Science in Christian Perspective
A Communique from Outer Space
Richard J. Coleman
8 McKinley Terrea
Pittefield, MA 01201
From: JASA 30 (March
The communication below was received one night in March. I personally am not one who readily believes in flying saucers and little green men. But I like to think I have an open mind on the subject of extraterrestrial life. I ask the same from the readers of this communique for it has something important to say to the theological community.
Even though we are separated by a million light years, I feel we can address you as friends, because we are all creatures of the almighty Creator of the Universe. What we are about to say to you should not be misunderstood as interference in your internal affairs. It is rather a challenge to all Christians who profess to be modern in their religious thinking, but who in reality have not extended their faith beyond their own solar system.
We have watched as you have made your first attempts to probe outer space. A startled cry went up when the first satellite was sent skyward. When the first "giant step for mankind" was taken, there was much ado about bringing theology into the space age. More recently your scientists huddled about their monitors as Viking I gave man his first opportunity to explore the existence of life on another heavenly body. But it seems to us who speak to you from the great beyond that the religious thinkers of your age are steadfastly rooted to the planet earth as if it were the only object worthy of God's concern. Let us assure you that earth has been greatly blessed, but it does not stand alone in the eyes of the magnificent God-Being who created us all.
We are at times puzzled at your resistance to the idea that intelligent life surrounds you as the stars encircle your own earth. The statistics in favor of extraterrestrial life do little to persuade you that the process of hominization is common place. With each passing year your astronomers come closer to realizing how vast the universe is. I believe the most remote body discovered to date is quasar OQ 172 which is estimated to be ten billion light years away. That is not bad for a start, but it is only a start! In 1953 Teilhard de Chardin calculated there might be a million planets capable of supporting life, but his calculations were based on the ridiculous projection that at least one planet in each galaxy would have the proper conditions. I say ridiculous because even the existence of a billion galaxies would be a conservative reckoning.
We have to assume that Christian theology suffers from certain inherent restraints that have not properly been dealt with. I mention only a few in the hope that in the coming decades theology might experience a similar radical reorientation as it did when the populus realized the sun rather than the earth was the center of your minuscule world.
(1) The creation, Genesis l:1 ff. We do not presume to imply your Holy Book is in error about the creation. We sense that it is your own provincial attitudes that persuade you to interpret Genesis 1:1 to mean: "In the beginning when God first began to create, he created your world in the midst of total chaos and darkness." How quaint of you to believe God made earth first and that, theologically speaking, the universe turns around the wonders he wrought in your solar system. Do you not at times grow weary of reading Barth, Bonhoeffer, Tillich, Pannenberg, and others who focus your thoughts on straight line extrapolations from the present to the future without opening the way to realms and tomorrows beyond your comprehension?
(2) Concerning another matter we are aware that earthlings still have difficulty assimilating the scope of evolution. We must laud your science fiction writers, because they seem to be the only ones who see evolution for the truly grand plan that it is. It seems to be assumed by the majority of thinkers that creative evolution has its beginning and end with the planet earth. The obstacle we perceive is the implied doctrine that mankind was, and is, the pinnacle of God's creativity. Isn't that just a little egotistical? You might become acquainted with Arthur Clarke's Childhood's End (1953) or Clifford Simak's A Choice of Gods (1972). It does not matter that they speak of an impersonal "Overmind" or "the Principle." What matters is that the world does not end with total destruction or utopia, but the transfiguration of the human race into a higher yet unknown form of spiritual life. Perhaps your billion years of evolution is only a preparatory step toward the integral evolution of the universe?
(3) Is it narrow-mindedness or a notion of orthodoxy that limits your kind from envisioning a radically different concept of God? Christianity describes God in such marvelous terms: infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent. More recently you seem to prefer terms such as "ground of Being," "God forward," "upward pressure," which are more freeing, but even they fail to realize what those adjectives mean in an universe where your solar system is like a single amoeba swimming in the waters of the earth's oceans. But how can we expect you to know anything about the sovereignty of God, when you know nothing of the extent of time and space, not to mention other dimensions.
(4) According to the biblical theology of your first and second millennia, only earth has known original sin and stands in need of redemption. The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is therefore the singular, unique, once-for-all, final revelation of the Creator. Yet, we must remind you that this doctrine was formulated during a time when the earth was considered to be the center of the universe, and the universe extended no further than the naked eye could see. If, on the other hand, there exists a multitude of thinking stars, no matter how advanced or primitive, would they lie outside of God's redemptive love?
I suppose it could be imagined that Christ's work of divinizatinn was meant to spread over the universe and that plans should commence to establish a space ship evangelism. But should it not be considered highly likely that just as God so loved the planet earth that he sent his beloved son, he also loved the other worlds that he created that he gave up his son to them? It is obvious that your whole Christian tradition presents a very terrestrial Savior whose redemptive power does not extend beyond individual salvation. We find such a tradition impoverished, especially in light of your own biblical insights into the Christ who is not bound by the totality of space and time.
(5) We can understand how the sheer immensity of the universe plays havoc with any philosophy-theology that attempts to construct a coherent, logical scheme. We suspect that only God himself can comprehend and make sense of the immensity. Perhaps with this in mind you will allow us to mention one more obstacle that is keeping you earth bound.
The classical linear view of the universe may at first seem very satisfactory, because it presupposes a definite beginning and end. Time is boxed in, so to speak, by the creation and the eschaton. But time extends beyond the interval of Genesis to Revelation. Your scientists will continue to debate the concept of "steady state," which theorizes that matter is being continuously created, and a theory of entropy whereby matter does not endure forever; but sooner or later your best minds must contend with the idea of a universe that is infinitely expanding or open ended. In periods of billions of years the universe oscillates between contracting (cooling) and expanding (heating). Undoubtedly some theologians will argue that there is no place for God in an infinite universe, for only God is infinite, but their conception of God is too small. Rather, it is only in such a limitless universe that an infinite God is comprehensible.
It is time for this communique to come to an end. It was brief because we did not intend to offer solutions but to press your theological thinking so it might grow. We addressed you as "friend" because we are your friends, but you will most likely think of us as "aliens." It is not so much the million light years that separate us that makes us seem alien, as it is your failure to look for traces of the Almighty's creativity in the starry beyond and the Planck distance.* Put aside your geo-centricism and your insular hubris and you will see the breadth and depth of the Creator's love.
*A Planck distance is a hundred billion, billion times smaller than the width of an electron.