Can Christianity Accommodate An Extraterrestrial Reality?
Believe it or not, theologians with commitments to the orthodox tenets of Christianity have actually been thinking about the existence of other worlds since the days of Augustine, most often expressing enthusiasm in favor of the idea. The reason was largely the so-called "principle of plenitude." In principle, to assert that God could not have created other worlds and other life forms on those worlds dishonors the fullness of his omnipotence! Thus, we see hints of this in the NT, for example when we read: "This is the reason I bow my knees before the Father of our Lord Jesus, the Messiah, from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its name." [Ephesians 3:14-15].
Jerome [4th century] commentates on this principle via Ephesians 3:15, by saying: "Before any discussion we must note that he did not say ‘from whom every fatherhood in heaven and earth is born’ but ‘from whom every fatherhood in heaven and earth is named.’ For it is one thing to merit the name of ‘father,’ another to have a natural relation. I have searched about in scripture asking whether the word ‘fatherhood’ is ever applied to the Gentiles. I have found nothing except the 21st psalm [Vulgate; Psalm 22:29], ‘and all the fatherhoods of the Gentiles shall adore in his sight,’ and the 28th [Vulgate; Psalm 29], ‘Give to the Lord, fatherhoods of the Gentiles, bring him the young of rams.’ Think by this analogy: As God exists, God allows the term ‘existence’ to be applied to creatures as well. So we say that creatures exist and subsist, not so as to imply that they exist in and of themselves as God exists, but as a derived existence enabled by God. According to this same argument, God allows the term ‘fatherhood’ to be given to creatures. So by analogy to his fathering we can understand creaturely fathering. Similarly, as the only good One, he makes others good. As the only immortal One, God has bestowed immortality on others. As the only true One, he imparts the name of truth. So also the Father alone, being Creator of all and the cause of the subsistence of all things, makes it possible for other creatures to be called fathers."
Not only has God made a diverse humanity, he is also the creator of the heavenly angelic realm in all of its diversity in authorities and roles. Thus God could be the creator of other sentient life within this universe, not just earthly creatures, humans, and angels. If E.T. exists, their ultimate existence and “name” derives from “the Father.”
As Isaiah says, “Lift your eyes up to heaven and see who created all these—the one who leads out their vast array of stars by number, calling them all by name—because of his great might and his powerful strength—and not one is missing.” [Isaiah 40:26].
This language is reminiscent of ancient Near Eastern ideas that the “stars” are divine beings, though from science, “stars” are planets, suns, or galaxies. In fact, Paul made an astonishing clarification [thus affirming our scientific context] that these “stars” are “not really gods at all” [Galatians 4:8], and that, “one star differs from another star in splendour” [1 Corinthians 15:41].
Instead, Paul asks about the beings who operate behind these celestial objects: “how can you turn back again to those powerless and bankrupt elemental spirits? Why do you want to become their slaves all over again?” [Galatians 4:9].
The point is quite profound: behind these cosmic objects constitute real beings [spiritual, and possibly physical], that occupy the worship and praise within pagan religion.
Therefore, for the Israelites, Moses says, “Do not gaze toward the heavens and observe the sun, the moon, the stars—the entire array of the sky—with the intent to worship and serve what the Lord your God gave every nation. For the Lord took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace—out of Egypt—to be the people of his inheritance, as you are today.” [Deuteronomy 4:19-20].
Note the Deuteronomy 32:8-9 connection! These “stars” were given to “every nation.” The nations were disinherited and put under the occupation of divine beings who rebelled against God [Psalm 82]. God’s purpose is to reclaim the entire cosmos back to himself [Colossians 1:20], and is currently being fulfilled [since Pentecost in Acts 2]. Thus, this should bring reassurance to us who may fear these beings. Why reassurance? Because they receive their “name” from “the Father”! Thus, Jesus “is far above every ruler, authority, power, dominion, and every name that can be named.” [Ephesians 1:21].
If E.T. exists, Christians need not worry! Paul clarifies this elsewhere, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor anything above, nor anything below, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is ours in union with the Messiah Jesus, our Lord.” [Romans 8:38-39].
Origin [2nd century] summarises: “Human nature cannot by itself maintain the struggle against angels and heights and depths and any other creature; but when it has felt the Lord to be present and dwelling within, it will say in the confidence of receiving divine help: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?’ [Psalm 27:1]”
A point should be made in regards to E.T., especially since we live in the 21st century [even though the early church discussed the possibility of E.T. via the principle of plenitude]. We have seen above that Christians can explain the reality of the gospel, even if E.T. exists! However, we must also entertain the possibility that, if they do exist, what kind of technology is needed to successfully make a trip to us? Can they ever reach us? Comprehending the distances between stars seems beyond our imaginative capacity. To say that the nearest star Proxima Centauri is 39.9 x 1012 km away, simply does not help. Here are two bright stars, α-Centauri and β-Centauri. The faint red star in the red circle is Proxima Centauri:
If E.T. were to catch a ride on the fastest spacecraft ever built by NASA [using ion thrusters], at a maximum velocity of 56,000 km/h, it would take approximately 81,000 years to traverse just 4.24 light years between Earth and Proxima Centauri. To put that time-scale into perspective, that would be approximately 2,700 human generations. What if E.T.’s spacecraft is much faster than anything NASA made? Even travelling at 50% the speed of light, a spacecraft would take nearly 9 years to make the trip. But, E.T. would have to make a zigzag course through various galactic hazards to reach Earth, making the trip considerably longer. E.T. would have to dodge the gravity and deadly radiation of neutron stars, supergiant stars, supernova eruptions, and the remnants of such eruptions. E.T. would have to avoid the gas, dust, and comets that are dense in the spiral arms of our galaxy alone, as well as stars formed during the past 5 billion years. E.T. would have to stay within the galactic plane [1 parsec = 30.8 trillion km]:
If you think our galaxy is big enough, think again! Our galaxy has a diameter of 150,000 light-years, and beyond our galaxy are other galaxies, where we are all located inside what astronomers call the Local Group:
At one end is the M31 Andromeda galaxy, 220,000 light-years in diameter, and 2,500,000 light-years away from us. Another is the M33 Triangulum galaxy, 50,000 light-years in diameter and 2,400,000 light-years away from us. But within our own galaxy, any departure from the galactic plane would expose E.T. to deadly radiation from the galactic centre:
The higher a spacecraft’s speed, more propellant is needed. Therefore, the spacecraft has an exponentially higher mass problem from the need to move the spacecraft’s payload [the total weight of the passengers, crew, instruments, and life support supplies]. Micrometeorites [fractions of a millimetre across], punched holes in the Hubble Telescope’s solar panels:
If the telescope had been moving a thousand times faster [relative to the micrometeorites], the damage would have been a million times worse. In terms of space debris, micrometeorites are the least of E.T.’s worries. Computer modelling indicates that there are at least 100 billion comets, surrounding our own solar system:
To protect against damage from space debris, a spacecraft needs some kind of armour. However, armour means more mass, which means more propellant to move the added mass. But more propellant means even more propellant to move that extra propellant. Thus the problem escalates. While space debris poses a lesser risk at lower velocities, lower velocities also means greater travel time. The probability of damage from space debris rises in proportion to the amount of time spent in space, and it rises with v². Therefore, in terms of damage from debris, E.T. faces deadly dangers at any velocity, slow or fast. A spacecraft travelling at just 1% the speed of light [10,792,528 km/h] would need 23,000 years to travel a mere 230 light-years!
A last resort is the suggestion that E.T. may find a way to use wormholes [called an Einstein–Rosen Bridge] to travel in a short time. On closer examination, this idea offers no help in solving the distance and time problems. General relativity says that massive objects distort the curvature of space and time in their vicinity. John Wheeler [20th century physicist] famously said: “Space-time tells matter how to move; matter tells space-time how to curve.”
The greater the mass-density of an object, the greater the degree of space-time curvature it produces in its immediate vicinity. General relativity predicts that when matter becomes sufficiently compressed by its own gravity [like a black hole], a discrete region of space-time will develop where the curvature becomes infinitely sharp. Therefore, a singularity will develop at the centre of the mass concentration. If a black hole that is connected to a sheet of space-time, happens to make contact with another black hole that is connected to a different sheet of space-time, that point of contact may hypothetically offer a travel corridor. The point of contact must be singularity to singularity so that a traveller funnelling into the centre of one black hole can come into contact with the centre of another black hole:
While this is mathematically possible, one must question the physical practicality of their use by E.T. According to our model of the universe, regions of space that could be connected via wormholes are already close to one another. In other words, the use of a wormhole would offer little time advantage. The ekpyrotic big bang model, in which a 10D space-time sheet bends to make a U shape, does offer the possibility of a significant shortcut through space, but ongoing research has yet to verify this model:
From a realistic perspective, the wormhole question is moot. Because black holes are relatively rare, the probability that the singularities of two spatially distant black holes would come into contact is virtually zero, as is the probability that any possible wormhole would lie in a location useful for E.T. space travel. General relativity dictates that wormholes would be extremely unstable. The longevity of any possible wormhole is far too brief to allow any physical being to travel through.
Finally, the most devastating evidence against wormhole travel comes from the application of physical laws to discrete physical objects. In short, any physical object would be destroyed beyond recognition by the intense gravitational forces in the vicinity of a wormhole. Physicists call this spaghettification:
An E.T. would be stretched into a long line of particles several km long! As this E.T. gets sucked toward the singularity, the particles disintegrate. The E.T. would then end up as an extremely compressed ball of chaotic energy. Coming close to a wormhole means destruction.
In summary of all of this, God is not only the Father to whom believers can speak freely and confidently in prayer, but he is the Creator who has omnipotent authority over all social groups, including the spiritual [and possibly physical] powers that exist in the cosmos, because God is the source!