Can I Believe in Neanderthals, Extra-Terrestrials, and God at the Same Time?
The possibility that alien life exists and has been visiting our world received a shot of adrenaline when the Pentagon released those videos of Navy pilots engaged in complex maneuvers with UFO’s. Scientists, too, have been making discoveries of late that include pre or partly human species other than the more well-known Neanderthals that are now recognized to have mated with early humans, contributing their DNA to our human genome. But if non-human intelligent life exists, it might make us wonder about the significance of human life. How can God work through human nature alone if other personal species exist?
To start, we should recall that we already know God created intelligent orders of life other than human beings, for both human experience and Christ’s revelation show that God created the angels. Angels are finite, disembodied minds (in religious terms we call them “spirits”). So, there’s nothing to say that God could not or did not create many other intelligent species of life, on earth or anywhere else.
Nor does this create a problem for salvation, since, if these other orders of intelligent life made temporal moral choices at odds with justice, they too would find the offer of redemption through the Incarnation. Remember, the Incarnation isn’t just about God becoming man; it’s about God entering the world of matter. St. Paul tells us that the whole creation waits in anticipation of the salvation that God revealed in Christ to man, the “whole creation.” So, if there are other embodied intelligent species either on earth or on other planets, their redemption is likewise centered on the work that God did in his Son on earth. God used the Jews to issue redemption to all men, so there’s no reason to think that he could not use humanity to issue redemption to the whole universe.
How would that work, if these other intelligent species either lived before Jesus or have no knowledge of Jesus because they live on worlds light years away? Well, it’s not an understanding of the mechanism of God’s redemption that saves a man, but rather his faith in whatever God chooses to reveal to direct a man (or another intelligent creature) to himself. For as St. Paul explained in Romans 4, whether a man was born before the law like Abraham, under the law like David, or after the law like the Gentiles, all are saved through faith. God is always the object of faith, for we must trust God. But the content of the faith, the specific thing to be believed varies based on what God reveals in each era. So, Abraham knew nothing of Jesus, but his faith was counted unto him for righteousness. If the Neanderthals were persons, then, they too would have had some means presented by God to be trusted to direct them toward divine love. Same thing for extra-terrestrial species. We don’t know what that content of faith was or would be, but we do get some hints of what it would be like from C. S. Lewis’s great book, Perelandra.
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