One preoccupation of the modern era is outer space, the multitude of planets and the possibility of intelligent beings other than ourselves. It has occasionally been wondered what it would mean for Christianity if we discovered extraterrestrial life – or it discovered us.
This November a Times reporter named Hannah Devlin posted an article whose title inquired, “Does Jesus Save Aliens?” Setting the tone immediately, the article began by noting that the Catholic Church burned Giordano Bruno at the stake four hundred years ago for asserting the “plurality of worlds”. This was how the author led into her report of a meeting between scientists and religious leaders at the “seemingly more open-minded Vatican”.
But the meeting isn’t the point of the article, either. The point of the article is what the reporter tells us the scientists and religious leaders did not discuss: “the theological quandaries thrown up by the possibility of other life forms beyond this planet”.
She then cites a cosmologist’s opinion that “the possibility of other civilisations – potentially more intelligent than our own – puts Christians ‘in a real bind’. Specifically, he says that nobody’s satisfactorily addressed the question of whether aliens get saved. ‘The Catholic church offers a very species specific brand of salvation. No one says that Jesus came to save the dolphins and certainly not little green men.’ ”
This is not a question of modern science causing difficulties for religion. It’s a question of science causing difficulties for Christianity. We are informed that the existence of aliens does not pose such problems for Eastern religions, which are “less Earth-centric”, or Islam, which “speaks explicitly of life beyond Earth”. As does Mormonism, but we won’t go there.
One might also say that you do not need to worry about whether there is salvation for aliens when you do not believe there is salvation for humans. What makes this issue unique to Christianity is that only Christianity proclaims a Redeemer.
Devlin writes, “I agree with Davies that this isn’t a trivial issue for theologists. Giggle factor aside, the question of whether Jesus would save aliens goes right to the heart of Christian beliefs. If you believe that ‘intelligent life’ equals having a soul, then you have to ask where you’d draw the line. If scientists found dolphins on a distant planet, they would be mad with excitement at having found something so smart. But what would theologians make of them?”
This paragraph is all you really need to know that you’re dealing with an argument made in ignorance. Theologians would make nothing more of dolphins on other planets than they make of dolphins on this planet. The reason that “No one says Jesus saves dolphins” – of any planet – is simply that they have no souls to be saved.
Despite the repeated assertions, the issue of possible extraterrestrial life exists is not significant to Christianity. There is no problem, no theological quandary, no bind – whatever you come up with.
Taking the question from the beginning, many people have thought the mere existence of aliens would be troublesome for Christianity. (It’s an Earth-centric religion, the cosmologist tells us.) Christianity is wholly silent on the subject of extraterrestrial life, and its silence cannot be used as an argument against it. The Bible, as C. S. Lewis once pointed out, was not written to satisfy our intellectual curiosity but to tell us what we need to know. One needs no great faith in divine wisdom to say that the matter of (a) aliens and (b) their souls was reasonably omitted.
The Times article, of course, asserted that the quandary for Christianity was whether aliens can be saved, not whether they exist. The argument, as I said, is made in ignorance of Christianity, and part of the ignorance is the assumption that if aliens exist, they need to be saved. What, after all, is it that Jesus saves us from? Our sin. The Redemption of Man cannot be understood without the Fall of Man; you have to understand the doctrine of Original Sin before you can understand the Gospel.
Christianity teaches not only that the human race is corrupt, but it is corrupted. As the author of Ecclesiastes said, “God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” Our sin is unnatural in the sense that it is not our original state, not the way we were created or meant to be. If God created other rational species, then He created them upright also.
But let’s take the bull by the horns. Let us assume that there are aliens and they, like our race, have fallen. That would hardly present a startlingly new scenario, a matter outside Christianity’s reckoning. The Bible already teaches the existence of beings more powerful and more intelligent than we are—and also fallen. And it leaves no question that the redemption God provided for fallen men is not offered to fallen angels.1
Why God, in His sovereign choice, did not show fallen angels the mercy He showed humanity is a mystery for the ages. The Bible offers no explanation. Over the years Christians have speculated on what the reasons could be. Perhaps rebellion in heaven is a worse sin than rebellion on earth; perhaps, being greater than we are, angels are judged more strictly. “To whom much is given much is expected.” Maybe it has something to do with the fact that all angels were given Adam’s choice; they were not made sinners through another’s disobedience.2 Maybe angels and demons are not capable of faith as humans are, as they know things that we must believe.
All this is only speculation, but it should open to us the true complexity of the matter. Critics can ask glibly if Jesus saves aliens, but the serious answer—the most rational and the most orthodox—is that if there are aliens, God will deal with them according to their situation and His own will, justice, and mercy.
Maybe, after all this, someone will want to ask, “What if all these conditions are met? Supposing there are aliens, and they have fallen, and their sin and their guilt are like ours—would Jesus save them?”
Honestly, I don’t know. It’s hard to answer a question founded on ifs like that. It’s even harder to feel much concern over it. One thing I am certain of: We will have a theological quandary when—and no sooner—we have made the acquaintance of little green men and made an exact determination of the state of their souls.