When I put my 9 year old son to bed tonight he asked me two very thought provoking questions.
Here is the first one:
“Are there people on other planets?”
I was very happy with this question because that means my son has been listening to me over the years as I have bloviated about astronomy and the mysteries of the cosmos.
I’m an amateur astronomer and I’ve taken my kids out to look at the night sky with my telescope and they’ve not only seen other planets in our solar system but distant planetary nebulae and other galaxies. They know the cosmos is vast and my son is now starting to realize that we inhabit this little blue dot that circles an average star in the suburbs of the Milky Way.
There are around 200 billion galaxies in the known universe and each one of these galaxies has around 200 billion stars so it’s only natural to think that we are not the only star out of 40,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 that has a planet with life on it.
And we know that there are other stars only a few hundred light years away (basically your next door neighbor in cosmological distances) that have planets orbiting in the so called habitable zone which means the planet orbits a safe distance from its star to have temperatures similar to Earth’s and therefore conducive to life as we know it.
If you don’t believe me, you can browse the Exoplanet database to find other planets, like Kepler-69-C, that are located in the habitable zone and have the possibility of sustaining life.
It’s true the Bible is silent about life on other planets but keep in mind when the Word of God was given to us in the Old and New Testaments. During that time the scientific consensus was that the Earth was the center of the universe and every light in the night sky revolved around us so it’d be a little difficult to explain the Big Bang to Moses or John, much less the basics of Kepler’s laws and habitable zones!
With no clear direction from the Bible we are free to conjecture. Did the all powerful Creator of the universe limit the number of places where life exists to just one tiny blue planet in this vast cosmos? No! I don’t put limits on God’s power so I have no problem believing that there are other places in the Universe that contains life.
So I answered YES to that question and I do believe that there is life in other locations in the cosmos. And by ‘life’, I’m not limiting it to our carbon based form. Even on our own planet, we’ve found life in some of the most inhospitable places and I would not be surprised to find life arising in a planet that is outside the habitable zone. I don’t limit God’s power in that regard.
Now his second question.
“Do the people on other planets go to heaven?”
I was happy with his first question but I was extremely proud of his second one.
This showed he has been listening in church and is starting to come to terms with our sinful nature and our need of a perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins. He knows that Jesus came to Earth to die for our sins but he’s wondering about the poor souls who may be living on planets like Kepler-69-C or a planet in the Andromeda galaxy.
I have wrestled with this very question myself and I’ve come to believe that Jesus came to those other planets in the same way he came to ours. He took the form of their ‘people’, lived among them, died and was raised from the dead.
Remember that the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus was there during creation:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. John 1:1-3
If Jesus was everywhere during the creation (Big Bang, formation of galaxies/stars/planets and the creation of life) then I don’t limit Him in the fact that He can only become flesh in one of these planets that harbors life.
So that was my answer to my son’s second question – Jesus will come to those other planets, He will take the form of the ‘people’ of those planets and He die for their sins too. Yes, ET can go to heaven too!
Kids ask the best questions.
Hi Cosmoscon, congratulations on posting about an always fascinating subject. I personally think the odds of life out there is unlikely given the seeming improbability of abiogenesis. But you are right that new knowledge could change things.
I want to add another logical possibility on Christian theism. Possibly, other intelligent life is not fallen. CS Lewis wrote a trilogy of science fiction, including one where astronauts visit an unfallen planet. There would be no need for an incarnational savior there.
Another possibility is that God could make intelligent species that do not have eternal souls. That would be kind of strange, but I would not rule it out. Finally, if you follow Molinism as an answer to the problem of the unsaved, it is possible that aliens need Jesus for salvation, and we will be destined to bring the gospel to them!
Of course, your option is possible too, and I think would redound to God’s glory. I am very open to the possibilities here. Unlike the scenario in Contact, I think ET poses no difficulty for faith. But I trust your answer is wholly appropriate for your son.
CogitatingDuck – Thanks for the comments here. I have always liked the way you think and you’ve presented some other possibilities that I had not thought of.
Yes, finding life on other planets presents absolutely zero challenge to my faith just like a concept of God using the Big Bang doesn’t lead me to discount Genesis.
I will google the CS Lewis SF trilogy because that sounds like something I’d like to read. I’m a hardcore SF junkie but haven’t found anything good in years to grab my attention.
I always enjoy your comments (and your blog), thanks!