Extraterrestrial life is a topic of great interest in modern Western culture, as evidenced by the recent success of the new Star Wars movie. While various people have differing conceptions of what aliens are or may be, the secular scientific conception of extraterrestrial life is one of biological life. Thus, in what follows in this post, by the terms “extraterrestrial life” and “aliens” I am referring to biological life, not to spirit beings.
Space agencies such as NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), along with numerous privately funded enterprises, have spent untold billions of dollars on programs designed to find life outside of the earth. Why are so many resources devoted to a search for something that has never been proven to exist? It is because extraterrestrial life is a key component of an atheistic, evolutionary worldview. That is, if the earth is the only place in the universe where life exists, then it must be a special creation; man does not exist merely by accident. If, on the other hand, life arose by means of natural processes, then these same natural processes would have given rise to life in many other places, both in our own solar system and throughout the universe. Because evolutionists reject the idea that life is a special creation, they believe that life probably evolved in other places in the solar system (including Mars, comets, and Saturn’s moon Enceladus), and that life almost certainly exists in other places in the universe. At the same time, many people have considerable doubts about the existence of extraterrestrial life, since none has ever actually been found. Thus, the huge, decades-long search for extraterrestrial life by mainstream scientists is actually a search for evidence to support the assumptions an atheistic worldview.
A second motivation for the search for extraterrestrial life is that atheists, who claim not to believe in God, nevertheless sense that there is a greater reality outside of the earth and its physical processes. There must be other sentient beings out there, in possession of superior forces which we do not understand, and with knowledge and intelligence that far exceeds our own. Virtually no one believes that man is totally alone, without other intelligent beings in existence somewhere else. Fairy tales about aliens, presented in the context of evolution’s mythological history of the universe, have gripped the popular imagination in the same way that pagan legends and cosmogonies gripped the imagination of ancient man.
Far from confirming evolutionary theory, the search for extraterrestrial life has only raised more doubts and questions about Darwinian evolution, since it has come up empty-handed. First, the physical search for life on Mars and elsewhere in our solar system has found nothing; scientists are so desperate to find extraterrestrial life that merely the discovery that there is water on Mars, or that there has been water on Mars in the past, is trumpeted as powerful evidence that there is or once was life on Mars. In fact, water does not produce life; living organisms can only be produced by other living organisms (or by a special creative act of the living God). In addition, Mars is an extremely inhospitable environment for life; if large numbers of living organisms were transported from the earth to the Mars and then released, they would all die quickly.
Second, the search for communication signals from intelligent aliens living on planets outside of our solar system has found no such signals. One might object that we simply lack the technology to detect communication from the distant places where extraterrestrial life may exist. However, in fact we do have the technology to detect communication signals from across the Milky Way, or even from other galaxies, so the fact that we have not detected any communication from aliens is a great puzzle to SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers. The Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico is capable of transmitting and detecting narrowband signals across a range of many thousands of light years. Although estimates vary, some sources claim that Arecibo could detect a duplicate of itself at the center of the Milky Way, or, with minor system improvements, could communicate with a hypothetical twin all the way on the edge of the galaxy; see this page and this one. Arecibo is nearly capable of trans-galactic communication, and we have the capability to build a more powerful system (Cyclops) that could certainly be used for trans-galactic communication. The first Arecibo Message, intended to establish communication with intelligent extraterrestrial life, was transmitted in 1974 to a cluster of stars 25,000 light years away. Other messages have been sent since then, and Arecibo has been used to search for messages sent in our direction. (Apparently scientists assume that alien life must be friendly; they do not seem troubled by the possibility that by revealing our existence to a powerful and evil race of aliens, they may enslave man or wipe him out.)
The reasoning behind the use of Arecibo and similar projects for SETI runs as follows (from my friend Rodger Young): “very broadband signals as used in TV broadcasting are attenuated fairly quickly and most estimates are they could not be decoded outside our solar system. But narrow-band frequencies can transmit much farther. The most intelligent way to announce our presence to whoever-is-out-there would seem to be to broadcast at a single frequency, sending by binary signals something like the set of prime numbers that would show the whoevers that ‘Hey! We’re here; let’s try to communicate.’ ” If life on earth evolved by natural process, then life should have evolved in many other places by means of these same natural processes, and the trajectory of extraterrestrial civilizations should be similar in many ways to ours. Young states further, “According to the prevailing (evolutionary) viewpoint, there should be many, many civilizations out there who have evolved up to, and beyond, the point where they would have such broadcasters and receivers. If so, they would have the same curiosity about contacting other intelligences. One Web page estimated the number of stars in our galaxy as from 100 billion to 400 billion, although Wikipedia (‘Milky Way’) says this may be as high as one trillion. If only one out of a million such stars had planets capable of supporting life, then any theory that says that, given the right conditions, life will spontaneously evolve, should predict hundreds of thousands of sites in our galaxy where life has evolved at least to the level where we are now.”
Unfortunately for the theory, as Young states, “No signals have been detected. This is in spite of the fact, explained above, we are now capable of listening to a good part of our galaxy. . . . In summary, the lack of communication from out there, even though we have the capability to receive it, is a very, very great puzzle to the SETI people.”
For Christians who believe the Bible, it comes as no surprise that the search for extraterrestrial life has failed. It is clear from the creation account in Genesis 1 that everything in the physical universe was created for man. The earth was specially made to support biological life, and the sun, moon, and stars were created for the benefit of life on the earth. Further, all plant and animal life on the earth was created for the benefit of man, who is the center of the physical creation. Biological life outside of the earth—which is never mentioned or implied in the Bible—would serve no purpose, since it would be of no benefit to man. And for life to exist elsewhere would require a special creative act of God (life cannot evolve from non-living substances), and also a planet, a solar system, and galaxy designed to support life, requiring many more special acts of God. Such special creative acts of God would surely merit mention in Scripture, yet the Bible presents God’s plan of the ages as entirely about His dealings with man. Christ only became incarnate as a man, and He only died once, for Adam’s race, not for fallen folk on other planets (Rom 5:12-21; 6:10; 1 Cor 15:22; Heb 2:16). History also involves angelic (spirit) beings, which were created to be intermediaries in God’s dealings with man (Heb 1:14). However, the history of the universe is centered completely around life on earth; and when Christ returns to the earth, He will destroy the whole universe and create a new heavens and a new earth (Matt 24:29; 2 Pet 3:10-13; Rev 6:12-17 et al.). If intelligent life exists in the universe outside of the earth, surely it would have to be given due consideration at that time. The fact that it is not mentioned may rightly be taken as an implication that it does not exist. In addition, every time the Bible describes the final judgment and the eternal state, the only persons mentioned are men and angels (Rev 20:7-15 et al.). In eternity, God will move His throne from heaven to a new earth (Rev 21:1-3), and His throne will be situated in a New Jerusalem, which is the capital city of the nation of Israel (Rev 21:22-23), although the nations of the earth and the kings of the earth may enter the city freely (Rev 21:24). There is no mention of aliens. The names of the twelve tribes of Israel are written above the gates of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:12), and the names of the twelve apostles are written on its foundations (Rev 21:14). Everything about the eternal state of the righteous has to do with man and the earth, while the angels continue in their role as ministering spirits (Rev 21:12). There simply is no room in the Bible for aliens.
“Wait a minute,” someone might say, “the Bible just does not say anything about extraterrestrial life. The Bible therefore allows for its existence.” But the Bible does in fact deny the theories of extraterrestrial life in the shape that those theories took in the ancient world—legends, for example, about the gods of Greco-Roman mythology, their feats in the universe, and their identification with celestial objects (cf. Acts 14:15-17). The Old Testament repeatedly and emphatically denies the reality of the gods of pagan mythology and their supposed feats and dwelling places (2 Kgs 19:17-18; 1 Chr 16:26; Isa 44:12-20). But ancient man did not possess the telescopes, rockets, and other technologies which are necessary to understand the nature of celestial bodies outside of the earth. The ancients did not know that Mars is a planet similar in size and shape to the earth; to them, it was just a light in the night sky, no different from the stars except for its strange motions. Had ancient astronomers understood the nature of our solar system, extrasolar planetary systems, and the Milky Way galaxy, and had they known that there are an unfathomable number of stars and galaxies in the universe, they might well have postulated the existence of extraterrestrial life as modern secular science envisions it, and the Bible likely would have made a statement on that subject in response. But the Bible’s denial of ancient theories of extraterrestrial life are sufficient to disavow analogous theories in their modern form.
Additional resources regarding a biblical perspective on extraterrestrial life may be found on the Answers in Genesis website.