Are We Alone?
Article by Slate (2016)
Read the full article

What is the Science?

When it comes to humanity’s place in the universe, mathematics continue to support the probability that we are not alone. As scientific understanding evolves and the search for biomarkers in the cosmos presses on, humankind is left to ponder the implications of otherworldly life, reflecting carefully about our unique place in the universe. While questions of uniqueness surely require philosophical and theological reflection, such consideration also depends heavily on the potential findings of ongoing empirical research.

“In what capacity does it seem humans are unique? …The answer depends heavily on the findings of further empirical research, the ways in which we understand the concept of uniqueness, and the way we measure what sets us apart from others, whether it be measured in the nanometers of our DNA or the light-years in our galaxy.”

What is the Theology?

Humanity’s place in the universe has been a topic of theological reflection throughout Christian history. From Ancient Greece until Early Modernity, Augustine to Galileo, it was commonly assumed that humans were unique creatures inhabiting a unique planet in which all other life orbits. Sermons might therefore glean from a rich history of Christian thought on humanity’s place in the universe.

Historically, Christians have also agreed that God is the creator, not only of the known world, but of the entire cosmos (John 1:3; Col. 1:15-17; 1 Cor. 8:6). With the mathematical probability of other life in the universe in mind, sermons might reflect deeply on the mystery of God’s sovereignty as they point hearers toward wonder in how the Creator of the cosmos is working out salvation and redemption for all of God’s creation.

What to Consider

  • If scientists discovered other (non)intelligent lifeforms in the universe, how would it impact your theological understanding of humanity, God, the incarnation, and salvation?
  • If other forms of life are discovered somewhere in the cosmos, how might humanity’s sense of uniqueness be challenged? What pastoral implications might this have for your place in society in general and your church community in particular?  
  • What Scripture or theology might inform or comfort those who find themselves anxious about the probability of other lifeforms in the universe?

How to go Deeper

  • Rent or borrow a telescope as a church activity for families. Spend time stargazing and use the opportunity to reflect on the mystery of God’s creation and the depth of God’s sovereignty.
  • Inform your church community on issues surrounding anthropology and cosmology by preaching a sermon series which explores the many Scriptures reflecting God’s status as creator and sustainer of all life.
  • Familiarize yourself and your congregation with Christian thinkers who have written faithfully on God and the universe such as Augustine, C.S. Lewis, and Alvin Plantinga.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

Related Research

The Challenge of Cosmology

Fuller Studio -“From Big Bang to Accelerating Universe: The God of Creation and New Creation”

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By | 2017-02-17T19:40:00+00:00 January 16th, 2017|Cosmos, Research|7 Comments

About the Author:

Michael Wiltshire serves as an assistant pastor at Rose City Church in Pasadena, CA. He holds an M.Div from Fuller Theological Seminary (2016) and a B.S. from Cornerstone University, double majoring in Biblical Studies and Youth Ministry. While studying at Fuller Theological Seminary, he co-led the Fuller Faith and Science student group and worked in residential community. Michael is passionate about pastoral care, and is dedicated to exploring how preaching, practical theology, and organizational systems can empower churches to care well. A Michigander at heart, Michael enjoys cloudy weather and the NBA.

7 Comments

  1. Reed Metcalf February 15, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    [Commenting on the issue as informed by the article “The Challenge of Cosmology” under Related Research; the Slate article was down at the time of posting.] I remember Richard Mouw, President Emeritus at Fuller Seminary and a Christian philosopher, once relating his encounter with someone who asked if Christian theology could handle extraterrestrial life without coming apart at the seams. His response was more or less, “I don’t see why not.” I think I have to agree; while there will be some messy details to hammer out, several approaches for incorporating extraterrestrial life–even intelligent extraterrestrial life–present themselves in neo-evangelicalism, Catholicism, and mainline Protestantism (I think Fundamentalism would struggle). The myriad of theories on how to interpret “image of God” in Genesis 1:26-27–rationalism, capacity for love, intelligence, creative agency–gives us multiple options for incorporating intelligent species into the story of God; the conviction of God’s cosmic dominion makes short work of questioning whether other life is outside the purview of the Christian God. Even the scandal of Christ being born in a backwater province, far from the center of the Roman Empire–and, further, raised in the country-bumpkin town of Nazareth (John 1:46)–makes it perfectly defensible that we can assert that the third planet of an average star in an average galaxy can be the focal point of God’s redemptive activity. I think the major challenge of intelligent extraterrestrial life is where it conflicts with the Incarnation: why did the Son come as a Homo Sapien instead of another species of intelligent being? This again might be easily solved by the same scandal of particularity defense that makes Jesus’s ministry on Earth the center point of space-time, though it also might push back on attempts to incorporate other intelligent life into the umbrella of “image of God.”

    So much speculation, and yet so fun!

  2. Weabz April 4, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    This topic is always of interest to me. I’m not opposed to the idea of life in the cosmos. However, my questions would be: what kind of life are we speaking of? Intelligent life? And if so, what would be the purpose behind God creating them. If intelligent life then do they have a soul? Or are they just highly intelligent animals running on instinct and without morality? Maybe it’s just my ramblings but if these questions are necessary as it brings into question sin and Christ’s atoning sacrifice must reach to this “assumed group”.

    My honest thoughts are that if there is life beyond, it is fallen angels and the demonic. Though I haven’t fully hashed that out, only in passing conversations.

    • AustinF May 18, 2017 at 5:38 pm

      Thought the same things, my immediate reaction to other life is either 1. Unintelligent, soul-less; or 2. Fallen angels, demonic, etc. to deceive mankind.

    • matt@ncstudycenter.org August 16, 2017 at 8:50 pm

      Intelligent life vs. un-intelligent life is a good distinction to make when having this discussion

  3. Weabz May 16, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    Coming back to this article, I am more convinced that as believers we must be very very discerning and watchful especially concerning such ideas. ETs and anything of the like placed up against Scripture leaves only one option and actually most easily understood, “aliens” to the world are in reality the demonic.

    We must see them as such, especially in light of theosophy, Gnosticism, and other such cultic ideologies that assume this future godlike state, after attaining the secret knowledge. It’s dangerous.

  4. Weabz May 16, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    I mean imagine what would happen to so many of “aliens” made a grand appearance (think Revelation, beast, antiChrist). Headlines would read, “God is dead” or “God proven wrong” and it would shake up the entire world and even “lead astray if possible the elect” (Matt 24:24).

    All I’m saying is the fallen angels came down before and messed with humans and all kinds of weird stuff happened as a result (Gen 6:2). The whole idea of “aliens” as from some other world in the universe is the delusion. We have to be more discerning than to simply give this attention.

    Ephesians 6:12

  5. matt@ncstudycenter.org July 7, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    Speculative theology isn’t wrong (Aquinas and others engage in a great deal of it), but I would caution against an over-emphasis on it in our church life. The theological implications of the possibility of other life in the universe is a hard topic to even address in the church, because it is speculative and it is difficult to theologically make sense of in the abstract.

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