Are we alone in the universe?
I consider what the prospect of Intelligent Extra-terrestrial (IET) life may mean for Christian beliefs.
The Word that was Incarnate in Christ may have become present in other IET life elsewhere in the universe.
The popular TV series Star Trek and its spin-off series and movies presuppose a vision of humanity going out into the galaxy far from home and finding other races of intelligent life. But if such a scenario were actually true and not just the product of imagination what would that mean for Christian faith and theology? What does it mean for Jesus as the Christ and Incarnation of the Word?
One of the questions that has become common in modern times is whether the vast cosmos has given rise to intelligent rational life elsewhere and in fact there is an assumption that this is the case. There are scientific projects dedicated to finding evidence of the actuality of IET. If rational life evolved here under a certain set of circumstances here in earth then it is argued that there is a large probability that among the millions of stars there will be some other planets, with not only the capability of supporting organic life but also the time and conditions where there is also a high probability of evolution of intelligence. There is an assumption that if humanity finds it possible to cross the vastness for space to other star systems we will meet other intelligent life with technology, varied cultures and religions.
It could be conversely argued that the specific physical and evolutionary events on earth may be unique and although other life may exist elsewhere it is only the special set of circumstances on earth that have given rise to rational beings from organic development.
Some who hold to the potential of Extra-terrestrial Intelligent life also argued that some of these other potential cultures have already crossed space and come to earth in the past. It is claimed that there are various texts in the bible and other religious texts that point to such past visits by intelligent extra-terrestrial life. Genesis 6:4 is a case in point when it mentions “The Nephilim” and “Sons of God” who have sexual intercourse with the daughters of men. Then there is the variety of certain heavenly messengers and heavenly host who have interaction with humanity bearing messages from God. There are strange creatures in prophetic visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel. There is also the great host of angels surround God fighting a heavenly battle in Revelation. In biblical terms they are simply non-human agents some of whom are “fallen” and corrupt and lead humanity astray.
It is not my aim to make any connections between such texts and considerations of modern space alien cultic beliefs about past visitations of “aliens”. I just pose the question about what the potential presence of Intelligent Extra-terrestrial life may mean to Christian theology. Does it matter to theology if other IET is found elsewhere in the universe? How might it affect our religious outlook? How might it affect a theology God as Trinity and our salvation?
I start from the obvious consideration that the bible is by its nature a story of God’s dealings with humanity on earth and has very little to say about anything else. The heavenly beings that appear in visions of prophetic and apocalyptic texts are just assumed to be those whose origin is not of the earth and not part of the earthly sphere of creation. It does not rule out the possibility that visions of heavenly beings are visions of IET that exist in communion with God. Any consideration of “angels” should recognise a whole realm of non-human intelligence that interacts with God and that some of these are also “Fallen” and contrary to God’s plans for human life and indeed even contrary to what God wanted for them.
All this presupposes some intelligent beings whose origin is not earthly. Assuming that Angels and their like point to such other Intelligent and free willed beings there should be no reason to worry about the prospect of IET in the cosmos that we know.
If physical IET existed would they need salvation like humanity? In all likelihood yes. As free willed humanity has revolted against God’s being and life there is the prospect that other free willed IET would do likewise. If God loves humanity God would also love other rational beings that evolved in the cosmos and wish to save them if they were also “Fallen”.
Incarnate Word theology and ET
The question of salvation of IET is considered by Illia Delio in an article that appeared in the journal Theology and Science (Vol. 5, No. 3, 2007). She starts by considered the theology of the Primacy of Christ found in theologies of Bonaventure and Duns Scotus. The Primacy theology held by these Franciscan teachers provides an integral relationship between the Incarnate Word in Jesus Christ and creation. The Incarnation is not just an after-thought by God to deal with human sinfulness, it was pre-ordained desire to God to enter into creation. It relates to the completion of God’s action in the world, and by extension the completion of the cosmos.
Such a theology of the Incarnate Word may indicate that the incarnation may not be simply a once and for all event on earth. The Incarnation is inconceivable apart from all creation and is grounded in God’s love that leads to creation, it stems from the very centre of Trinitarian love. In an extension of this relationship it may show that the Incarnation of the Word takes place wherever there may be intelligent life. It leaves open the possibility that the Word may have been Incarnate in many places in the Cosmos, making contact with many races of IET and by extension any act of salvation for every rational race of beings,
Every star shall sing a carol
I once came across a Christmas song by Sydney Carter that makes this modern connection.
Every star shall sing a carol,
Every creature high or low.
Come and praise the King of Heaven
By whatever name you know.
Who can tell what other cradle?
High above the Milky Way;
Still may rock the King of Heaven,
On another Christmas day.
Who can count how many crosses?
Still to come or long ago.
Crucify the King of Heaven,
Holy is the name I know.