The thought that aliens might be living on other planets may sound innocent enough. But lurking underneath are some deep theological dangers.
A 2012 survey reported that more than a third of Americans believe aliens have visited the earth, and only about one-fifth do not (the rest were undecided). With ET believers outnumbering non-believers nearly two-to-one, the intense fascination with aliens is obvious. Aliens permeate our society, as evidenced by warm and fuzzy—and sometimes not-so-fuzzy—ETs on every Cineplex marquee.
Given all this hype, should Christians care? Does the Bible have anything to say? In case you’re worried that you might have missed the Bible’s account of an alien visitation, let me assure you that it does not actually mention ETs or flying saucers. However, as with so many other issues, biblical principles help answer whether flying saucers and ETs are real. It’s not a trivial question.
First, let me clarify a few terms. A UFO is not the same thing as a flying saucer. UFO stands for Unidentified Flying Object. Whenever a person sees an object in the sky and he doesn’t know what it is, it is a UFO. Once a UFO is identified, it becomes an IFO, or Identified Flying Object. Many objects can be UFOs—bright stars, planets, satellites, meteors, auroras, aircraft, and weather balloons, to name just a few. When a UFO remains unidentified, it does not mean that it is a flying saucer—it just means that we have not yet figured out what it was. What is a flying saucer? That is not a precise term, but it generally is understood to be a spacecraft piloted by an alien. Another term for an alien is an ET, or extraterrestrial.
Assuming for the moment that flying saucers and ETs are real, where do they come from? The obvious answer is that they must come from other planets, so this issue is more a question of whether life exists on other planets. For about three centuries, people have been aware that planets might orbit other stars. However, this suspicion was not confirmed until the mid-1990s, when astronomers first discovered an extrasolar planet, a planet orbiting another star. We now know of nearly 2,000 extrasolar planets, with new discoveries frequently being made. It now appears that extrasolar planets may be common.
Most arguments in favor of life existing on other planets rely upon probability. Given the trillions of stars in the universe and the likelihood that many of those stars have orbiting planets, what is the probability that we are alone in the universe? But this approach assumes that life naturally arises wherever the conditions are conducive for life to exist.
From the Bible, we know that this is not how life came about on the earth. Rather, God specially created life on this planet. It would be inconsistent to believe that God created life on earth but that life arose naturally on other worlds. So if life exists elsewhere, God must have created it too.
That makes the existence of ETs a theological question, and a very serious one.
God certainly could have created life on other planets, but is this consistent with what we know about the purpose of God’s works?
In the beginning, God created the earth first, and He made the heavenly bodies throughout the rest of the universe to serve the inhabitants of earth (Genesis 1:14–19). Isaiah 45:18 makes a distinction between God’s role for the earth and the heavens (the rest of the universe). It says that God did not create the earth in vain, but that He made it to be inhabited. While the Bible is not geocentric (placing the earth at the physical center of the universe), the earth is the center of God’s attention. Humans—and not ETs—are God’s primary concern in the universe.
This raises a host of other theological questions. According to Romans 8:18–22, Adam’s sin affected the entire universe. What effect did man’s fall and the subsequent curse have on ETs? Did they fall because of Adam’s sin, or was there an Adam-like ET that sinned on each inhabited planet? Holding ETs accountable for Adam’s sin does not seem just. To ETs, Adam would amount to an alien. A gospel message that begins, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .” trivializes the gospel.
Equally trivial would be to propose an Adam among every alien race who sinned and brought each respective race under the penalty of death. In order to secure their salvation, Jesus would have to be born, live, die, and rise again on countless planets. Even skeptics have noted that this is the logical consequence of believing in human-like beings on other worlds. For instance, John Adams observed in his diary on April 24, 1756, that if many other worlds were inhabited as people then thought, then Jesus would have to die on each of those worlds. Effectively, this questions whether the existence of ETs can be compatible with the gospel of the New Testament.
This is a fair question to ask. Unfortunately, while many skeptics raise this question, few Christians take it seriously. Skeptics use it to ridicule Christianity. If life is common in the universe, they conclude it’s just as probable there is no God. However, you can answer the question in a very different way. If the God of the Bible and the gospel are real, then ETs are not.
We can glean many more principles from the Bible that seem to close the case against ETs. Jesus told His disciples that He would leave to prepare a place for them in heaven (John 14:2–3). Furthermore, Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19; Acts 2:33). Jesus’ place is now with the Father in heaven; His work is complete. This would seem to preclude multiple missions of redemption on other worlds. Finally, Hebrews 10:12 states that Jesus made one sacrifice for sin forever. That clearly rules out Jesus’ repeating His sacrifice in other places throughout the cosmos.
If ETs are not real, then what should we make of numerous unexplained UFO sightings? First, realize again that an unexplained UFO sighting does not constitute a genuine flying saucer. Just because we have not explained a sighting by means other than a flying saucer, that does not mean that such an explanation is not possible. Second, many hoaxers and hucksters have promoted UFO sightings, some just for fun but others because it’s such a lucrative business.
Satanic deception may also be at play. Most people who strongly believe in alien visitations believe in evolution and reject the authority of Scripture. They are well aware that alien life conflicts with the teachings of the Bible. To them, the reality of ETs disproves the Bible. Given that belief in ETs is so powerful in turning people away from the truth, the possibility of satanic deception is quite real.
So while alien visitations might have a fun place in frivolous fiction, the heart-felt belief that life really does exist elsewhere can have eternal ramifications.
(1) On Earth drilling in Antarctica and submersibles in the deep sea search for clues of how alien life could survive in extreme environments. (2) A future Mars mission may return soil to Earth to test for life. (3) A mission to Saturn’s moon Enceladus could test for life in water vapor spewing from its geysers. (4) The search for life beyond our solar system got a boost in 2015 with the $100 million Breakthrough Listen project. This privately funded project is the most comprehensive search for ET radio signals to date.