I’m a sci-fi nerd. With my interests in sci-fi and religion, I often think of God in the big picture: the vastness of the cosmos, the beauty of the galaxy, the expanding of the universe. With that, maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising that the following conversation as come up several times lately: how compatible is Christianity and the discovery of life on other planets?
To me, it seems rather obvious to assume there is sentient life elsewhere in the universe. It's estimated that there could conservatively be 12,000 civilizations in this galaxy alone. Statistically, it’s just rather likely that we're not the only ones here; the universe is an inconceivably big place. Plus, if we’re the universe’s only shot at intelligent life…well, that paints a rather grim hope for the universe.
But aliens aren’t in the Bible! I’ve heard it protested that the Bible doesn’t mention other species, that humans are God’s people alone. The Bible doesn’t say that; the Bible doesn’t say a lot. The Bible tells the story of humanity's relationship with God. It is not the definitive edition of All There is to Know. A story about Humans isn’t going to mention Bajorans or Betazoids. Assuming there are other people out there, their relationship to God is going to be a completely different story.
And that’s why although I believe in the Truth of my faith and in the existence of aliens, I don’t believe Christianity can extend beyond Earth. We cannot assume that anyone besides humanity can obtain salvation the way humans do, or that they even need saving. C. S. Lewis, in Perelandra, presents a world that is still in pre-Fall state. I can assume that the Creator of the Universe created other beings, and I can assume that He loves them, but I don’t think I can assume much else. While I’m sure some would interpret “proclaim to all nations” as including new worlds, I just don’t think we need to send missionaries to Qo’noS. God and whatever species is out there have their own relationship, their own story. The foundations of Christianity (Original Sin, the Incarnation, the Passion) may not be applicable to them. We didn’t need another species to deliver God’s message to us, and they won't need us to deliver God’s message to them. It doesn't mean we can't exchange theological ideas, or that we can't learn more about God from one another. It's just that salvation is not dependent on finding others "out there." Salvation was brought "down here" for us, where we could reach it. God spans the universe, but he is also a personal God who will meet us where we are and give us what we need.
God is everywhere, forging and mending relationships with his creation, and I think that includes a lot more souls than just humanity. Maybe Christ has appeared in some way to millions of other planets. Or maybe not. Maybe we’ll never meet another sentient species and these questions won’t matter. Or maybe we will. Personally, I find the possibilities fascinating. And I also find it comforting to ask such questions and come to the conclusion that whatever is found in the final frontier won’t shake my faith. True faith questions and doesn’t crumble under the answers; faith stands alongside discoveries and exploration.
(Bonus interweb points to anyone who recognizes the movie quoted in the title.)