is a planet where dinosaurs roam. Perhaps animal life of exotic natures exists on other planets. If so, then it fails me to see how such species on the same level as animals could affect Christian theology.

In this realm, one may ask, “Yes, but what if sentient life is discovered?” Such a discovery would bring far more questions. Yet, it must be remembered that the Bible has already noted the existence of sentient life in the universe outside the boundaries of the homo sapien. Countless angels and demons are listed in the Bible. In fact, around the throne of God, the Bible mentions the existence of “twenty-four elders and the four living creatures” (Revelation 19:4, ESV).[2] Thus, the existence of sentient beings outside of earth would not destroy Christian theology.

The question of sin.

If alien life is discovered and the alien lives were animals, then nothing more is necessary in the theological exercise. However, if aliens were discovered and they were sentient beings, then there is the question of sin. Did the aliens rebel against God? Even if they did not, sin has infected the entire universe. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22, NIV).[3] In addition, all life will eventually be affected as God creates a “new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1, MEV). If the sentient aliens were to fall under the category of rebellious sentient beings, then another question pertaining to Christ must be posed.

The biggest question: how far does Christ’s sacrifice extend?

If sentient life were to be discovered on other planets, then another series of questions should be asked. Are these creatures made imagio dei? Have these creatures rebelled against God? If so, could God have allowed humans and the other sentient beings to meet to allow for their salvation? It would appear so. C. S. Lewis came with the same conclusions in the early 1900s. C. S. Lewis writes with Jonathan Merritt’s commentary, “How can we, without absurd arrogance, believe ourselves to have been uniquely favored?” If humans did find alien animal life (he believed discovering alien plant life would be theological insignificant), Lewis said, they would need to determine if these alien beings were rational, have “spiritual sense,” and are fallen like humans are” (Merritt 2014). To find more about Lewis’ writings on the issue, read his book The World’s Last Night. If alien life were to be spiritual, then they are most likely fallen. If they are fallen, then one would think that the sacrifice of Christ would extend even to the alien race. When it is said that God so loved the world in John 3:16, the term translated world is “cosmos” which can refer to the entire universe. Thus, it is entirely possible that alien exploration…if aliens are sentient beings…could turn into a missionary endeavor.

Conclusion

Some may read this article and think, “Wow, all of this is far-fetched.” It may very well be. However, what I have intended to demonstrate in this article is that the existence of alien life, should such be discovered, is not the death nail in the heart of Christianity that many antagonists suppose. It is not the garlic laden spike to the heart of the Christianity to the minds of those who suppose as much. In fact, Christianity realizes that God is a big God. God is the creator of all that is. Therefore, it may be time for Christians to realize that God is a very big God and for skeptics to realize the same.

Sources Cited

Brennan, Pat. “Finding Another Earth.” Edited by Tony Greicius. NASA.gov (July 27, 2015). Accessed July 27, 2015. http://www.nasa.gov/jpl/finding-another-earth.

Merritt, Jonathan. “What C. S. Lewis Thought about Space Exploration and Aliens.” RNS (November 25, 2014). Accessed July 27, 2015. http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/11/25/c-s-lewis-thought-space-exploration-aliens/#sthash.prJ19nfq.dpuf.

© July 27, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Scriptures marked MEV come from the Modern English Version (Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014).

[2] Scriptures marked ESV come from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[3] Scriptures marked NIV come from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).

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3 thoughts on “Would the Discovery of Alien Life Undermine Christian Theology?”

  1. Have you read Out of the Silent Planet or Perelandra by C.S. Lewis? These are awesome stories that explore the questions you ask.

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