The Pope has joined the discussion about whether aliens need the gospel. I remember taking part in a few of these late night speculative ponderings as a student. This kind of hypothetical question might not be that pressing in terms of practical applications, but they do help us dig into the bible a bit moreand engage with it in an interesting way.
The argument normally goes along these lines. Adam fell and all his descendants with. Jesus came as the second Adam to redeem mankind. Since Jesus was incarnate as a man, not an alien, his substitutionary sacrifice would not count for non-humans. It’s hard to see how an alien could be baptised into Christ in any meaningful way. Theologically that makes quite a lot of sense to me.
But then along comes ET and wants to become a Christian. He wants to follow Jesus and trust in him for the forgiveness of his sins and he wants to know God as his heavenly father. What do you do? Turn him away? He begs you “please”, saying that Jesus does not turn anyone away. Could he not just be baptised in case there is a hope for him?
There can’t be another saviour for an alien race, in the same way as Jesus is for us, as God’s son is already incarnate as a man and will always be a man. He can’t also be an alien. I guess the Holy Spirit could be incarnate, but then how does God’s omnipresence work out? What about other alien races?
But back to ET mark 1. I reckon you can’t fail if you trust in God’s goodness and mercy. If an alien was doing that, throwing himself on God’s kindness and grace then I would expect him/her/it (another sex?) to find it. Quite how that would work out in practice, I’m not sure. Perhaps forgiveness, but maybe not adoption and being united with the church as the bride of Christ?
Scientist sometimes seem to expect thousands of intelligent species on millions of habitable planets in the universe and I kind of like that idea.
Science fiction writers have imaged marvellous worlds in galaxies far far away and I can’t believe God is any less creative.
Warning : this next video is a bit scary:
He made the heavens to display his glory and we are only just beginning to see how stunningly beautiful they are through things like the Hubble telescope.
What happens when we can zoom in on planet surfaces. Will the beauty fade to grey or continue Mandelbrot style.
I used to think that from a theological point of view intelligent aliens were unlikely, reasoning that part of mans’ uniqueness as God’s image bearers was our our intelligence along with our moral awareness and language ability. We are so unique among animals that I suspected that though there may be other animal on other plants there would not be intelligent, moral agents flying about the universe in space ships looking for a saviour.
But it suddenly hit me yesterday that angles are intelligent, moral, lingual beings with power and authority. What then does it mean to be in the image of God? Wayne Grudem basically says in his systematic theology that we can’t tell for sure at this point, except to say that God has made us to be his representatives. To represent him on the earth. So it is more to do with God’s intention than our abilities. That makes sense because you would not want to say that someone who could not talk or who had with limited intellect (or a baby for that matter) was not in God’s image.
Actually, I remember reading a while back that being in the image of God is also to do with idols. Idols in the ancient world were places were god’s dwelt. They were like thrones for them to sit on and reside. In that way they were points of connection between this world and the spirit world. Portals if you like allowing communication and interaction. Well, in the same way God determined that he would dwell with us and in us. Being in the image of God, therefore, is to do with relationship. Eve was made to be like Adam (bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh) and suitable to be united with him. God made us to be like him not just to represent him, but for fellowship with him and to be united to him.
So back to the aliens, I think there might well be intelligent, moral chatty beings on other planets, but it’s hard to see how they could be saved in the way that we are, through faith in Jesus. There is no indication that angels can be united to Jesus or saved through him so it would be kind of presumptuous to baptise a repentant alien, no mater how much it regretted attacking Sigourney Weaver or Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This is all mainly speculation of course, but thinking about it has certainly helped me dig deeper into God’s word.
A couple of related, and perhaps more likely questions would be: would we baptise
1) A robot with artificial intelligence or genetically
2) A synthetic human
What have we created a computer with enough artificial intelligence to ask for forgiveness and grace in the name of Jesus. A friend answered that you would need to make sure the robot was waterproof before baptising it!
But what if we could create a human embryo cell from the component parts of matter? Not from an existing cell, but from synthetically created component parts? There would be no direct organic decendency from Adam except perhaps in terms of some of the information.
Just something to think about as we wait for Blade runner 2 to be made.
At the end of the movie when Roy (a synthetic human) saves Deckard (Harrison Ford) he says these words, which apparently partially improvised:
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. [pause] Time to die.”
Are Roy’s tears any different to rain? Do they carry real meaning or are they just H2O? Does he have a soul that lives on after death?
I hope we get to explore the heavens as well as the earth in the future. Someone once said that we will have all eternity to create space ships and travel about site seeing. Coincidently I have just watched this which kind of makes the point that there may be a lot of other worlds out there, but that earth is probably the best one.