Hands down, the biggest question The Great Delusion filmmaker Josh Peck says he ever had as a child was: Are aliens real? He loved science fiction. He also loved the Bible. However he didn’t know if the two were compatible. He was raised in a Baptist family who mostly didn’t think such questions were too terribly important. That’s not a dig on anyone, of course. Everyone has his or her own interests and priorities. When he would ask someone in his family or the pastor of his church about aliens, the answer was usually some variation of, “Oh Josh, they’re just demons.” That was that.
However, “I craved more information,” he writes. “If it was true aliens that are demons, why? Where do we get that from? The Bible is basically silent on this issue (though there have been attempts throughout history to read one position or another into the text, as we will see throughout this series). How can the demonic theory be supported using the text of the Bible? I wondered about these questions for the rest of my young life.
“As a teenager, especially after the age of 18, I began to accept the possibility of life on other planets. A big influence on me at the time was New Age theology. I was young, New Age was exciting, New Age allowed me to believe in aliens. So, it seemed like a good fit. It wasn’t, but reasons for that go a bit outside the scope of this topic.
“By the time I was in my mid-20s, I was pretty much convinced that aliens were real. I did not believe they were demonic, but I did believe they were created by God. I couldn’t justify my views with biblical texts and I certainly had many unanswered questions, but this didn’t matter much to me at the time. After I had a couple of years with my groundless beliefs (I’m not saying there aren’t grounds for believing these things; I just didn’t have any at the time), I began to crave more information. If aliens were real, why ’didn’t the Bible talk about them? Why would God create something and not tell us about it, especially since people seem to have horrific visitations and abduction experiences? Why would God keep this a secret? It didn’t make sense, and the holes in my logic were starting to grow too big to ignore. So, I did the only sensible thing I could think of at the time. I decided to pray and ask God about it.
“I didn’t get an answer right away. In fact, even today, I’m not sure if I have the full answer. However, there are pieces of the answer out there that I was not aware of at the time. The more I discovered these pieces, the more they seemed to bring the total picture into focus. My piece of the puzzle was the Genesis 6 Nephilim interpretation of alien and UFO phenomena. Because this interpretation has been vastly covered by authors and researchers far more eloquent than me, this series will not cover it, except to say that it is a very legitimate interpretation and one that I held onto for years (and in many ways still do). I suggest, if the reader is not familiar with the topic of the Nephilim, that you pick up a copy of The Unseen Realm by Dr. Michael S. Heiser. I believe it to be the best writing on the topic, although Genesis 6 is only one aspect of the book. For information about how it might relate to modern UFO phenomena, there are too many books and DVDs on the topic to list here; however, most of these are available through Defender Publishing.
“After years with the Genesis 6 Nephilim interpretation, I began to get the feeling again that there was more to the story. Certain issues were still up in the air. I still had questions. As with any issue, I wanted to understand the other viewpoints in order to weigh them against my own. I really wanted to know, given the amount of current information, yet in a completely broad sense (not considering specific races such as grays, reptilians, and nordics for the moment), if evangelical Christianity could accommodate an undeniable extraterrestrial reality.[i]
Maintaining the Demonic Interpretation
As stated in the introduction, the authors of this series both hold to what is generally referred to as the “demonic interpretation” of the current alien abduction phenomenon. What this means, in brief terms, is that we fully recognize and accept that the typical races of entities commonly referred to as “aliens” (i.e., reptilians, grays, nordics, mantids, etc.) are most likely demonic beings and/or fallen angels. For reasons outlined previously in this series, we believe this is the likeliest interpretation due to the anti-Christian and anti-biblical nature of the messages, teachings, and philosophies given to abductees from these entities. The reason we want to make this clear is that this series, perhaps more than any other before it, may prove challenging to some Christians if the purpose is not properly understood. This series is not written in order to state that the beings commonly witnessed in alien abduction phenomena are in fact aliens. No, we do not believe this to be true. Rather, this series is to answer a much broader question, wholly divorced from the UFO and alien abduction phenomena altogether. We are looking at the question from a purely theological position while, for the moment, setting aside any commonly reported nonhuman entity. This series could easily be misconstrued if this is not established right off the bat. This is not apologetics for commonly reported nonhuman entities to be understood as aliens from another planet. We do not endorse that view. Rather, this is to ask the question: What does the Bible have to say about the possibility of life on other planets?
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Alexander UFO Religious Crisis Survey
Anyone who has done substantial study of official disclosure has come across the religious aspect. How would religious institutions react to either an official disclosure event or a genuine extraterrestrial presence as a whole? In fact, it has been hypothesized that this is a major reason our government seems to be hiding information from us: fear of widespread panic and hysteria, especially among religious groups. There have been several attempts to gauge what the reaction would be among religious Americans. The earliest formal effort was in the Alexander UFO Religious Crisis Survey (AUFORCS) in 1994.
This survey was interesting for a variety of reasons. It focused on a sample of Protestant ministers, Roman Catholic priests, and Jewish rabbis. It asked questions related to possible government disclosure of UFOs and alien contact information. Also, it was directed by Victoria Alexander, wife of retired Army Colonel Dr. John Alexander, a veteran of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command and Los Alamos National Laboratory’s nonlethal weapons program, as well as a member of the intergovernmental Advanced Theoretical Physics working group.[ii]
The purpose of the survey was to find an answer to a seemingly simple, yet extremely important, question: Would disclosure of U.S. government contact with aliens really precipitate a religious crisis that would threaten continuity of government and even our civilization? To seek an answer, a mail survey of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy was conducted in order to discover their informed opinions. One thousand copies of the survey were mailed to randomly selected religious bodies in the United States and the results of the survey were based on a 23 percent return (230 of 1,000 surveys).
For the survey, the U.S. was divided into five regions. Five hundred and sixty-three surveys were sent to Protestant churches, 396 to Roman Catholic churches, and 41 to Jewish synagogues. Among the questions in the survey, one asked for the approximate size of the congregation. Eighty-one Protestant respondents answered the “Approximate Size of Congregation” line, totaling to 35,824 families. Forty-five Roman Catholic respondents answered, totaling 56,208 families. Six Jewish respondents answered, totaling 1,445 families. Altogether, this totals 132 congregations and 93,477 families.
Based on a U.S. population of 280 million (at the time the survey was conducted), Protestants represented 28 percent of the population and 54 percent of church membership. Catholics represented 20 percent of the population and 38.6 percent of church membership. Lastly, Jews represented 2 percent of the population and 4 percent of church membership. The fourth-highest religious body, Eastern churches, represented 1 percent of the population and 2 percent of church membership. These four religious groups represented 51 percent of the U.S. population.
Less than 25 percent of the surveys were returned. Also, there were no questions to determine how theologically conservative (meaning taking the Bible as the inspired Word of God) the individual minister, priest, or rabbi was who answered the survey. Logically, the more conservative the respondent, the more likely he or she may have been troubled by some of the questions on the survey. For example, some of the questions were:
Do you think genetic similarities between mankind and an advanced extraterrestrial civilization would challenge the basic religious concepts of man’s relative position in the universe? (Sample question #5).
If an advanced extraterrestrial civilization had religious beliefs fundamentally different from ours, would it endanger organized religions in this country? (Sample question #6)
If an advanced extraterrestrial civilization proclaimed responsibility for producing human life, would it cause a religious crisis? (Sample question #10)
Questions like these may have been the reason for such a low percentage of return. Some, possibly even most based on the 23 percent return, may have either been troubled by the questions or thought them outright ridiculous. They may have chosen to throw the survey in the garbage rather than consider the questions seriously and theologically.
As popular as this survey became in the UFO community, the math and percentages speak to its legitimacy. If we generously assume a family is four people on average (two adults and two children), then only 373,908 people in the United States are covered (93,477 families multiplied by 4 equals 373,908). Given that only about half of the respondents disclosed their congregation size, we can double that figure to liberally estimate a total of 747,816 people. This means, by the survey’s own calculations and sources, that, at most, only 0.27 percent (747,816 is 0.2671 percent of 280 million) of the U.S. population was accounted for in the survey. This only accounts for 1 in 374 people in the United States (280 million divided by 747,816 is 374.423655017). This is roughly the equivalent of taking two random students out of an average American high school and expecting only their views to represent the views of the rest of the students.[iii] Simply speaking, the survey does not cover what is needed to fairly assess how religious people would react to a genuine extraterrestrial reality.
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History of Religious and Theological Beliefs Concerning Extraterrestrials
One might wonder how we got here. How did evangelical Christianity and theological conservatism get to the point at which it is generally opposed to the idea of life on other worlds? The history of this question is deep and could easily justify an entire book on the subject. Surprisingly, it ’hasn’t always been this way. In fact, not too long ago, a belief in the possibility of extraterrestrial life was commonly accepted among Christians and other religious circles. So, what changed?
The major opponents to the idea of life on other worlds in ancient times were Plato and Aristotle. Both philosophers held to geocentric cosmologies (the view stating that the sun and everything in the heavens revolves around the Earth). From this, Aristotle and Plato asserted that all matter was contained in this world, thereby leaving no room for others. The unchangeability of the heavens was cited as proof of this.[iv] Most early Christian authors generally opposed the idea of extraterrestrial life, because they tended to favor Platonic and Aristotelian philosophical views rather than the materialistic philosophy of the atomists at the time. However, over time, questions arose. If God was all-powerful, why was He only able to create one world? Also, if only one world existed, how could God possibly be truly infinite and omnipotent? The theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) expressed his ideas about how to solve this problem. He stated that God has the power to create infinite worlds, but that all the matter in the universe had been used to construct Earth.[v]
Things began to turn around in 1277, however, when Etienne Tempier, the bishop of Paris, issued a condemnation of doctrines that seemed to set limits on God’s omnipotence under the authority of the Pope.[vi] One of the propositions condemned was “the First Cause (God) cannot make many worlds.” This didn’t mean the Church began teaching about life on other planets, or what was called at the time “Plurality of Worlds.” The physics of Aristotle, which were still popular until the sixteenth century, taught that if any other worlds did exist, they would have to gravitate to the center of the universe, where Earth was believed to be located. Rather than the extreme of teaching Plurality of Worlds, it merely became wrong to suggest that God could not create many worlds if He wanted.[vii]
In 1410, some more progress was made. The Jewish philosopher Crescas wrote:
Everything said in negation to the possibility of many worlds is vanity and a striving after wind…yet we are unable by means of mere speculation to ascertain the true nature of what is outside this world; our sages, peace be on them, have seem fit to warn against searching and inquiring into what is above and what is below, what is before and what is behind.[viii]
Therefore, while Crescas was able to entertain the possibility, he still restrained the idea with a warning against pursuing it much farther.
The openness the religious world was beginning to see led to the introduction of what Christian philosophers would call the “Principle of Plentitude” during the Renaissance. This was a philosophical/theological idea, not necessarily a biblical one, positing that an omnipotent Creator like the God of the Bible must, of necessity, bring to be everything possible to fully honor His own goodness and power. Therefore, Christian theology went from seeing other worlds as possible to arguing that they might even be required. The Principle of Plentiful caused this line of thinking to take another leap forward in 1440, when Cardinal Nicolas of Cusa (1401–1464), Bishop of Brixen and Christian philosopher, wrote Of Learned Ignorance. In the book, he stated:
Rather than think so many stars and parts of the heavens are uninhabited, and that this Earth of ours alone is peopled…we will suppose that in every region there are inhabitants, differing in nature by rank and all owing their origin to God.[ix]
Nicolas of Cusa was the first prominent Latin Christian scholar to embrace the idea of extraterrestrials.
Later, during the Reformation, the Principle of Plentitude faced some opposition, particularly from Lutheran reformer Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560). In 1550, Melanchthon warned that Copernican cosmology would lead to a dangerous idea stating that Christ’s incarnation and redemption could have occurred on another planet. Despite this, belief in extraterrestrials among Christians and Christian theologians continued to ride in popularity during the Enlightenment.
Near the end of the eighteenth century, the generally accepted view inside and outside the Church was the universe was filled with intelligent life. In fact, in light of the Principle of Plentitude, many Christians believed that the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe actually enhanced an individual’s religious perspective. However, the acceptance of the possibility—or even probability, according to most at the time—of extraterrestrial life was undermined by one of the Enlightenment’s major figures.
Thomas Paine, in 1793, argued that astronomical science made it impossible for any thinking person to accept the general Christian notions of a divine incarnation and redeemer in his book Age of Reason. Through his history of confronting Christianity’s belief in extraterrestrial life, Paine (like many of the founding fathers) became a deist. In his own words:
From whence…could arise the…strange conceit that the Almighty…should…come to die in our world because, they say, one man and one woman had eaten an apple! And, on the other hand, are we to suppose that every world in the boundless creation had an Eve, an apple, a serpent, and a redeemer?… The Son of God…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.[x]
Many Christian authors in the period after Paine responded to his arguments. Among the most successful were Timothy Dwight (1752–1817) and Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847). Both Chalmers and Dwight were conservative in terms of their theology. Dwight was the president of Yale University from 1795 until his death in 1817. Chalmers was the most prominent Scottish religious figure of his day. He is quoted as saying:
For anything we can know by reason, the plan of redemption may have its influences and its bearings on those creatures of God who people other regions.[xi]
The belief in the possibility of extraterrestrial life continued through the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the Church. However, it soon turned into the threat many Christians see it as today. With the advent of Darwinism, scientists began to be viewed as antagonistic by Christians who accepted the Bible’s claim of a divine Creator. The Church became increasingly hostile to the idea of intelligent life on other planets once Darwinists concluded that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would add support for naturalistic evolution against the idea of a Creator. This led to where we are today.
Throughout much of history, the Church supported the idea of extraterrestrial life. Of course, intelligent life on other planets brought up important theological issues, such as relating to the incarnation and redemption; however, these questions were not viewed as threats to the faith. Two main issues drove the Church away from the ET question altogether, neither of which actually came from the Bible itself. The first was that certain threatening, yet not theologically sound, problems were invented by people like Paine. Second was the unnecessary link of random and natural evolutionary theory to the extraterrestrial life question. The first made Christians wonder if the question of extraterrestrial life was a legitimate problem. The second caused Christians to feel like they had to distance themselves from the idea of extraterrestrial life so as to not accept the naturalistic/evolutionary explanation of life both on Earth and possibly on other planets.
UP NEXT: The Supposed Threat of Evolution
[i] For more information, watch Could Christianity Accommodate a Genuine Extra-Terrestrial Reality? By Dr. Michael S. Heiser, PhD: https://youtu.be/uOZ0KaUBkoU.
[ii] Jeff Levin, “Revisiting the Alexander UFO Religious Crisis Survey (AUFORCS): Is There Really a Crisis?” Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 273–284, 2012, http://www.baylorisr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012-JSE-UFO-Levin.pdf.
[iii] American high schools have 752 students per school on average, https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2001/overview/table05.asp.
[iv] C. Maxwell Cade, Other Worlds Than Ours; Taplinger Publishing Company, N.Y., 1967; 1st publ. in G. Britain in 1966.
[v] Ernst Fasan; Relations with Alien Intelligences; (Berlin Verlag Arno Spitz, I Berlin 33, Ehrenbergstraße 29; 1970).
[vi] C. Maxwell Cade, Other Worlds Than Ours; Taplinger Publishing Company, N. Y., 1967; 1st publ. in G. Britain in 1966.
[vii] Sylvia Louise Engdahl; The Planet-Girded Suns: Man’s View of Other Solar Systems; (Athenaeum, N. Y.; 1974)
[viii] C. Maxwell Cade, Other Worlds Than Ours; Taplinger Publishing Company, N. Y., 1967; 1st publ. in G. Britain in 1966.
[x] Thomas Paine, Age of Reason Part First, Section 13, http://www.ushistory.org/paine/reason/reason13.htm.