I want to believe, but what if I’m an alien?

Added about 5 months ago by Daniel Ruy Pereira

GUEST BLOG: As part of our February focus on Science & Faith Daniel Ruy Pereira, author of In Awesome Wonder: Bridging Faith and Science, asks whether the Bible welcomes extra-terrestrials.

It’s a lazy Saturday afternoon in Oldham. The weather today has brought hail, rain, patches of sunlight, gusts, and hail again. Somewhere up there, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWSP)Author Photo is preparing its mirrors to, among other things, take pictures of exoplanets. Maybe it'll detect biomarkers – which would mean life outside Earth.

I brew a coffee and get the latest issue of the Sky at Night magazine. Sir Martin Rees talks about the increasing chances of finding life on other planets. That interests me. A week ago, I started reading Astrotheology, edited by Ted Peters (2018). In the book, the authors declare their enrolment into the Bible-Welcomes-Aliens school of thought.

Am I ready to enrol as well?

ETs have always been a part of my life. In 1996, my parents went to the cinema to watch Independence Day. After some months, the biggest TV Channel in Brazil screened the film on a Monday night. It lit my imagination on fire. After that, there was Men In Black, Alien and its sequels, the X-Files, Perfect Dark (a Nintendo 64 game), The Arrival, Contact… The list goes on and on.

Like the X-Files’ Fox Mulder, I wanted to believe in extra-terrestrial life, but my main problem, at the time, was believing the Bible forbade it. My understanding in a nutshell was God created only us, in six days, thousands of years ago. So alien life was impossible, although captivating. In the local library, I borrowed books on what aliens would look like. I consumed them all, like those tripods from War of the Worlds. I really wanted to believe.

Then one day, in my early 30s, I had something of an intellectual abduction. I read an article by Tim Keller, Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople. It revealed another theological galaxy inhabited by John Walton, Denis Alexander, John Polkinghorne, Ted Peters, Alister McGrath and many others. There was thriving Christian life outside of Young Earth Creationism. I went onboard that new spaceship.

Now I wanted to believe, I could believe, but it still wasn’t simple. Life is unlikely to evolve anywhere, although its evolution appears to be hard-wired in the fine-tuning of the cosmos. We may be alone, but if not, if there really is extra-terrestrial life, how does the Bible welcome aliens?

God designed the universe for intelligent life to evolve in it. The Creator wrote the laws of Physics so life could evolve as the natural consequence to the ultimate consequence: so Jesus Christ could be born. Our Triune God has been mysteriously involved in every aspect of almost 14 billion years of evolution. In the beginning, He created heaven and Earth – and then the Bible starts telling our story, because we live here, in need of redemption. Other alien life forms might be too, but how could we envision that? If the JWST does discover life elsewhere, what would the implications for us, Christians, be?

H.G.Wells wrote about this in War of the Worlds' first paragraph. I am convinced he wrote this as a critique/jest on the missionary movement of the 19th Century, but it is interesting anyway.

At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise.

Being from a country that welcomed many missionary enterprises, I often used to wonder how God could have saved the many indigenous people inhabiting Brazil before the Jesuit missionaries arrived from Portugal in the 1500s and the Protestants in the 19th century.

Paul gave me a hint in Romans 2:14-16, writing before there was even a suspicion of the existence of an entire continent called ‘America’.

 ...when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. This will take place on the day when God judges people's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

That is the basis for C.S. Lewis’ Moral Law. But the implications are intriguing. Although those alien cultures, beyond the early Christian missionary enterprises, had their gods and worshiped natural forces, God could save the native Brazilians through Christ, “on the day God judges people’s secrets”. There would be hope for aliens even if they also exist beyond our “missionary enterprises”! One day, if they are out there, we might send them this message.

God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

We might even be surprised – they might know Him already, somehow. But this is, as Francis Crick wrote in Life Itself, giving wings to our imagination.

All of this led me to write Chapter 4, “Are We Alone In the Universe?”, with a focus on Psalm 8. In all the travelling I've done to other worlds, the ‘Spirit in the Sky’, through the Bible, convinced me that the Bible indeed welcomes aliens, in case the JWST discovers them. But even if they are not there, we are not alone, even if we sometimes wonder “what is humankind, that you care for it?”. In Psalm 8's language, we are precious to God, so much so that His angels surround and protect us, although we cannot detect them.

The sky has cleared now in Oldham, inviting me to put my telescope outside. Maybe I'll stream Petra’s “Not of This World” song – a beautiful Christian-Rock album with a guitar-shaped spaceship on the cover. Wonderful.


 

Daniel Ruy Pereira (B.Sc. Life Sciences) is a Christian science teacher and co-director of Science for the series “In Awesome Wonder” (Connect Methodist Church, Stockport, 2019), sponsored by the Templeton World Charity Foundation and Scientists in Congregations initiative, from St John’s College, Durham. His book, In Awesome Wonder, is being featured as part of our February #ThemeOfTheMonth: Science & Faith. You can get your copy here!


Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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