With the recent report on Unidentified Flying Objects – or unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) in the modern parlance – a question rarely asked is how the Christian community views the phenomena and whether belief in extra-terrestrials or UFOs is in direct opposition to the basis of Christianity.
A common opinion is that these two beliefs are mutually exclusive, but perhaps that’s not quite the case. In fact, it seems that there is a fair amount of crossover. Should this be surprising? Perhaps not.
One of the most prominent figures in the debate on aliens, UFOs, and especially the interpretation of Biblical stories is Erich von Däniken. Writer of the hugely controversial 1968 book, Chariots of the Gods, von Däniken has sold more than 60 million books worldwide. He himself is as controversial as his famous book, often accused of using a little too much “artistic license.” Still, his general supposition is this: Aliens visited Earth centuries ago, and their legacy remains in the scriptures of almost all religions and native origin tales.
He discusses, among others, the Bible and how many of the things described within would be more applicable to alien encounters rather than angelic or godly apparitions. But von Däniken is himself a Christian. As he notably says on frequent occasions:
“I have grown up as a Catholic, a Christian, and I clearly say I am still one of these believers in God. I pray every evening. We will never lose God, never, when we deal with ancient astronauts.”
And what of other writers in the Christian field? Let’s consider C.S. Lewis, certainly one of the most accessible and enjoyable authors who have used their storytelling gift to talk of faith and belief. In the Narnia Chronicles, it soon becomes apparent that Aslan the lion, the king of all the lands, is representative of Jesus.
Deborah Haarsma, the president of the BioLogos Foundation, spoke of how Lewis – himself an avid consumer and writer of science-fiction – expressed his belief in both aliens and God. She said: “In Narnia, you have the idea of Aslan, God appearing in the form of a Lion in a different world… And by the time you get to the end of The Chronicles of Narnia in The Last Battle, you see him acknowledge that there are many worlds all pointing to one God. But God incarnates in different ways.”
One of the chief criticisms of the idea that one can have both a belief in God and a belief in extra-terrestrials is that the Bible does not talk of other worlds or other forms of life. But perhaps there is room for discussion.
Consider John 3:16: in the New Testament: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” The Greek translation for the word “world” here is “kosmos,” which can also mean universe. And as Deborah Haarsma says:
“In Colossians 1, it says that ‘In Him, all things were created: things on Heaven, things on Earth, visible, invisible, thrones, powers, rulers, authorities.’ All those things were created through Him and for Him.”
And let’s look at some of the examples that so inspired Erich von Däniken. In Ezekiel 1:15 to 1:28, the prophet describes a visitation.
“Now as I look at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel.”
This is what struck von Däniken. Ezekiel appears to be describing a machine… machines have wheels. Why would God need a machine? And when we consider what a wheel within a wheel actually represents, many people may first think of a gyroscope or an all-terrain maneuvering device.
Continuing with Ezekiel, he goes on to describe: “Under the vault their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.”
The descriptive language here is incredible. Imagine, if you will, someone from an uncontacted tribe in the Amazon or Papua New Guinea trying to describe a helicopter landing and taking off. Would the description be similar? Or even exactly the same?
There are some frequently raised issues that require examination. Firstly, although the Bible does not preclude the existence of aliens on other planets, it also doesn’t mention them explicitly. It’s quite the conundrum until you consider the idea of localization.
We should ask ourselves: what is the Bible and what is its purpose? A Christian would certainly answer that it is the word of God and gives an account of God’s actions in the world and an instruction manual for humanity. And that’s the key to this question, perhaps. It’s a guide for humanity. Humans. Consider a world map – picture it in your mind. What country or continent is in the center? If you are from the United States, then likely the Americas are in the middle. For Europeans, Europe, and for the Chinese, China is always right in the middle. That’s why China, in Mandarin Chinese, is called “Zhong Guo” – or “middle kingdom.”
There’s also the issue of mankind being made in God’s image. Does this mean that all alien beings have to look like us? From what we know about life on our own planet, we understand that appearance and physiology are uniquely shaped by our environment.
But when we say God’s image, it is far more likely that this refers to both spirituality AND physicality.
The next big question is that of salvation. Jesus dies for our sins so that we could be forgiven. Did this sacrifice pay for all beings in the known and unknown universe? There are several theories on this; one being that humans are unique in their sin, and therefore only we require this type of salvation. It’s an interesting answer, but one that precludes what we might call the idea of equal stupidity; as in, why would we be the only beings capable of sin or stupidity? Perhaps a more satisfying explanation is that God, having no form as we understand it, is incarnate in many forms.
So to answer our original premise: Are belief in God and belief in aliens mutually exclusive? Perhaps not. There are many Christians who believe that life in physical form exists beyond the confines of our own world: heavenly beings? The army of God? Life in the heavens?
As with many things, it’s all a matter of faith and belief.
Read more from Mark Angelides.