Were the ‘sons of God’ and/or the nephilim extraterrestrials?1
Creation Answers Book (8th ed. 2019), Chapter 9
- Has Earth been visited by extraterrestrials?
- Could life exist ‘out there’?
- What about UFOs and government cover-ups?
For decades, speculation about extraterrestrial life has been boosted by tales of flying saucers and encounters with aliens. Some have even claimed that the ‘sons of God’ and/or the nephilim of Genesis 6:4 were aliens (see later).
Secular humanists, like Carl Sagan, have passionately believed that intelligent life has evolved ‘out there’ in addition to on Earth. Belief in the evolution of life on Earth has clearly encouraged the belief that life could/would have evolved elsewhere as well, considering the size of the universe. This has certainly encouraged belief in ‘ET’.
In 1996 this was fuelled from another source. NASA researchers claimed to have found evidence for simple life-forms in a meteorite, allegedly from Mars, found in Antarctica. Since then, this ‘proof’ of life in the ‘Mars rock’ has very much lost favour among the scientific community.2 The supposed ‘nanofossils’ were probably no more than magnetite whiskers plus artefacts of the experimental process.3,4 Despite this, the 2-kg rock ignited a new surge of ‘Mars fever’. In the next 20 years, the Americans, Europeans, Japanese, and Russians plan around 20 projects to explore our neighbouring planet, which is some 55 million kilometres away at its closest approach to us.
Meanwhile, belief in extra-terrestrial intelligence continues to grow with an almost religious fervour.
The UFO wave
Harvard University psychiatry professor John E. Mack attracted worldwide attention with his best-selling book, Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens.
There was also the sensational film of an alleged autopsy on an alien from a crash in New Mexico close to the US Air Force Base at Roswell. The blurry footage was the main attraction at the 1995 UFO World Congress in Düsseldorf, Germany. It has since been shown to be a crude forgery. Then, of course, there was the blockbuster ‘alien invasion’ film Independence Day, which grossed more in its opening week than any previous film. Such science-fiction stories, most of which contain ‘alien’ themes, are the most popular entertainment genre in the world today. Popular polls show that up to four out of five people believe in alien life and that aliens may be even monitoring human activities.5 So, what should Christians think about UFO accounts?
What does the Bible say?
(a) Scripture does not mention ‘ET’ visits.
The Bible, the revealed written Word of God, teaches that life is only possible through a process of creation. Even if there were other galaxies with planets very similar to Earth, life could only be there if the Creator had fashioned it. If God had done that, and if these beings were going to visit us one day, then He would surely not have left us unenlightened about this. Alien beings with such power and technology would be superior to mankind in many ways. This would usurp God’s dominion mandate given to man to ‘subdue the earth’ (Genesis 1:28).
God has given us rather specific details of the future—for example, the return of Jesus, and some details about the end of the world. The universe will, at some future point, be rolled up like a scroll (Isa. 34: 4; Rev. 6:14). If God had created living beings elsewhere, this would automatically destroy their dwelling place as well. Adam’s sin caused all of creation to be affected by the Curse—otherwise God need not create a “new heavens and earth”. So why would a race of beings, not of Adam’s (sinful) seed, have their part of creation affected by the Curse, and then be part of the restoration brought about by Christ, the last Adam? This would not make any sense.6 Jesus is not going to be crucified and raised again many times over on other planets. Scripture says He ‘died once for all’ (Romans 6:10).
Some have claimed that the nephilim, or the “sons of God”, both mentioned in Genesis 6:2–4, were aliens. This is a wild extension of a common view that the ‘sons of God’ who married the “daughters of men” were fallen angels.
‘Sons of God’ (Hebrew bene elohim) is clearly used of angels in Job 38:7. The Septuagint (LXX7) here translates ‘sons of God’ as ‘angels of God’. A straight-forward reading of Genesis 6:4 implies that evil angels actually cohabited with women. The resultant offspring were called the nephilim, which literally means ‘fallen ones’. Although this is a troubling passage that challenges our views of the spiritual dimension and the physicality of angels, the strongest argument for this view comes from the simplest understanding of the text itself. There is also New Testament support for this view (Jude 6–7; 2 Pet. 2:4–5; 1 Pet. 3:18–20).
Some suggest that evil angels on Earth could have used the bodies of ungodly men, by demonic possession, to achieve their evil purpose of producing an evil generation of people (Gen. 6:12).8 But this has little textual support.
The word nephilim is only used in Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33. The latter refers to the descendants of Anak, who were big people, but still people. It is possible that the mention of the nephilim here was hyperbole (metaphorical exaggeration)—the Hebrew in Numbers 14:37 (דבת … רעה) emphasises the ‘bad/evil’ nature of the ‘slanderous report’—intended to discourage the Hebrews from entering the Promised Land. God punished the spies for bringing this “bad report” (Num. 14:36–37).
Although ‘sons of God’ is used exclusively of angels in the Old Testament, in Hosea 1:10 “the sons of the living God” specifically refers to the children of Israel. The Bible scholar H.C. Leupold suggested that the ‘sons of God’ were descendants of Seth, the godly line who are detailed in Genesis 4:25–5:32. Leupold wrote, “But who are these ‘sons of God’? Without a shadow of a doubt, the Sethites … .” 9 In this view, the descendants of Seth became wayward and married the ‘daughters of men’ indiscriminately, basing their choice only on appearance, without concern for godliness, and the nephilim were their offspring. However, others have argued against this view, suggesting that the text would have specifically said ‘sons of Seth’ and ‘daughters of Cain’. Also, it is claimed that the Sethites could not have been a godly group in toto because family heritage does not guarantee piety or righteousness anyway (witness the kings of Israel, for example).
Rulers in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia often proclaimed themselves as ‘sons of God’ to enhance their power and prestige. So, another view is that the ‘sons of God’ were power-hungry rulers and despots, who, in their hunger for power and influence, took many wives in polygamy. They, and their offspring, through tyranny, became ‘mighty men’ (Nimrod was described as such a ‘mighty one’, Gen. 10:8).
Whatever the correct view, there is no need to resort to fanciful suggestions involving aliens to understand this passage of Scripture.
(b) The purpose of the stars
The Bible tells us in several places why the stars were made, not only in the well-known Psalm 19 but especially in the creation account. In Genesis 1:14 we read: “And God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to divide between the day and the night. And let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years.” Thus God made the stars for mankind on Earth, not for another alien race ‘out there’. Add to this the sequence of creation (Earth on Day 1, and only on Day 4 the stars),and it is easy to see the thrust of the biblical testimony, that the purpose of the creation is uniquely centred on Earth.
1. Never a single contact with an ‘extraterrestrial’
In 1900, the French Academy of Science offered a prize of 100,000 francs for the first person to make contact with an alien civilization—so long as the alien was not from Mars, because the Academy was convinced that Martian civilization was an established fact! Since then, not a trace of ‘little green men’, or indeed any life, has been found on any of the planets that our probes have explored, including Mars. Despite this, a great number of astronomers think that since life supposedly evolved here on Earth it must have evolved near one of the many stars out there.
Around the world, SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) researchers have scanned the sky, looking in vain for signals from intelligent beings. Despite all the listening, on many millions of frequencies over many years, nothing indicating intelligent alien life has ever been heard.
2. Conditions must be ‘just right’
Life on any planet can only survive provided a great number of very stringent requirements are met. For example, the planet must be at the right distance from its sun, so as to be neither too hot nor too cold. Its sun must also be very stable. In particular, the planet must be in a very narrow temperature range so that liquid water exists. It is extremely improbable that the extra-solar planet would fulfil all the requirements needed for life. Just having liquid water is completely insufficient, despite the excitement created when such was possibly detected on the surface of Jupiter’s moon, Europa.
The improbability of life elsewhere refutes the idea that life may have inadvertently drifted to Earth, or may have been deliberately sent here by aliens (‘panspermia’ and ‘directed panspermia’).10
3. Life cannot form spontaneously anyway.
Without intelligent, creative input, lifeless chemicals cannot form themselves into living things.11 The idea that they can is the theory of spontaneous generation, disproved by the great creationist founder of microbiology, Louis Pasteur. Without unfounded evolutionary speculation, UFOlogy would not have its present grip on the public imagination.
4. Vast distances
Even if we assumed life existed somewhere else in the universe, a visit by extraterrestrials to Earth, such as is claimed in UFO reports, seems completely impracticable, if not impossible. The distances (and therefore the likely travel times) are unimaginably vast.
The closest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri (α-Centauri C), is 40.7 million million kilometres (c. 25 million million miles) away. The Apollo flights took three days to get to the moon. At the same speed, it would take 870,000 years to get to this nearest star. Of course, one could accelerate (particularly unmanned) probes to a greater speed.
At the incredible speed of one-tenth of the speed of light, the trip, one way, would still take 43 years. One would need enormous amounts of energy for such an acceleration. Even a very small, 10 kg, craft would need energy equivalent to all that generated in four days by the world’s largest hydroelectric power station (see Appendix to this chapter).
Furthermore, in every cubic kilometre of space, there are an estimated 100,000 dust particles (made up of silicates and ice) weighing only a tenth of a gram. At such a velocity, colliding with even one of these tiny objects could destroy a spaceship.12
So what about UFOs?
How, then, should one understand the UFO phenomena and all the associated hype? The German magazine Focus recently stated, “90% of UFO reports turn out to be humbug, but there is a residual 10% which are not easy to dismiss.”13 The article quoted sociologist Gerald Eberlein as saying:
“Research has shown that people who are not affiliated with any church, but who claim that they are religious, are particularly susceptible to the possible existence of extra-terrestrials. For them, UFOlogy is a substitute religion.”14
However, credible witnesses sometimes recount tales of seeing strange objects that even resemble metallic craft. Many of the world’s leading UFO researchers concur that a small percentage of these objects seem to perform supernatural feats that defy the laws of physics, such as changing shape and merging into one another at incredible speeds.
The Bible goes somewhat deeper in this matter, identifying a supplementary cause and effect:
“… the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, …” (2 Thess. 2:9–11).
The Bible gives a description of reality concerning all living things. The living God reveals himself as the Triune One—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Heaven there are the angels, powerful created beings who also serve mankind on Earth.
There is another kingdom—that of the devil and the demons.15 Ephesians 2:2 talks about “the prince of the power of the air”, whose reign is on Earth, and who masquerades as “an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).
The devil has his own repertoire of deception in the form of various occult practices and a multitude of religious rites. It could be that behind those unexplainable UFO reports there is the work of the arch-deceiver.16 UFO reports, by definition, remain nebulous and not identifiable. People who do not know Christ are easily fascinated by all sorts of phenomena that are difficult to explain. For Christians, there is Jesus’ warning in Matthew 24:4 to “Take care that no man deceive you.” What is the best antidote to deception? Paul exhorts us, in 2 Timothy 2:15, to “study” the Scripture, so we might “accurately handle the word of truth”.
Secret bases? … government cover-ups? …
Many UFO enthusiasts spread the ‘urban myth’ of secret US government experiments on aliens, etc.—an idea reinforced by movies such as Independence Day. However, does a cover up make sense when, under the inspiration of atheists like the late Carl Sagan, the US government has spent millions of taxpayers’ dollars listening ‘out there’ for signs of intelligent ET life? Many other evolutionary humanists, like Sagan, passionately believe that intelligent life has evolved ‘out there’ in addition to on Earth, and would pounce on any hard evidence for this idea. Consider the media frenzy about the ‘life in Mars rock’ fiasco. To imagine that a much more exciting discovery could be kept secret for decades defies credibility.
Appendix: feasibility of interstellar travel
The following calculations are given for the benefit of the more technically minded.
For a spacecraft to acquire a speed of ⅟₁₀ the speed of light (c/10), the kinetic energy needed is given accurately enough by the non-relativistic formula of ½mv². For a very small unmanned spacecraft of 10 kg, this is ½ × 10 kg × (3 × 10⁷ m/s)² = 4.5 × 10¹⁵ J.
The largest hydroelectric power station in the world, the Three Gorges hydroelectric power plant on the Yangtze River, Yichang, Hubei province, China, has a huge output of 22.5 gigawatts. It would take the total energy generated by the 32 main Francis turbines (plus two smaller generators) 2.3 days to accelerate a 10-kg spacecraft to a speed of c/10, assuming perfect efficiency. For a manned spacecraft weighing several tonnes, the energy requirements would greatly exceed the world’s daily electricity consumption. For the city-sized spacecraft in Independence Day, the energy requirements would be staggering.
And when the spacecraft slowed again, it would need to use up almost this amount of energy in braking. If the spacecraft had to accelerate to c/10, slow down and speed up many times, the energy needed would be many times greater. It would probably be impossible for enough fuel to be carried without some sort of antimatter drive. If perfect annihilation—complete conversion of matter to energy (E = mc²)—were possible, 1 tonne of antimatter could annihilate 1 tonne of ordinary matter to produce: 2,000 kg × (3 × 10⁸ m/s)², or 1.8 × 10²⁰ J. And this is the absolute maximum amount of energy that could be produced from a given mass of fuel. A real spacecraft could be nowhere near this efficient.
The kinetic energy of a speck of dust with a mass of just 0.1 gram impacting at c/10, calculated from the spacecraft’s reference frame, is ½mv², or ½ × 10⁻⁴ kg × (3 × 10⁷ m/s)² = 4.5 × 10¹⁰ J.
The combustion energy of TNT is 4,520 kJ/kg, or 4.52 × 10⁹ J/tonne. Therefore, 4.5 × 10¹⁰ J is equivalent to 9.95 tonnes of TNT. Therefore the impact energy of a 0.1 g object hitting a spacecraft travelling at c/10 would be the equivalent of an explosion of about 10 tonnes of TNT.
- Yet another problem is fatal g-forces caused both by acceleration to these enormous speeds, the deceleration from stopping, and the lurching when turning. For more information, plus calculations, see More space travel problems: g-forces.
References and notes
- Parts of this chapter are based on Gitt, W., God and the extraterrestrials, Creation 19(4):46–48, 1997; creation.com/god&et. Two key CMI articles on aliens are:
- Grigg, R., Did life come from outer space? Creation 22(4):40–43, 2000; creation.com/lifefromspace.
- Bates, G., Did God create life on other planets? Otherwise why is the universe so big? Creation 29(2):12–15, 2007; creation.com/alien-life.
For detailed treatment of this topic, see Bates, G., Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection, Creation Book Publishers, US, 2010; creation.com/ai; plus the accompanying video with John Schneider narrating, Alien Intrusion—Unmasking a deception. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Life on Mars? Creation 19(1):18–20, 1996; creation.com/marslife (updated 14 Jan 2022). Sarfati, J., Mars The red planet Creation 32(2):38–41, 2010; creation.com/mars-red-planet. Return to text.
- Anon., Another blow to Mars ‘life’ claim, Creation 20(2):8, 1998; creation.com/marsblow. Return to text.
- Holmes, B., Death knell for Martian life, New Scientist 152(2061/2):4, 1996. Return to text.
- Out there—Readers Digest exclusive poll, Jul 2005. Return to text.
- Furthermore, Jesus dying for alien beings makes no sense, since Jesus took on human nature, and remains the God-man forever as our Saviour. If He were to atone for Vulcans like Spock, say, He would need to become a Vulcan. The whole purpose of creation is focused on the race on Earth, of which some will be Christ’s ‘bride’ throughout eternity. Christ will not have multiple ‘brides’. Return to text.
- A translation of the Old Testament in Greek, commissioned by Ptolemy in the 3rd century BC. Return to text.
- Morris, H.M., The Genesis Record, Baker Book House, US, p. 169, 1976. Return to text.
- Leupold, H.C., Exposition of Genesis, Volume 1, Baker Book House, US, p. 250, 1942. Return to text.
- Bates, G., Designed by aliens? Creation 25(4):54–55, 2003; creation.com/alien-made. See also Sarfati, J., Panspermia theory burned to a crisp: bacteria couldn’t survive on meteorite, creation.com/panspermia, 10 Oct 2008. Return to text.
- For articles on the origin of life, see: Batten, D., Origin of life: An explanation of what is needed for abiogenesis; creation.com/ool, 26 Nov 2013, last update 8 Nov 2021; Thaxton, C.B., Bradley, W.L. and Olsen, R.L., The Mystery of Life’s Origin, 1984; Expanded and Updated Edn, Discovery Institute, Seattle, 2020. See more articles at creation.com/origin; our detailed overview paper Batten, D., Origin of life: An explanation of what is needed for abiogenesis (or biopoiesis), last update 8 Nov 2021; and the book Tan, C.L. and Stadler, R, The Stairway to Life: An origin-of-life reality check, Evorevo Books, 2020; see review: Truman, R, Twelve rounds, twelve knockouts, J. Creation 34(2):39–45, 2020. Return to text.
- This means there is a small chance of hitting one in each linear kilometre travelled, but over such vast distances, a hit is almost certain. The Appendix (above) gives calculations of the damaging effects of dust at such high speeds. Return to text.
- Erdling, H., UFOlogie als Ersatzreligion, Focus Magazin 45:254, 1995; focus.de/kultur/leben/modernes-leben-ufologie-als-ersatzreligion_aid_154571.html. Return to text.
- Erdling, 1995, p. 252. Return to text.
- The devil and his evil angels are fallen created beings. Satan’s kingdom will exist only as long as God permits. Return to text.
- William Alnor, cult expert and award-winning journalist, studied the UFO phenomenon for many years. His book, UFOs in the New Age, Baker Book House, US, 1992, documents his investigations that led to the conclusion that some UFO phenomena have an occult source. Gary Bates came to a similar conclusion in his book, Alien Intrusion. Return to text.