Earthbound? Psalm 115:16 and the Question of Alien Life

 

Many anti-alienists cite Psalm 115:16 in support of their position. For example, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis begins his article, “Do I Believe in UFOs? Absolutely!”, with an off-hand note about how God “made the stars also” [Genesis 1:16], using it as a springboard for an argument  to build that Earth is center stage and the rest of the universe is window dressing for His chief creation:

“Everything else was made for purposes relating to the earth. For instance, the sun, moon, and stars were made ‘for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years’ (Genesis 1:14).”

“Throughout the Old Testament, many passages distinguish between the heavens and the earth. Psalm 115:16 states, ‘The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s: but the earth has he given to the children of men.'”

The trouble with his geocentric argument is that it’s reductionist and woodenly literal.

Folks in my grandfather’s day used to quote these passages about the uniqueness of Earth to say that we would never reach the moon because God would limit our presence to the Earth, just as He did at Babel! They said that Psalm 115:16 made it clear that man would not be allowed to trespass into the heavens. With all due respect to conspiracy theorists who believe the moon landing was fake, those preachers were wrong. The Bible wasn’t wrong, but they mislead folks into thinking it was by overstating what it actually said. They misunderstood the Tower of Babel passage, especially the reasons God gave for confusing the languages there. God wasn’t especially interested in preventing them from reaching the heavens so much as scattering rebellious mankind before they cooked up something colossally evil together!

Point in fact, we have walked on the moon, sent robots to Mars and sent probes into deep space. The earth has been given to the children of men but it is clearly not our boundary. Likewise, the sun, moon and stars were made for signs and seasons, but that was not their ONLY purpose. Already the moon has served scientific purposes apart from those listed in the Bible. We may yet colonize and mine the moon – or even Mars!

Frankly, I get a little tired of folks trying to say that Adam had dominion over the entire cosmos, only to turn around and say that his dominion was limited to the Earth, his special place. If Adam’s dominion was limited to this Earth, how then is the whole cosmos fallen through his sin? The broader context of Scripture assures us that Adam’s dominion covered the whole of creation [Romans 8:22]. Rather when we note that God gave the earth to men we ought to look at the Earth in light of Eden, in that we see that the rest of the Earth still existed outside the Garden. God has made the earth for man to inhabit, but there is so much more earthen real estate in existence beyond our warm, little world. If the worlds beyond our own were found to contain life, it would not make our Earth any less special any more than being removed from the physical center of the universe via heliocentrism reduced our theological specialness.

Ken Ham states that “Such verses certainly imply that the earth is to be considered separate and special when compared with the rest of the universe, so they suggest that the earth alone was created for life”; however, that is a classic non sequitur. These verses say nothing about life. They say something about man’s place in relation to God and the created cosmos, but they say absolutely nothing about life. That isn’t something he naturally derived from the text; he imposed that meaning upon it. If extraterrestrial life were discovered, we would rightly note that while verses that noted the theological specialness of the Earth do not rule out the possibility of alien life anymore than the theological specialness of mankind rules out the existence of other life forms on Earth.

The entire point of Psalm 115 is that God himself isn’t earthbound. The Psalmist compares God with the false idols of the heathen, noting that “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” [vs. 3]. By comparison false idols cannot do anything, therefore Israel places its trust in the Lord who made heaven and earth [vs 15] and who has given earth to men.

Earth was created for man. Nothing in Psalm 115:16 suggests that man’s boundary is set at the Earth and no further; it simply says that God has given us the Earth. Even if mankind were limited to Earth, nothing in this entire Psalm suggests that all other life is limited to the Earth.

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