Recently, NASA held a highly publicized press conference about the possibility of “alien life.” The actual announcement was that NASA found a bacteria in a California lake which they believe is has a different DNA make-up than normal living things on earth, opening up, in their minds, the possibility of distinct life forms around the universe.
While many scientists have already criticized the research as essentially shoddy and called the announcement of the research paper a publicity stunt.
But what if the research is correct? Or what if they actually do find evidence of life on other planets? What is the Christian to do or think then?
At moments like these, I find myself wishing I could talk with one of the great minds of the past. Obviously, modern day philosophers, theologians and scientists will discuss these issues, but sometimes I feel like a previous time’s scholar could have some insight on these issues.
Having written a science fiction trilogy about space exploration and alien life, one would think C.S. Lewis would have some interesting thoughts on the matter.
Thankfully, one does not have to follow in the footsteps of King Saul and search for the witch at Endor to learn of Lewis’ position and rationale. He left it for us in an essay entitled: “Religion and Rocketry.”
You can find it in a wonderful collection of essays published under the name The World’s Last Night: And Other Essays, which also contains “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” where Lewis’ resurrects one of his most well-known characters. The general thrust of Lewis’ discussion of alien life follows along these lines:
Each new discovery, even every new theory, is held at first to have the most wide-reaching theological and philosophical consequences. It is seized by unbelievers as the basis for a new attack on Christianity; it is often, and more embarrassingly, seized by injudicious believers as the basis for a new defense.
But usually, when the popular hubbub has subsided and the novelty has been chewed over by real theologians, real scientists and real philosophers, both sides find themselves pretty much where they were before. So it was with Copernican astronomy, with Darwinism, with Biblical Criticism, with the new psychology. So, I cannot help expecting, it will be with the discovery of “life on other planets” – if that discovery is ever made.
He then asks five progressive questions dealing with the spiritual nature of such animals, should that discovery ever take place. The questions are designed to see how alike us, spiritually speaking, they are, for better or worse. Lewis’ recognized that the Incarnation is not a badge of honor for humanity, but rather a demonstration of our fallen nature.
He concludes with this assessment:
Christians and their opponents again and again expect that some new discovery will either turn matters of faith into matters of knowledge or else reduce them to patent absurdities. But is has never happened.
What we believe always remains intellectually possible; it never becomes intellectually compulsive. I have an idea that when this ceases to be so, the world will be ending. We have been warned that all but conclusive evidence against Christianity, evidence that would deceive (if it were possible) the every elect, will appear with Antichrist.
And after that there will be wholly conclusive evidence on the other side.
But not, I fancy, till then on either side.
I fancy, he’s right, as he so often is.