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Extraterrestrial life, if it exists, is any life that did not obviously originate on the earth. It has been a staple of science fiction since the Edwardian era, but has also lately become the subject of intense speculation, scientific debate, and even theological debate.
Extraterrestrial means "arising from out of this earth."
Life means living things, regardless of size, appetite, or condition of sentience.
Sentient life, also called sapient life (from the official binomial name of man, Homo sapiens), means life that is aware of itself and has language and the ability to reason.
Person means a sentient individual.
Race means a species of sentient individuals. The use of the term race to mean a clan-like "subspecies" is not in view here. In this context, humans all belong to only one race, i.e., the human race.
Civilization means the organization of a large group of persons to facilitate learning, justice, order, management (or acquisition) of resources, and mutual defense.
Extraterrestrial life as a scientific hypothesis
Serious speculation on extraterrestrial life has centered on two possibilities:
- Microbial ET life, which would figure either in exogenesis of life or the hazard that such microbes might pose to astronauts or to the earth itself.
- The possibility of prior or future contact, trade, or war with an extraterrestrial civilization.
Microbes and other primitive forms
Extraterrestrial microbes have been and remain the subject of much serious scientific speculation. Such speculation has centered on three questions:
- Could a microbe of extraterrestrial origin somehow come to earth and cause a killer pandemic?
- Did life on earth begin with the "seeding" of the earth from outside? This theory, called panspermia, alleges that either (a) the earth acquired the seeds of life by passing through the tail of a comet, or (b) an extraterrestrial civilization sent the seeds of life deliberately for one reason or another. Extraterrestrial microbes would be involved in either case.
- Might a human crew or human-directed robotic explorer find extraterrestrial microbes on another planet?
With the continued development and perfection of telescopes, astronomers and rocket scientists have openly and often feverishly speculated about whether the other planets in our solar system might harbor forms of life that originated on those planets. This speculation has also extended to Titan, the largest satellite of the planet Saturn.
The major considerations driving such speculation are the requirements of life, and the difficulty with the theory of abiogenesis as a workable origin of life on earth. Most scientists engaged in such speculation seem to agree that life requires at least two things in order to self-generate in any environment:
Currently the most exciting subject for speculation concerning extraterrestrial life is the planet Mars. Its atmosphere is quite thin, and this would militate against the presence of life or, more to the point, the presence of standing or flowing water. But photographs taken from orbit and from the surface of Mars reveal erosion channels that strongly suggest that water once flowed on Mars. Indeed, the first graphic above shows changes in a gully in two views of it, taken four years apart--as if liquid water had opened another erosion channel in the meantime. (The operators of the Mars Global Surveyor insist that such pictures might still contain artifacts that make them unsuitable for scientific research, and hence disclaim any definite conclusion that anyone might be tempted to draw from them.) The second graphic shows a meteorite, found in Antarctica in 1984, containing microscopic cavities that once might have held microbes and that, until recently, was believed to have fallen to earth from Mars.
If one could show that abiogenesis occurred on Mars, then that process was far more likely to have occurred on earth than it would be absent such a showing or finding. Yet apart from the reliability of such evidence is this one inherent weakness for this argument: it assumes that life found on Mars originated on Mars. The Hydroplate theory of the Global Flood suggests that large quantities of water, including muddy slurries, were ejected into space during the initial fissure of the original earth's crust, and that these ejecta persist today as comets, asteroids, and meteoroids. If such ejected water and mud fell to Mars from above, then they might have held microbes--and therefore any microbes found on Mars are far more likely to have come from earth during the Noachic Flood than to have originated on Mars.
Space scientists have searched for extraterrestrial microbes for years. To date, no definitive proof of such microbes has been found. The Antarctic meteorite mentioned above, and the alleged bacterial fossils on it, fueled speculation for months, until other scientists finally determined that the microbes involved probably were earthly contaminants.
Nevertheless, the finding of extraterrestrial microbes on Mars is one of the fondest expressed hopes of NASA planetary scientists and of other scientists and advocacy groups hoping to persuade the United States government, or perhaps the United Nations, to fund crewed expeditions to Mars. Furthermore, no sane space mission planner could in good conscience ignore the potential hazard of the transport of a microbe to earth and the release of that microbe into earth's biosphere. Happily, measures for containing such a microbe, perhaps derived from those measures taken during Project Apollo, would contribute a relatively insignificant amount to the total budget of a program of crewed missions to Mars or to any other celestial body.
Do one or more extraterrestrial civilizations exist? Until recently, speculation about extraterrestrial races was confined either to science fiction or to innumerable anecdotal reports of "unidentified flying objects." These latter reports were once the subject of an investigation, known as Project Blue Book, by the United States Air Force. But years after Blue Book wound down, a large cadre of scientists began to entertain seriously the notion that extraterrestrial civilizations might exist.
The two questions that most speculators raise regarding extraterrestrial civilizations are mainly whether:
- Such a civilization might somehow communicate with, or visit, or even attempt to invade and conquer, the earth.
- Humans, in their further-ranging exploration of space, will eventually encounter, trade with, or go to war with, such civilizations.
In addition to the relatively serious speculation in the scientific community, a number of movements have arisen that share a number of features in common with pagan religions. Chief among these movements has been:
- The Raelians, who believe that their minds are the formerly disembodied souls of extraterrestrial persons (and who therefore believe that their minds are extraterrestrial in origin though their bodies are not).
- The Hale-Bopp movement, whose members committed suicide in the season of the close passage near the earth of Comet Hale-Bopp.
- The UFO movement, which exists as a loose alliance of organizations all having the initials "UFO" in their names, viz., "Mutual UFO Network", "Center for UFO Studies," "Fund for UFO Research," etc.
Until recently, the current leader of a prominent American-based subcultural movement expressed his belief that the founder of his movement lives today in an extraterrestrial spacecraft called the "Mother Wheel," and that the current leader himself has been taken on board that vessel for consultations with this person. He has since abandoned that theory.
In addition to Blue Book, NASA has maintained Project SETI (for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). This search consists mainly of listening by radiotelescope on a defined frequency band for any transmission having any semblance of order. This frequency band is one that, they believe, is the likeliest region in the electromagnetic spectrum for anyone to be sending a signal intended to cross interstellar, or even intergalactic, space.
Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel, in 1973, openly speculated on a form of exogenesis called directed panspermia, in which such an extraterrestrial nation-state fired a brace of missiles, each laden with bacteria and/or blue-green algae, in all directions. One such missile crashed on earth, and we are its by-product, as it were, their theory states.
Politicians (among them, a former President of the United States) have openly speculated on the existence of extraterrestrial nation-states. In addition, an astronaut who flew for Project Apollo declared that NASA has known for sixty years (as of July 24, 2008) that extraterrestrial scouts have contacted various governments of Earth, yet no government has ever dared admit this. NASA does not stand by this man's statements.
No definitive evidence exists for any form of extraterrestrial civilization. While the Blue Book investigators found a number of cases that they had to classify as "unknown," they were able to classify the bulk of the anecdotes as anything from outright hoaxes to misinterpretations of common weather features to misinterpretation of the sightings of ordinary aircraft. Neither has any astronomer or astronaut reported a definite sighting of, much less contact with, any carrier-like vessel that would have been capable of launching any of the alleged two-seater or similar small-crewed craft that various "witnesses" report having encountered. Nor has any physicist yet suggested a method by which such a craft could have visited our solar system, given the fixed speed limit set by the Special Theory of Relativity. Finally, the SETI project, for all their searching for a signal (even to recruiting civilians to participate in a "distributed computing" project to process the noise they have received from their radiotelescopes), have never isolated anything like a definite signal.
Extraterrestrial Life in Science Fiction
Extraterrestrial nation-states and, almost as often, extraterrestrial microbes, have been a staple of science fiction since soon after science-fiction writers first began speculating on what sort of inventions might carry men into outer space, and what they might discover there. H. G. Wells even speculated on an extraterrestrial civilization on the moon, peopled, if that is the right word, by man-sized insects (The First Men in the Moon). Wells also speculated that the Martian nation-state would launch an invasion of earth (The War of the Worlds), an invasion that would fail when the Martian soldiers and pilots fell terminally ill with earthly microbes against which their immune systems would have no defense. Edgar Rice Burroughs indulged in far richer speculation on an entire civilization on Mars, and on semi-regular commerce between his Martians and a select few visitors from earth.
The middle twentieth century saw the introduction of a number of popular-culture icons that were either:
- Humans caught up in events on other, inhabited worlds, some of which were making war against the earth, or
- An extraterrestrial "refugee" that became an obvious God-substitute after, Moses-like, he crashed to earth in a small space capsule launched from a world that later destroyed itself in a cataclysm far more devastating than the Global Flood had been.
In addition to this, the motion picture industry, especially in the United States but also in Great Britain, produced scores of low-budget films having a theme involving an extraterrestrial nation-state attempting either:
- To recruit humans, usually by fraudulent means, into assisting them in weapons or defensive-systems development,
- To subvert human society and/or the international community by infiltration or by playing some individual humans or human nation-states against others, or:
- To invade the earth by main force.
The motion picture industry abandoned that theme as the century progressed, and produced a number of films showing extraterrestrials to be friendly. Toward the very end of the century, the theme of extraterrestrial invasion returned, in the form of a number of high-budget films that linked the basic theme to a number of modern-day legends, including:
- The alleged crash of an extraterrestrial scout craft near Roswell, New Mexico, United States.
- The synthetic religion, called Scientology, which the late science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard developed literally on a wager.
The television franchise that Gene Roddenberry created, with its myriad of extraterrestrial and often trans-galactic nation-states and empires hardly needs introduction. But in addition, producer Quinn Martin created a series that centered on one man's attempt to warn his government that certain people were not what they appeared, but were instead extraterrestrial spies. More recently, Kenneth Johnston created a concept (V) of a space-borne force whose commanding admiral and officers at first puts on a friendly appearance similar to that of Matthew Perry (the American commodore who first visited Japan) but, soon afterward, subvert human governmental and media institutions in order to further their true purpose, which is to steal earth's water and carry away earth's population for food.
Nor have science fiction writers ignored speculation on the finding of extraterrestrial microbes. Usually they have portrayed such microbes as capable of producing deadly extinction-level pandemics. (See, for example, The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton.) John B. Olson and Randall S. Ingermanson, however, speculated that the first crew to fly to Mars might discover incontrovertible evidence of microbial life--including a culturable microbe. This would engender excitement in the hearts of their launch authorites, but would also inspire such fear in the mind of a NASA engineer that she would actually attempt to strand or murder the crew to stop them from back-contaminating the earth with their culture.
The Bible and Extraterrestrial Life
Could the finding of extraterrestrial life in either form invalidate the Bible? That depends entirely on whether microbes or races are in view.
The Bible and Extraterrestrial Races
Surprisingly, the opinion of persons other than fundamentalist Christians, as to whether the existence of extraterrestrial races or civilizations would invalidate the Bible, is split. Many have stated that the Bible nowhere rules out the existence of extraterrestrial races. Their assertion is that no single verse explicitly says that God made man on this earth and did not make any man-like or other sentient race on any other "earth." In sharp contrast, others have stated flatly that the finding of an extraterrestrial race would invalidate the Bible's claims of the uniqueness of man, and the singularity of Jesus Christ's death for man. Those others have faced that prospect with an enthusiasm bordering upon exhilaration.
A careful read of the Bible does not allow for the existence of any race other than man. Indeed, the presence of such a race would give the lie to the claim of Jesus Christ that He came to take away the sin of the world., and that He died once and only once to bring this about. The only Kingdom that is not of this earth is the Kingdom of Heaven--and that Kingdom is also not of this universe, or "cosmos".Consider this well-known verse, which Astronaut Jim Lovell, one of the first three men to orbit the moon, read aloud on that occasion:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 (KJV)Note carefully: the earth. Not an earth, and not one earth among many, but the earth.
The Gospels, especially the one according to John, refer repeatedly to "the world," in the context of both its beginning and its ending. Again, it refers to the world, not a world, nor to more than one world.The Revelation to John (probably the Apostle, though he never explicitly identifies himself as such) also makes references to the world, both in the sense of the cosmos (the natural world) and to the oikoumenes (the inhabited world, the world of men). Again, quoting:
Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee out of the hour of temptation that is to come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Revelation 3:10 (KJV)The world--and more than that, the whole world, the entire world. The word translated world here is oikoumenes, which originally stood for all the known world over which the Roman Empire held sway but which now stands for everywhere that humans live. As if to press the point, John here adds the feminine form of the word holos, whence the English word "whole." He also quotes Jesus Christ as referring to "dwellers on the earth." Again, the earth, not an earth or even this earth, or any other article or pronoun, demonstrative, personal, or otherwise, that might suggest that any earth other than or in addition to our familiar earth exists, much less is inhabited.
But suppose, as some have suggested, that our familiar human race is not the only race that God made? Then Jesus Christ would have had to die for that race as well, thus setting at nought the verses that say that He died once for our sins. But again, suppose that other race did not fall? Would Jesus have had to die to redeem them? No--but God would surely have ordered that all members of this race stay a billion miles away from this earth until the "hour of temptation" had passed. Therefore, if any contact whatsoever takes place between humans and sentient non-humans, then God is proved to have lied.
The spectacle of persons not conversant with the Bible, and in any event not willing to abide by its precepts for daily living and man's relationship with God and man, nevertheless presuming to suggest that the existence of, and contact with, extraterrestrial races would not affect the truth of the Bible, is nothing short of marvelous. But perhaps one conversant with, and adherent to, the fundamentals of the Christian faith ought not to marvel. After all, the history of ancient Israel is rife with religious compromise of every sort.
The chief symbol of this compromise was the high place (Hebrew bamah, plural bamot). This was always at root and at heart a place to worship pagan gods of fertility, husbandry, and so forth. The children of Israel often presumed to worship God at such places, but God was not pleased. Inevitably, the high places returned to their original purpose: the paying of homage to pagan gods, not to the True God. Yet the confused dual use of the high places sometimes confused even the enemies of ancient Israel.
Today, the classic high place is symbolic of anything that dilutes the Message of God, or presumes to add to It. The belief in extraterrestrial persons or races--many of which are looked to as God-substitutes--is indeed a figurative "high place."
And again, not all those who believe in the existence of extraterrestrial races are would-be Bible compromisers. Some are openly hostile to the Bible. They not only acknowledge that extraterrestrial races are incompatible with the Bible; they explicitly declare and even celebrate this incompatibility. They also are among those who search the hardest for evidence of non-human races or civilizations--even though, if such civilizations existed, they might be far more powerful militarily than the combined militaries of all human nation-states, and worse yet, be disposed to attack and conquer the earth.
This last point bears emphasis. Our present understanding of physical law--that is to say, the Special and the General Theory of Relativity--strongly militate against the possibility of extraterrestrial visitation. Thus, if a non-human scout craft were ever shown, that finding alone would suggest that its builders have knowledge far beyond the reach of our sciences--certainly our flight sciences and possibly all other areas of military science as well. We then could only pray (to whom?) that we dealt here with a modern Christopher Columbus--and not a scout for a modern Shalmaneser V or Sennacherib or Nebuchadnezzar II or Cyrus the Great or Alexander the Great or Pompey the Great or Julius Caesar or Napoleon Bonaparte--or Adolf Hitler.
The Bible and Extraterrestrial Microbes
The finding of extraterrestrial microbes need not militate against the Bible. The Bible tells of the most serious natural disaster ever to befall the earth, the Global Flood. The Hydroplate theory suggests that this Flood resulted from the rupture of a ten-mile-thick crust that once formed the surface of the earth and held most of what today we call the oceans in a sealed chamber. The seam of this rupture persists today as the Mid-oceanic ridge system. The salient point is that this rupture released billions of liters of water, all of it geothermally heated, and under tremendous pressure. Much of this water shot high into the atmosphere and fell as rain--and much of the water so propelled, was ejected into space, along with a vast quantity of mud and rock. This water, rock, and mud now persists as comets, asteroids, and meteoroids--all of which might well have been laden with microbes at the moment of the initial ejection. Thus, if these microbes were to be found again, whether in a comet's tail, or in a meteorite, or even on the surface of another celestial body, then they might be "extraterrestrial" only in the sense of being descended by several generations from other microbes that originally came from the earth.
ConclusionThe themes of the singularity of the earth, and of man, pervade the Bible. King David remarked upon it himself:
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? Psalms 8:4 (KJV)Non-Christians call such a position arrogant, and even suggest that it constitutes special pleading. It is not. It is a recognition that our very existence, far from being entirely-to-be-expected, is nothing short of a miracle.
- ↑ This question of back-contamination was a serious worry in the middle years of Project Apollo--that is, the time of the first four missions of that project. NASA, the launch authority for Apollo, required the crews of the first three missions actually to reach the moon to spend weeks in quarantine while under the constant care and watch of a physician. Only after three crews landed on the moon and returned to earth with no ill effect and no evidence of having contracted any communicable disease on the moon or in space did NASA drop that requirement. (The crew of Apollo 13 did not face this requirement because their in-flight emergency precluded their planned landing.)
- ↑ Donald L. Savage, James Hartsfield, and David Salisbury, "Meteorite Yields Evidence of Primitive Life on Early Mars," Mars Meteorite Project, press release 96-160, August 7, 1996. Retrieved April 17, 2007, from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Web servers.
- ↑ If such life forms survived, that need not be a great shock to any observer. Extremophiles, or microbes known to thrive under conditions that would kill or render dormant any other form of life, are well-known on earth and have even been the subject of engineering studies attempting to find practical uses for them.
- ↑ Rick Lockridge, "Scientists dispute NASA's claims about Mars meteorite", The Cable News Network, January 15, 1998. Retrieved April 17, 2007 from CNN's web servers.
- ↑ Authors unknown, "Do Martians Exist?, NASA Mars Exploration, 05 Oct 2005 04:51:40 UTC. Retrieved April 17, 2007, from NASA.
- ↑ Everett Gibson, Jr., David S. McKay, and Kathie Thomas-Kerpta, "Life on Mars: Evidence from Martian Meteorites," Proceedings of the Founding Convention of the Mars Society, R. M. Zubrin and M. Zubrin, eds. 1998. Retrieved April 17, 2007, from The Mars Society.
- ↑ Anonymous, "Project Blue Book", UFO Evidence.org, retrieved April 16, 2007
- ↑ Anonymous, The Project Blue Book Archive, retrieved April 16, 2007
- ↑ Fund for Unidentified Flying Object Research (FUFOR), Official Site of the National Investigative Committee for Aerial Phenomena, Francis L. Ridge, editor and Webmaster, December 15, 1997 to present. Retrieved April 16, 2007.
- ↑ Presumably the Soviet Army Air Forces had their own version of Blue Book as well.
- ↑ Home of the SETI Institute
- ↑ Crick, F. H. C., and Orgel, L. E. "Directed Panspermia," Icarus, 19, 341 (1973).
- ↑ For a detailed discussion on the logical weaknesses and omissions of such a position, see the main article on Panspermia.
- ↑ Former President James Earl Carter, Jr., claimed to have witnessed an unidentified flying object in 1969. He remains the only US President to have formally reported a UFO. He filed this report with the International UFO Bureau in Oklahoma City after a request from that organization.
- ↑ Authors unknown. "Apollo 14 astronaut claims aliens HAVE made contact - but it has been covered up for 60 years." The Daily Mail (London, England, UK), July 24, 2008. Accessed July 24, 2008.
- ↑ The Air Force might also have acted in a deceptive manner in certain isolated cases in which what the witnesses took for UFOs were actually secret experimental prototypes. Perhaps some of these prototypes exist today as some of the most highly sophisticated aircraft of war now in production.
- ↑ Any planet would be "earth" to those that lived on it, just as any given people would be "the people" to its members. Consider, for example, the Inuit, whose name means the people in their language. (Until recently, Westerners called these people "Eskimos," or literally, "the eaters of raw meat.")
- ↑ I_John 2:2 (NASB)
- ↑ Genesis 1:26-28 (NASB)
- ↑ Romans 5:14 (NASB)
- ↑ Revelation 3:10 (KJV)
- ↑ God permitted people to come to a high place only as a temporary provision, when they had neither Tabernacle nor Temple--but once the Temple was built, the high places ought to have been abandoned.
- ↑ Among these was Sennacherib, whose chief officer, Rabshakeh, once ridiculed Israel for trusting in God after they (under King Hezekiah) had just finished removing "His" high places. Little did Rabshakeh or Sennacherib realize that God in fact detested the high places and wanted them removed.
- ↑ In this regard, consider John the Revelator's explicit warning against adding to, or subtracting from, the Bible (Revelation 22:18-19 (NASB)).