In a previous post I discussed the scientific discovery of exoplanets and the race to find an Earth-like planet outside our solar system. These discoveries combined with other recent work on exophiles (a related previous blog post here) have led to a renewed interest in the possibility of extra-terrestrial life.
For example, a great collection of current scientific papers in a recent issue of Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society are available from this link.
SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) has now been searching our ‘close vicinity’, within the milky way, for 50 years, but has yet to detect any signals that show signs of having been derived from an extra-terrestrial intelligence. By the way, if you want to play a part in this search, you can sign up and get free software that enables your computer (while it is idle) to crunch through the data in search for interesting signals.
What would be the theological implications if a discovery of intelligent extra-terrestrial life were made? The key theological issues surround our own place in the universe and the universal nature of salvation. The Bible teaches that we (humankind) are the image bearers of God:
“God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
Could it be possible that other life forms are also made in the image of God?
How about the essential Christian doctrine of God incarnate in human form – would the death and resurrection of Jesus be sufficient for an alien’s salvation, as it is for humans? In other words is one earthly incarnation, in Jesus of Nazareth, enough for the entire cosmos? Or are multiple incarnations a likely possibility?
“I am personally persuaded that a superintelligent Creator exists beyond and within the cosmos, and that the rich context of congeniality shown by our universe, permitting and encouraging the existence of self-conscious life, is part of the Creator’s design and purpose. Yet like many Christians steeped in a conservative ethos that human beings are central to God’s plan, my gut reaction is to disparage the possibility of the existence of intelligent life on other worlds. But I remind myself, Beware! Not only is such a view inonsistent with the notion that the universe has been deliberately established as a potential home for self-conscious contemplation, but it sets unwarranted human limitations on God’s creativity.”
“… as the physicist John Wheeler once suggested to me, perhaps the universe is like a large plant whose ultimate purpose is to produce one small exquisite flower. Perhaps we are that one small flower.”
I’m waiting for Paul Davies latest book to come out in paperback. This is entitled The Eerie Silence – Renewing our search for alien intelligence.