Today over at Speculative Faith, I’m sharing a little vignette about the search for extraterrestrial life. With the deployment of the Kepler space telescope, we’re finding more and more planets orbiting distant stars, and an ever-increasing number in the “Goldilocks Zone,” that not-too-hot, not-too-cold orbital band where conditions favorable to life-as-we-know-it are possible.
Being a spec-fic writer, my favorite two words are “what if.” So, the question of the day is, “What if we found incontrovertible evidence of intelligent life on one of those planets? How would we react? How would it make our lives different?”
Some possible reactions:
1. Denial – “It’s another government hoax, like the Apollo program.”
2. Fear – “I’ve seen this movie. They’re going to enslave/kill/eat us.”
3. Worry – “If word of this gets out, we’ll have riots, anarchy, and all manner of bad behavior going on.”
4. Excitement – “We’re not alone! New friends! A new world to explore! Trade! Cultural exchange!”
5. Indifference – “There will be a 60-year lag in any communications between us, once we figure out their language, and it would take several hundred years to travel there. Remind me again why this matters?”
What about the reaction from religious communities? I expect it would fall somewhere along the spectrum described above, depending on which community we’re talking about. In casual conversations on this issue among Christians, I’ve heard all sorts of opinions:
1. Argument From Silence, Both Ways – “The Bible doesn’t affirm the reality of life on other worlds, so it’s not possible.” or “The Bible doesn’t exclude the possibility of life on other worlds, so it could happen.” Lacking a convenient can of scriptural “shut-up juice” for anybody to unleash, the discussion returns to Predestination versus Free Will.
2. New Mission Field! – Allowing for the possibility of life on other worlds, the conversation quickly shifts to the promise and challenges of evangelizing this new Unreached People Group. Someone may timidly raise a hand after a few minutes and ask if anybody’s considered that the aliens might want to evangelize us.
3. The Horror – If there is intelligent life on other planets, a natural question for Christians is what the status of these beings’ relationship with God might be. Did they experience a fall from grace similar to ours? Are they in need of salvation? The idea that an alien race might have escaped the Fall, or that Jesus might have sacrificed himself innumerable times for the salvation of innumerable worlds, is profoundly offensive to some people. There’s an idea that it might somehow reduce the significance or awe of what He did here on Earth. It’s almost like the child who wonders if his parents have enough love for both him and his siblings, and how big his share of that love might be.
4. Beware Vain Speculation – “This conversation will only cause strife and dissension in the Church. Knock it off and get back to work.” While there may be some truth to this position, it implies that there’s no room for curiosity or debate about anything. Oddly, officially-sanctioned arguments like the aforementioned Predestination versus Free Will, Sprinkling versus Immersion, Liturgical worship versus Unstructured worship, et cetera, are okay.
I’ve jabbered enough. What do you think? How would you react?