I am something many people I’ve met say is somewhat rare: a sci-fi fanatic with no belief in aliens. Some alien believers I know who lack enthusiasm for science fiction have suggested an inconsistency.
Friends with more than a little persistence have attempted to persuade me into alien belief. Usually the argument they supply is the size of the universe, and the apparent range for habitable worlds to exist, often accompanied by a fleshed-out conspiracy theory. Typically, these originated from YouTube. My belief system, or skepticism, tends to be a bit more “habeas corpus.” If you want me to believe in an alien, “have the body” of said alien, and then we’ll talk.
If this happens, it will not jar my Christian faith. An article published by the Huffington Post came to my attention a couple of years ago, upon the discovery of Kepler-452b, speculating that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would force world religions to cope by changing their history, lest they evaporate altogether. This is a thinkable course, given we’re seeing Christians retconning the Book of Genesis more and more for the sake of evolutionary theory. How could a 4,000-year-old book hold its own against the discovery of alien life? If alien life exists, the Christian god failed to mention he included in his creation. So, to put it in Douglas Adams’s terms, “Well, That About Wraps it Up for God.”
Many ancient astronaut ufologists have picked apart Old and New Testaments in a hope to explain Sodom and Gomorrah as an alien nuking, or Christ’s birth as an alien artificial insemination. Why the aliens thought doing these things was a good idea remains to be explained. Yet we don’t have to retroactively reinterpret the Bible to have a Christian view of extraterrestrial life.
Countless early science fiction novels were written under the idea that Mars and other solar planets might hold life. The great Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis gave a few possible answers to many of these questions concerning alien life and Christianity in his under-appreciated science fantasy Space Trilogy.
Intelligent Life Outside of Earth
When inspired to write the Space Trilogy, Lewis had read works by Olaf Stapledon and H.G. Wells, ultimately concluding, “I like the whole interplanetary ideas as a mythology and simply wished to conquer for my own (Christian) p[oin]t of view what has always hitherto been used by the opposite side.” Lewis had to define the particular fashion of extraterrestrial life. The Space Trilogy indicated that God had planted life across most of our solar system.
Lewis, in his series, explored the ideas of intelligent life and sentient life in several examples. The Martian species named hrossa were described as humanoid and aquatic, resembling a mix of otter and seal. Lewis describes them as “rational animals,” or, in the Old Solar language (the pre-Babel tongue spoken by extraterrestrials), hnau. The pet bear, Mr. Bultitude, in the later novel, would be described as having a brain of pure emotion. The difference between these creatures? Hnau, in Lewis’ mythology, are equal to humans and possess souls.
Traditionally, these other, inhuman souls have never had a place in the Christian worldview. Yet we have a long ways to go in our understanding of the universe. We receive the constant question, and must honestly ask ourselves, what does God need with such a large universe if he just desires to house seven billion souls on a single planet? Obviously, the proportion of our meager population to the universe does encourage us to think there may be more to it.
Genesis already indicates that the stars were also intended for marking out the calendar and plotting the seasons, an anthropocentric viewpoint of Creation. Yet couldn’t the omnipresent Spirit of God just as easily “hang over the waters” somewhere else in the void, speaking worlds into being? This is just open-ended conjecture and not altogether helpful for refining the search for other hnau. But let’s remember the question to Job: “Where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundation?”
The humanoid beasts included in Lewis’ Great Chain of Being provide quite the reference point for the idea that the stars may house other life, doing more than just “proclaiming God’s glory.” If these hnau have souls, must they then also have sin? In the great fall into sin, doesn’t everyone get pulled down?
‘It is Not For Nothing You Are Named Ransom’
The famed creation scientist Ken Ham has also provided ample conjecture on the topic of alien life. Ham, who appears to be a Whovian, does not have such an optimistic view of ETs. He has blogged about a view that the entire universe’s fall would have been inclusive to the hypothetical aliens, and the saving blood of Christ was exclusive to those that share in the Lord’s human flesh and blood.
Needless to say, many less than religious folk highly contested this view, summing it up as a damnation sentence for all inhuman life. Ham, however, greatly suspects that extraterrestrials do not exist. Lewis, on the other hand, prepares a largely different view, one that could be called more compassionate.
Lewis presents each planet as having confines. Each planet possesses a certain relativity; each is a world cut off from all others in time, sin, and spirit. Each one, assuming it is fallen, would have to fall because corrupt angels led it astray individually. Even still, the worlds that have fallen require Christ’s visitation also.
The world of Mars had a delayed fall. Their temptation into sin would be deferred for a few generations; some of their individuals would fall into sin, others would not. Nonetheless, sin had produced its firstfruits, introducing death into their ecosystem. It is for this reason, in “Out of the Silent Planet,” the ruler of the universe, Maleldil, came to Mars presenting them with a resolution to sin. It is later mentioned that this same Maleldil came to Earth to take flesh and died for humanity’s sake. The book “Perelandra” mentions Earth as having favor in the sight of God for this very reason.
The idea of Christ visiting other planets in the universe is not absent from other stories. In the episode of Star Trek called “Bread and Circuses,” an alternate Earth with a surviving Roman Empire is imagined with its own history of Jesus. Certain verses of the Bible raise the question of an interplanetary Jesus, such as John 10: 16, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
It is, of course, far more convenient, seeing as we have no reason to believe otherwise, to think that Jesus was talking about his Spirit traveling all across the Earth, bringing in those that would not have otherwise heard. This verse does, however, provide an opening for the idea that salvation may have gone interstellar.
Yet in Lewis’ mythology, with each planet possessing its own respective burden of sin, not every planet has yet to fall. The protagonist, Elwin Ransom, finding himself all the more open to Christianity by the second book, is required to save the inhabitants of Mars, a man and a woman, from falling into sin. Satan haunts Ransom on the planet and, when thwarted, leaves the planet to its perfection.
There was for Venus, as for other worlds, a sort of trial period during which the free-willed inhabitants must choose to resist temptation or suffer the consequences. Directly following their overcoming of temptation, they become enlightened. This becomes the foundation of their species.
The Subject Can Wait
If each planet is its own little microcosm, will our worlds breach before the End of Time? Will they all be “one flock”? Each hypothesis leads to a dozen other questions, all favoring an idea that Christianity sustains itself by making stuff up as it goes along. While this has never been the case, we do have a fair idea of what a universe rich with life would mean.
There is an open window in God’s house of Earth to the possibility of alien life neighboring us. Whether or not there is, the Bible is not ignorant or reactive to these things. I don’t know whether there are aliens. So, for now, I say no. If there are, it will be surprising, but not unaccounted for.
Like the great Christian scientist Johannes Kepler, we must go on “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” Lewis wrote in an excerpt on “Missionaries in Outer Space,” saying, “If I remember rightly, St. Augustine raised a question about the theological position of satyrs, monopods, and other semi-human creatures. He decided it could wait till we knew there were any. So can this.”