Saturday 26 July 2014

Imaginary Aliens and a Universal Christ

Of all of the entire opus of hippy-dippy, folksy, syncretistic, dog-eared hymns belonging to Sydney Carter, there is only one that we allow on Beaker premises in any form. Not that ghastly cod-kid's song One more step along the world I go. No. It's Every Star Shall Sing a Carol.

Obviously, we still won't sing it. The Sydney-Carter Free Zone is still in operation. But we occasionally study it, one verse at a time so as not to sustain too much damage, like a World-War One Joke. It's not a bad bit of speculative theology.

Unlike the suggestion Phil refers to that aliens cannot be redeemed. This is based upon an article about the creationist Ken Ham. Phil's point - that Jesus's work is greater than the mythological Adam's fall - is pithily and perfectly put. But there are other objections to the idea that aliens cannot be saved.

The first being that this is confusing two models for explaining reality.Adam and Eve lived, sinned and died in a two-tier universe a bit like a snow globe. On the floor of the snow globe were the earth and seas - the place where human endeavours occurred. The glass of the snow globe was semi-permeable (yeah, I know, but go with me here), and through it could pass the waters that rained on the earth. So maybe not such a great illustration, since obviously there's already water in a snow globe. Well, whatever.

Anyway, my point is that there were no aliens in Adam's world. Literally no place for them. The stars were effectively painted onto the - ahem - dark blue ceiling of the snow globe. And everything outside was where God lived. So nowhere for aliens.

Aliens, of course, live in a completely different model of reality. They live in the world of science fiction. A place where we can, if we are blessed, understand more of what it means to be a human living on earth, by considering what intelligent non-humans might be like. If we ever find aliens (or they find us) then those aliens will be in another model of reality - the one we measure with science and sociology and psychology and such like.

Anyway, on with a bit of fisking.... 
"Of course, secularists are desperate to find life in outer space... The search for extraterrestrial life is really driven by man’s rebellion against God in a desperate attempt to supposedly prove evolution!"
No. We don't need to prove evolution. Outside a few people who can't understand science or don't want to, that's done. And we don't do this kind of things because we want to prove silly points. The whole of Science - like the whole of a decent religion - is a search for truth. Like an electron microscope and a telescope, they both help us to see better - but in two different ways.
"according to the secular, evolutionary worldview there must be other habited worlds out there" 
No. According to the scientific worldview, there's a finite chance of habited (is that a real word?) worlds. Argument rages over how we calculate how big the chance is. Personally I reckon the chance is either very small, or we're really early developers. 
"And I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel."
With the exception of angels, who don't count as aliens, the Bible as a whole is very quiet on the subject of extra-terrestrial beings.
"This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation."
Which logically implies that Adam's fall is greater than Jesus's salvation which, as Phil notes, is not the case.

Also, if I need to assume the aliens fit somewhere in the snowglobe for a minute, then let's do some Augustinian theology. If Adam's sin affects the whole universe, then aliens will suffer as do dogs, cats and bryophytes. They will live and die, and have some nasty experiences (and bright moments) on the way. If the aliens are also made in the image of God (which does not involve God looking like me or Ken Ham, in my opinion) then they will - crucially in Augustinian thought - not be impacted by Original Sin. Original Sin is passed on from parents to children through the act of generation. So intelligent aliens could be sinful, fallen in their own right - or completely free from whatever passes for sin if you're a bodyless thought-cloud or a 50-armed Jatravartid. We don't know. We'd have to meet one even to consider finding out. Good theology is, after all, experimental.
"One day, the whole universe will be judged by fire, and there will be a new heavens and earth."
 But those new heavens and earth will have continuity with the old ones, just as Jesus's resurrection body - and our own - will have continuity with the current ones.The world may burn but we will quiver. Sorry. Force of habit. Be raised in a spiritual body - but still our own.
"Jesus did not become the “GodKlingon” or the “GodMartian"”
 No, of course he didn't. Klingons are imaginary, and Martians almost certainly never existed. But as noted above, the Bible tells us nothing about aliens, or life on other planets. If they exist - and they are fallen, as we might understand it - then how might God redeem them, raise them up, become one with them? We don't know, we have no clues. Like Peter looking back at John, that's not our problem. Not till we find one, at any rate. Maybe Christ dies once, for all, for each intelligent and fallen race, or just once - here? I don't know. I know this planet is special because we are made in God's image, but it doesn't follow that another planet might not also be special - anymore than a mother with two children wouldn't die for either, or both, of them if she had to. As Syd Carter said, every star shall sing a carol, and for once in his benighted songwriting career he might have had a point.
"The answers to life’s questions will not be found in imaginary aliens" 
Well, if you mean through science fiction, as long as that leads to questions about existence and meaning and what time means, then you might move along a bit if you've got the imagination. Just read Asimov on the way robots keep getting round the rules.  That tells you more about us than robots. The aliens of the B-Ark being blasted into space because they're all middle managers and marketing executives - that makes you consider your place in the world. Obviously, if you're just thinking about learning to speak Klingon and dressing up as a storm trooper and wishing you had a pet tribble, you're right. You're unlikely to pass on Original Sin, either, if you see what I mean.
"Now the Bible doesn’t say whether there is or is not animal or plant life in outer space.  I certainly suspect not."
I agree. And I also really hope not. Because if we found animal or plant (or other) life in outer space, sure as eggs is eggs it would be about ten minutes before we thought up a reason to declare war on it. That's why we needed a Saviour. We'd better hope, if we ever make contact with something like us, that they needed a Saviour less.


  1. Biggest problem with this song is not the lyrics but the musical train wreck that invariably happens when people don't realise that the 6th measure is not the same as the first measure

  2. If you look up the phrase "sticks fingers in ears and shouts la-la-la" it says "see Ken Ham"...

    I'm sure that most people would agree that "everything" can be answered by something imaginary, it usually just turns out to be wrong.


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