Monday, January 25, 2010

What would be the theological impact if we found extraterrestrial life?

I just read a short piece on the BBC's website about how we're more likely than ever to find some sort of alien life forms off of planet earth. As Christians, what would be the impact on our theology? In particular, how would it impact our understanding of our uniqueness as creatures made in the image of God as distinct from the rest of the earthly creation? In popular fiction as well as in various 3rd kind encounters, not to mention abduction accounts, the aliens always look remarkably like us. I believe, by the way, that this is a typical anthropomorphism of our hopes and fears and most likely has no basis in actual reality, but ascribing humanesque qualities to otherworldly creatures. Since westerners largely don't believe in angels anymore, aliens have taken their place. Nonetheless, if there are planets orbiting other stars similar to our own sun that are themselves similar to our own planet earth, and the universe is as vast as we've come to understand, then it makes sense to expect that some form of sentient life forms must have developed on those planets as it has here. And since our planet and star seem to be relatively average in comparison to what we've discovered so far, it seems pretty obvious that it's just as likely that other worlds have evolved just as much as ours if not more so. So with this in mind, if (and I would say when) a new world is discovered that has biological life, what does that do to our understanding of the Biblical text? Are the Judeo-Christian scriptures able to handle this kind of development? I would say that it can. But then again, I'm a Christian. I would say that. Christianity, after all, survived the Copernican revolution. And it seems to be surviving the Darwinian revolution as well, though with some bumps in the journey. Will Christianity adapt to and survive the exo-biological revolution?


Kessee said...

For the LDS / Mormons it would be an actual validation to our doctrine.

(Found in the LDS scripture 'Pearl Of Great Price')
Moses:Chapter 1: Verse 32
'And by the word of my power, have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of bgrace and truth.
33 And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.
34 And the first man of all men have I called Adam, which is many.
35 But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.'

(not the answer you are looking for, but you put it out there to be responded to.)

John Dao said...

Pretty sure Jesus was an alien. Dunno where this Heaven planet is, but he had no business coming down here to save us from our sins.

John 10:16 leaves room in it's interpretation for the existence of aliens, but I don't think that's what Jesus is talking about... or is it?

Irenicum said...

Kessee, Greetings fellow Lizard! Thanks for the specific link to a Mormon document concerning extraterrestrial life. As an evangelical Christian I obviously don't subscribe to distinctive Mormon beliefs, but I appreciate your including that info. Are you familiar with Michael Heiser? He's written on this issue in some depth. He's popular with Mormon readers but is himself an evangelical Christian.
John, haha! But, surprising as it seems, just tonight I read someone using John 10:16 as a text in support of that idea.
As an aside, Rod Dreher wrote today on this topic as well. Here's the link:

Kessee said...

I'll have to look Mr. Heiser up.

LGF nic: Oh no...Sand People! (Should have thrown that out there the first time...sorry about that.)

Kessee said...

Sorry, another comment aimed at the John 10:16 thing. (Granted this has no bearing if you believe this stuff was just fabricated out of the old fraudster Joseph Smiths mind...)

LDS Scripture found in the Book of Mormon: Third book of Nephi: Chapter 15 Versus: 16 - 24:

16 This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them:
17 That other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
18 And now, because of stiffneckedness and unbelief they understood not my word; therefore I was commanded to say no more of the Father concerning this thing unto them.
19 But, verily, I say unto you that the Father hath commanded me, and I tell it unto you, that ye were separated from among them because of their iniquity; therefore it is because of their iniquity that they know not of you.
20 And verily, I say unto you again that the other tribes hath the Father separated from them; and it is because of their iniquity that they know not of them.
21 And verily I say unto you, that ye are they of whom I said: Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
22 And they understood me not, for they supposed it had been the Gentiles; for they understood not that the Gentiles should be converted through their preaching.
23 And they understood me not that I said they shall hear my voice; and they understood me not that the Gentiles should not at any time hear my voice—that I should not manifest myself unto them save it were by the Holy Ghost.
24 But behold, ye have both heard amy voice, and seen me; and ye are my sheep, and ye are numbered among those whom the Father hath given me.