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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Why People Desperately Want to Believe in Aliens

This semester, in order to graduate, I'm in a ridiculous class about the "adaptation and evolution of biobehavioral systems." Funny thing is, its a psychology class, though the professor has yet to mention the word "psychology" other than when describing the course title. But I digress...

The little squirrely, French-accented professor loves asking the class questions and having students raise their hand, indicating what proportion of the class agrees/disagrees with what he just asked.

On the first day, he asked questions like "Is life abundant in the universe?" and "Is there intelligent life outside our galaxy (or even in our galaxy)?"

To my utter shock, the majority (save myself and two other girls) raised their hands confidently in support of life outside planet Earth. When I didn't raise my hand (and decided to wear my bright yellow, eye-catching cardigan. Curses.), he promptly asked me why I didn't think that. I would like to think I appropriately articulated what I was thinking and said I think life, especially intelligent life, is unique.

I was flabbergasted about how many people truly and confidently believed there was life outside of Earth. Then, I read this:

"The public wants to believe in aliens (or extraterrestrial intelligence, ETI), some say, because they believe that 'ETI comes from 'utopian societies which are free from war, death, disease or any other... mid-20th century problems' and could 'help mankind overcome its problems.'" (Howard A. Smith, "Alone in the Universe", American Scientist, Volume 99)
Initially I thought it was radiculus that people would a) want to believe in aliens and b) have enough faith in the idea to do so. Then after reading this, I realized we all, regardless of belief, have a deep longing for something greater than ourselves and greater than our world.

As outlandish as it seems, the desperate desire for intelligent life in the universe is actually a distorted longing for the most intelligent, loving, wise and just Being that ever lived.

(Side note: I'm still exploring if it even matters theologically that there is one form of intelligent life in the universe, but I feel like the Bible wouldn't leave out that pretty major detail (if intelligent life did exist elsewhere). That's definitely not the point of my discourse here, however.)


  1. Interesting, however, I don't think that, theologically speaking, we can discard the idea of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Do I believe that there is? If I had to give an answer I would say no. However, the Bible reveals that God is so immense that we can't even begin to fully understand even the simplest things about him. The Bible is the God-breathed narrative of our salvation. It tells about the creation of our world and our life, all the while pointing to Jesus and our redemption to the Father. I don't think that we can limit God to only having created life here on Earth. It does reveal that humans are, however, the crown of creation being made in the image of God.

    1. Couldn't agree more with what you said, Michael! I think, like you said, we can't be 100% sure/disregard the notion that intelligent life could exist outside earth mainly because the Bible isn't clear about such. It is clear that God magnificently created the world and humans in his likeness. I was mainly trying to articulate how humans, no matter their theology, have a deeply programmed longing for Something and Someone greater than themselves (and that sometimes manifests itself in people believing some seemingly outlandish things, like hoping aliens exist).

  2. Hey! Your blog is so cute. I found you through Lip gloss and Crayons and after I saw that you love Jesus and babies I knew I had to stick around! ;) Xoxo

  3. Scientifically speaking there is proof that earth and thus humanity exists in an expansive universe. In the milky way galaxy alone there are over 100 billion stars, about 15% of which have solar systems. These things have been observed and established by advances in science and technology. It is overwhelmingly likely that at least one other place in our own galaxy harbors life. Who knows what sort of life exists on other planets. Perhaps life on those planets has not yet evolved the capacity for self-awareness. Or maybe they have evolved to an even more advanced state than human beings.

    At this point however it has little impact on our own lives given our current capabilities at traversing space. Unless far more technologically advanced life decides to visit us, we and in all likelyhood our great-great-grandchildren will never encounter alien life. And while that may mean most people shouldn't be overly preoccupied with the existence of alien life, it is not a reason to deny its existence.

    Now to the religious aspect. I'm not going to debate the existence of God with you because a) it would not be productive b) I'm still not entirely sure what I believe. What I will suggest however, is that even assuming the existence of the monotheistic Judeo-Christian God, the lack of aliens in the bible means absolutely squat to this arguement. Even if you look at the bible as being written by those divinely inspired by God, one could argue God gave the authors a perspective that was applicable to life on this planet and that he could have similarly inspired life on other planets with his word in a context specific to those alien worlds. I'll grant you that a lot of the assumptions of traditional Christianity break down when alien life is brought into the picture, but I think the only way religion eventually will survive in a world where scientific understanding continues to expand at an exponential rate is if people are willing to assimilate science into their understanding of God. Which, by the way is not that hard. Even with the understanding of the origins of the universe with the Big Bang and everything that followed, there still is a place for a divine being that exists outside of time and set those events into motion. If you look at God in that manner and look at Jesus as god's manner of showing us the ideal way to live our lives on this earth (which I have always favored rather than as someone who you simply have to say you believe in to get to heaven), then Christianity can continue to coexist with science. What is required for that to work however is for people to cease looking at the bible (especially the old testament) as all discrete fact and rather see it as people in a more ancient , provencial world trying to understand both the origins of the universe and grasp the complexities of God.

    I realize that you may disagree with a great deal of this, which is fine. I just felt like giving my own rebuttal and as you've heard me talk on this subject back when I was a senior in college I figured it wouldn't be too jarring.

    -John T