Are you interested in Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs)? You probably ought to be, as the Pentagon and US intelligence community are about to publish a report on them.
Many people claim to have seen all sorts of mysterious objects which defy easy identification. Recently while upstairs in our house I myself managed to snap a picture of a saucer-shaped object emitting a green light which is published for the first time here with this article. More about that photo later...
But from a Christian perspective, it is no bad exercise to think about what the implications for our faith would be if it could ever be established that there is life – in any form – elsewhere in the universe.
For the past 12 months or so I have been editing the newspaper Evangelicals Now. Last November we published an article by Professor Paul Ewart, chair of Christians in Science, about the possibility of life on Venus. I believe it generated far more letters in response than any other subject we have touched upon in the whole of the last year.
But that article was about possible microbial life on Venus. The US government report, by contrast, is about rather larger aerial phenomena, including, according to this week's Time, 'objects [that] were, yes, saucer-shaped... bobbing, darting and changing directions with a speed and nimbleness that no known technology could manage.'
Advance briefings to multiple media sources including the New York Times and CNN seem to indicate that the report – when it is published shortly – will not present clear evidence that the UFOs are alien spacecraft. Nor, on the other hand, does it rule out that option either. I'll be honest – I find the whole thing fascinating, while not wanting to waste too much of my life on thinking about it!
Some Christians deny the possibility of alien life in any form existing elsewhere in the universe. One of the letters EN published in response to Professor Ewart's article was from Geoff Chapman, director of the Creation Resources Trust. 'There is no hint in Scripture that God created life anywhere other than on earth,' he wrote. 'It's difficult to see how life on other planets could be reconciled with God's plan of salvation. The gospel is earth-centred.' While he is right in so far as I can see that the Bible offers no clues about extra-terrestrial life, such an argument from silence is not compelling.
And the great Christian apologist CS Lewis, in his trilogy Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra (also known as Voyage to Venus) and That Hideous Strength, sketched out in a speculative but engrossing storyline on how advanced life on other planets might, just possibly, fit in with the Christian worldview.
Other Christians believe that UFOs belong to the angelic and/or demonic realm. One such was Carl McIntire (1906-2002), founder of the Bible Presbyterian Church and a long-serving president of the International Council of Christian Churches. He also founded the '20th Century UFO Bureau' and believed that such vehicles were 'piloted by beings of three origins: angelic, demonic and extra-terrestrial... angels fly God's craft, Satan's agents the demonic craft, and God allows extra-terrestrial beings to pilot their own UFOs.' You can read a whole lot more on a website devoted to Christian 'Exotheology' which is defined as 'speculative theology aimed at anticipating possible future objections to the Christian faith in the event that extra-terrestrial life is discovered'.
But as for me, I'm not in either the 'denial' or 'demonic/angelic' camps. I'm firmly in the 'don't know' category. And, of course, there are many further options one could speculate on as well. Perhaps all the sightings in the forthcoming Pentagon report are in fact advanced Russian or Chinese technology, or a secret US project (despite the denials). Perhaps they will all one day be explained in one way or another, maybe through undiscovered natural phenomena.
Alternatively, you could go with the 2019 book Identified flying objects: a multi-disciplinary scientific approach to the UFO phenomenon, by Michael Masters, a university professor of biological anthropology. He wondered if such objects could be piloted by humans from the future. 'I'm just trying to put forth the best model I can based on current scientific knowledge,' he said, while admitting that his thesis needed a theory of quantum gravity which has yet to be discovered.
But the 'don't know' camp is probably safest for now! However, it is good to think about these things. Oh, and as for that picture of a saucer-shaped object with a green light I took – did you guess what it is? It's the extractor fan in our bathroom, which has a green night-light. As Hamlet said: 'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.' Including, for me until we got it put in, bathroom extractor fans with green night-lights...
David Baker is Contributing Editor to Christian Today and Senior Editor of Evangelicals Now.