By far the most common argument against the possibility of extraterrestrial life is that the Bible doesn’t mention any.
This is an argument from silence, a logical fallacy. People make an argument from silence when they come to a conclusion that’s based on the absence of statements in historical documents, rather than on presence.
The most sophisticated version of the anti-alienist’s argument from silence comes from Gary Bates, CEO of Creation Ministries International and author of the Amazon best-selling book Alien Intrusion.
In a March 2007 article (Did God create life on other planets?), Gary Bates wrote:
“…we believe that sentient , intelligent, moral-decision-capable beings… would undermine the authority of Scripture. In short, understanding the big picture of the Bible/gospel message allows us to conclude clearly that the reason the Bible doesn’t mention extraterrestrials (ETs) is that there aren’t any. Surely, if the earth were to be favoured with a visitation by real extraterrestrials from a galaxy far, far away, then one would reasonably expect that the Bible, and God in His sovereignty and foreknowledge, to mention such a momentous occasion, because it would clearly redefine man’s place in the universe.” [Emphasis mine]
The giveaway that there is something wrong with Bates’ argument is the word “Surely.”
In Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, philosopher Daniel C. Dennett notes:
“When you’re reading or skimming argumentative essays, especially by philosophers, here is a quick trick that may save you much time and effort, especially in this age of simple searching by computer: look for “surely” in the document, and check each occurrence. Not always, not even most of the time, but often the word “surely” is as good as a blinking light locating a weak point in the argument. Why? Because it marks the very edge of what the author is actually sure about and hopes readers will also be sure about. (If the author were really sure all the readers would agree, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning.) Being at the edge, the author has had to make a judgment call about whether or not to attempt to demonstrate the point at issue, or provide evidence for it, and—because life is short—has decided in favor of bald assertion, with the presumably well-grounded anticipation of agreement.”
Gary Bates’ bald assertion that God would “reasonably” have to tell us if aliens existed is wishful thinking. While he finds it “reasonable” that God would tell us if aliens existed, reasonable is not the same thing as imperative. God does not have to tell us about the existence of extraterrestrial life. Nothing compels Him to do so. The Bible never claims to be an Encyclopedia Galactica containing everything there is to know. It doesn’t mention microbes and they certainly exist.
Objection #1: Aliens would redefine man’s place in the universe
To justify his argument, Gary Bates claims that “a visitation from real extraterrestrials from a galaxy far, far away” would “clearly redefine man’s place in the universe. ”
The first problem with that argument is that not everyone agrees that aliens would “clearly” (another word that should be a blinking light to us) redefine our place in the universe.
Hal N Ostrander, associate dean of theology at Baptist Theological Seminary sais
“If intelligent beings were found elsewhere in the universe, [they] couldn’t compromise the special relationship already existing between God and human beings any more than a young couple compromises their love for their first child after having a second. The first child may feel slighted for a time, but the parent’s love nevertheless remains steadfast.”
In other words, Gary Bates is guilty of overstatement and his argument here fails.
The second problem with this argument is that it is an appeal to consequences, a type of logical fallacy wherein one concludes a something to be either true or false based on whether the premise leads to desirable or undesirable consequences.
Objection #2: ET would have dominion over man
Gary Bates also defends his argument from silence with an appeal to the Dominion mandate:
“Psalm 8:5 says that man was made a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honour. [Dr. Michael] Heiser has said that salvation is based upon ranking, not intelligence. If so, where in the Bible (which omits to mention them) would ET sit in this pecking order? Would they be higher than man, and lower than angels, for example? If these advanced ETs were capable of visiting the earth, mankind would now be subject to their dominion. (Even if the ETs were friendly, potentially they would be much more powerful due to their intelligence and technology.) This would be in direct contravention to God’s ordained authority structure when he ordered mankind to ‘subdue’ the earth—also known as the dominion mandate (Genesis 1:28).”
The problem is that the existence of the very angels Bate mentioned in his objection invalidates his argument. Angels are much more powerful than mankind, yet we were given dominion over the earth. Angels are kept in check by God’s authority and will, not our “rank” or our own power. Does Bates suggest that then that aliens could resist the will of God or displace man’s God-given dominion? What small God does He serve?
In the end, this line of argument fails because it amounts to a case of special pleading to suggest that advanced aliens would “clearly” redefine man’s place in the universe when powerful angels do not.
Objection #3: The Bible’s silence amounts to a ‘conspicuous absence ‘
In another article, Gary Bates attempts to address the charge that he’s committing a logical fallacy more directly:
“The Bible is notably silent about any extraterrestrials, yet if an ET visit in their technologically advanced hyperdrive spaceships was imminent, it would be reasonable to presume that our sovereign and prescient Creator would let us know about such things. This is not an ‘argument from silence’, but rather from ‘conspicuous absence’. After all, a commissioned report by NASA as far back as 1960 concluded:
“While the discovery of intelligent life in other parts of the universe is not likely in the immediate future, it could nevertheless, happen at any time. Discovery of intelligent beings on other planets could … could send sweeping changes or even the downfall of civilization, … . societies sure of their place have disintegrated when confronted by a superior society.”
This lopsided presentation of the Brookings Reports section on “The implications of the discovery of extraterrestrial life” is a perfect example of the fearmongering slant Gary Bates puts on the subject. There is no mention of another possibility put forward by the Brookings Reports, one echoed by former President Ronald Reagan, that aliens could become a unifying catalyst for mankind. The warning of the possible downfall of civilization was given as another possibility NOT THE REPORT’S CONCLUSION. The ultimate conclusion of this section was that further research was required to prepare mankind for the possibility of the discovery of extraterrestrial life.
Nor did Bates quote a 2002 Roper Poll (and we know he’s aware of it because he cites abduction statistics from it) which concluded:
“Most Americans appear comfortable with and even excited about the thought of the discovery of extraterrestrial life. Three-quarters of the public claim they are at least somewhat psychologically prepared for the discovery of extraterrestrial life, and nearly half are very prepared.”
Looks like all the research proposed in the Brookings Report (and the prevalence of science fiction in modern culture) paid off.
Yet what of Bates’ charge that the Bible’s silence on the subject of aliens constitutes a “conspicuous absence”?
Well, if it’s dependent upon the idea that aliens would incite an instant panic resulting in the downfall of civilization, the statistics don’t support his argument. If he’s trying to say that the discovery of extraterrestrial life is just too omit, he has to explain why microbes aren’t mentioned in the Bible when they’ve turned out to be extremely important to our health. The answer is, again, that the Bible never claims to be an Encyclopedia Galactica and Bates’ objection is a bald-faced case of special pleading
Objection #4: “By allowing the possibility for ET life you are actually arguing from silence.”
The quote above was from an exchange between Gary Bates and myself. He basically accuses those opposed to the anti-alien dogma he presents as appealing to an argument from silence of their own. Which means he’s committing tu quoque.
Tu quoque is an appeal to hypocrisy, a logical fallacy that basically means “You also” in Latin.
The problem is that I’m not making an argument from silence. I’m not saying that the Bible does not expressly deny the existence of aliens, therefore aliens exist. Im saying it is unwise to make dogmatic anti-alien statements when the Bible is silent on the subject of extraterrestrial life.
I’m not even making am argument from ignorance. An argument from ignorance is when someone says something is true because it has not yet been proved false (or vice versa). This represents a type of false dichotomy in that it excludes a third option, which is that: there may have been an insufficient investigation, and therefore there is insufficient information to prove the proposition be either true or false. I’m not saying extraterrestrial life exists because you cant prove otherwise. I’m stating that, given the size of the universe and mans lomoted scope, there has as yet been an insufficient investigation to make a determination; therefore it is unwise to be dogmatic about the existence or non-existence of extraterrestrial life.
In other words, I’m not committing either fallacy because I’m not foolish enough to be dogmatically for or against extraterrestrial life on the basis of insufficient investigation and the mere silence of Scripture. I do however speak out against such ill-advised dogma because it has the potential to create major stumbling blocks to the faith.
You see, in their zeal to provide pat answers, anti-alienists have set up a false dichotomy between the Bible’s veracity and the mere possibility of the existence of alien life. Worse still, they’ve gone beyond these arguments from silence and have gone the way of theologians who once upon a time found Scriptural “support” for geocentrism. If aliens are ever discovered, the anti-alien dogma Gary Bates and others like him have promoted risks creating the same sort of stumbling blocks to the faith the Galileo affair has provided for Christendom. Taking a dogmatic position on subjects upon which the Scriptures are silent is foolhardy, unnecessary and potentially damaging to the credibility of the faith.