Many people, Christian or otherwise, struggle with the notion that the earth is the only inhabited planet in this enormous universe. In short, is there life on other planets?
Those who believe life evolved on the earth usually see it as virtual ‘fact’ that life has evolved on countless other planets. Discovering life on other planets would in turn be seen as confirming their evolutionary belief.
But even many Christians think, ‘God must have created life elsewhere, otherwise this enormous universe would be an awful waste of space.’ In my experience, this seems to be the major underlying reason why people think that there must be other life ‘out there’. However, our thinking should be based on what God said He did (the Bible), and not what we think He would, should or might have done.
Firstly, since God is the one who made the universe, it can scarcely be ‘big’ to Him. Humans struggle with its vastness because our comprehension is limited to the created time/space dimensions within which we exist, and it is mind-bending to try and comprehend anything beyond our dimensional existence. Size is only relative to us as inhabitants of this universe. And size and time are related somewhat. Because the universe is big to us we consider how long it would take us to travel across it, for example. But, time itself began with the creation of the physical universe, so how can we comprehend what eternity is, or might be? What was ‘before’ the universe? Similarly, how do we imagine how ‘big’ God is? We cannot use a tape measure that is made of the very atoms He made to measure Him. One example of this might be if you were asked to build a small house and you did. Now you are asked to build a large house. In our dimensions, for you to build the larger house it would require more effort and take more time. So, is it harder, or does it take longer for God to build a big universe compared to a smaller one (according to our perspective on what constitutes large or small of course)? Of course not, because He isn’t bound by time and space (which He created). Isaiah 40:28 says; ‘… the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not grow weak nor weary …’.
We are impressed that God made billions of galaxies with billions of stars in them and suitably so, because that is one of the reasons for making them. But as mentioned, size is not an issue for God. Stars are relatively simple structures as they are just great big balls of gas. It would take more ‘creative input’, in that sense, for Jesus’ miracle of feeding the five thousand than for the creation of countless quasars (there is immense genetic complexity in the structure of even a dead fish).
The Bible and ETs
It is often asked, ‘Just because the Bible teaches about God creating intelligent life only on Earth, why couldn’t He have done so elsewhere?’ After all, Scripture does not discuss everything, e.g. motorcars. However, the biblical objection to ET is not merely an argument from silence. Motor cars, for example, are not a salvation issue, but we believe that sentient,intelligent, moral-decision-capable beings is, because it would undermine the authority of Scripture. In short, understanding the big picture of the Bible/gospel message allows us to conclude clearly that the reason the Bible doesn’t mention extraterrestrials (ETs) is that there aren’t any.1 Surely, if the earth were to be favoured with a visitation by real extraterrestrials from a galaxy far, far away, then one would reasonably expect that the Bible, and God in His sovereignty and foreknowledge, to mention such a momentous occasion, because it would clearly redefine man’s place in the universe.
- The Bible indicates that the whole creation groans and travails under the weight of sin (Romans 8:18–22). The effect of the Curse following Adam’s Fall was universal.2 Otherwise what would be the point of God destroying this whole creation to make way for a new heavens and Earth—2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1 ff? Therefore, any ETs living elsewhere would have been (unjustly) affected by the Adamic Curse through no fault of their own—they would not have inherited Adam’s sin nature.
- When Christ (God) appeared in the flesh, He came to Earth not only to redeem mankind but eventually the whole creation back to Himself (Romans 8:21, Colossians 1:20). However, Christ’s atoning death at Calvary cannot save these hypothetical ETs, because one needs to be a physical descendant of Adam for Christ to be our ‘kinsman-redeemer’ (Isaiah 59:20). Jesus was called ‘the last Adam’ because there was a real first man, Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22,45)—not a first Vulcan, Klingon etc. This is so a sinless human Substitute takes on the punishment all humans deserve for sin (Isaiah 53:6,10; Matthew 20:28; 1 John 2:2, 4:10), with no need to atone for any (non-existent) sin of his own (Hebrews 7:27).
- Since this would mean that any ETs would be lost for eternity when this present creation is destroyed in a fervent heat (2 Peter 3:10, 12), some have wondered whether Christ’s sacrifice might be repeated elsewhere for other beings. However, Christ died once for all (Romans 6:10, 1 Peter 3:18) on the earth. He is not going to be crucified and resurrected again on other planets (Hebrews 9:26). This is confirmed by the fact that the redeemed (earthly) church is known as Christ’s bride (Ephesians 5:22–33; Revelation 19:7–9) in a marriage that will last for eternity.3 Christ is not going to be a polygamist with many other brides from other planets.
- The Bible makes no provision for God to redeem any other species, any more than to redeem fallen angels (Hebrews 2:16).
Fitting them in there … somehow!
One attempt to fit ETs in the Bible is on the basis of a word in Hebrews 11:3: ‘Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.’
The word ‘worlds’ appears in the KJV translation and some others, and some claim that it refers to other inhabitable planets. However, the word is αἰῶν (aiōn), from which we derive the word ‘eons’. Thus modern translations render the word as ‘universe’ (entire space-time continuum) because it correctly describes ‘everything that exists in time and space, visible and invisible, present and eternal’. Even if it was referring to other planets, it is an unwarranted extrapolation to presume intelligent life on them.
It should also be remembered that expressions like “the heavens and earth” (Genesis 1:1) are a figure of speech known as a merism. This occurs when two opposites or extremes are combined to represent the whole or the sum of its parts. For example, if I said “I painted the whole building from top to bottom.” One would understand this to mean everything in the whole building. Similarly, biblical Hebrew has no word for ‘the universe’ and can at best say ‘the all’, so instead it used the merism “the heavens and the earth”. It is clear that New Testament passages like the aforementioned Romans 8:18–22 and Hebrews 11:3 are pointing back to the Genesis (“heavens and earth”) creation, and thus, everything that God made and when time as we know it began. See this further explanation.
Another is the passage in John 10:16 in which Jesus says, ‘I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.’ However, even an ET-believing astronomer at the Vatican (thus a ‘hostile witness’ to the ‘no ETs cause’), a Jesuit priest by the name of Guy Consalmagno, concedes, ‘In context, these “other sheep” are presumably a reference to the Gentiles, not extraterrestrials.’4 Jesus’ teaching was causing division among the Jews (vs. 19), because they always believed that salvation from God was for them alone. Jesus was reaffirming that He would be the Saviour of allmankind.
A novel approach
A more recent idea to allow for ETs arose out of a perceived need to protect Christianity in the event of a real alien visitation to Earth. Michael S. Heiser is an influential Christian UFOlogist/speaker with a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages. He claims that the arguments put forward earlier might not apply to God-created aliens. Because they are not descendants of Adam they have not inherited his sin nature, and thus, are not morally guilty before God. Just like ‘bunny rabbits’ on the earth, they do not need salvation—even though they will die, they are going to neither heaven nor hell.
On the surface this seems a compelling argument; after all, fallen angels are intelligent but are beyond salvation (“For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.” Hebrews 2:16). Angels are immortal and not of our corporeal dimension. And Heiser’s ETs in spaceships require a level of intelligence not found in rabbits. This acutely highlights the injustice of their suffering the effects of the Curse, including death and ultimately extinction when the heavens are ‘rolled up like a scroll’ (Revelation 6:14). It also seems bizarre to assign no moral responsibility for the actions of highly intelligent beings.
Heiser also claims that vastly intelligent ETs would not displace mankind’s position as being made in the image of God because ‘image’ just means humans have been placed as God’s representatives on the earth.
However, the Bible says we are made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). Man was immediately created a fully intelligent being about 6,000 years ago and was involved in craftsmanship shortly thereafter (Genesis 4:22). Since that time, even we have not been able to develop technologies advanced enough to travel to other star systems. If aliens were capable of developing incredible faster-than-light spaceships needed to get here, one would presume they must have been created with vastly superior intellect to ours—which would make them even more in God’s likeness in that sense than we are. Or, their creation is much older than the 6,000 years of the biblical six-day timeframe; the aliens were created before man and had sufficient time to develop their technologies. However, God created Earth on Day 1 and later the heavenly bodies on Day 4.
Influenced from outside the Bible
Although Heiser does not promote theistic evolution, he is sympathetic to a universe billions of years old, as proposed by the progressive creationist Dr Hugh Ross.5 In theory, this could allow the time necessary for any unseen ETs to develop the almost science-fiction-like technologies required to get here. But, this is circular reasoning.
There is a huge problem for the Gospel in these long ages. First, it’s important to understand that modern scientific idea of long ages (i.e. millions and billions of years) derived from the belief that sedimentary rock layers on Earth represent eons of time.6 This in turn derived from the dogmatic assumption that there were no special acts of creation or a global Flood, so that Earth’s features must be explained by processes seen to be happening now.7 This philosophy of uniformitarianismseems to amply fulfil the Apostle Peter’s prophecy recorded in 2 Peter 3:3–7.
The conflict with the Gospel is that these very same rock layers contain fossils—a record of dead things showing evidence of violence, disease and suffering. Thus, taking a millions-of-years view, even without evolution, places death and suffering long before the Fall of Adam. This undermines the Gospel and the very reasons that Christ came to the earth—such as reversing the effects of the Curse. Romans 5:12 clearly states that sin and death entered into the creation as a result of Adam’s actions. There was no death before the Fall.
Ranking the created order
Psalm 8:5 says that man was made a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honour. Heiser has said that salvation is based upon ranking, not intelligence. If so, where in the Bible (which omits to mention them) would ET sit in this pecking order? Would they be higher than man, and lower than angels, for example? If these advanced ETs were capable of visiting the earth, mankind would now be subject to their dominion. (Even if the ETs were friendly, potentially they would be much more powerful due to their intelligence and technology.) This would be in direct contravention to God’s ordained authority structure when he ordered mankind to ‘subdue’ the earth—also known as the dominion mandate (Genesis 1:28).
Be ‘awe’ inspired
Psalm 19:1 tells us a major reason that the universe is so vast: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.’ There are many similar passages in Scripture. They help us understand who God is and how powerful He is.
It reminds us that the more we discover about this incredible universe, the more we should be in awe of the One who made it all. In short rather than looking up and wondering ‘I wonder what else is out there?’ and imaginary aliens we’ve never seen. We should instead be considering the very One that made it all.