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August 17, 2008     Time: 00:22:48


Conversation with William Lane Craig

Transcript UFO's


Kevin Harris: Extraterrestrial life is possible, Vatican astronomer says. [1] That means that you can be a Christian and believe that there might be life on other planets. It’s a question that keeps us up at night sometimes, Dr. Craig. I don’t think this is a papal bull that the Catholic Church has. It’s just the Vatican astronomer has made this comment that it is compatible to be a Christian and believe in life on other planets. This has gotten a lot of press. It has really been in the media lately.

Dr. Craig: Yeah. Well, I think that it’s possible. One would argue that if there is life on other planets it would have had to be created by God because on a naturalistic basis I think we’d say that the evidence against there being intelligent extraterrestrial life anywhere in the observable universe is extremely great. The probabilities on naturalism that there is extraterrestrial intelligent life is virtually nil. So actually being a theist would be the best grounds for thinking that it could be possible because as a theist you think God created life here on this planet so then you could say, well, maybe God created life as well on some other planet somewhere in the universe. It is really the theist who is, I think, a lot more open to the possibility of extraterrestrial life than the non-theist.

Kevin Harris: Is that because the vast majority of the universe is hostile to life? Is that what you are saying?

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Kevin Harris: This seems to be a universe that is not real conducive to the development of life.

Dr. Craig: That is true. Despite the fine-tuning of the universe for life, the fine-tuning provides only necessary conditions for life but not sufficient conditions. In addition to that, there is just a whole conspiracy of additional factors that have to come into play in order for life to originate and flourish somewhere in the cosmos. The very origin of life, not to mention its development and evolution, is so improbable that the late Fred Hoyle once remarked that even if the entire known universe were filled with primordial soup it is unlikely that life would have ever come to exist anywhere in the known cosmos.

Kevin Harris: This brings up the issue of UFOs and aliens invading earth and all the things that are in pop culture to this day – flying saucer phenomena and things like that. Well, the Vatican astronomer has just said it could be. You can make up your own mind about that. It seems, Dr. Craig, that the Bible is largely silent about this issue.

Dr. Craig: I think it is silent, Kevin. The Scriptures are given to human beings as God’s revelation to people on this planet. Therefore, there is no reason to think that there could not be persons that God has created in some unknown galaxy that we have no idea about, and he has provided a revelation of himself to them as well. I think it would be presumptuous to say that we know that he hasn’t done that.

Kevin Harris: He says that the possibility of extraterrestrial life does not contradict our faith. In other words, if a flying saucer landed on the White House lawn today, nobody could stand up and say Christianity is false. [2]

Dr. Craig: That is right. That seems to me to be correct. I am puzzled by folks who seem to think that if intelligent life were discovered somewhere else or that if it were to come here that somehow this would be a disproof of Christianity. That seems to me to be a complete non sequitur. It doesn’t follow because Christianity simply doesn’t speak to the question of whether or not God has created life elsewhere in the universe.

Kevin Harris: An objection that people often offer to this is that there has got to be alien life and life on other planets, otherwise God wasted a whole lot of space. Why would God make the universe so big and yet we are the only ones.

Dr. Craig: This is an argument that I often hear in the mouth of naturalists who will say there must be life out there otherwise there is so much wasted space. That line played a key role in the movie Contact you may remember. But it seems to me that is a completely wrongheaded conclusion. In order for the universe to have the heavy elements in it like carbon, of which intelligent lifeforms like ourselves are formed, the carbon had to be synthesized in the interior of stars and then expelled out into the universe through stellar explosions or supernovae. What that would mean is that the universe has to exist long enough in order for stars to form and supernovae to occur and the dust and the debris to be disseminated and to gel into galaxies and solar systems and planets and so forth. Given the fact that the universe is expanding while all of that goes on, we shouldn’t be surprised at all to see the universe the size that it is. In fact, in order for carbon based lifeforms like ourselves to exist in a universe governed by these laws of nature, the universe has to be as large as it is because it needs to be as old as it is in order for the carbon to form and for lifeforms like us to come to exist. So the idea that it is all this wasted space, I think is just a failure to understand the necessary prerequisites for carbon based life.

So when you look at who is involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence – the so-called SETI project – the people that are involved in this are not evolutionary biologists. Evolutionary biologists understand that the odds against the evolution of intelligent information processing lifeforms of comparable complexity with ourselves is so remote that it is unlikely to have occurred anywhere else in the observable universe. The people who are involved in SETI are astronomers who say, “Oh, all that wasted space. Surely there is some life out there someplace.” But evolutionary biologists who really study how life comes about are not generally proponents of extraterrestrial life. They understand that the odds against it are so enormous that it is highly improbable that it is out there. And that is why I said that I think the theist actually has better grounds for thinking that extraterrestrial intelligent life exists than the naturalist does.

Now, if you say, “Why wouldn’t God do something with all that space,” that is an additional question. I guess what I would say there is that for a God who transcends the universe, a universe that is largely empty is just a triviality to him. It is like a speck. It is nothing to God for the universe to be mainly extra space. I think that if he has chosen to create life only upon earth, that is his prerogative and it just bespeaks his care and concern for human beings that he would single them out for care, much less even go further to the step of becoming incarnate and entering into our life here on earth to redeem us.

Kevin Harris: You’ve mentioned another philosophical aspect of this, and that is trying to impose efficiency on God who doesn’t require efficiency.

Dr. Craig: Exactly.

Kevin Harris: Efficiency is no big deal to him.

Dr. Craig: Right. Efficiency is only of value to someone with either limited time or limited resources or both. But to someone who has unlimited time and unlimited resources, the length of time it takes for the universe to exist, the size of the universe – these just become trivialities.

Kevin Harris: It’s not like God says, “Oh, boy, I’ve got to get this done before it expands to this.”

Dr. Craig: “Yeah, I’ve got to marshal my resources here or I might run out.” [3]

Kevin Harris: That is what you are saying when you are saying God has wasted space. So you’ve got a real problem there. People are wondering then at this point, is it incompatible then – is it OK – for a Christian to speculate and think, “Well, OK, it might be. It may not be.” We seem to be the only ones according to the testimony of Scripture but it is no blow to the Christian faith.

Dr. Craig: Right, and I wouldn’t even say, Kevin, that we seem to be the only ones according to Scripture. Because the Scripture is addressed just to life on earth and so it wouldn’t speak of whether or not there is extraterrestrial life at all. So I would say that theologically it is just an open question. Scientifically the evidence is against it. But, as Christians, I think we need to be open to the possibility that God has specially and miraculously done something that scientifically would be highly, highly unlikely to occur – namely, create life somewhere else in the cosmos.

Kevin Harris: The Vatican astronomer goes on to say that perhaps if there are intelligent beings in another solar system that they don’t need salvation, they don’t need the atonement of Christ, they may have remained in full friendship with the Creator.

Dr. Craig: This is the most interesting theological speculation. If there is intelligent life made in God’s image somewhere else in the universe, have they fallen into sin? Or was this a civilization or culture in which the Fall did not occur? Adam did not take the apple or Eve did not take the fruit of the tree. Is it possible that there could be a race of intelligent beings that has not fallen into sin? Well, it seems to me that that is possible. C. S. Lewis imagined such a thing in his science fiction trilogies. It is possible, I think. Adam did not have to sin; Eve didn’t have to sin. Neither did their descendants. So it is possible there could be such a population. In that case, they wouldn’t have fallen into sin and wouldn’t need redemption. Perhaps the more interesting question is: suppose they have fallen into sin and God loves them? Then God would also provide some sort of redeemer for them as well. Now, would that mean that Christ then also became incarnate in those worlds? Could there be multiple incarnations of the second person of the Trinity, on this planet as a human being and on another planet as a Klingon or whatever they are?

Kevin Harris: And it would still be the second person of the Trinity.

Dr. Craig: Right, he would still be the same person but he would have multiple bodies.

Kevin Harris: How about that. Remember Larry Norman in the early 70s, the Christian known as the godfather of Jesus music and Christian rock who recently died by the way. He had a song called “UFO” and it said “And if there’s life on other planets then I’m sure that he must know, and he’s been there once already and he died to save their souls.” So, while it was a pop song, that often had me thinking.

Dr. Craig: Oh, I think it is a profound thought. And it does have implications for the nature of the incarnation and so forth. I think we’d have to say that if there were such persons, God wouldn’t just leave them abandoned. He would try to provide some plan of salvation for them.

Kevin Harris: There is a possibility in Romans 8, Dr. Craig, it seems to me that it might indicate that the entire universe is fallen and that the whole creation groans awaiting the sons of God. Is that talking about our local situation or not, I don’t know. It seems to indicate that the entire creation has got this problem, this fallen problem. So that might be a consideration.

Dr. Craig: Right. That would be a factor that would suggest that sin would affect the entire created order, wouldn’t it?

Kevin Harris: Yeah. So that is one passage to study when you come up with these questions. We have to explore a little bit that this is related to the UFO phenomenon. Are there extraterrestrial beings who are visiting this planet and we are actually seeing some of them in the night sky? The foremost UFO expert in the world, Jacques Vallée, says that these abductions and aliens don’t seem to be inter-planetary, they seem to be inter-dimensional. So there could be a spiritual component to this. That is just something that we need to keep in mind. [4] 

Dr. Craig: Yes. I prefer not to go there because I saw what happened to poor Norm Geisler in the Arkansas creation trial where he told me that rather than examining him on his testimony that he gave there, the ACLU lawyers fished out of his writings somewhere he had said that he thought that perhaps UFOs were demonic manifestations because they could do things that were physically impossible. And the ACLU lawyer came up to Geisler in cross examination and said nothing about his testimony and just said, “Is it true that you believe that UFOs are manifestations of Satan?” And Geisler had been instructed by his lawyer to simply answer yes or no to questions that were given, and he said “yes.” And all over the CBS News that night with Dan Rather was “Defense witness testifies that UFOs are manifestations of Satan.” And it just made him look like an idiot.

Kevin Harris: Yes. It was not a representation of his view.

Dr. Craig: No, it was purely an attempt to undermine the credibility of the witness in this case without attacking anything the witness said. So I prefer to not indulge in speculations about UFOs myself. Notice that to believe that UFOs exist is not to believe in extraterrestrial life. A UFO is an “unidentified flying object.”

Kevin Harris: It is not identified – it is unidentified.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, it’s not identified. So it could be weather balloons, it could be ball lighting. So to say you believe in UFOs is to say you believe that there have been flying objects that no one has been able to identify yet. I think everybody believes that. That is clearly the case. There is about 1% of these sightings that have resisted every explanation and are the real hardcore sightings that nobody really knows how to explain away.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, it seems to me that we need to be careful then about interpreting certain passages of Scripture as indicative of alien life. Like Ezekiel saw the wheel in the sky. When the passage clearly talks about, it gives credence to the Holy Spirit there in those passages in the vision. There are certain – one or two – other passages people go to. I think you have to really twist them to get that out of it.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, certainly you do. When I was in high school as a non-Christian young man I was really quite into UFOs and read a lot of the literature on it. Allen Hynek from Northwestern University was the main researcher for UFO phenomena then. I remember seeing one article in a popular science magazine in which it claimed that Ezekiel’s vision was of extraterrestrial beings in sort of hovercraft and wearing helmets and things of this sort that he described in his primitive way as having the face of an ox and the face of an eagle and things of that sort. To me as a young high school teenager at the time it seemed very convincing that this was what this was. But as you become a little more sophisticated and understand Jewish apocalyptic literature and symbolism I think it makes it highly, highly unlikely that this was what Ezekiel was seeing; that this was in fact a typical sort of Jewish apocalyptic vision that he described and that you have elsewhere in the Scripture, too, like in the book of Revelation and so forth. So I think we do need to be extremely cautious about reading between the lines.

Kevin Harris: I’m glad we are talking about this, Bill, because not only has the press really jumped on what the Vatican astronomer has said here, but it brings up several other issues. One of them is transpermia, and that is what Richard Dawkins would say. And that is our life here on earth was seeded by other life. That doesn’t even lend toward atheism though because, what is it that you said earlier in another broadcast? It puts the problem back one step?

Dr. Craig: Right. This was what Francis Crick actually believed. He actually thought, apparently, that the origin of life on earth was so improbable as to be literally miraculous, and that therefore it must have come from another planet. Somehow the earth was seeded with primitive life that then went on to evolve in all its complexity that we know today. [5] Then, of course, the question arises: where does that other life come from? How did it get here? It just pushes the question back a notch. A good many people have said that if there is intelligent life on other planets then it should have been here already. It should have already arrived. We ought to be in contact with them now. We ought to see their spacecraft here clearly and so forth. The fact that this isn’t the case – that all we have are these uncertain UFO reports – suggest in fact that they are not really out there and that we are alone. That, I think, in itself is a very sobering thought, Kevin. In the sort of grand existential scheme of things, to think that in this vast cosmos with all its blackness and all its emptiness that we alone are conscious, that we are the only self-conscious lifeforms in this entire cosmos. That really is just an incredibly daunting thought that ought to lead us to think very deeply about the purpose to life and existence. Why are we here? Is it all for nothing? Or are we doomed to simply perish in the heat death of the universe and go back into oblivion, darkness, and decay? Or are we here for a reason? Have we been created? I think this raises profound existential questions. [6]