Baptist Reactions to Proxima b Discovery

We found this in the Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. Their headline is ‘Intergalactic missions’: planet spurs questions, written by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press. It doesn’t look like they have a comments section. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Discovery of another planet that might support life has given rise to speculation about intelligent life elsewhere in the universe — and whether such lifeforms would need the Gospel.

We wrote about the discovery in Proxima Centauri Has Planet in Habitable Zone. Everyone reacts differently to the news, but whether the inhabitants of that planet need the Gospel is the big issue for readers of the Baptist Press. They say:

“Briefly stated, saying that scientists ‘think there may be life’ on [the newly discovered planet] is greatly overstating what the scientific community is thinking,” said Bill Nettles, physics department chair at Union University. But “if there is intelligent life on other planets, we definitely need to tell them Earth’s Gospel story and learn what their history is,” Nettles told Baptist Press in written comments.

Okay. Let’s read on:

Theologically, Nettles believes “there’s nothing in the Bible that excludes biology on other planets, just as there’s nothing to exclude other planets. The larger theology comes into view when you consider the work of Christ in redeeming mankind, and the extensiveness of that work.”

“Most conservative Bible scholars” seem to believe “there is only one created universe, one fall, one redemption for all time and space and a glorification of one set of created beings along with their Savior,” Nettles said, referencing the theory that humans are sole focus of Christ’s atonement. Others, however, speculate there could be parallel sequences of history in other universes that include atonement for other intelligent creatures.

Then we’re told about another opinion:

John Laing, a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary theology professor who says he has “long been fascinated by the possibility of life on other planets,” told BP that Scripture doesn’t rule out the prospect.

If God created other intelligent life forms, He likely did so on the fifth or sixth day of creation, “when sea creatures and land creatures were created, respectively,” said Laing, associate professor of systematic theology at Southwestern’s J. Dalton Havard School of Theological Studies in Houston. Any intelligent extraterrestrials are not likely to be created in God’s image, Laing said, noting that possessing intelligence is not the same as being created in the divine image. Humans uniquely are made in God’s image and therefore “the apex of creation.”

You must admit, dear reader, these are fascinating reactions. We continue:

In considering the possibility of redemption for lifeforms on other planets, Laing said it’s important to remember the entire creation was affected by the fall and that “salvation is only available through Jesus Christ.” Yet “just because [potential lifeforms on other planets] are subject to the law of sin and death, it is not immediately apparent that they can or need to receive redemption in the same way we do,” he said. Perhaps intelligent life forms on other planets “will not sin,” Laing speculated, “or if they do, they are not recoverable. Perhaps they … have no soul.”

Here’s yet a third reaction, from another heavy thinker:

David Fannin, pastor of a Houston-area congregation where 10-20 percent of members work at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, agreed that earth is the “centerpiece of God’s creation.” Humanity has been granted “control of the whole universe,” he said, citing Psalm 8. That leaves Fannin skeptical of claims any other human-like life exists.

“All of time itself revolves around our planet,” Fannin, pastor of Nassau Bay (Texas) Baptist Church, told BP. “The concept of the 24-hour day and 365 days in a year — all of that is found very clearly. God’s creation of this planet is the centerpiece of His planet creation.” He added, “The Bible really doesn’t teach there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.” Fannin encourages exploration of outer space, including the search for other lifeforms. But he cautioned that humans must “look at science through the lens of Scripture. We don’t look at Scripture through the lens of science.”

There’s more to the article, but those are the three main sets of ideas. And now we’re wondering: Why didn’t you, dear reader, think of these issues when we were blogging about the news of Proxima b? You materialist Darwinists are so limited in your thinking!

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43 responses to “Baptist Reactions to Proxima b Discovery

  1. “The concept of the 24-hour day and 365 days in a year — all of that is found very clearly. God’s creation of this planet is the centerpiece of His planet creation.”
    This really puzzles me.
    The concept of the 24-hour day seems to me a merely human convention. There is no natural (or supernatural) meaning to the hour.
    Where does the Bible clearly teach 365 days in a year? If it does, it is wrong, for there are about 365.2422 days in a year.
    Where does the Bible clearly teach that this planet is a planet, among the creation of planets? And is it a centerpiece among planets?

  2. If there are other intelligent beings out there, it is completely plausible that some of them developed religion – probably multiple religions, much like humans.

    From their perspective, we would be the aliens with weird – and clearly incorrect – religions. Evangelicals cannot even convince humans of other religions that the Christian god is the real one, or that a real one even exists. Trying to convince aliens to worship a human god? I’m surprised even the most zealous evangelical would consider that a possibility.

    Besides, humans who solve all of the problems associated with interplanetary communication and travel will be, shall we say, unlikely to be religious fundamentalists.

  3. “All of time itself revolves around our planet”
    Wow! These boys have got geocentrism beat cold.

  4. And time “revolving?” Really? They’ve got Einstein beat too!

  5. Yes, that’s all we need is to send a boat load of evangelicals rocketing to another world to tell their intelligent species they’re all sinners and below earthlings from the very beginning, their religions, if they haven’t outgrown those myth beliefs, are inferior and they must accept the bible and they’re all tainted with adam’s sin. Yea, right, they’ll bypass stun and set their phasers on eradicate.

  6. there’s nothing in the Bible that excludes biology on other planets, just as there’s nothing to exclude other planets.
    There’s nothing in the Bible that excludes, for example:
    *birds (in the modern sense of feathered vertebrates, excluding mammals) are descended from dinosaurs
    *there is a process of natural speciation
    *humans are most closely related to chimps and other apes

  7. DavidK – I like the way you think,

  8. It’s really depressing that the fundagelicals’ reaction to all the exciting recent science news we’ve had is so dreary: we could allow our minds to grow as we tried to get them around this stuff but, hey, no, we’ll just keep ourselves locked in the same old spiritual outhouse.

    Two of the first scientists I worked with were Xtians; one had dual degrees in history of science and theology (and eventually became a vicar). Both would have been far harsher than I am with the modern, science-rejecting fundagelical.

    @Ed, DavidK

    Yes, that’s all we need is to send a boat load of evangelicals rocketing to another world to tell their intelligent species they’re all sinners and below earthlings from the very beginning

    The notion’s worked out in a novella called “A Case of Conscience” (1953) by James Blish. (He added a second novella to make the fixup novel A Case of Conscience [1958], but the original story is by far the more interesting.)

  9. I really wish creationists would realize their shortcomings and avoid making pronouncements about science. They haven’t a clue, and haven’t the required background.

    In reality, creationists and creation “science” are 180° apart from real science–they are exactly opposite.

    We really need to tell them that at every opportunity, and encourage them, to the degree necessary, to just STFU.

  10. @Coyote
    We really need to tell them that at every opportunity, and encourage them, to the degree necessary, to just STFU.
    *user adopts pious mode*
    We should surely be aiming to engage them in constructive dialogue, should we not? Otherwise how can we ever hope to persuade them to forgo the irrational and embrace sapience?
    *****
    Well, I tried to convince myself.
    On the other hand, just before you chuck yourself off the nearest high bridge, there’s this.

  11. @realthog

    No bridges necessary, but I agree–humor is important.

    But the issue is, how can we have a constructive dialogue when one side relies on evidence while the other side relies on scripture and dogma, and denies or ignores any evidence that contradicts those beliefs?

    This is where the two sides are 180° apart.

  12. I’m trying to think of a better metaphor than 180° apart. That makes them parallel, in the same dimension, comparable.
    The “other side” doesn’t rely on Scripture – as I point out, there is nothing in Scripture about evolution being false, let alone about baraminology. They just make stuff up – and, anyway, they don’t even make up relevant stuff: they don’t even try to describe an alternative. They don’t have a theology of creation, no dogma to rely on – other than “please, let there be something wrong with evolution”.

  13. Another great example that intelligent life is rare everywhere, assuming it exists at all!

  14. Religion can be summed up by one phrase in that article: “We don’t look at Scripture through the lens of science.” Indeed, because if one does that it reveals religions for the nonsense they are.

  15. However, they do let science determine what they say that Scripture says in certain cases.
    There are very few of even the most fundamentalist Christians who don’t accept that the Earth is a planet. This is contrary to what everyone, for a couple of thousand years (counting from 500 BC to AD 1500), thought that the Bible had to say about the Sun going around a stationary Earth.
    Don’t accept what a creationist says without checking.

  16. realthog
    *raises hand as the commentariat’s apparent token science-believing theist*

    Sometimes that really does work, you know. I mean, not always, and not as often as it really feels like it should, but sometimes it really does work to engage in constructive dialogue.

  17. Coyote has a wish: that “creationists would realize their shortcomings.”
    And I wish I’ll win a gold medal at the Olympics.

  18. Yes, that’s all we need is to send a boat load of evangelicals rocketing to another world

    The B Ark!

    Alas, this is probably an accurate representation of Baptist thinking: a lot of ignorance mixed with a thoroughly large helping of stupid.

    I blame Star Trek for making all aliens look humanoid. Yeah, I know, budget constraints. Well, we did have the Horta (if you’re into latex). The notion that alien psychology (if there is even such a thing) is anything we could possibly comprehend is laughable at any level. We can barely comprehend the psychologies of species on our own planet who at least share a common evolutionary experience.

    This is the more likely result of spreading the Gospel!

  19. Baptist Press:
    “The larger theology comes into view when you consider the work of Christ in redeeming mankind, and the extensiveness of that work.”

    Wait a minute — if God’s goal was to have Christ redeem all of mankind, why did He just send One Clone of Himself to Earth to do it at a time when there was no such thing as mass communication? Shouldn’t He have sent Christs to China, India, Europe, North and South America, Australia, and every other inhabited spot on Earth? Why just one rather smallish spot on the planet?

    And the title of their article ( ‘Intergalactic missions’: planet spurs questions) should be “Intragalactic missions”, since a planet just 95 light years away is definitely within our galaxy.

  20. @retiredsciguy
    There was confusion about the peoples who were being discovered as Europeans were sailing around the world. They had had no chance of hearing the Gospel for more than a thousand years. I think that it was eventually decided not to think about that.

    @docbil1351
    Perhaps there is intelligent life which has enough experience with contact with aliens that they know how to deal with naive species like us.

  21. TomS – It depends on the branch of the Church. The Catholics already had Purgatory, where the righteous non-Christians (including the Greek philosophers, for example) awaited God’s judgment in the final day. So, the “noble savages” wouldn’t go to hell, but to Heaven’s Waiting Room until the end of the age.

  22. Purgatory was a place for people who had minor sins who had to be cleaned up to be fit for Heaven. That was the concept that Luther had to combat, for it lead to the idea of indulgences, prayers for the dead, etc.

    Limbo was the place for people who were not baptized, the first circle of Hell, for people like Virgil and Aristotle, unbaptized infants, and Indians.

  23. DavidK says: “Yes, that’s all we need is to send a boat load of evangelicals rocketing to another world to tell their intelligent species they’re all sinners and below earthlings from the very beginning …”

    They must learn that Alien Lives Matter!

  24. TomS – That’s right. Sorry, my Protestantism showed through there.

    Honestly, from what I’ve read, I don’t think they really ignored it all that much – I found a reference from the 11th century about a bishop preaching on how wonderful it would be to stand in Heaven and watch all the suffering going on in Hell, and realizing you’re not a part of it.

  25. Re “If God created other intelligent life forms, He likely did so on the fifth or sixth day of creation, ‘when sea creatures and land creatures were created, respectively,'” Obviously since he is all powerful and exists outside of time and space, he couldn’t have done it on some other day … afterwards, maybe.

    These people seem like bizarre physicists that when they discover that prisms split sunlight into colors then try to force everything else through the same prism: baseball bats, dolls, animal wastes, etc. They have their scripture and even though their god can do anything He wants, they expect that God is required to tell them about it ahead of time. Amazing.

  26. @SC

    Let’s hope the aliens decide that human lives matter.

  27. TomS mused:

    @docbil1351
    Perhaps there is intelligent life which has enough experience with contact with aliens that they know how to deal with naive species like us.

    I used to think that way. I was a huge fan of Clifford Simak who wrote many books on alien contact, but it was always anthropomorphic one way or another. In “The Dark Light Years,” Brian Aldiss wrote about the totally alien but highly advanced Utods and mankind’s laughable (literally) attempts to understand them. Over the years I’ve given up on the notion that there would be any common point of reference to communicate, assuming aliens communicate in any sense we understand the process.

    Some people assert that mathematics is a “universal language,” although I read Sci Fi about space faring cultures completely devoid of the concept – of course, a fictional story, but still.

    Recently, NdG Tyson gave a talk where he compared humans to chimps as differing by 1% (for the sake of argument) and that a genius chimp has the cognitive skills of a two year old human. Then, he said, imagine a civilization that is 1% different from us where our genius is equivalent to their 2-year old. And then another 1% difference from those aliens. It’s not “far” before any level of understanding is completely impossible.

    As for sending evangelicals to the stars, I think HG Wells’ Martians were on the right track.

  28. IMHO, we know so little that it is difficult to imagine what the possibilities are.
    I would be happy just to see another example of life. I would not be surprised if we found something so different that we couldn’t decide whether to call it life.

  29. @docbill1351

    I think you’re likely correct about the difficulty/impossibility of making meaningful contact with those hypothetical ETIs: it’s very likely that their modes of thought will be so different from ours that only the most basic communication will be possible. (This idea is a relatively new one. I can recall back in the early 1970s the science writer V.A. Firsoff proposing, to no seeming discord, that intelligent life throughout the universe would obviously have a sort of commonality of mind because, obviously, all intelligent creatures would necessarily think along the same lines as, say, V.A. Firsoff.)

    The problem of creating actual alien aliens is one that bedevils written sf (forget skiffy, the screen derivative of the written form). If you try to create a plausible representation of an intelligent extraterrestrial, most readers bail out pretty pronto because there’s nothing there to identify with. As a result, most sf writers opt fir aliens who, however outwardly strange they might seem (like a lot of Simak’s, op cit), are essentially just a projection of human psychology onto an alien form.

    Of course, that’s just part of a larger problem that sf has in that, leave aside aliens, the future versions of ourselves are going to be incomprehensibly different from us, yet this is almost impossible to present in a readable narrative.

  30. realthog says: “leave aside aliens, the future versions of ourselves are going to be incomprehensibly different from us, yet this is almost impossible to present in a readable narrative.”

    It’s not possible for us to meaningfully communicate with creationists, and they’re the same species we are, living contemporaneously with us.

  31. “All of time itself revolves around our planet,” John Laing, pastor of Nassau Bay (Texas) Baptist Church, told BP. “The concept of the 24-hour day and 365 days in a year — all of that is found very clearly. God’s creation of this planet is the centerpiece of His planet creation.” He added, “The Bible really doesn’t teach there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.”

    It really doesn’t teach that there isn’t, either.

    Fannin encourages exploration of outer space, including the search for other lifeforms. But he cautioned that humans must “look at science through the lens of Scripture. We don’t look at Scripture through the lens of science.”

    And that’s exactly the problem.

  32. @Eric Lipps
    The creationists will accept an interpretation of the Bible when it pleases them, irrespective of its relation to science. That is their privilege. The problem is when they want that to be binding on the rest of us.

  33. Holding The Line In Florida

    @ DocBill Not all Star Treks were humanoid aliens. I my humble opinion the best episode of all “Errand of Mercy” the aliens were as Spock said “they are as far above us on the evolutionary scale to us as we are to amoebas!” Of course you had to have humanoid aliens so you can have fine alien babes for Kirk to flirt with!!

  34. far above … on the evolutionary scale
    Spock did not understand evolution.

  35. @ DocBill Not all Star Treks were humanoid aliens. I my humble opinion the best episode of all “Errand of Mercy”

    Technically, but they adopted human form. As did Sylvia in “Catspaw,” one of my fave episodes. When the Orb is destroyed they reverted to their “totally alien” forms and died on the spot. (Thanks, Obama!)

    The Gamesters of Triskelion were pulsating brains, still technically humanoid. The Medusa was a light in a box. Cockrane’s “companion” took form in the crushworthy Elinor Donahue (looked it up!), but was all “lighty” otherwise.

  36. But [Fannin] cautioned that humans must “look at science through the lens of Scripture. We don’t look at Scripture through the lens of science.”

    Is the pastor suggesting that there are no Baptist biblical scholars who have a thorough understanding of the Bible’s history? Because even the way theologians get to study history is reasonably scientific. (In other words, they know bloody well what the scientific consensus is on who wrote what parts of the Bible at what time; yet they persist in their claim of divine infallibility.)

  37. One of the minor puzzles that I have about fundamentalist understanding of the Bible is the insistence on the traditional authorship assigned to the various books, even though there is scant Biblical backing for who wrote the books, and that there is no need for human authority for the word of God.
    For example, nowhere is it written that Moses wrote Genesis. And even if Moses wrote Genesis, he was a fallible human, and his authorship is not enough to ensure infallibility. If Genesis is the work of anonymous editors as late as the 6th century, it can still be the infallible word of God.

  38. I would like to clarify a few points, without getting into a tit-for-tat competition with anyone. I am the person noted in the article as a professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary. As you might imagine, I responded to specific questions that were asked, so context can clarify some of my comments. With regard to my comment about potential aliens being created on the fifth or sixth day, I was asked how their creation (if they exist) would fit into the Genesis creation account. I first acknowledged that not all evangelicals follow a strict six 24-hour creation view, but those who do, would likely assume a fifth or sixth day (for the record, I am not one of those, but I am sympathetic to the concerns of those who are). I also noted that the Genesis creation account is not comprehensive (we are not told of the creation of angelic beings either, but that they were created is something we hold by faith). I also noted that there is much we cannot know about potential life forms or their spiritual condition. All we can say (according to our faith) is what the Bible says (and of course, our interpretation of those books). This means that there is little we can say with confidence about any “inter/intra-galactic evangelism” activities. In fact, at the end of the article, you will note that I encouraged evangelicals to be more concerned with this world/showing the love of Christ to their neighbors (this can mean many things, but yes, it will also involved evangelism, and it is supposed to be an expression of love, though I am sad to say that it often comes off as an expression of judgment, pride, and hypocrisy).
    Now, I can see from the comments that some of the readers are hostile to religion (or to my conservative brand of it), so some may make snide remarks, but I would just say that evangelicalism is a largely mainstream movement, and there are a lot of your neighbors who are not raging lunatics, but who also believe as I do. The article from Baptist Press was meant to help believers think through the implications of a particular potential scientific discovery for their faith(s). I should think that scientifically-minded humanists would welcome serious dialog about scientific matters, and despite caricatures, many evangelicals are interested in science and several well-respected scientists are evangelicals. I hope this is helpful to some.

  39. Good of you to visit us, John. Thanks for the context.

  40. As a member of the snide side, John, thanks for the update. I find “academic” discussions of Biblical creationism highly amusing because they make just as much sense if you substitute “Harry Potter” for “Bible.” Alas, apologists haven’t progressed farther than musing about the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin.

  41. @ John

    I think it is interesting and positive that a segment of the evangelical community accepts a scientific finding and thinks through how that affects their beliefs. Clearly there is an interest among some to find a way to have faith without rejecting what we know about the natural world.

    We are most accustomed to creationists like Ken Ham, those at the ICR and those at the Discovery Institute. When a scientific finding challenges one of their beliefs, they reject the finding or warp it beyond recognition so that it supports their view. This is often accompanied by demeaning comments about the scientists involved and their motives. So it is refreshing to see a debate – as odd as it seems to most of us – about the meaning of a finding rather than the legitimacy of the finding.

    Parsing out the snide, I think the above discussion about the likely differences between humans and any sort of intelligent life form that might exist elsewhere could be relevant to the discussion within the religious community. My non-theologian view is that it complicates matters. For example, what if they are, in fact, much more advanced? Would humans be able to consider themselves the center of creation if that were the case?

  42. Ed

    Advanced. That’s our psychology speaking. I don’t think “advanced” applies. Different does. Alien species will be different.

    Look back at the Voyager disc. It had an arrow pointing to the third planet from the Sun. Why would an alien civilization know what an arrow was? Or a circle? Or any of the symbols on the disc. The simple answer is, “They wouldn’t.”

    This shoots down any argument John has about his Harry Potter Bible and the fiction contained therein. Aliens won’t have the same psychology we have. They won’t have the same evolutionary experience. The will be alien. Duh!

    We can’t even talk to dogs, our best friends. How can we possibly speculate on alien species, if, in fact, they have species?

  43. How can we possibly speculate on alien species, if, in fact, they have species?

    I think that’s probably something we can bet on: it’s hard to envisage any evolutionary process, at least for planet-based lifeforms, that wouldn’t result in speciation of some kind.

    I have so many difficulties with John’s comment, right down to his bizarrely oxymoronic notion of “conservative Christianity” (which to me means pietistic hypocrisy), that it’s probably best if I keep my face shut about it.

    I know, I know: loud cheers from omnes.