Review of the meeting on extraterrestrials

I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback from those who attended the meeting on Saturday. For those who missed it, the video should be available in a few weeks. Here are some of my impressions and responses.

  • We heard good scientific arguments from Bijan Nemati and Jay Richards that from a purely naturalistic standpoint, the conditions needed for life are so difficult to satisfy that it is unlikely that life evolved elsewhere in our galaxy.  If there is other life nearby, it would have to be miraculously originated.
  • Ken Samples drew an important distinction  between reports of “aerial phenomena” and reports of “alien encounters/abduction”. The latter might actually be interaction with demonic spirits. In general, in the meeting there was consensus that we should take seriously the fact that the Bible says there are angels and demons, and Ken Samples showed that much of the literature of believers in aliens overlaps with the occult.
  • Regarding aerial phenomena, new life has been given to these stories in recent years by a number of recent reports of video cameras picking up flying objects that seem to violate the laws of physics, including disappearing. My first impression as someone who works with CCD cameras was that there are many ways to have false images on them; in the meeting on Saturday I wondered why other experts had not considered this. It turns out that some have; see this story: https://www.foxnews.com/science/astrophysicist-explains-why-reported-ufos-fail-to-impress-him. This story also notes the possibility of other countries releasing decoys/drones to cause our military to switch on radar, to detect our radar capabilities. There is a long history of nations making false radar images to confuse enemies.
    To really have a confirmed event, I would want to see several things together:  a) simultaneous data from more than one camera, or from a camera and radar, of the same object. One camera or one radar can fail and give false images (especially blurry blobs that disappear) but it is unlikely two would fail in the same way at the same time, looking at one object from different angles;  b) I would want to see that under the conditions of (a), the object actually exceeds human-designed capability (after all, by Occam’s razor the most likely source of a flying object is human construction). To my knowledge, we don’t have this yet.
  • Jonathan Barlow made the case for taking “exotheology” seriously as a field of theology, even if only for how to think about flora and fauna on other planets. In regard to intelligent life, he made the point that we know from Scripture that having rationality and moral responsibility is *not* sufficient to say that a type of life has the image of God, since we know angels and demons have both rationality and a moral nature. This led to interesting discussion about how this also may relate to possible artificial intelligence and hominids who might have existed before or concurrently with Adam and Eve.
  • Gavin Ortlund made a good point that people who invoke many-worlds are invoking something unknown and mysterious to explain things, and so are pretty much on the same playing field as Christians who believe in God. He, Ken Samples, and other speakers discussed how for many people, aliens give them “hope” and belief in something transcendent beyond our world.
  • Jay Richards made a good point that atheists like Carl Sagan seem to make a “heads I win, tails you lose argument”— if there is no alien life, this counts as evidence against Christianity because it makes us alone in an uncaring universe, but if there is alien life, it counts as evidence against Christianity, because their view of Christianity is that it is entirely anthropocentric. In essence, their argument is purely from volume— spatial small size implies metaphysical insignificance.
    Several speakers made the point that historically, Christian theologians going back to the early church viewed it as natural to assume that the heavenly spheres are filled with beings. These might include angels and demons but also other beings we don’t know about. Jonathan Barlow showed that it would have been a majority view, however, to not think there was another earth like ours. In general, historical Christianity is not nearly as anthropocentric as atheists would tend to say, and would be comfortable with the idea of vast reaches of space and time that glorify God, without people there.
  • Christology would say that Christ shares human blood and dies only once, not many times, which makes any theory of salvation and redemption for non-human aliens problematic. But this doesn’t rule out alien life as such.
David Snoke

About David Snoke

Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Pittsburgh
Astrophysics, Cosmology, Darwinism, Human exceptionalism, Intelligent Design, Materialism, SETI

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