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Seriously. It’s an important question which more than 2 billion Christians have reason to take seriously. There are parallel considerations for Judaism, Islam, etc. Even non-theists may have reason to consider alternative theories before concluding that UFOs, if not of earthly origin, are the work of our new alien overlords, enemies, co-founders of the Federation, or however that turns out.
Now, slow down. I didn’t say they have reasons to think the answer is yes. One option is to consider the question just long enough to get to a solid no! I’m not ready to answer myself. These are preliminary reflections. At most, they would prepare the way for someone who’s taken a fair but critical look at the tapes, the stories, and various arguments surrounding UFOs to consider (and possibly reject) this more traditional hypothesis.
Let me first emphasize that this question is hypothetical.
Suppose that debunking efforts like this one and this National Review piece (rather than its rebuttal) should turn out to be a flop. Suppose that these phenomena are not the results of geese, weather balloons, technical glitches, military technology, or something else pretty ordinary. In that case, should we consider angelic beings a likely explanation?
It’s the sort of question FringePop321 looks into here with respect to alien abductions, and I hope FringePop321 does a nice video later focusing on UFOs.
So here’s what I’m gonna do: Lay some cards on the table about my own somewhat confused preferences, give some preliminary reflections from a Christian perspective, and then (very briefly) consider what preliminary reflections might apply even if we don’t assume that perspective.
My working answer is as follows:
When considered from a Christian perspective, this is an explanation that has a slight Ockham’s Razor advantage, at least until we know more. When considered from a non-Christian perspective, this explanation should not be ruled out just as long as the possibility of a supernatural should be ruled out. And there are two tests we might be able to use to try to figure things out!
Do I Even Want Aliens?
Unlike Mulder here, I’m not entirely sure what I want to believe. Sometimes I want aliens; I’m a huge nerd, and I kinda want aliens to be real. I also want cool spaceships!
On the other hand, aliens might mean some hard work rethinking everything.
Or maybe not. Confirmed aliens would make it easier to wonder whether biblical miracles were just high-tech alien stunts (a thought experiment I toy with in my essay in this book). On the other hand, the default C. S. Lewis position–G-d made them too!–would be a pretty comfortable place.
But I’d probably still have to do some work rethinking things. Or at least . . . thinking about whether I have to rethink things.
I think, on the whole, I’d prefer for the aliens to not exist; at least it’s less work. But I go back and forth. It could be super-awesome.
The Question from a Christian Worldview Perspective
Now let’s suppose that a Christian worldview is correct.
That means the Gospel is true, and there is one G-d, etc., etc. It also means G-d created intelligent beings who weren’t human. There are angels. And some of them rebelled. They’re the bad angels, the jerk ones, the fallen angels, the demons.
(And maybe not just them. If you wanna get technical and learn from sources like the Lord of Spirits podcast, the Whole Counsel of G-d blog, and the works of Brian Godawa, unions of angels and human women produced the Nephilim, whose spirits are the “unclean spirits” from the New Testament–jerk spirits to be sure, but not exactly the same ones as the fallen angels.)
Ok, but what do the demons want? What do they do? The most conventional and succinct answer I can give you is–tempt and deceive, the same thing Satan (who is one of them) did in the Garden of Eden. And also–destroy and cause trouble.
The big jerks!
But why would these big jerks want to fake alien spacecraft? Is that the sort of thing Satan and his council of demons would come up with?
I can hear the high-school version of myself answer, “Anything to take our minds off of Jesus!” Not bad, actually. I don’t know that they would need any other motive. But there’s more. Let’s start with @flicker on another thread with a story.
Quite a few years ago a couple of guys in Florida started investigating reports of UFO sightings and abduction stories. And they made this determination: UFOs are real, and no one has ever been abducted by UFOs who hasn’t willingly accepted an invitation to enter, the extraterrestrials were malevolent, and the two guys became Christians as a result of their investigations.
If this is correct, it suggests that demons faking alien spacecraft could just be doing standard demon stuff: Take people’s eyes off of Jesus, sure, but also wreck lives and generally cause trouble.
(That reminds me: Until I saw It: Chapter 1, a solid artistic rendering of Satan, the scariest movie I ever saw was Dark Skies. This alien movie was a stellar rediscovery of the concept of demons, but without any G-d to help out. These baddies are malevolent, they’re stronger than you, they sometimes take control of your body, they come into your home, and they come for your children! Very messed up.)
Anyway, these standard answers aren’t bad, but there’s more still. Here’s a good place to start:
What is it that a man worships? Or–what else does he worship but what he trusts and puts his hope in?
Now Augustine would sooner say “what he loves with the love due to G-d.” Martin Luther probably wouldn’t disagree, but here’s Luther’s direct answer: “As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both G-d and an idol. . . . That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your G-d” (here, page 6).
Are there some who would readily put their trust in some vague idea of higher extraterrestrial powers or a Star Trek-like hope of a better future? Sure. Would demons want to harness this? Of course.
And that brings us back to C. S. Lewis. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis’s character Screwtape is a senior demon advising the junior demon Wormwood. Screwtape describes the dilemma the demons have traditionally faced: Either they trick humans into materialistic denials of the supernatural (including them), or they trick humans into worshipping them.
The best option for the demons would be to trick us humans into worshipping them and denying the reality of a spiritual world at the same time. Screwtape is optimistic that this can happen, and he thinks the time is ripe for sneaking demon-worship into modern atheistic materialism! Screwtape says:
I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, a belief in us, (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy. The “Life Force”, the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work—the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls “Forces” while denying the existence of “spirits”—then the end of the war will be in sight.
I think Lewis is correctly getting at something demons would want, and I can’t imagine what would be a better vehicle for them to accomplish this today than the idea of aliens.
And what this all leads us to is this: If the Christian worldview is correct, then demons are real, they are supernatural beings who could fake aliens visiting earth, and they would have reasons to do so.
But that only means that demonic UFOs are plausible. Are aliens just as plausible? I’m inclined to take another C. S. Lewis approach: Sure, as far as I know; why not?
So how is a Christian to decide whether any putatively well-documented activities of non-earthly beings are the result of aliens or demons? Well, these are only preliminary reflections. This is just the sort of thing I hope FringePop321 or someone else will answer.
The best I can do at this point is make two suggestions. First, Ockham’s Razor is one point in favor of the demon hypothesis until we know more. Second, there are two possible tests we might be able to apply to the question: a negative test for aliens, and a negative test for demons.
A negative test for whether unearthly beings are aliens:
Assuming we have a fairly good idea of what is physically possible, do the dang things do what’s physically impossible? If they do, then the likelier Christian hypothesis, at least until we know more, is that these phenomena are demonic.
Of course, we might not actually know what’s physically possible.
Roughly, it seems that the strength of this test would be X times Y, where X is the probability that we have correctly identified a certain law of physics and Y is the probability that we have correctly observed a violation of said law.
Nor would demons necessarily make it obvious that they are supernatural beings, especially if they’re posing as aliens. So this is more of a test for aliens than a test for demons. And it’s a better negative test than a positive one. It probably wouldn’t produce a lot of false negatives (aliens we mistake for supernatural beings), but it could easily produce some false positives (supernatural beings we mistake for aliens).
A negative test for whether unearthly beings are demons:
If prolonged contact with the beings leads to the point where we can get some idea what they want, is it the sort of thing demons would probably want, or is it something else?
The aliens in C. S. Lewis’ lovely space trilogy actually worship G-d, and the aliens in the magnificent book Eifelheim only want to get home. One narrow-minded but big-hearted guy in Eifelheim thought the aliens were demons, but Eifelheim‘s wiser protagonist, Deitrich, could tell that they weren’t.
It’s the same with beings Vulcans, Klingons, Wookies, or the Independence Day Harvesters–them critters ain’t demons.
But if I ever meet guys from UFOs and find they want me to worship them, or if they want me to put all my trust and hope in their race of skydwellers, or if I find that they delight in evil and seem to enjoy suffering purely for its own sake–well, that’s different.
Not that that would prove they’re demons. Aliens could be malevolent physical beings who demand our worship–like in the Stargate franchise!
So this test might not do much to prove UFOs are demonic in origin, but it could potentially provide solid evidence that they are not. In other words, this should be a pretty reliable negative test for demons–if the guys in the UFO don’t do anything like this, they probably aren’t demons. But it could provide some false positives–aliens who might look like demons.
So now we get to make a handy chart!
Let’s chart our negative test for aliens using columns and our negative test for demons using rows. If we could apply both of these tests, there are four possible outcomes.
–one (lower-left) where these beings probably are demons,
–one (upper-right) where they’re probably just aliens,
–one (lower-right) where either theory fits,
–and one (upper-left) where neither theory quite fits.
|The beings break the laws of physics, so they probably aren’t aliens.||They don’t break the laws of physics.|
|They don’t act like demons, so they probably aren’t demons.||It beats me what they actually are.||They’re probably aliens, and maybe they’re friendly! Awesome!|
|The beings act like demons.||They’re probably demons.||Maybe they’re demons. Maybe they’re malevolent aliens.|
The Question not from a Christian Worldview Perspective
And what if you don’t have a Christian worldview? Well, unsurprisingly, my advice would be to accept some of the reasoning from the grand tradition of Christian apologetics, adopt a Christian worldview yourself, and then just scroll up and reread!
But assuming you’re not going to do that, what are your options? Well, you could simply do your best to consider the evidence pertaining to these beings in light of your own worldview. For worldviews that overlap with Christianity on some points–Islam, for example–the analysis might not be so different. Obviously, the analysis from an atheistic materialist worldview perspective would be pretty different.
But I will make this final suggestion: Be like Socrates: Search for the truth, admit you don’t know what you don’t know, and don’t rule out any idea too hastily without examining the evidence. In particular, I recommend not ruling out the possibility of a supernatural too quickly. Above all, don’t rule it out beforehand. Rule it out on Ockham’s Razor after looking at the evidence if it looks like there’s not any good evidence for it.
And if we do indeed have otherworldly visitors–and that is still a very big IF–don’t neglect that first test. If the odds are pretty good that these things really are breaking (or superseding) the laws of physics, then a supernatural explanation may be our best option. And don’t be surprised if someone like Thomas Aquinas–who is, after all, way smarter than you or I–turns out to be right about human beings having supernatural enemies.Published in