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ETI, Satan and Salvation: An Alien in My Church Pew

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I'd welcome an alien in my church pew any Sunday, as an astrobiologist who is also a pastor. However, none have shown up as yet. One problem is that Ken Hamm and his fundamentalist friends tell me that extraterrestrials don't exist. Another problem is that Michael Zimmerman of the Clergy Letter Project, who ridicules Ken Hamm in his Huffington Post blog, doesn't know if extraterrestrials exist either. Even so, I'll keep that pew warm until ET walks in.

In his column Ken Hamm -- known for the Answers in Genesis (AiG) website and his Creation Museum in northern Kentucky -- repudiates belief in extraterrestrial life because it might lead to belief in evolution:

Secularists are desperate to find life in outer space, as they believe that would provide evidence that life can evolve in different locations and given the supposed right conditions! The search for extraterrestrial life is really driven by man's rebellion against God in a desperate attempt to supposedly prove evolution!

Now, look at this carefully. The problem with extraterrestrial aliens is not that they might or might not exist. The problem is that belief in aliens might lead like falling dominoes to belief in...what?...you guessed it: evolution! Nothing is more evil, more dastardly, more Satanic than Darwin's theory of evolution. The mere suggestion that aliens might exist tempts us to believe in evolution rather than in God. Therefore, argues Hamm, by avoiding aliens we will avoid being seduced by the Darwinian Whore of Babylon.

What I want to point out is that this is the logic of those among our fundamentalist friends who repudiate the idea that ETI exists and who contend that UFOs are from Satan. The problem, according to fundamentalists and their colleagues, the biblical creationists, is that speculation about ETI leads to belief in evolution. ETI and evolution come together like the 4th of July and fireworks. Zimmerman and much of the media miss this point and miss its significance for our culture.

If outer space is a screen, let's look at what gets projected onto that screen by UFO buffs, NASA scientists, and SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute) scientists. They project onto exoplanets a story of evolution. They project the belief that abiotic chemistry somehow advances to biotic chemistry or, to say it another way, that non-life evolves into life. Now, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution does not account for life's origin. He says so multiple times in his 1859 book, The Origin of Species. The theory of evolution is about the evolution of species, not about life's origin. Yet, many who think scientifically assume that life could evolve from non-life, something not yet scientifically proven. So, this is the first thing we note about the belief system of terrestrial scientists: non-life evolves into life on other planets even though we have no scientific knowledge of how life originated on Earth let alone on planets we've never visited.

There's more. All three groups -- Ufologists, NASA scientists, and SETI scientists, for the most part -- tell a story about what happens on other planets. On each habitable exoplanet life begins, then it progresses from simple to complex, from unintellient to intelligent, from religious to scientific, and then it advances and advances and advances. This means that when we on Earth meet our counterparts in heaven who have advanced for thousands or millions of years beyond us, they will be so intelligent, so scientific, so technologically progressed, that they will be able to bless us on Earth with the solutions to all of our problems such as good health, long life, and world peace. In short, with salvation.

The virtual priests who connect heaven with Earth in this scenario are the scientists; and the angels from space will be the extraterrestrial techies. The unvoiced assumption is that salvation comes from science, not God. And if earthly science fails to bring salvation to our planet, perhaps heavenly science may do the trick. In short, by divesting itself of now outdated or pre-evolved religion, progressive science has taken over religious or spiritual hopes for salvation. Science itself has become a substitute messiah; and what gets projected onto ETI takes the form of a messianic myth.

When I put on my non-fundamentalist pastor's hat, I wish to point out that the intuition of our fundamentalist critics of evolution has revealed what is right before the public's eye, namely, the insipient belief that a more highly evolved extraterrestrial species can save us on Earth from our own self-destruction. What the fundamentalists make clear is that a secular doctrine of salvation has arisen among the anti-religious mindset of modern society.

When I put on my science hat, I wish to point out that the ETI myth has scientific problems. The prevailing judgment of our most renowned evolutionary biologists -- Ernst Mayr, Stephen Jay Gould, Francisco Ayala -- make it clear that internal to evolutionary development no roadmap, no "telos," no direction, no purpose, would lead evolution on another planet toward increased intelligence let alone to a scientific aristocracy that could be considered "more advanced" than Earthlings. Therefore, this myth of exoplanet evolution is at this point only a myth with no empirical verification. Note that this is a scientific objection -- not a religious objection -- to the ETI myth developing among Ufologists, SETI and NASA scientists.

As I said, I do not by any means side with the fundamentalists or the creationists. They do not invite me to their BBQs. When I do get a BBQ invitation, usually theistic evolutionists are flipping the burgers. Yet, what we need at this juncture is a sober assessment of just how secular science has been ursurping religious or spiritual sensibilities plus a belief system about the universe around us.

Resources? Yes, indeed! Try the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences website: ctns.org. Or, try a new book: "UFOs: God's Chariots? Spiritual Yearnings in an Age of Extraterrestrials," by Ted Peters (New Page Books, 2014). I might be fiction, but these issues are real and worthy of deeper investigation.

Now, to be frank, I hope the ETI myth proves to be true. I hope that soon an intelligent visitor from an exoplanet will occupy that pew I've been saving. But, this is my hope. It's not solid science.