Is the Bible falsifiable?
And would a real live ET do it?
This week’s feedback was addressed to our UFO specialist Gary Bates and is answered with assistance from Dr Carl Wieland. Jere Y. wrote:
I know you don't believe in extraterrestrial life, but I have a question for you. Let's suppose some day we do discover extraterrestrial life somewhere, be it aquatic creatures swimming in the subterranean ocean of Europa or a radio transmission of extraterrestrial origin picked up by SETI. How will you reconcile that with your creationist beliefs? I am not asking you if aliens exist, I am asking how you would respond if they do indeed exist, and the evidence for their existence is irrefutable.
Thank you for your email. In answer to your questions.
I would not have a huge problem if microscopic life was discovered on other planets. I would strongly suspect contamination from Earth life as the most likely explanation though. We know that Earth-originated spores exist in our outer atmosphere, for example, and Paul Davies, among others, has raised this as a distinct possibility, e.g. microbes carried within rocks blasted off the Earth. And then there is the possibility that prior manmade probes originating from Earth had previously ‘seeded’ it there, a concern raised by others before me.
Also, in some cases, astrobiologists, desperate to further ‘life in space’ claims (probably to ensure continued research funding), have completely mistaken or at worst misrepresented non-organic life for bacterial life (see Life on Mars).
But these possibilities aside, I would find it distinctly odd for God to have created some plankton swimming around on Europa, for instance. This is because there is a biblical ‘big picture’ to creation, as follows: A major purpose of creation in the Bible seems to be to end up with an eternal companion for the Lord Jesus Christ, namely redeemed humanity. Since redeemed humanity is a subset of humanity as a whole, this is the reason for the creation of mankind. And the purpose for the creation of the plants and animals (i.e. the whole biosphere) is clearly to have a ‘life support system’ for mankind on Earth.
However, I would not go so far as saying that plankton swimming on Europa would falsify the Bible, though it would come awfully close, in my view. But when it comes to your question about ET sending out radio signals, that is a different matter, and I would personally go further.
Dubious claims to support dubious research
Before going on let me say that again, one should exercise a high degree of caution before naively accepting any ‘pronouncements’ on any such future ‘discoveries’. I am very wary of SETI’s research. Despite the millions of dollars of public and private money invested so far there has not been a single speck of evidence to suggest that we might be able to eavesdrop on ‘ET phoning home’. In one case they mistook a simple radio emission from a pulsar (basically a ‘blip … blip’) for an intelligent extraterrestrial source. On other occasions they have mistaken artefacts from their own telescope arrays and satellites as signals from outer space, and once even mistook radiation from the downstairs microwave oven for ET (see Take me to your microwave, New Scientist, 20 January 1996)!
See, too, the recent claims about the extrasolar planet Gliese 581 C. This alleged planet is not even observable to the human eye yet the media was already making claims about extraterrestrial life on it.
Also, the huge distances involved in ‘cosmic’ research would make it nearly impossible for anyone to be able to definitively confirm their suspicions that a planet might hold alien life.
In short, I don’t believe that it is likely that I will ever be faced with such a question as yours. I.e. we are unlikely to ever have indisputable proof of intelligent alien life.
ET emerging from a craft after landing on the White House lawn, once hoaxes were excluded, would of course be a different matter. In such a hypothetical case, would I believe that it would falsify the Bible? I think we need to be prepared to put our beliefs on the line. If the Bible ever becomes unfalsifiable in our minds then can it ever be said to be ‘true’ in any meaningful sense of the word? (E.g. if one said that nothing would make us disbelieve the Bible, even if we could travel back in a time machine and observe that the events of the Crucifixion/Resurrection did not happen as the Bible records them.) Indeed, the Christian faith would have been falsified right from the start if opponents had produced the dead body of Christ (with clear marks of the crucifixion etc.), but no-one ever did. So yes, I would firmly predict that there will/can never be indisputable evidence of intelligent life on other planets, i.e. beings that can communicate, make moral choices, etc.
This is because of the whole Creation/Fall/Redemption framework in Scripture—see Did God create life on other planets for a definitive summary on how the idea of intelligent extraterrestrials living on other planets violates the very Gospel of Christ. (Some have argued that angels are extraterrestrials because their ‘home’ is not the earth, but this is not what we are talking about. So I am clearly making the distinction about life on ‘other planets’).
This contrasts with the Australian Skeptics, who said that even if they found the Ark on the mountains of Ararat, they would merely believe that the Hebrews were clever people rather than accept the Bible as God’s Word.
Aside from my presuppositional belief in the infallibility of Scripture (words from the very Creator Himself), the increasing evidence from astronomical investigations only reinforces that the Earth is unique and that our universe is finely tuned for human life (the Anthropic Principle). This only provides further compelling evidence of and support for the Bible’s divine origin. As does the recent evidence, not yet ‘penetrating’ the secular world, that the distribution of galaxies on a large scale indicates a galactocentric universe, i.e. our galaxy is indeed located in a special place. See In the Middle of the Action.
In short, even though I have already said that I would put my prediction, that the universe does not contain other planets with intelligent civilizations, right on the line as potentially falsifying the Bible, the question is a bit of a non-starter for me. I find it difficult to answer because I know it will never occur.