Exotheology addresses the theological implications given a genuine, intelligent, extraterrestrial life form. This series will address those implications in three areas: 1) the image of God; 2) the incarnation; and 3) Divine Creation. Because the third controverts the assumptions of the astrobiological project and is discounted by the Jesuit scientists, it will be examined through the lens of nature and grace and the divided truth construct taught by Dr. Francis Schaeffer. While you may be wondering why exotheology is important, you should be aware that your tax dollars are funding it.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) doled out around one hundred thousand dollars for a workshop featuring a session asking, “Did Jesus Die for Klingons, Too?” As shocking as it might seem, on October 1, 2011, Christian Weidemann, a philosopher from Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, lectured on extraterrestrials and theology as part of the 100 Year Starship Study Symposium in Orlando, Florida. The 100 Year Starship organization’s mission statement begins, “We exist to make the capability of human travel beyond our solar system to another star a reality within the next 100 years.”[i] Intriguing as DARPA’s ambition to make Star Trek a reality might be, it is downright baffling why it wants to know if the Gospel of salvation is open to aliens. Weidemann, who identified as a Protestant, argued, “If there are extraterrestrial intelligent beings at all, it is safe to assume that most of them are sinners too. If so, did Jesus save them too? My position is no. If so, our position among intelligent beings in the universe would be very exceptional.”[ii] We think this answer has merit. But why does DARPA care? Historically, skeptics have posited the existence of ETs as a problem for Christianity, but did the first-century apostles anticipate any of this?
When Peter wrote that in the last days, scoffers would come (2 Peter 3:3), he would never have imagined the Church would have entered what historians now call the “space age.” He connected skepticism regarding Jesus’ return with the disregard of Divine Creation and the Flood of Noah’s day. Peter responded to the skeptical objections by suggesting that the present regularity of the world was not indicative of its necessary persistence in the same form. The God who holds the universe together by His word can release it with the same word. Peter also argued that God sees time in a different way than humankind. The seeming delay in Christ’s return is an opportunity for sinners to respond in faith to Jesus. Peter understood that the prophecies concerning Christ’s return would be fulfilled with destructive power at a time when unbelievers least expect it. In contrast, the scientific enterprise is founded on the uniformity of nature or the belief that today will be much like yesterday and onward in a linear sequence. But the Bible predicts a time when God will intervene. Might that nonlinear event be imminent?
On one hand, the prodigious progress of science has afforded great luxury and benefit, but on the other hand, it promotes arrogance and imagined self-sufficiency. Theologian Merill Unger described the modern Church as, “boastedly wise and scientific but utterly blind to God’s truth.”[iii] During the Holy Roman Empire, the Catholic Church enforced a stranglehold on knowledge and viciously silenced dissent. Soon the evidence mounted against it became overwhelming. The Copernican Revolution’s toll on the Renaissance Church’s authority has led to what is known as “scientism,” the idea that science is the exclusive path to truth. Even though self-refuting, scientism bolsters secular man’s denial of Divine Creation and belief in the mediocrity principle. These presuppositions seriously discount biblical revelation.
The doctrine of Creation affords a unique blessing on man. Having been endowed with the image of God, humanity is deemed exceptional (Genesis 1:26–27; 9:6). Systematic theologian Millard Erickson concludes, “The image is something in the very nature of humans, in the way in which they were made. It refers to something a human is rather than something a human has or does.”[iv] Implicit in the image is our purpose to know, love, and serve God. In addition, the New Testament grounds the Gospel in Christ’s humanity (Hebrews 2:14; 4:15; John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16). Humanity’s exceptional status and God’s incarnation as a man are theological pillars on which the Gospel stands. Thus, it comes as no surprise that John specified the incarnation, “that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” as a specific test for antichrists (1 John 4:2–3). It naturally follows that the satanic conspiracy will encompass an attack on the image of God, the incarnation, and the doctrine of Divine Creation. We believe that an extraterrestrial ruse staged by evil, supernatural forces uniquely provides the scope to undermine all three while simultaneously offering an attractive spiritual alternative to the world also palatable to inclusivist Roman Catholics and marginal believers in Christ. While the challenges have been around for years, they will gain considerable traction given an alleged ET reality.
Of course, the primary application of this material is to be extremely cautious concerning extraterrestrial claims. As Dr. Michael Heiser has suggested, something as subtle as evidence for panspermia could be just as effective as flying saucers on the White House lawn. If supernatural intelligences perpetrate such a deception, then they will likely immediately attack the veracity of biblical Christianity (Colossians 2:8). However, the teaching will seemingly embrace Christianity in an inclusivist system akin to Eastern religions and Vatican II. Short of directly exposing their demonic origin, which may prove difficult, apologetics are in order.
This discussion also has value given the outside chance of genuine ETs as well. If some sort of disclosure occurs—do not fear—we advise maintaining Christ-like composure and confidence. As fantastic as it seems, the Church should not be caught by surprise if these things come to pass prior to the Second Coming. We may face what appears to be powerful evidence against our faith. Anticipating this, C. S. Lewis ended his essay “Religion and Rocketry” in a manner supportive of this series:
We have been warned that all but conclusive evidence against Christianity, evidence that would deceive (if it were possible) the very elect, will appear with the Antichrist. And after that there will be wholly conclusive evidence on the other side. But not, I fancy, till then on either side.[v]
These sage words from Lewis remind us that no matter how well we anticipate, Satan will likely catch us by surprise. The attack could be much more subtle than we can expect.
The image of God, or imago de, is generally defined as “that which distinguishes human beings from the rest of God’s creatures,”[vi] based on the fact that the human is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26). From this definition, it is obvious that extraterrestrial intelligence poses a challenge. Fortunately, Dr. Heiser has been thinking ahead of the curve. In his novel, The Facade, he states the problem through his character Brian Scott (loosely based on himself):
Since theologians of all these traditions have for centuries taught that the image of God is what makes man absolutely unique among created beings, and since—so it’s said—the image must refer to things like intelligence, speech capability, moral sense, etc., then the reality of an extraterrestrial intelligence would demonstrate that the Bible has an error.[vii]
Interestingly, a Roman Catholic apologetics book by Peter Kreeft, which purports to handle the tough questions, addresses this issue in the form of a dialogue:
Sal: But if we’re made in God’s image, how can E.T. be made in God’s image?
Chris: God is spirit. The image of God is in us in the soul, not the body. E.T. would have a soul too, however different his body is.
Sal: So E.T. is made in God’s image too?
Chris: Of course, If E.T.s exist.[viii]
Notice how this interpretation of the image does not preserve human exceptionalism. In fact, it confirms the principle of mediocrity that undergirds astrobiology. In contrast, the functional view states that humankind is God’s unique material image on the Earth, His functional representative (Genesis 1:28; Psalms 8). Heiser explains that the prefixed Hebrew preposition rendered “in” can also be understood to mean “as God’s image”:
The idea I want to put forth is that humankind was created as God’s image. In other words, the preposition tells us that humans work as God’s imagers—that they work in the capacity of God’s representatives. The image is therefore not a thing put in us; it is something we are. It is not a thing; it is a divinely-ordained or status. Don’t think of it as a noun; think of it as a verb. Being created as God’s imagers means we are God’s representatives on earth.[ix]
The beauty of the functional view is that, in contrast to the Catholic view, it does give humankind a unique status, even when faced with ETs. It is for this reason that he asserts the functional interpretation of the imago de to be more resilient. Theologian Wayne Grudem explains, “The fact that man is in the image of God means that man is like God and represents God.”[x] Recalling that the text reads, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26a), Grudem argues that to the original readers it meant simply, “Let us make man to be like us and to represent us.”[xi] Accordingly, rather than maintain that it is exclusively functional, it seems to us there is room for the likeness aspect to encompass much of what has been classically held true as well. The incarnation issue is somewhat thornier, but can also be answered.
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In theology, “incarnation” refers to when Christ, without giving up His deity, became a human being. This invites a challenge given nonhuman intelligent beings. Astrobiologist Paul Davies writes in his book, God and the New Physics, “The existence of extra-terrestrial intelligences would have a profound impact on religion, shattering completely the traditional perspective on God’s relationship with man.… The difficulties are particularly acute for Christianity, which postulates that Jesus Christ was God incarnate whose mission was to provide salvation for man on Earth. The prospect of a host of ‘alien Christs’ systematically visiting every inhabited planet in the physical form of the local creatures has a rather absurd aspect.”[xii] Accordingly, the Church should be prepared to address the alleged contradiction between Jesus’ incarnation and the existence of ETs, already a popular canard amongst atheists.
Peter Kreeft’s Catholic apologetics treatment approaches it like this:
Sal: And do you think Christ became an E.T. on E.T.’s home planet?
Chris: Why not? Especially if they needed him as we did, if they fell into sin and needed a Savior.
Sal: You mean maybe some planets didn’t sin?
Chris: Maybe. We didn’t have to sin, you know. That’s why we’re rightly blamed for it. That much is certain, however you interpret the Garden of Eden story. Sin was out fault, our free choice.
Sal: So maybe E.T. people didn’t sin, and then Christ didn’t have to come to E.T.’s planet.
Chris: Maybe. But maybe he came anyway, not to die but just to say hello.[xiii]
Vatican Observatory Research Group (VORG) astronomer Chris Corbally offers a similar response: “While Christ is the First and the Last Word (the Alpha and the Omega) spoken to humanity, he is not necessarily the only word spoke to the universe.… For, the Word spoken to us does not seem to exclude an equivalent ‘Word’ spoken to aliens. They, too, could have had their ‘Logos-event.’”[xiv] Karl Rahner wrote: “In view of the immutability of God in himself and the identity of the Logos with God, it cannot be proved that a multiple incarnation in different histories of salvation is absolutely unthinkable.”[xv] As you can see, Roman Catholic theologians are playing right into the hands of Paul Davies and, more famously, the founding father Thomas Paine, who previously voiced this alleged conundrum:
Are we to suppose that every world in the boundless creation had an Eve, an apple, a serpent and a redeemer? In this case, the person who is irreverently called the Son of God, and sometimes God himself, would have nothing else to do than to travel from world to world, in an endless succession of death, with scarcely a momentary interval of life.[xvi]
Of course, Paine merely presupposes the existence of other worlds and ETs, but given an end-time disclosure event, this argument could have real teeth. But certainly all of these skeptics and Catholic theologians alike ignore the repeated instances in Scripture that assert it as a one-time event. Paul couldn’t have been any clearer: “Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him” (Romans 6:9, underlined added). The author of Hebrews makes a major point out of “once” by repeating it five times (Hebrews7:27; 9:12, 9:26, 9:28; 10:10). Also, Peter wrote, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18, underline added). It’s hard to take the New Testament seriously and imagine multiple incarnations and sacrificial deaths on other planets. The question comes down to sufficiency. It seems much more coherent to believe that if hypothetical ETs do need salvation, then Jesus’ unique offering on Earth is enough for all.
S. Lewis responded to a similar challenge from astronomer Fred Hoyle by reasoning from Romans 8:19–23 that the longing for redemption is cosmic, and therefore it is possible that Christ’s redemption has somehow been extended to other creatures or that perhaps Christians will be the instrument by which it is offered.[xvii] While it’s possible, the Great Commission really only entailed the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In addition, the cosmic language in Colossians, “to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20), seems to imply that any being who can be redeemed is redeemed by the terrestrial cross.
Catholic theologians strangely disagree. For example, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin writes this would be “‘ridiculous’, particularly when one considers the enormous number of stars to be ‘informed’ (miraculously?) and their distance from one another in space and time.”[xviii] Of course, he discounts God’s omnipresence and assumes thousands of alien civilizations. In like fashion, O’Meara writes, “Human beings should not project terrestrial religion onto possible peoples elsewhere.”[xix] Yet, whether or not Rome recognizes it, God is sovereign over the vast universe. Based on dubious alien apologetics like this, Roman Catholics are especially vulnerable to a diabolical ruse. The last area of attack is the doctrine of Divine Creation.
Divine Creation: Nature and Grace
Peter’s prophetic warning concerning scoffers was especially prescient in that it connects skepticism of the Second Coming with the denial of Divine Creation (2 Peter 3:4–5). Although skeptics ridicule our confidence in His return, the delay actually reveals God’s desire that more will repent and come to faith. Furthermore, Paul specifically connected denial of the Creator to humankind’s increasingly futile thinking, idolatrous religion, and immorality (Romans 1:20–32). Those seem self-evident. Indeed, even the words of the Jesuit scientists seem prophetically significant in that Intelligent Design and Creationism have been castigated to the point that they can no longer be mentioned in a classroom. Divine Creation is foundational to all other doctrines, and skepticism in this area contaminates all others. It really reflects a worldview issue.
While new exoplanet discoveries lead atheists, science fiction fans, and ET true believers to be greatly encouraged, most members of the public are relatively ambivalent because either they are not aware or they do not share the scientists’ worldview. The term “worldview” is actually derived from a German term, weltanschauung, which means a “look onto the world.” An academic definition is “the comprehensive set of basic beliefs in which one views the world and interprets experiences.”[xx] It is the lens through which one interprets reality. Everyone has a worldview. We all have certain presuppositions and preferences that affect our view of life and reality. Our worldview is formed by our upbringing, education, nationality, and culture. It is fueled by the books we read, music we listen to, art we appreciate, and movies we watch. This is why the Apostle Paul exhorted, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). The secular world views reality differently than the Christian.
Naturalism commonly refers to the view that only the laws of nature control the universe, and that nothing exists beyond the natural. The public statements coming from the Jesuit scientists are more consistent with the naturalistic worldview than biblical Christianity. For all intents and purposes, the VORG astronomers like George Coyne, Guy Consolmagno, José Gabriel Funes, and Christopher Corbally have adopted a “two-tiered” worldview based on a divided concept of truth as described by the acclaimed evangelical philosopher, Dr. Francis Schaeffer. As it turns out, this is not too surprising, because Schaeffer traced the origin of the divided-truth concept to Roman Catholic Doctor of the Church, Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274). After a brief survey of early Western thought, Schaeffer wrote, “In Aquinas’s view the will of man was fallen, but the intellect was not. From this incomplete view of the biblical Fall flowed subsequent difficulties. Out of this as time passed, man’s intellect was seen as autonomous.”[xxi] Several passages of Scripture confirm sin’s effect on the intellect (e.g., Rom. 1:21; 2 Cor. 3:14–15; 4:4).
According to Schaeffer, Aquinas opened the way for the discussion of what is usually called nature and grace. In his seminal work, Escape From Reason, Schaeffer diagrammed grace over nature like this:
GRACE, THE HIGHER
- God the Creator
- heaven and heavenly things
- the unseen and its influence on the earth
- man’s soul
NATURE, THE LOWER
- The created
- earth and earthly things;
- the visible and what nature and man do on earth
- man’s body
- diversity [xxii]
The idea is that truth is divided. There are two kinds of truth: one accessed by reason and evidence and the other by blind faith. If you pay close attention, it becomes easy to spot the truth-divide in the Jesuit scientists’ caustic criticisms of Intelligent Design and Creationism.
UP NEXT: VORG Disputes Divine Creation, Opens Door For Vatican’s ETs
[ii] Clara Moskowitz, “Are Aliens Part of God’s Plan, Too? Finding E.T. Could Change Religion Forever,” Space.com, October 2, 2011, http://www.space.com/13152-aliens-religion-impacts-extraterrestrial-christianity.html#.
[iii] Merrill F. Unger, Biblical Demonology: A Study of Spiritual Forces at Work Today (Wheaton, IL: Scripture Press Publications, 1952), 203.
[iv] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 532.
[v] C. S. Lewis, “Religion and Rocketry,” as quoted in The World’s Last Night: and Other Essays (Orlando, FL: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002), 92.
[vi]Millard J. Erickson, The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology, rev. ed., 1st Crossway ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 97.
[vii] Michael S. Heiser, The Facade (Bowling Green, KY: Superiorbooks.Com Inc., 2001), 168.
[viii] Peter Kreeft, Yes or No?: Straight Answers to Tough Questions About Christianity (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 150.
[ix] Michael S. Heiser, “Panspermia” as quoted in How to Overcome the Most Frightening Issues You Will Face This Century (Crane: Defender, 2009), Kindle locations 4047–4050.
[x]Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan, 1994), 442.
[xi]Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 443.
[xii] Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1983), 71.
[xiii] Peter Kreeft, Yes or No?, 150.
[xiv] Christopher Corbally, “What if There Were Other Inhabited Worlds?” as quoted in: Niels Henrik Gregersen, Ulf Görman, and Christoph Wassermann, The Interplay between Scientific and Theological Worldviews, Volume 1 (Paris, Labor et Fides, 1997); viewable here: http://books.google.com/books?id=ylKZFty_OdsC&lpg=PA77&ots=K9TMN-q2wP&dq=Christopher%20Corbally%2C%20%E2%80%9CWhat%20if%20There%20Were%20Other%20Inhabited%20Worlds%E2%80%9D&pg=PA77#v=onepage&q&f=false.
[xv] Karl Rahner, “Natural Science and Reasonable Faith,’’ in Theological Investigations, vol. XXI, trans. Hugh M. Riley (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1988), 51.
[xvi] Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (New York, NY: The Truth Seeker Company, 1898), 283.
[xvii] Lewis, “Religion and Rocketry,” as quoted in The World’s Last Night, 91.
[xviii] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, (New York, NY: A Harvest Book, 1971), 233.
[xix] Thomas F. O’Meara, Vast Universe: Extraterrestrials and Christian Revelation. Kindle ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012), Kindle location 560.
[xx] C. Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 124.
[xxi] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy: the Three Essential Books in One Volume. (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1990), 211.
[xxii] Ibid., 209.