/ Nathan Eshelman

Space Oddity

What if aliens were discovered…or discovered us? Would that change your opinion of the Bible, the Christian faith, and the centrality of humanity as image bearers of God? Recently there was some buzz in the online-news about NASA hiring twenty-four theologians to help them understand how humanity would respond to the discovery of alien life.

Although the facts around NASA hiring have been called into question, the truth remains that those in the scientific community--and many people--want answers to theological questions concerning the existence of life "out there." 

One online magazine said, “Though NASA certainly gave money toward the program, it didn’t go as far as to hire anyone from it. A spokesperson from NASA told the Associated Press that the researchers involved in the program were never directly employed by the space agency. Individuals who receive grant funding from NASA are not employees, advisors, or spokespersons for the agency, the spokesperson told the AP in an email. Thus, the researchers and scholars involved with this study were not hired by NASA, but instead received funding... to conduct this work.”

So what is the answer? Do alien lifeforms, or extraterrestrial intelligences (ETI) exist? In all my reading of the puritans, reformers, Covenanters, Seceders, and others, I have never found an answer to whether we would find ETI if we explored the universe. For the most part, I didn't care, but the question does get asked.

In Robert Letham’s Systematic Theology (which was published in 2019 rather than 1619) he confronts the question of ETI and the existence of alien life forms. Again, I don’t remember this question being posed in any of the old dead guys. 

On pages 288-289 he explores this question.

Letham begins with demonstrating that there are some that argue the vastness of our universe is connected to our planet’s uniqueness. He said, “Some argue that there is no extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) anywhere in the universe. The vast size of the cosmos, it is said, is necessary for humans to be able to live here on earth. Good scientific reasons have been advanced to explain that the existence of the earth as it is requires a vast universe. A stable universe with gravity must expand or else it will collapse. A universe with human life requires a vast…cosmos.” 

He then goes on to show that there are some that would find no inconsistency between ETI and the Christian faith. Letham relates, “On the other hand, a counterargument suggests that ETI exists, since it is inconceivable in such a vase universe we are the only such life form. With billions upon billions of galaxies, it is hardly unlikely that there is not a planet somewhere with conditions similar to our own that can support life forms, some of which may have capabilities similar to, or advance of ours. This would be no threat to the faith, since all it would entail is that such ETI would be incidental to God’s purpose to the human race.” Many Christians would disagree with that statement.

But his own question—or better—the questions that we all want answers to that are asking these questions: “What we may ask, if such forms were moral? Would they worship God? Would or could they have sinned? If so, would God have redeemed them? Would there be other carnations?” 

Letham concludes that we, as Christians, can say that there are ETI in the expansive creation. He said, 

There definitely is ETI in the vast cosmos. The answers are: yes, they are moral beings; yes, they worship God; no, those that fell await God’s judgment; no there are no other incarnations. Clearly, we know there are angels. These moral beings, about which we know little, either worship and serve God or have sinned and left to judgment. The unfallen angels serve the heirs of eternal life. They exist not necessarily on other planets, but in other realms. The angel Gabriel came “from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth” in order to visit Mary and to speak to her in her own language (Luke 1:26). These creatures are very powerful (Isaiah 37:36; Daniel 10:10-14, 20; 12:1-2) and fast moving (Daniel 9:20-21); and when they appear to humans, great terror results (Daniel 10; Matthew 28:2-5; Luke 1:26-30). Some fell into sin and are kept under lock and key awaiting judgment (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6), of whom the chief is Satan (Revelation 12:9; 20:1-6). However there is only one incarnation. When the Son came for salvation, he did not take angelic nature into union but became human.”

“Then again, in the visions of Revelation, John saw ‘living creatures’ representative of creation gathered around the throne of God in worship of the Lamb…This was a vision, but we must suppose it represents a reality… While we are not given a detailed answer to our question and must leave it in the hands of all-wise God, it seems that eternity will be filled with praise and obedient faithfulness from throughout the animate and intelligent cosmos.”

There you have it. NASA could have saved billions and just asked Robert Letham.

This article is dedicated to Rev. Colin Samul out there in Nevada. Keep up the good work! #AreaFiftyOneForever

Nathan Eshelman

Nathan Eshelman

Pastor in Orlando, studied at Puritan Reformed Theological & Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminaries. One of the chambermen on the podcast The Jerusalem Chamber. Married to Lydia with 5 children.

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