Belief in Jesus or Extraterrestrials--what's more reasonable?

Has the Webb Telescope discovered other intelligent life in the Universe?  According to an unpublished Harvard paper, it very well may have.  This is essentially what the “tease” for a story NBC News that aired two weeks ago claimed.  Note how compelling this “tease” is.  It cites an Ivy League university known for its scientific prowess.  It makes reference to the Webb Telescope, the most advanced technology devised by astrophysicists to date.  And it strongly implies that intelligent life has indeed been found.

But when the story actually aired on the Evening News, the only thing the Harvard scientist who is behind this paper said was that the Webb Telescope has the potential to detect intelligent life in ways previous telescopes could not.  He was at pains to emphasize that, while he believes it will eventually provide evidence of intelligent life, the best we can do right now is speculate.  Because to date, there is no firm evidence, even from some of the remarkable images the Webb Telescope has produced already, of intelligent life forms.  Which is saying nothing new.  It’s not news.

It would be incredibly exciting if we do find evidence of intelligent, sentient life elsewhere.  For those who worry about this posing a threat to Christian faith—or are hoping it will be the death-nell of Christianity—I suggest reading a great book by Vatican Astronomers Guy Consolmagno and Paul Mueller        Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?  In addition to being elite scientists, both authors are ardent Christians.  Catholics.  Members of the Jesuit religious order.  Both enthusiastically admit that they have longed for the discovery of intelligent life elsewhere.  It would thrill them to no end.  But, they also emphasize why—with an entire chapter dedicated to the reasons—such a find would pose absolutely no threat to their faith.  Rather, they explain how it would be perfectly compatible with, and even enhance and enrich, the Christian worldview.  However, they also emphasize that, to their chagrin, no credible evidence to this effect exists to date. 

If, as so many today claim, we are truly all about “following the science”, then we should freely admit this clear conclusion.  Yet, I am endlessly amazed at how many very smart, very scientifically minded, very intelligent people confidently assert that intelligent life does exist.  Given the odds, given the vastness of our Universe, they believe it has to.  I am even more amused by the fact that most, if not all of these true believers are convinced that this intelligent life is far more advanced than we are.  Many believe these beings are our one true hope, that they alone have the potential to “save” the human race.  Of course, I want to ask: What reason is there to suspect that other intelligent, sentient life is more advanced than we are?  How do we know that, if they even exist, alien beings aren’t just as messed up as we are, if not more so?

In fact, if you do follow the science, if you don’t engage in wishful thinking or speculative imagination, with every new scientific discovery we are making about our Universe, the chances of there being intelligent life elsewhere is rapidly diminishing.  In 1966, Carl Sagan proposed two criteria for intelligent life to exist: the right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star.  With these two parameters, given what we knew then, it could be estimated that roughly a septillion plants should be capable of sustaining life.  And with these great odds the search for intelligent life began in earnest, led by an organization known as SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), which drew funding from both private and public sources, i.e., the government. 

But here’s the rub: Actually, two points.  First, in all these intervening years, fifty-seven and counting, no credible evidence has been found.  Despite tremendous technological advances, despite momentous efforts, despite an unlimited, almost fanatical desire, no indisputable evidence has been found.  While it is true that many UFO’s have been spotted, over ninety percent have been found to have some “terrestrial” explanation.  This leads most analysts to reluctantly but sober-mindedly admit that the ones we can’t identity at this point probably have a similar explanation as well.  Much like the Chinese spy balloon and the hysteria subsequent balloons flying over U. S. Airspace created, most reports turn out to have a simple explanation.  Those that don’t—like the much ballyhooed reports about alien encounters—can’t be substantiated with any scientific certainty.  Hence, the consensus on the lack of indisputable evidence.

Second, and a far more important and determinative factor in all of this, is what we’ve discovered about the criteria, or number of parameters, necessary to sustain sentient, intelligent life in our universe.  Over the past fifty-seven years since Sagan issued his two parameters, the number has grown to 10.  Then 20.  Then 50.  And now, to over 200.  Toward the end of his life, even Sagan, along with other prominent members of SETI, admitted the probability of finding life had significantly diminished from earlier estimates.  That’s an understatement.  The probability has gone from roughly a septillion to one (that’s a one followed by 24 zero’s) to zero.  If anything, the growing number of parameters we’re discovering that are required to sustain intelligent life have only increased the probability against—i.e., a very high negative probability—such life existing anywhere in the Universe.  The great perplexity in science presently is how life could exist on this planet.  Given what we’ve discovered, and continue to discover, there is less and less reason to think that any intelligent life should exist at all—including us.  (See Eric Metaxas, Is Atheism Dead? pp. 405-407, see also pp. 37-41)

So, if you are actually following the science, then, barring some new discovery, some actual evidence, you should be terribly skeptical of extraterrestrial life.  At this point, it is simply wishful thinking.  Nothing more than sheer speculation.  It is naïve to believe it exists.

Christians are often accused of being gullible.  In our modern, scientific age, believing in an invisible God, a Heavenly Father who watches over you and promises you eternal life after you die, is seen as pie in the sky by and by, the ultimate exercise in wishful thinking.  Supremely naïve. 

When it comes to extraterrestrial life, however, Christians aren’t the gullible ones.  Sociological studies show that Christians are significantly less likely to believe in UFO’s and aliens than their irreligious counterparts.  Not to mention the occult, paranormal activity, psychics, astrology, and bigfoot.  It is the irreligious who are far more likely to believe in UFO’s, along with the occult, paranormal activity, psychics, astrology—and bigfoot!      

It is amazing and completely illogical that, like the Harvard physicist featured on the NBC Nightly News, so many intelligent people believe in extraterrestrial life.  At least as of now, if you follow the science, there is no good reason to believe it does.  There is only a tsunami of evidence to indicate that it doesn’t. 

This is in stark contrast to Christianity, where there is reasonable certainty.  An abundance of evidence.  Both metaphysical and historical.  Evidence and logic that, at the very least, make Christianity credible.  Reasonable.  Believable.  Such as the astronomically unlikely fact that intelligent life—we—exist at all, the so-called “fine-tuning” argument, which is only one of many scientific arguments that makes the Christian worldview, at minimum, reasonable.

You would only be gullible if you believed the modern myth that Christian faith is only wishful thinking and didn’t investigate it for yourself.   

Do you think intelligent life exists somewhere else in the Universe?  Do you think it’s more reasonable to believe it does than to believe in Jesus?  I’d love to hear what you think.  You can go to the “Contact E. J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and leave your comments there.

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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