Ken Ham, a prominent young earth creationist and the founder of Answers in Genesis, recently lamented on his blog about the money being spent on the search for extraterrestrial life in space. Interestingly, part of his objection was that aliens probably don’t exist because they would not be saved:
I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel. You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.
That’s correct: according to Ken Ham, we can speculate about whether aliens may or may not exist (though both he and I agree that we think it is very improbable), but we can know for sure that aliens cannot be saved. Keep this in mind through the rest of my post: Ken Ham did not say that aliens may not be saved, but rather that they “can’t” be saved.
Space and Cost
Ken Ham was concerned with the notion that we’re spending so much money on space travel: “I’m shocked at the countless hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent over the years in the desperate and fruitless search for extraterrestrial life.”
I would first point out that the money being thrown at this is hardly exclusively dedicated to the search for ET. Rather, much of it goes to new technology like new telescopes, listening devices, etc. which actually bring benefits for the rest of society. Thus, the money is not being spent in a “fruitless” fashion.
One might come back and say: “What if all that money was instead spent on feeding the hungry, clothing the needy, etc.?” I think that’s a valid point and it is one with some initial force. One wonders, though, about the notion of division of effort. There is a real sense in which not all of human effort may be directed towards one end. As a Christian, I certainly desire to aid those in need, but I would not say that means every dollar I spend should be directed towards that end. There are other evils than need in the world (such as abortion) to direct effort towards, and there are also other goods to promote (evangelization would be one I would list). As such, my activity must be divided. Similarly, on a national level, there are numerous ends to pursue, and an argument which reduces national spending to a single issue is simplistic.
I’m open to disagreement here and would love to hear from those who are either pro-space exploration or con. I lean pro- but I think there is some force to arguments against.
The thrust of Ken Ham’s post, however, was that aliens would not be saved. He acknowledged that “[T]he Bible doesn’t say whether there is or is not animal or plant life in outer space.” Given his nod to the fact that the Bible is clearly not concerned with the broader universe, it is then shocking to find that Ham asserted without qualifications that “[aliens] can’t have salvation.” I wonder: where is that found in the Bible? Where might I find the notion that: “If aliens exist, they can’t have salvation” implied in the Bible?
Ham’s argument was an implicit one: because “The Earth was created for human life” (an example of the single-end fallacy regarding God’s creation which I discussed elsewhere), and “Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.”
The argument depends upon a number of hidden and explicit premises. First, one must ask in what way Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. Does that mean that intelligent aliens instantly became cursed and condemned by the Fall? It seems Ham’s argument depends upon that premise, but there is surely no bibical data to back that up. Rather, Ham is assuming that the Fall means that any other life in the universe would necessarily be sinful and in a state of rebellion against God. Although the Bible speaks of humans being in rebellion against God, and it speaks of “all creation groan”ing awaiting for God’s coming to reconcile all things, it is surely a massive inference to leap from that to the notion that any aliens anywhere are eternally doomed.
Second, the argument assumes that God did not or would not (can not!?) mediate between other sentient beings and God. Surely it is a major assumption to state that God would not operate in a certain fashion about speculative aliens who have speculatively been included in the Fall and are speculatively doomed for eternity! For Ham to turn around and just assert that God would not save these aliens (or again, perhaps cannot, because he states that they “can’t have salvation), is a major theological error.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the question of how Ham reconciles his first premise with his premise that “because [aliens] are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.” After all, the same proof-texts which may be cited to try to imply that all of creation groans under the Fall (Romans 8) could also be taken, when read with the same presumptions, to mean that aliens will be saved or at least have hope of salvation: “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God [Romans 8:20-21 NIV].”
Thus, Ham’s argument has a faulty conclusion: if it is true that all of the universe fell through Adam and is therefore doomed, then it equally follows that, according to the same text, it will all be saved through Jesus as the new Adam (not universalism, but rather the “hope of salvation”). There are no grounds for Ham’s assumptions.
Ken Ham has overstated his case to the extreme. Although he may have some force to his argument about the needless spending of money on various space exploration projects (and again, I think these aren’t needless but that perhaps his side has some a priori power), he has committed some major blunders when it comes to speaking of the possibility of alien salvation.
As always, I’d love to have your thoughts in the comments. What do you think about Ham’s statements? Be sure to check out his blog post to get his side of the argument.
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Alien life: Theological reflections on life on other planets– I engage in some [highly] speculative theology related to the possibility of aliens.
Did God Create the Universe for Humans?-Some Thoughts on God’s purposes for creating– I argue that God’s purposes in creating are needlessly limited when people object that God created the universe [only] for humankind.
Aliens that believe in God: The theological speculations of Robert Sawyer’s “Calculating God”– I reflect on a science fiction book, Calculating God, which has aliens that believe in God.
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Here I’m thinking Jesus is the savior and redeemer of all of space-time. Good thing Kens here to set me straight!
Honestly that’s what confused me most about Ham’s post. Surely, on his view, we must take Romans 8 very literally and assume that just as all creation was cursed through Adam, it is brought into hope of salvation through Christ! His post expresses an affirmation of the former, but not the latter.
I enjoyed reading your post, J.W.!
I freely admit my personal bias as a sci-fi fan, but I think the probability of there being not only other life in the universe but also intelligent life is good, if not strong. Otherwise, as the characters in “Contact” say, “It’s an awful big waste of space.” (Of course, who can know the mind of God – still, the amazing breadth and diversity of life on our little planet alone is so staggering, it suggests to that an endlessly giving and creative God just couldn’t be content to work on Earth alone and then say, “Ok, good enough!” But I could be wrong.)
I agree with your exegesis of Romans and your refutation of Ham’s argument. I am also guided by a wonderful statement in the Second Helvetic Confession, “We are to have a good hope for all” (Ch. X) regarding election and salvation. I also think of Jesus’ words, “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6.37-38, NRSV). If anyone comes to Jesus — human being or, presumably, other intelligent, sentient being — it is evidence of the Father’s will being done, and Jesus welcomes that one.
Oh, and my thoughts on whether we should be spending money on space? I think they’re in line with yours. According to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book “Space Chronicles,” just one half-cent from every taxpayer, annually, goes to fund NASA. Given all the knowledge about our planet and its place in the universe that NASA provides, that’s an incredible return on an investment. Yes, plenty of problems down here on the ground need our money and attention, too; but setting up space exploration (especially unmanned, which is more cost-effective and less risky to human life) in general and NASA in particular as the bad guy, stealing money from more worthy causes, just doesn’t hold water. If we had political will enough to spend lots more money on pressing terrestrial problems, we could find other ways to do so, without scapegoating space exploration.
Thanks for a well-written, thought-provoking start to the day!
Thanks for your very kind words and thoughtful comment! I’m also a huge sci-fi fan so as I’ve expressed elsewhere, I’m hopeful for alien life because it’d be awesome, but I remain quite skeptical as far as the actual evidence is concerned. I’m simply not at all convinced that we have any reason to think there is any other intelligent life, apart from the possibility that God simply decided to do so. Moreover, I am even more doubtful that if there is intelligent life “out there,” we would have a way to have any sort of meaningful contact with it. But hey, we can dream, right?
Regarding Tyson’s comments on the money for funding Nasa–that is pretty crazy to think about, if accurate. I don’t know what NASA’s budget is, though I’m sure if I put the effort into Google I could probably find it, but I wonder whether that number really is accurate. At that point, I have to think it really is wroth half a penny to fund them. I mean, I’d even donate a penny!
If you’re interested, I do offer some comments on the notion that God merely created the universe for humans and argue that that reduces God’s intent in creation needlessly here. I also speculate on what the discovery of alien life could mean for theology here. I love sci-fi theology fans!
Great points. BTW, you might find Oliver Crisp’s chapter on multiple incarnations interesting, if you haven’t read it yet, in his book God Incarnate (it’s chapter 8).
To summarize: In that chapter Crisp takes the position that multiple incarnations are possible. But he believes that a single incarnation is more fitting than multiple incarnations, so that we have good reason to think the incarnation of the Son as Jesus of Nazareth was unique. Nevertheless, he sees indications in Scripture that Christ’s sacrificial work has cosmic significance (e.g., Col. 1:19-20), so that it would be adequate for any alien life.
So theoretically God could take on an alien nature just as he took on human nature. If we think the work of Christ is only applicable to humans because of his human nature, then there is nothing that prevents God from taking on an alien nature and performing a similar work for them (assuming they have their own fall). Either way you slice it, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to think aliens are damned. (Although I disagree with one point in Crisp’s reasoning which leads him to think God wouldn’t leave an alien race that was damned without a way of salvation.)
As a YE proponent I was surprised at the Ken Ham statement. Why even go there? A few things come to my mind:
Jesus in John is the creator and GOd who holds the “whole” universe together.
Mathematical probability of a planet exactly like ours is so huge there should be no doubt there is other life?
It is arrogant to assume that the GOd of the Universe who dealt with Satan’s Fall doesn’t deal with sin where ever it may be found? How do we assume what God would, or could do…
This statement makes all YE people since he is a Patriarch in this field look stupid.
Since Ezekiel, Revelations, and other books of the bible clearly speak of heavenly realms, heavenly creatures, last days minions of Satan, etc. it is absurd to believe that their is not other life.
I was saddened by his view and appreciate a few people in the YE realm at least addressing this openly. apparently some of the authors of YE books are supportive of this, I don’t get it. Apparently many are making statements but are unapproachable by forum, Facebook, or other?
Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
I am a bit confused about your last few sentences. What, for example, did you mean by “Apparently many are making statements but are unapproachable by forum, Facebook, or other?”?
Anyway, I agree–I’m not at all convinced the biblical record somehow seals the deal on whether life could be “out there,” though as I stated in this post I’m fairly skeptical about there being other life (at least in the material sense).
I guess that my connection to some authors of the YE Ilk are such that when they are challenged about their views there is no mechansim for rebuttal, its a sort of protectionism, I wrote AIG on a subject to get a response form one of the authors and I was told they do not respond. Since this was a AIG peer reviewed paper I thought some of my information from a YE perspective was worthy of consideration but apparently it doesn’t work that way. When I sent a post to the blog on Alien life to one of the authors which you had sent with respect to Ken Ham, I received no answer. So I suggest people put stuff out there and there is no mechansim or consideration at all for any academic exchange what so ever. So I was glad that you had responded, apparently you have more clout than me because the person mentioned your name specifically. So that’s o.k. and that is what I meant.
Lastly, mathematically (probability), Biblical Scripture, Gods Creation power and holds the universe together, and other observations make me think that the God of the universe is exactly that, and it is arrogant to assume that GOD is not in control. There are hundreds of thousands of earths that are exactly like ours given the size of the Universe… I don’t understand the need to address this for all YE people in the first place? In the face of evidences I am not skeptical at all? I am YE as well but have different views on certain subjects.