Is there life on other worlds?

This has been a good week for those searching for life beyond the earth. The BBC Science and Nature web page links to three separate new articles pointing in this direction. Salt deposits from dried up lakes have been found on Mars, suggesting that once, billions of years ago, there were lakes of salty water which could have supported life, and that traces of this could be found in the salt. Beneath the icy surface of Saturn’s moon Titan, according to new evidence, very likely still today there are oceans of liquid water, which could well support life as organic molecules are also present. And for the first time these organic molecules have been found on a planet outside our solar system; although this particular planet is too hot for life, this finding, combined with the recent discovery of a planet of similar size and temperature to our earth orbiting a distant star, suggests that there may be billions of planets in our galaxy capable of supporting life.

It is highly unlikely that any life on Mars or on Titan will be anything like the intelligent aliens we know of from science fiction. Large organisms simply could not survive on Mars today; indeed it seems unlikely that any life could. Much more likely, both there and deep inside Titan, would be something like bacteria.

As for planets in other solar systems, from a scientific point of view anything is possible. But people have been listening for radio messages from aliens for 50 years and have so far not heard anything suggesting intelligent beings out there.

Would the discovery of life on other planets be a threat to the Christian faith? Certainly it should not be. If God can create life on earth, whether through natural processes (as I believe) or by direct creation (as other Christians prefer to understand it), he certainly can do so in other places, and we have no reason to think that he has not done so.

If there are non-human intelligent beings out there, one might speculate, or conceivably in future be able to study, whether they are also self-aware and spiritual beings, whether they too have sinned, and whether they too need to be saved by the sacrificial death and resurrection of the Son of God. CS Lewis memorably speculated in his novels Out of the Silent Planet and Voyage to Venus (also known as Perelandra) about intelligent inhabitants of Mars and Venus living in an unfallen Garden of Eden kind of environment. Of course we can’t know, until and unless we make actual contact. But the possibility of this should not be any kind of threat to our faith.

22 thoughts on “Is there life on other worlds?

  1. Peter, whether you like it or not the Bible teaches ‘direct creation’ as you term it.
    On this subject you never did respond to the list of world class scientists who believe in creationism that you asked me to provide some time ago.
    At the time you seemed to think that there weren’t any.
    The evidence that ordinary days are being referred to in Gen 1 is so overwhelming that even liberal Hebrew scholars admit that the author can have had no other intent—particularly when the words ‘evening’ and ‘morning’ are used from the first day.

    Back to your supposed ‘life on other planets’. There is no intelligent life on other planets.
    The Bible clearly states that the whole of creation is affected by the fall. It also clearly states that Jesus died to redeem Adams race.
    Intelligent alien beings cannot be redeemed. God’s plan of redemption is for human beings: those descended from Adam.

    “When we consider how the salvation plan might apply to any hypothetical extraterrestrial (but otherwise human-like) beings, we are presented with a problem. If there were Vulcans or Klingons out there, how would they be saved? They are not blood relatives of Jesus, and so Christ’s shed blood cannot pay for their sin. One might at first suppose that Christ also visited their world, lived there, and died there as well, but this is antibiblical. Christ died once for all (1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 9:27–28, Hebrews 10:10). Jesus is now and forever both God and man; but He is not an alien.

    One might suppose that alien beings have never sinned, in which case they would not need to be redeemed. But then another problem emerges: they suffer the effects of sin, despite having never sinned.
    Adam’s sin has affected all of creation— not just mankind. Romans 8:20–22 makes it clear that the entirety of creation suffers under the bondage of corruption. These kinds of issues highlight the problem of attempting to incorporate an antibiblical notion into the Christian worldview.

    Extraterrestrial life is an evolutionary concept; it does not comport with the biblical teachings of the uniqueness of the earth and the distinct spiritual position of human beings.
    Of all the worlds in the universe, it was the earth that God Himself visited, taking on the additional nature of a human being, dying on a cross, and rising from the dead in order to redeem all who would trust in Him. The biblical worldview sharply contrasts with the secular worldview when it comes to alien life.”

    (Extract of a longer article from the archives of AIG)

  2. peter–

    you might want to google ‘fermi’s paradox.’

    glenn–

    your certitude is frighteningly ‘alienating.’

    peace–

    scott

  3. Thanks, Lingamish. I had forgotten that discussion.

    Glenn, I don’t want to get into discussing creation versus evolution in this thread, which is why I deliberately allowed for both positions in the post. I must say I find your reasoning leading to “There is no intelligent life on other planets” very dubious. For a start you are confusing “intelligent” and “spiritual”, for there is nothing in your argument against highly intelligent supercomputers (created by God, I suppose) on other planets. I accept that there are complex theological issues involved if there are spiritual beings on other worlds, but your argument is over-simplistic in laying down that God could have had no way to deal with them, neither through the sacrifice of Christ that we know about nor through any other sacrifice or equivalent means. Anyway, from the Bible, e.g. Isaiah 11:6-9 (surely you take this literally!), we read that wild animals on earth will be redeemed from the effects of the fall on them without Christ dying as an animal

    Iconoclast, thanks for the great link!

    Scott, it was interesting to read up on Fermi’s paradox. Of course the paradox assumes that intelligent life is like us in many ways such as wanting to discover conquer distant worlds. To an extent this desire in humans is a consequence of the fall. So is it a solution to Fermi’s paradox to suggest that other intelligent creatures are unfallen and so uninterested in distant worlds. Also it may well be that aliens are simply too alien, not even vaguely humanoid as most science fiction authors portray them.

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  5. Computers…on other planets??? What on earth ore you going on about.
    Yes, I was/am talking about true life.
    The only one being ‘simplistic’ here Peter is you. As usual when you don’t have a true response you slip into thinly disguised denigration of the person who has challenged you.
    You still have not responded to the list of World class scientists you so obviously didn’t think could possibly exist.
    You say the reasoning is dubious, but fail (conspicuously) to say in what way.
    It is easy to make accusations when you don’t bother to back them up.
    As to the animals in Isaiah, they are surely part of creation which we are told will be ‘made new’.

    A common Hebrew word translated life (soul) is nephesh. Nephesh is used for the life or breath of both animals and man (Gen. 1: 20, 30; 19: 17). Life is that state that is the opposite of death. It is a state of animation, breathing, and awareness. Men and animals alike possess a soul in the sense of breath (nephesh). However, in the sense of possessing a part or element that lives forever, as man possesses, animals do not possess an eternal spirit (cp. Matt. 25: 46). The animal simply and totally returns to the dust, the spirit of man continues to exist.

    The fact that animals do not possess an eternal soul in the sense that man does, does not de-emphasize their value as companions to man. Pets can and do become an important part in the lives of millions.

  6. Glenn, if you think you can impress me with a list of world class scientists, I can find one ten or a hundred times longer holding the opposite position to yours (whatever that was, I have forgotten now). Would that impress you? Or would you respond that truth is truth whatever world class scientists might say?

    Meanwhile I could very easily quite comprehensively demolish the ridiculous argument you quoted, but I have better things to do with my time than respond in detail to such nonsense. I will just say that your argument proves that there are no animals on earth, and that is sufficient to demonstrate that it is fallacious. Or else it simply proves that intelligent beings on other planets “do not possess an eternal soul in the sense that man [sic] does”, which (even if the logic is correct, which I don’t accept) is not what you claim to have proved.

    Lingamish, I wonder if trolls have eternal souls?

  7. Interesting question, Dannii. I’m sure there could be intelligent life forms without blood. On the other hand it is very likely the most efficient way to build an organism large enough to have intelligence to have some kind of blood-like fluid circulating within its body.

    But I don’t consider literal blood to have great theological significance. In the Bible blood is primarily an extended metaphor for life and death, although in some places, especially in the OT sacrificial system, the actual fluid has a symbolic significance.

  8. So the Levetical commands about blood are symbolic only?

    Even if blood is a symbolic symbol for life, which I suppose I would have to agree it is as there are many lifeforms without blood, in the biblical terms of life, death and redemption, is it still a comprehensive symbol?

  9. To ask another way…

    In the Bible God seems to have arbitrarily defined a set of lifeforms which he will interact with or that he cares about – those with blood. If there were other intelligent lifeforms in the universe, ones without blood, is there any reason why he might go against the system he specified himself?

    Murder is spoken of in terms of blood in many places, so would we be able to freely kill these aliens without consequence?

  10. Dannii, the Levitical commands are not purely symbolic, but their significance is in the symbolism. To put it another way, they are sacramental, outward and visible signs of a invisible spiritual reality.

    I don’t think the Bible has anything to say about redemption of life-forms without blood, but I suspect that is because on earth only very small and unintelligent lifeforms don’t have blood. But I don’t think it is correct to say that God does not care for lifeforms without blood. In Psalm 104:27-30 we read of his concern for all creatures, with no restrictions concerning blood.

    Whether killing aliens is murder or not is an interesting issue, but I would say that it depends more on whether they are spiritual beings than on whether they have blood. After all, killing a pack of attacking wolves does not count as murder even though they do have blood. Come to think of it killing a neighbour’s pet dog isn’t murder either, although it is wrong. There are rules in Exodus I think about compensation for killing someone else’s cattle, but this is not treated as murder. So murder is not equivalent to shedding blood, but in fact only to shedding human blood.

  11. Someone could however argue that Ps 104 is only talking about the animals with blood…

    A while ago I did a not-completely-comprehensive word study and I couldn’t find anywhere in the OT at least that refered to things without blood as being alive. I’d be interested in learning of any exceptions.

    Okay, time for another scenario: in the OT Israel is refered to as God’s wife or bride, and is condemed when commits “adultery” with the nation’s idols. The same symbol is used in the NT for the church. If there were an intelligence alien race in a relationship with God, could we charge God with adultery?

  12. I couldn’t find anywhere in the OT at least that refered to things without blood as being alive.

    An interesting observation, if true. You are of course excepting YHWH, God the Father, unless you claim that he too has blood. But there are other exceptions, such as Hosea 14:8 (14:7 in English) where grain is said to live, Hebrew XYH, also perhaps Psalm 58:10 (58:9 in English) of thorns. And of course the word is also used of souls (nephesh), hearts, (human) spirits etc, which do not have blood. It is also sometimes used of inanimate objects, metaphorically, especially of water: “living water” is an idiom meaning “flowing water”. The reason we don’t see the word used of lower animals without blood, if this is true, is that there is in fact rather little in the Bible about such animals. But there is quite a lot about locusts, which don’t have blood. Are you sure they are never referred to as alive?

  13. peter–

    if your trolls’ responses about life elsewhere (blood and souls and nephesh–oh, my!) aren’t the tail wagging the dog, i’ll eat my hat.

    this is why scripture is a treated as a faith community document, not a science text.

    peace–

    scott

  14. Hey Peter, thanks for indulging me and not thinking of me as a troll (yet).

    YHWH is of course the ultimate source of all life. I haven’t been suggesting that life is some intrinsic property of blood, but rather that God chooses to give/classify life to creatures with blood (or that he gives blood to those he classifies as alive.)

    Hosea 14… hmm okay, now although the various translations I looked at all say different things, that does look like the grain/corn is being called alive. Interesting, I think that’s time I’ve seen a plant being called alive. However is it the people or the grain that is alive? Could it be that the people are alive and that the comparison with the grain/corn is something other than life, such as height perhaps? This makes some sense to me, we then have several comparisons, such as the beauty of the lily, the roots (strength?) of the cedars and the fame of the vine.

    Souls/nephesh: well it’s my understanding that these are one and the same as life. All living souls have a body, and all the living souls’ bodies have blood. This was I looked at in more detail in the past, and I don’t remember finding any exceptions.

    And of course life can be used figuratively, though we can easily tell when that’s the case. There’s no chance of mistaking the physical life of a dog with the figurative life in a party for example.

    Locusts… I can’t remember specifically studying them in great detail, but I didn’t ever find them being refered to as alive either.
    Okay I just looked again and didn’t find anything.
    Interestingly, I didn’t see them refered to as dead either… they seem to come and go as a plague. I heard an idea once that the vegetation is really an extension of the dry land in Gen 1, I wonder if this would apply to the insects too.

  15. Dannii, you may be right. The Hosea 14 reference is obscure, perhaps most literally “they will cause the grain to live” but TNIV may be right to translate “they will flourish like the corn”. I don’t want to take this further, not because you are a troll, but because I have other things to do and I don’t see this discussion getting any further.

  16. As I thought, no sensible response.
    The list of Scientists was provided at your own request, as at the time you doubted that any could be provided.
    Your overall response just goes to prove what I have already observed and pointed out in my last comment.

    Lingamish, if you are referring to me as a Troll then I really must point out that you have no understanding of what a troll is, either in mythology or in internet terms, but then it is easy to throw around such childish accusations in a blog

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