Modern exotheology risks repeating the error of the Galileo debacle. Since those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it, let’s start at the beginning of exotheology.
The first recorded discussion of the possibility of extraterrestrial life comes from the 5th century BC Atomists. The Atomists were deistic; they believed that the universe was created by a Deity or deities, but that it had developed on its own since then. The atomists believed that the universe was made up of building blocks called atoms which had randomly assorted themselves to form everything we see. Although materialist, it was an essentially deist position; God started things perhaps but had little to do since then and didn’t bother to meddle with the affairs of men at any rate.
The most well known Atomist was Epicurus (341-270 BC). In a letter to his student Herodotus, he wrote:
“There are infinite worlds both like and unlike this world of ours. For the atoms being infinite in number…are borne far out into space.”
“Furthermore, we must believe that in all worlds there are living creatures and plants and other things we see in this world.”
Though Epicurus himself was a deist, the materialist atomism developed into atheistic Epicureanism. The Roman poet Titus Lucretius Carus (99–55 BC), better known as Lucretius, popularized the Epicurean system of belief, complete with alien worlds, a few decades prior to the birth of Christ.
Now, if we were considering the timing of this popularization of a worldview that was practically identical to modern atheistic evolutionism, we might find it significant that it happened so close to the Incarnation.
In any case, the Atomists were opposed by Plato and Aristotle. Both camps believed that the Earth was built from four elements (earth, wind, fire and water), but the atomists believed that outer space was likewise built from these elements, while the Aristotelians believed that space was made from a separate element called ether. Thus, the atomists believed that extraterrestrial life was possible and likely commonplace on a proposed plurality of worlds because it was made from the same elements as Earth. The other camp’s beliefs flowed well with geocentrism, both of which were thought to affirm the specialness of Earth. Thus, the Aristotelians believed that, of course, life was special to Earth.
The Church threw in its lot with the Aristotelians because the Epicurean system was atheistic and denied special creation and the specialness of Earth. Epicureanism also denied the idea of an immortal, immaterial soul and an afterlife. As a result, Christianity opposed the idea of extraterrestrial life and the plurality of worlds until the Middle Ages.
It’s important to note that the Church’s position on extraterrestrial life was reactionary. We didn’t come to our initial position based on what the Bible said on the matter. We picked a side in somebody else’s street fight.
Eventually, the church went from an anti-alien position to a full-on pro-extraterrestrial position derived from the principle of plenitude. The rediscovery of the works of Lucretius and the advent of Darwinists brought us back to a ptesent-day reactionary anti-alien position, but this is unnecessary and we shouldn’t let our opponents determine our views by default.
On fact, our default embrace of Aristotelean philosophy has already had a bad result for Christianity. You see, in addition to an anti-alien position, we picked up geocentrism as part of the Aristotelean tradition which opposed Epicureanism. Honestly, geocentrism seemed to mesh well with the anthropocentric emphasis of the Bible. If the Earth was the center of God’s attention, why should it also not be the center of the universe He created?
We then went from saying that geocentrism was consistent with the Bible’s anthropocentric focus to finding alleged proof texts that supported geocentrism, interpreting some passages to support this particular cosmology when the Bible said no such thing. Geocentric cosmology became an established doctrine. Of course, geocentrism was wrong. Christendom still feels the sting of that mistake, which is used to prop up a religion versus science dichotomy that, for many, is a stumbling block to the faith.
There is a lesson here. Categorizing the idea that “alien life does not exist” as a prediction of the Bible based on “Biblical principles” when the Bible is actually silent on the subject is the worst sort of overstatement, precisely because we are in real danger of setting up another Galileo debacle here. Some have even gone so far as to say that if intelligent alien life were to exist it would falsify the Bible, therefore such life cannot exist… but again the Bible says exactly nothing about extraterrestrial life. Meanwhile, the alleged Biblical principles they invoke in support of their anti-alien dogma is based on logical fallacies, as I pointed out in my book, Strangers and Aliens, and elsewhere on Exotheology.org.
Obviously, if alien life exists and we find irrefutable evidence of this, there will come a Reckoning. Even the discovery of non-intelligent alien life would turn most exotheological arguments into nonsense; no more could someone argue from the Bible’s silence or its anthropocentric focus. Maybe that would be a good thing, but the fact that many well-meaning teachers have hitched conservative Christianity’s cart to the dead horse of anti-alien dogma will become another stumbling block to the faith. It would also cast doubt on the other teachings of conservative Bible-believing Christians.
The travesty is that this coming crisis is completely unnecessary!
BRETHREN, no one here is saying extraterrestrial life exists. We are saying that it is unwise be dogmatic about the existence of extraterrestrial life when the Bible is silent on the subject. I oppose both dogmatically pro- or anti-alien claims, as should we all, because the Church is called to be the pillar and ground of the truth and we have no warrant, Biblically, logically or scientifically, to be more than tentative in our conclusions in this area. Christian personalities selling your the idea that there are certain answers to the question of extraterrestrial life aren’t just picking your pocket – they’re potentially undermining the credibility of the faith!
The reputation of the Church as the pillar and ground of the truth should matter enough to Bible-believing Christians to avoid dogma on this subject. There Gospel rests upon the authority of Scripture which is the only truth which has been supernaturally authenticated by fulfilled prophecy and the Resurrection of Christ. Who are we to potentially undermine the world’s perception of that authority by making dogmatic claims when we have no way of knowing one way or the other?
We would do better to be more tentative in our assertions, for God alone knows the answer to these questions and reality may not choose to conform to the anti-alien dogma that is being preached in ignorance.
Think about it