Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Implications for Christians (especially for Jesus as the son of God)

What would the implications be for Christianity and its doctrines if extraterrestrial intelligent life was discovered? Have Christian scholars considered the question?

I am not a Christian and know very little about the religion. As I understand it, though, a core belief - perhaps THE core belief - of Christianity is that Jesus is, at once, both the human son of God and and the incarnation of God.

I believe it is also the case that Christians declare that God gave his ONLY son (to humanity). In other words, not only was Jesus human, but his life and death cemented God’s unique relationship with humanity.

If I am right about those things, how would the fact that Jesus was a human square with the fact that the Universe contains non-human intelligent life? Would Christian belief mandate that even non-humans embrace Christ as their Lord and Saviour?

Indeed, it would seem to me that by virtue of humanity’s unique relationship with God (via Jesus), any non-human species would necessarily be lesser than humans; or at least less close to God than humans.

All this seems rather parochial to me so I am curious to know if Christian scholars have given the matter thought and, if so, what types of ideas have they put forth with respect to it.

(Of course, it would also be interesting to know how an intelligent but non-human species would respond to beliefs such as I note above. But that’s a different thread. And, speaking of different threads, yes, I know there have been discussions on this Board concerning extraterrestrial intelligence and religion. In this one, though, as stated in its title, I would like to focus on Jesus vis a vis extraterrestrial intelligence).

In Clarke’s “Rendez-vous with Rama”, a catholic astronaut tasked with investigating an object that appears to be an alien ship gets an audience with the pope, and asks him about the implication of the existence of ET life for catholic faith. The pope answers him that if there are intelligent aliens, they must be subject to the original sin too and have been redeemed by Jesus’ sacrifice too (and Jesus would have incarnated too on their homeworld : basically one Jesus, but two sacrifices).

It so happens that I read this novel at a time when a new mission had launched to or had landed on Mars (can’t remember which), as usual searching for evidences of life. And in an article about it, I read that some commission or another had met in Rome to discuss the topic. And to my surprise, their conclusion was essentially the same as what the pope says in Clarke’s novel.

Obviously some bishops debating an hypothetical in Rome don’t make a doctrine. But nevertheless, it means that serious theologians can consider this as a valid way to integrate the existence of ET intelligence into a catholic view of the world.

For the record, that scene isn’t actually from Rendesvous with Rama - it’s from the far inferior sequel trilogy ghostwritten by Gentry Lee.

C. S. Lewis explored this question in his so-called Space Trilogy of novels (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandria, and That Hideous Strength). In short, he posited that not all worlds have had a Fall, and that not all Falls were equal. In his books, the Martian races had only a very slight Fall, from which redemption was a minor matter, while Earthlings had a much greater Fall, necessitating such a great measure as the Incarnation and Crucifixion for redemption, and the Venusians had not yet Fallen at all, but if they did, their Fall would be far more profound than even our own, and require yet a greater Redemption.

Given the subject matter, I’ve moved this to Great Debates from General Questions.

samclem, moderator

Lewis also directly addressed the question in an essay called “Religion and Rocketry,” which appears to be posted in its entirety here.

Yet another science-fictional exploration was James Blish’s “A Case of Conscience.”

The first time Jesus showed up, he did it at a time and place where they hadn’t found more than half the continents on the Earth yet. Modern Christianity doesn’t seem to have a problem with the implication that God was content to wait 1,500 years before he could start saving people in the Americas and Australia. I’m guessing the same reasoning that squares that away can be stretched to cover any potential sinners that turn up on Alpha Centauri a few centuries from now.

One of the key issues (to me at least) is why any Christian scholar would expect, let alone convince, an alien species to worship another species, i.e. to worship the human named Jesus.

Along the same lines, how might a Christian defender (for lack of a better word) rationalize that of all the trillions of stars, it was the one that our planet revolves around, that God views as special? And that he has a unique relationship with the inhabitants of that planet, i.e. with humans?

I suspect the Klingons would not be convinced by the clearest of arguments.

Christians will adapt their beliefs to the new information, and if you point out how this creates inconsistencies, well… that’s never matter to them before, so why would it now?

I believe that’s addressed by the essay I linked to earlier.

The Klingons decided their gods were a nuisance and killed them.

I think that would be the general idea. What always happens as our state of knowledge advances is that Biblical doctrines become interpreted more and more figuratively among mainstream believers so as to clear the increasingly higher bar of better objective factual knowledge. Since long before the persecution of Galileo, religion has constantly retreated before the onslaught of knowledge and maintained a viable narrative. And IMHO, that’s not a bad thing – as long as religion acknowledges scientific evidence and is willing to come to terms with it, let it carry on with whatever benefits it brings to its followers.

The OP goes hand in hand with a question I asked of true believers long ago: if God has always existed, what was he doing before he created the Earth? He certainly wasn’t just sitting around for a centillion of eternal eternities doing nothing, was he?

IMHO the very existence of an intelligent-design creator makes life elsewhere far more apt.

It would probably be far easier to just admit that this whole business is a myth and always has been, but I’m sure they’ll take another kick at the cat. If the church can create the concept of Immaculate Conception to explain Mary’s “free from original sin” state, once egg cells were discovered, meaning both males and females supplied genetic material to human beings, then they can come up with something to explain intelligent extraterrestrial life. The sun used to revolve around us, you know, and the church manouvered it’s way out of that one.

It is better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s knees.

Back when I was a bible-thumping born-again Baptist, I belonged to a group that used to perform religion-based skits, in front of Christian audiences (usually teenagers). One of our most popular skits involved an alien visiting Earth whose was decidedly unimpressed with the humans’ technology, culture, et cetera, until one of the humans mentions the fact that Earth just happens to be the one planet where Jehovah sent Jesus. Suddenly, the alien is extremely impressed at how special this planet is because he’s heard stories about Jesus but didn’t know which planet the stories took place on. And then the alien asks how the humans reacted, hears the answer “we crucified him” and then everyone on stage gets really sad. The End.

Considering how Christianity had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the realization that the Earth isn’t the center of the universe, and still hasn’t fully accepted the idea that humans were created by the same process which created horses, snakes, and starfish… I’d say the most likely reaction to ETs is that Christians will insist that ETs don’t have souls.

It depends on the Christians.

From what I’ve seen of the intersection of right-wing radio, fundamentalist sites, and conspiracy theory communities, one of the more popular idea is that aliens are demons. Aliens aren’t humans, they’re not angels since angels can only follow God’s will, so that narrows things down quite a bit. Search “aliens are demons,” there’s been a lot written on it.

Liberal branches won’t have any problem squaring the circle. They’d grab onto any similarity. “See? They also have the golden rule!” Even if only to try to curry favor with them. I bet every world religion would be in a contest to show how they most align with alien culture, assuming they weren’t throwing rocks at us anyway.

This really isn’t that different from believing you and yours have a special relationship out of 7 billion people and hundreds of other wrong religions, not to mention the time dimension – all the extinct religions over thousands of years of human history, all wrong.

Given the history of colonization between weak and strong civilizations, it’s more likely we’ll be forced to worship theirs.

Well, I’m not a Christian, I’m sort of an animist – but I’ll never understand why people find it so hard to just let each others’ deities be true (for them.)

I have no problem going into a place of someone else’s faith (church, grotto, altar, sweatlodge, etc.) and being respectful to whatever numenous manifestation resides there. You know, nod and greet the genius loci. It doesn’t take anything away from my relationship with the divine for others to also have a relationship with the divine – by any other name or with any other face, too.

Far as I’m concerned, an alien species with their own deity or pantheon just makes life that much more interesting.

Raises an interesting question: what if the aliens claim to be the intelligent designers of life on Earth and can demonstrate their techniques? Will ID proponents say "“cool” or will they acknowledge that all along when they said “intelligent designer”, they really meant “God”?