Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Is There Intelligent Life On Other Planets?

As complicated and fascinating a question as this might be to anybody else, it seems to me that for a Christian, the answer is pretty cut and dry: an unequivocal and resounding "No."

In the second volume of C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy Perelandra, he explains that the inhabitants of Venus (unlike those of Mars encountered by the protagonist Ransom in Out of the Silent Planet) are human because they were created after the Incarnation.

Lewis understands that it is by virtue of our reason that we share in God's Divine Nature in such a special way. We are animals through and through. But for the faculty of reason we would be nothing more. It is our reason by which we are made in the image of God.

Sometime around the Year of Our Lord 1, Jesus the Christ was born to a pure Virgin in a stable in Bethlehem. God became Man. Henceforth humanity itself has been intimately and personally bound up with the Trinitarian Godhead. The Second Person of the Trinity, the Word, the Logos, Reason himself, is human; therefore, all temporal, rational beings must be human.

I would go even further than Lewis, though. When Christ ascended into heaven 40 days after being raised from the dead, he re-entered the eternal sphere, taking his body and human nature with him. As a result, even though the Incarnation occurred in time, it is an eternal reality, and in fact the second person of the Trinity is now, has always been, and will always be the God-Man Jesus of Nazareth, body, Mother, and all.

This is, for instance, why many scriptural theologians believe Jesus appeared several times in the Old Testament. These appearances are called "Christophanies," which word stems from the Greek Christos and phanein, "to show." This is, of course, related to our words "phantasm" and "epiphany," which means "to show forth." I don't happen to agree with this hypothesis. Nevertheless, I admit that it is possible.

At any rate, the Incarnation and the Ascension make it impossible for intelligent life on other planets to exist. While some might find this disappointing, it really makes sense. If there were intelligent alien species we would have to consider whether or not they, too, were fallen, and, if so, how, seeing as the Incarnation applies to humanity only, how it would be God would redeem them. It's a whole thing.

That being said, there's no reason that we shouldn't find all manner of animal life scattered throughout the universe. It's only fitting as God seems to adore diversity. It gets even more interesting when you consider that they may not be fallen as the creatures here on earth are. (See my Ugly Creatures series).


  1. There's another possibility that you are missing: That humanity may not be limited to homo sapiens. We already know that possibly as late as the 17th century, if Indonesian myth is accurate, that we shared the planet with homo florensis; and genetic tests say that it's quite possible that many European strains interbred with Homo Neanderthalis in the last 200,000 years or so. Why wouldn't we consider other species on other planets who are intelligent to be as human as we are?

  2. While I suppose it is technically possible that humans exist on other planets, it is necessary that we and they share a common ancestral origin, either on their world or ours. As stated plainly in Pius XII's Encyclical Humani Generis, it is inconsistent with faith to hold that Mankind have more than one origin: "The faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents," (38).

    In other words, it is necessary that the men on this earth all take their origin from one set of parents who were the first humans and into whom was breathed the rational spirit by God. Whether the bodies of these two evolved over time is of no consequence. As such, Homo Neanderthalis and Homo floriensis and all the rest must either be rational, mutated humans or non-rational, nearly human ape relatives.


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