Friday, November 9, 2007


For the second time in as many weeks, a high-ranking elected official has come out about his UFO-sighting experience.

Fife Symington, former Republican governor of Arizona, will be hosting a November 12 event at the National Press Club where he will discuss the Phoenix Lights incident. He says he will be joined by 14 former high-ranking military and government officials from seven countries who will share evidence from what they call their own UFO experiences and investigations.

It was just a few days ago that Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich was forced to talk about his own UFO sighting after his longtime friend, actress Shirley MacLaine, came out with a memoir describing the incident. Shirley MacLaine is certainly a crackpot by any definition, but Kucinich still admitted to the sighting. Symington resigned his governorship in 1997 after being convicted of bank fraud (hey, big surprise - he's Republican!), but it doesn't change the fact that the Phoenix Lights incident was widely documented.

But this isn't a blog about UFO sightings - it's about religion (and a lack thereof). I've often asked myself - "Wouldn't the existence of extraterrestrial life render religion null and void?". After all, if we were created in God's image but some aliens showed up who look nothing like many images does God have? And that's the least of my questions.

I've spent the last hour or so reading a few missives on the subject of aliens and religion, all written by Christians. The answers they provide (or lack thereof) are frustrating to say the least. Allow me to review.

Many of the writers subscribe to something resembling this statement made by Benjamin Wiker in an article entitled Alien Ideas: Christianity and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life:

"The simple truth remains: Over the span of the 20th century, science systematically eliminated the possibility of extraterrestrials in our solar system, and their existence elsewhere has dwindled from an absolute necessity to a dim chance."

This is a common theist argument that I'll call the Time-Limit on Scientific Discovery Argument. I read and hear over and over, especially from proponents of creationism and/or intelligent design, that because science hasn't yet figured out exactly how the universe was created, for example, then God must have done it. There are a lot of things that science hasn't figured out yet (and I mean yet), but does that mean scientists all over the world have hung up their lab coats and called it quits? No. Should researchers stop trying to find a cure for cancer just because they haven't found it yet? You can't argue that because something hasn't been discovered yet that it will never be. There is no time-limit on scientific discovery. The origin of the universe is The Big Question, to be sure - but it's only in the last 50 years or so that science has really been developing technology (computing technology in particular) good enough to do high-powered research on these kinds of questions. Technology will continue to get better, and more answers to life's big questions will be forthcoming. And this must be disconcerting to those who believe in God, because every time a mystery is explained, God becomes a little less useful.

The first half of Wiker's statement - that there are no extraterrestrials in our solar system (if by extraterrestrials he means the intelligent, society-forming variety) is probably true, though we still need to send quite a few more probes to more planetary bodies in the solar system to rule out the existence of simple organisms either in the past or present. But the preliminary data from the Mars rovers is quite interesting.

The second half of the statement, though, is misleading at best. The search for extrasolar planets (planets orbiting stars other than our own) is in its infancy. The technology involved at this point is only good enough to detect large (and theoretically uninhabitable) gas giants circling distant stars. This is another take on the Time-Limit on Scientific Discovery Argument. Look at this article, for example. Once you wade through all the biblical quotes, the author makes the argument that because the extrasolar planets discovered thusfar do not appear to be inhabitable, therefore extraterrestrial life must not exist. This type of argument is also called Jumping to Conclusions.

You'll notice in both of these articles that the authors run a lot of interference before even attempting to answer the question of what effect the discovery of extraterrestrials would have on religion. Wiker spends the bulk of his piece reviewing crazy theories of extraterrestrials put forth by scientists from the year 1200 until around 1900 - yet he doesn't cite a single prominent 20th-century (or 21st-century, for that matter) scientist on the subject. In the second article, as you would suspect from someone who believes in the end-time prophecy, there's an awful lot of Bible-thumping.

(By the way, you can read more on the subject yourself. I'm not going to quote any more articles here, since this is already a much longer post than I was planning. The Google search I used was Christian position on alien life.)

Just to sum up one other Christian argument on the topic of extraterrestrial life - this is the assertion that God created the entire universe, not just the Earth, so we shouldn't be surprised to find life elsewhere. That was refreshing, I thought, until I kept reading: Jesus died for them too.

What? What?! Okay, granted all this talk about alien life is conjecture anyway. But hang on a minute. Jesus died for aliens too? Let me run through a few possible alien first-contact scenarios to see just how this would play out...


Aliens: "Hello Earthlings. How are you?"

Us: "Welcome to Earth! Jesus died for your sins!"

Aliens: "What? Who?"

Us: "You know, Jesus, son of God. God created the universe!"

Aliens: "Um, no. The universe was created in the Big Bang [or whatever their scientific universe-creation theory is, which would undoubtedly be more sophisticated than ours]."

So who would be right? Would aliens be just another bunch of no-good atheists?


Aliens: "Hello Earthlings. How are you?"

Us: "Welcome to Earth! Jesus died for your sins!"

Aliens: "What? Who?"

Us: "You know, Jesus, son of God. God created the universe!"

Aliens: "Actually, the Great ZZZZnnrfbOtT created the universe."

This is possibly the only scenario where believers might get a foot in the door. It could be that the Great ZZZZnnrfbOtT is just their name for God. Our theologians and their theologians could sit down together, discuss our mutual scriptures, and who knows - maybe live together in galactic harmony. But then there's the third scenario...


Us: "Welcome to Earth! Jesus died for your sins!"

Aliens: "Open fire!"


Assuming aliens arrive simply to obliterate us, the question remains - who is right? Would God have created a race on another planet that would destroy us? What's the point? And why would God create all the different races on earth, instilling only some of them with the belief that is right? You could argue that all the different religions of the world, at their most basic level, want the same things. If that's true, why don't they work together? Why, in fact, are they almost continually in conflict?

It just goes to show that you don't have to look to extraterrestrials to reasonably conclude that there is no God.

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