Episode 207 - What Does Christianity Say About Intelligent Life On Other Planets?

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We've been going through a series for the last few weeks, and we probably will for several weeks to come, looking at what at least one non-Christian considers to be a list of 10 unanswerable questions by Christians. We've talked about why we should believe that God created everything. What's the evidence for it? We've looked at does the Bible substantiate the claim that God created everything? But we come to a different question today, and I think it's helpful for us to think about. This is what the gentleman writes in his post containing these 10 questions. He says,

The immensity of the universe is astounding. I have a belief that I can't substantiate. I believe life exists everywhere in the universe. There are a number of reasons to assert this.

Here's my favorite. We're made of carbon, among other things. Carbon is common and abundant and the universe. Therefore, life could exist elsewhere. If we embrace this idea that life probably exists elsewhere, it follows that you have to recognize the parochial nature of Christianity.

In other words, that it's just for us here, it's very specific and narrow in its scope.

If Jesus came to Earth to redeem us and save us from sin and all the rest of it, what relevance does Christianity have for intelligent beings who may be living on the other side of the universe?

Now I should mention that I've condensed what he said and paraphrased just a little, but that's definitely his original idea and I'll of course include the link where you can go read the post in its fullness.

A few things to point out. He makes a step here. He says, "Because we're made of carbon, life could exist elsewhere." That's not necessarily even true. Just because there's carbon doesn't mean you could end up with life. Carbon is a necessary but not a sufficient material for life. In other words, you can only have life if you have carbon, but only having carbon does not mean you have life. That's the first issue here. The carbon is necessary but not sufficient. But he moves from something interesting. He says, "If carbon exists everywhere, life could exist elsewhere." But then he says, "If we embrace this idea that life probably exists elsewhere," how do you get from could to probably? That's basically going from possibly, in other words, it could happen, to it's most likely to happen. That's another illegitimate step here. Those are just two things for us to understand as we understand this guy's argument.

Now I don't just want to discount what he says because of those steps. We still need to be prepared to talk about the possibility of life on other planets. How should we think about it? How does Christianity interface with that? But it is helpful to understand the specific nuances of someone's argument and how we can understand it and see what's really going on. We've already addressed the fact that just having the raw materials does not mean that you have enough to have the finished product. Having carbon doesn't mean there's enough for life to exist. But more than that, even if you had all of the necessary minerals and nutrients and compounds to have life, that doesn't mean you actually can have life. This is a naturalistic explanation, an example I'm about to give, but having all of the components for a house does not mean you'll ever end up with a house.

Intrinsic in this discussion is the concept of Darwinian evolution. Can we go from only having raw building blocks and time combined with enough chance and randomness to end up with actually a much more complicated life form and then lather, rinse, repeat, millions and billions of times? That's at the heart of this too. I don't think there are reasons to believe that on the merits, and we've talked about it before. But all that to say, just because you have raw materials doesn't mean the finished product must exist. There are raw materials on other planets. There are raw materials for things here on our planet. That doesn't mean you end up with a finished complex product.

But another thing to point out here is he's actually already criticized Christians in a previous question for believing without evidence. He's basically saying, based on what do Christians actually believe that there was a supernatural cause for the universe? Won't we discover one day that there's a naturalistic cause? You're not justified in believing that there's a supernatural cause. But he's basically saying here that he has a belief that he holds without evidence. Isn't this what he says? He says, "I have a belief I can't substantiate." How is he justified in believing it if he can't substantiate it?

Then he moves from mere possibility, the fact that there's carbon, to probability, to the fact that it's probably true. All of these are illegitimate steps in his argument or list of assertions. But all that to say, he has a belief without evidence. If he's comfortable with that, on what consistent standard does he criticize Christians who he thinks have beliefs without evidence? Now, I think we have beliefs with evidence, but nonetheless, if he's going to be consistent and he has beliefs without evidence, he should not criticize others who have beliefs without evidence.

Now, to the root of his question. How do we think about life on other planets? This is what he says, just to put us back in context, "If Jesus came to Earth to redeem us and to save us from sin and all the rest of it, what relevance does Christianity have for intelligent beings who may be living on the other side of the universe?" Before we even go to this question of aliens or extraterrestrial life or whatever, do we know of, even inside of the Christian story and account, do we know of other intelligent beings besides humans? We do. Angels are intelligent beings. We don't even have to necessarily address his specific question to address the question, what is God's relationship to, what is his plan for intelligent beings who are not humans? Based on what the Bible shows us, there is not a plan of redemption for any non-human intelligent being who has rebelled against God.

Is there a plan of redemption for angels? No. From the very beginning to the very end, we see things start out good. They go south quickly when even the angelic realm rebels against God. At the end, God punishes them all for eternity, along with humans who have rebelled against him. But humans have the chance of redemption. God made a way through his provision on the cross for his people for them to be saved. He did not do that for angels, or fallen angels I should say, and demons. We already knew of a category of people that are ... not people, but category of intelligent beings who are not redeemed.

If we come to his question now and say, "What about those on the other side of the universe, if they actually existed? What is God's relationship to them?" Theologians have historically said there aren't only two options, and I think this makes a lot of sense. Either the life that exists out there is not fallen. In other words, it never rebelled against God and hence does not need to be redeemed, or it is not redeemable. Either it's not fallen, doesn't need to be redeemed, or it has fallen, it has rebelled against God, and it will not be redeemed. We've already seen that there's not a plan of salvation, of redemption, for angels.

Now, the Bible's theological argument regarding why Jesus needed to come is really important. Now, we're going to take a few steps back here to get to that. One, Genesis 1, God creates everyone in his image. Genesis 2 says the same thing. Genesis 3, mankind rebels and sins against God and God curses him and he promises then to send a descendant of Eve that will ultimately crush the head of the serpent and vanquish evil and death forever. We see that happen. In fact, the whole Old Testament, the reason it's there is tracing out that story. It's not just boring history. It's actually showing us God's progressive revelation of his plan to save and redeem his people to glorify himself. That comes to fruition in the New Testament.

But the reason why Jesus needed to come and why he needed to be incarnate and born of a virgin is because he needed to be truly man. He has always been truly God. He was the preexistent son. He is truly God and has since always existed. But he needed to become also truly man in order to represent us in his death on the cross. The Father doesn't come. The Father sends; the Son comes. The Spirit doesn't die on the cross. The Spirit comes and is the down payment for all the promises of God given to God's people after they believe in the work that the incarnate son did on the cross. There's only one Jesus, and that is the incarnate Son of God.

Jesus, when he comes back will come as he came before. In other words, Jesus is still truly man today. He is also still truly God. But what that means is there was not a death, burial, and resurrection of the son of God on another planet because there's only one incarnation. Jesus remains in the state that he came in, in his incarnation. There's not another plan of salvation that involves a dying and rising on another planet, which means there's no redemption, because in God's economy, without the shedding of perfect, innocent blood on behalf of other people, there's no forgiveness of sins. The only one who could be perfect and innocent to shed his blood is God himself incarnate and joined with man. Since that can't occur anymore or anywhere else, there is no plan for people if they even existed on another planet. There's also not a plan of redemption, like we said, for angels.

That's how we addressed this question. Either life, if it exists out there, and I don't think it does, but it would not rock my world if it did. But if it exists, it's either not fallen, it hasn't rebelled against God, or it has fallen and cannot be redeemed. Now you might think that's unfair. But like we've already seen in Christianity, that's the case for fallen angels. But more than that, why would God need to save everyone? Why do we think he even needs to save some humans? You can't make that case from the Bible. That would only come from man's independent, autonomous, rational thinking that somehow God has this obligation to save everyone. He doesn't. He has no obligation to save anyone, and that's why we call it grace, because it's unmerited favor.

But it's not unmerited favor in the abstract. It's actually applied to specific individuals. The father gives to the son. The son atones for them to spirit regenerates them at a point in the future and they believe and have faith. That's what we're talking about in Christianity. But all of that is based on God's grace. We see that salvation in Ephesians 1 is to the praise of God's glorious grace. In other words, it did not have to be given. If it had to be given, then man merited it in some way. If God had to give it to us, that means we were owed it. We could demand it, and it's not grace. But no one can ever say, "I was owed it or I demanded it." That's Paul's argument in Romans 3 and Romans 4, that boasting is excluded because salvation is by grace through faith.

If that's the case, then God owes no one salvation, including potential people that may exist somewhere else in our universe. But more specifically, he owes none of us salvation. This question seems to assume that God owes us salvation. It also seems to assume that something can only be true if it speaks in its entirety to everything that may possibly exist. Isn't that kind of what he's saying here? He's saying if we embrace this idea, it follows that you have to recognize the parochial nature of Christianity, that it just has this narrow application. But is something false just because it might be narrow in its scope? No, not at all. Just because Christianity addresses mankind on this planet and doesn't necessarily even tell us very much about the angelic realm, that doesn't mean it's false. It means it's an explanation of this part of reality. That's another area where this question doesn't make sense.

But here's where I want to end today. You've probably gotten used to me asking this question over the years, if you've been with us. If this is your first time, you will get used to me asking this question. If someone says that God has to save people that exist out there, if they do exist, I'm going to say by what standard, by what standard do you use to say that God must save other people or he's unjust? Paul addresses in Romans 3 and in Romans 9 and further on in Romans 11 this question of does God have to save everyone? He says, "By no means." He even says, "Are you saying there's injustice with God?" He says, "No, there's not." The strongest type of no that you can say in the Greek language, "May it never be," he says, because God does not have the obligation to save. But also, along with that, God is not unjust. Where would you get the standard to judge God by?

Moral standards require moral standard givers. Moral laws come from a moral law giver. If there is no God, there is no transcendent moral law and there's no law giver, so there is no standard you could even use to judge God. Some people say we determine the standard as a society. As a group of people, we determine the standard. But if God actually does exist, and we're going to say he was unjust, let's just run with that example, why would God care about what a bunch of his creation decided was unjust and how could we actually say that his actions were wrong just because we agreed? All we could actually say is as a group we don't like it. You can't actually say that it should not be. You can't get an ought. In other words, the fact that something should be just because you say it should be that way. You have to have the moral authority. God, if he exists and since he exists, has that authority as creator. There is no standard that's objective that we could use to say that God must save other people somewhere else in the universe.

I hope this has been helpful. We're probably going to tackle more of these questions in the future. But all that to say, just because there are raw materials, that doesn't mean the finished product must exist. This guy has belief without evidence. Christianity does not actually support belief without evidence. And life on other planets if it exists is either not fallen or it's not redeemable because there's not a plan for angels and God has no obligation to save anyone. I'll talk with you next time on Unapologetic.