At the end of June 2021, after months of hype all over the internet and a string of sensationalized reports by the main stream media, the Pentagon released a 9 page report1 on the subject of 144 Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs)or Unidentified Aerial Phenomena(UAP) documented in recent years by the US government. Millions of people all over the world anxiously awaited the findings from that report but were ultimately left disappointed and frustrated because the same report was completely inconclusive and never even mentioned the word ” extra-terrestrial” or ” alien.” Instead, the report merely stated that,
“Most of the UAP reported probably do represent physical objects, given that a majority of UAP were registered across multiple sensors, to include radar, infrared, electro-optical, weapon seekers and visual observation1.
But the Pentagon report was presaged by further hype fuelled by Harvard Astronomer, Avi Loeb, who released a sensational book, Extra-terrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life beyond Earth2, in February 2021, in which he claimed that an asteroid nicknamed Oumuamua, which passed through the outer solar system in a highly unusual orbit in late 2018, displayed signs of artificiality, both in terms of its of movements and physical properties. Since then, several natural explanations have been forwarded by scientists to explain the behaviour of Oumuamua, but predictably, those were largely ignored by the media. A few months earlier in December 2020, Haim Eshed, a retired army general and former head of Israel’s Defence Ministry’s space directorate, claimed in an interview that Earth has been contacted by a “galactic federation” of extraterrestrials,3 and that “they have been waiting until today for humanity to develop and reach a stage where we will understand, in general, what space and spaceships are.”
Stories such as these form the basis of a multi-million-dollar industry in the form of books, documentaries, the internet and Hollywood Sci-Fi blockbusters, entertaining countless millions of curious individuals across the world. But why are some people captivated with UFOs and extra-terrestrials and on what basis do they believe in their existence? Furthermore, how should we, as Christians, respond to such events?
Test everything; hold fast to what’s good4
That famous quote from St Paul, writing to the Church in Thessalonica, provides a great place to start. The secular world has been fed a staple diet of evolutionary ‘science’ that powerfully affects the way many people think. The reasoning sounds both rational and straightforward, at first glance; life evolved on Earth and our planet is one of countless quadrillions scattered across the Universe. Life therefore must have taken hold on many worlds, and in many epochs, so it’s reasonable to expect that intelligent spacefaring aliens exist. Unfortunately, though, the latest science is casting severe doubts on this worldview.
For one thing, there are now serious doubts that evolution, as described by biologists, really happened. The origin of life is a profound mystery and given the astonishing complexity of even the simplest living cells, there is effectively zero chance that it happened by accident5. Furthermore, the fossil record, which scientists have now unearthed in great detail, doesn’t show any evolutionary progression over the 3.8 billion years or so since its inception. Instead, it reveals many extirpation events followed by equally rapid speciation episodes, in contrast to the expected gradualism of Darwinian evolution. Simply put, we can be reasonably confident that if a scientific theory approaches the truth, the uncertainties become smaller over time. The problem with the evolutionary paradigm is the opposite – the error bars are increasing… and rapidly.
Coupled to this is the growing realization that most of the planets orbiting other stars, both within our galaxy and in myriad other galaxies scattered across the cosmos, are now considered very unlikely to harbour habitable worlds. For example, as much as 80 or 90 per cent of all the stars that exist are cool red and brown dwarfs that would require their habitable planets to be located far too close to their surfaces to be warm enough to allow liquid water to exist. Yet the same stars are highly unstable, firing off dangerous high energy flares and ferocious stellar winds that would damage fragile living systems5. What’s more, when you factor in all the other requirements for a viable biosphere, Earth stands out like a proverbial sore thumb as being very special indeed!
We therefore suffer somewhat from what scientists call observational bias; because we see our planet teeming over with life, we naturally assume the same thing happened on countless other worlds. But, as the distinguished organic chemist, James Tour, quipped.
” Life should not exist. This much we know from chemistry. In contrast to the ubiquity of life on Earth, the lifelessness of other planets makes far better chemical sense5.”
So, if there is life out there, and intelligent life in particular, it must have been placed there by God. Yet the Biblical narrative gives us other clues about whether space-faring ETs exist or not. The secular world view posits that humans emerged from other lifeforms accidently, but the Bible makes it clear that the Earth was first prepared before humankind was placed here. Living things made Earth habitable for humans and continues to provide a life-support system for human flourishing. Would God create worlds packed with life without placing sentient beings on them? That’s a good question, but I suspect not.
Similar conclusions are reached by the Christian astronomer and young earth creationist, Danny Faulkner(PhD Astronomy Indiana University), in his book, UFOs & ETs; a Biblical and Cultural Exploration of Aliens.6 Faulkner squarely lays the blame with the brainwashing of the general public in accepting evolutionary thought:
“We must realize that nearly all discussion about such matters has been within an evolutionary framework. That worldview assumes the plurality of worlds-that life has arisen on many other planets in the universe, and that life on at least some of those planets is intelligent. Hence, in the evolutionary worldview one might expect that extra-terrestrial aliens will visit Earth from time to time. However, Christians ought not to adopt an evolutionary worldview. Instead, we ought to base what we think about on the Bible, not the ideas of men. Evolution is clearly contrary to Scripture, and so life only exists where God created it. While the Bible does not explicitly state that God created life only on Earth, the clear implication from Scripture is that God made life only on Earth and that man is the centre of God’s attention. Therefore, within a Biblical worldview, one would reject the plurality of worlds idea and would not expect extra-terrestrial aliens to have visited Earth(or even to exist)6.”
Furthermore, we read in the passages of Scripture that Jesus died “once for all7.” If there are other civilizations out there, did Jesus die for them too? Some theologians have suggested that these beings might have not fallen, as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden, and so were in no need of a Saviour. But we read that the entire creation is groaning8 and that God has reserved this current Universe for a fiery destruction9. If those putative civilisations exit elsewhere in the Universe, they too will perish and that would make God a monster, which is clearly a theological non sequitur!
But there appears to be a more sinister facade to UFOs and ETs. Many in-depth studies conducted over many decades have shown a strong connection between these phenomena and the occult, and which often involve narratives that serve to undermine Christianity in particular. In their now classic work, Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men: A Rational Christian Look at UFOs and Extraterrestrials9, astronomer Hugh Ross, theologian, Kenneth Samples, and political scientist, Mark Clark, showcase many studies linking the obsession of the New Age movement with extra-terrestrials and flying saucers. They conclude that, while most of these sightings can be discounted by natural phenomena, hoaxes or human-made technological devices, a small number of residual cases cannot be explained away and display properties that suggest that they are real but non-physical in nature, that is, these events are demonic in nature and represent deceptions by fallen angels who can move inter-dimensionally, at one moment looking real and the next, vanishing into thin air.
To my mind, our culture’s fascination with spacefaring aliens merely represents a post-modern form of idolatry, a convenient distraction from the things we ought to think about. Unwilling to accept the reality of an omniscient Creator, they resort to imagining beings far in advance of our own as new gods that will solve all of humanity’s problems. Yet, as I’ve explained earlier, this is little more than fanciful thinking that has no basis in scientific reality. I suspect that, in the end, the only aliens we’ll ever meet are our neighbours. So, as Jesus taught us, we ought to love our neighbours as ourselves!
- Loeb, A., Extra-terrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life beyond Earth, Houghton Miffin Harcourt, 2021.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:21
- English, N., Origin Stories, Why Life is Beginning to Seem Very Special Indeed, Salvo #50
- Faulkner, D., UFOs & ETs; a Biblical and Cultural Exploration of Aliens, 2015, Answers in Genesis Press.
- Romans 8:28
- Romans 6:10
- 2 Peter 3: 7
- Ross, H, Samples, K., and Clark, M., Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men: A Rational Christian Look at UFOs and Extraterrestrials, Nav Press, 2002.
Dr Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy. His latest work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, showcases four centuries of visual astronomy and the many Christian personalities that shaped its progress.