Does the UFO phenomenon marginalize the Christian worldview?
How to take the high ground in a challenging area for Christians
This feedback responds to Gary Bates’ and Lita Sanders’s article UFOlogy: the world’s fastest-growing ‘scientific’ religion?
Ron W. from the US writes:
“Framing an issue” is a well known and frequently used ploy in deception—and for good reason; it works. It seems that in the UFO debate the issue has been carefully framed. On the one hand are the UFO skeptics, whose answer to the question “Are we alone in the universe?“ is yes. On the other hand there is the UFO believer who thinks that we are not alone and we have extraterrestrial space neighbors . As such, the debate is focused almost exclusively between these two groups with the idea that no, we are not alone, there God and the angels and demons exist too. … So it seems the devil’s strategy is to frame the issue on a debate between these two opposite views and sidetrack the idea that these UFOs are in fact demonic as a non-starter fringe view held by religious nut cases—and the sad thing is that the trick seems to be working only too well. However, it does seem that the truth is leaking out, so they are adding a new line that the aliens are “multi-dimensional beings”, so maybe that is the weak point where one can point out the obvious implication that a multi-dimensional being sounds an awful lot like a demon or to quote Red Riding Hood, “Grandma what big teeth you have.”
Gary Bates responds.
You’ve obviously thought about this a bit, and I agree that explanations tend to be framed according to the author’s presuppositions. I also agree that the Christian perspective is being marginalized, and I will attempt to explain why below. However, I’d probably go a little further with some of the observations you made, as I don’t see it as straightforwardly or as black and white as you have put it. Or maybe there is a bit of confusion in the definition of terms. I think you are probably putting Christians into the UFO skeptics camp, but that would probably not be the proper way to classify them. Here goes with some further explanation that hopefully will help.
I would suggest that there are actually three main camps in this debate. A strong pre-belief is at work (the same way as it is in the creation/evolution debate) that causes the various camps to filter the information in a certain way.
There are the ‘UFO skeptics’, as you put it. You say that they don’t believe in ET life, but this is not correct. They are usually evolutionists, and even atheists (the word skeptic usually applies to those in this camp anyway). They would have no problem with the idea that life has evolved all over the universe, given they believe it’s 14 billion years old anyway. So, in my experience, the majority certainly do believe in ET life, and this marginalizes the biblical worldview at a foundational level. See Did God create life on other planets? Otherwise why is the universe so big?
A good example of this group would be Professor Paul Davies, who is an ET-believing physicist. He wrote:
“Christianity, in particular, has difficulties with regard to the very special role that Jesus Christ plays. If they wish to retain Jesus Christ as the saviour, is he the saviour of mankind only, or of all sentient beings throughout the universe? Or will each community have its own saviour? Doesn’t it all start to become a little ludicrous?”1
Actually, Davies is right that biblical Christianity has a problem with a real ET, and he correctly stated one of the main reasons why. However, Davies foolishly throws out the historically proven risen Saviour in return for a totally unobserved ET.
The big problem most skeptics have with UFOs and ET visitations, even though they believe ETs might exist, is that they don’t believe we will ever see such life due to our own limited technology. They also believe that aliens are incapable of visiting the earth, because such trips would have to violate the laws of physics that govern our universe . In short, no amount of advanced technology (regardless of how many years one wants to project or speculate what future development may occur) can overcome some of the problems, such as the huge amounts of energy required to achieve even, say, a third of the speed of light, let alone faster than light. Also, at the high speeds required for interstellar travel, slowing or turning would involve huge g-forces, and a collision with even a tiny grain would be catastrophic (see Alien visitors to Earth? Not with the huge energy shortage and megaton dust bombs). Because of their pre-belief, this group is constrained to interpret UFO phenomena as misidentified manmade or naturalistic phenomena. This would include such things such as satellites, military aircraft or natural phenomena like lenticular clouds or the mysterious ball lightning that has even been seen to pass through walls. They might also think that some of the sightings are simply psychological delusions in the minds of those in groups 2 and possibly 3 (see below). In short, they must explain away any UFO sightings within their presupposition.
Then there are the UFO ‘true believers’ as I like to call them. This group most certainly believes in aliens and subscribes to the view that they have visited the earth sometime in its history (maybe even before man evolved—maybe they are even overseeing our evolution), or are presently visiting the earth. To them, because they desire aliens to be real, they tend to accept and force a view onto the evidence. This group is constrained to almost twist every sighting into a real alien visitation. I have mixed in these circles, and they don’t tend to let the facts get in the way of a good story. For instance, I have seen pictures of UFO sightings that have been adequately explained by natural phenomena or as a manmade hoax, such as crop circles, still being used as evidence of real ET visitations. This is because they think various authorities, and even people like me, are against the truth anyway and they often refuse to accept rational explanations, because these explanations are thought to be part of some cover up. Anyone who seeks or tries to prove alternative explanations to sightings being real ETs is summarily dismissed as a debunker and or part of the conspiracy. If one of these sightings was a supernatural occurrence at the hands of fallen angels, and as such, it defied the laws of physics and displayed supernatural characteristics, they would only see that as strong evidence for their case, by attributing the supernatural characteristics to some advanced or yet unknown technology that we lowly evolved and ignorant humans cannot understand yet.
Then there are Christians, who again have a predisposition with which they view the evidence. And I urge caution here. In my experience, most Christians over-spiritualize every sighting. Because we accept the supernatural/spiritual realm, and also understand that fallen angels are intent on deceiving mankind, there is a tendency to see a spiritual conspiracy behind every event. If we ‘demonize’ every UFO sighting or claim, then we will not be seen to be rational. Both groups 1 and 2 might say, for example, “Oh well, they have to say it’s spiritual because of their Christian beliefs”. That might be partly true for some sightings. But if we simply broad-brush every sighting and classify it as spiritual, rather than first applying a rigorous scientific approach (see more below), then we risk not being listened to. So, this third grouping is usually dismissed or marginalized by the other two on philosophical grounds to begin with, but I think also for the reasons I have just mentioned—that is, overspiritualization.
A wiser fourth approach
At the end of the day, a UFO is simply an unidentified flying object, but in the common vernacular it has come to mean an extraterrestrial spaceship piloted by aliens. So, here I would put myself into a kind of fourth camp, which is a hybrid of 1 and 3. Statistics always show that somewhere between 90–95% of all UFO sightings can be identified. And just because we can’t explain the remaining 5–10%, it does not automatically follow that it is something otherworldly or even spiritual. It might be because we simply don’t have access to all the facts at the present time. I have seen dozens of seemingly physics-defying sightings be explained later on in very simple ways as more evidence comes to light—some were just plain hoaxes. That’s another reason why Christians should take a cautious approach and not jump to an immediate spiritual explanation. Imagine applying a fallen-angel view to something that turns out to be a hoax. We would not be seen as credible.
I think we should actually start by taking the approach of group 1, and only resort to spiritual explanations when the facts demand it. For example, if alleged craft are seen to fly at speeds of over 1,000 mph (1,600kph) and merge into one another while doing these incredible speeds, or when they simply disappear into thin air or drop off radar screens etc. This is not possible for physical craft. Another example might be where alleged aliens have supposedly walked through the walls or ceilings during supposed abductions experiences.
So what should be our approach when someone claims to have seen a UFO? First, we should try to help people define what they mean when they say “I saw a UFO.” Do they mean simply that they saw an unidentified flying object, or do they mean an ET spaceship? For most non-believers they usually mean the latter. So we need to understand their pre-belief position first, so that we can offer the best explanation. In other words, investigate the actual event or get them to describe the nature of it so we can show that it was something more benign. If someone just saw lights in the sky, you can ask, “What did it do?”, “How do you know, or why do you believe it’s from another planet?” etc. Most people can’t explain why they believe it is an ET, but cultural conditioning and beliefs cause them to interpret in such a way. The major factors are the huge popularity of science fiction and its alien themes, and simply the belief that evolution must be occurring all over the universe. Try to help them see this, and once you can help them see that there was nothing about the sighting in and of itself that demands that it must be an ET spaceship, you could then explain why it is physically impossible for them to get here anyway (even if they did exist).
The next step, I’ve found, is to provide a little empathy and actually agree that there are some strange things that have been seen and that also defy naturalistic interpretations, although the percentage is very small. One can go on to explain that such things have been seen throughout history and that even non-Christian experts have said that the craft do not appear to be real physical or tangible craft. Then you can use the Bible as a lens to help them understand the spiritual realm and the battle that is going on. See also Alien Apologetics: How to answer believers in aliens, and should we?
In all my witnessing over the years, I’ve generally found this to be one of the toughest groups to reach due to pre-existing cultural presuppositions. However, people have had good success with our book Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection. I believe this is because most of the book deals rationally with many of the limiting factors in most sightings that show they can’t be real ET visitors. It also takes another look at the big UFO events of history that have shaped our popular cultural views of same. Because these major events have been instrumental in forming peoples’ views, if they are demolished, then it can help to demolish the foundation that an individual’s worldview is based on. Only after we have dismissed all other possibilities does the book introduce the spiritual nature of some sightings/abductions etc., and then try to show how people are being prepared for deception. We also provide actual evidence to show that some of these events are spiritual in nature. If you would like to know more I’d definitely recommend grabbing a copy. It’s comprehensive, yet a fairly easy read.
As an example, of how beliefs in UFO/aliens can affect someone’s view of their place in the world, I repeat here what Tracy H. wrote to me about her father:
Although my Dad grew up in a Bible-believing family, he had allowed evolutionary thinking and specifically, a belief in extraterrestrial life, to diminish the “God” that he believed in. If the Bible said nothing about evolution or the possibility of alien life, then Dad saw God as less than all-knowing and all-powerful. Sadly, Dad began to pick which books of the Bible he would believe and which books he would reject.
One night Dad came to a talk by Gary Bates on “Aliens, UFOs and the Bible” and he really connected with Gary’s insight into the alien phenomenon. When Gary started relating Scripture to the concept of alien life-forms, Dad was challenged to examine his beliefs. The church had never challenged him on this before. At first Dad was angry that God was no longer “just for Sunday morning”. … Four months later Dad repented, proclaimed his faith in the God who is all-knowing and all-powerful, and was baptized.
I would certainly agree with you though that the UFO phenomenon is growing and that we are seeing a rapid rise in the lay population believing in such things, as you saw in the main article you commented on. I also recommend reading Prepare ye the way—the aliens are coming! Popular fantasy becomes cultural ‘fact’, which highlights how these ideas have entered mainstream thought.
I hope all of this has helped.
The concept of extraterrestrial life, which is a subset of the evolutionary view, can lead people away from the Gospel. This is because such a view undermines what we can glean from the Scriptures about such things. As such, it is a foundational attack on the Gospel itself. For why this is the case and for other questions on this subject please read Did God create life on other planets? Otherwise why is the universe so big?
The extract below tells the story of Robert Prentiss, a Christian who believed in evolution and who had no problem with the idea of God evolving life on other planets (just as he believed God might have done on Earth millions of years ago). As such, he was vulnerable to deception. If this happens to Christians who do not take a Bible-first approach, then it should help us to realize how strongly these otherworldly ideas affect the secular culture and shapes people’s view of the universe and our place in it.
Extracted from Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection, Chapter 7.
Such an experience befell Robert Prentiss, a former California policeman with degrees in sociology, nursing, psychology, and counseling.
Shortly after he became a Christian, he and his wife saw a multitude of UFOs in a variety of shapes and colors over a period of weeks. After watching an apparent landing, they ventured to the site where they came upon an area of red-colored scorched earth with depressions in the ground. Prentiss said:
“During these weeks of tantalizing sightings, I became totally obsessed with the UFOs, convinced that something great was about to happen. I abandoned my daily Bible reading and turned my back on God” [emphasis in original].
Many evenings he would wait in anticipation of contact, waiting for some great event to happen, at the same time immersing himself in UFO literature. But the sightings stopped. Feeling betrayed, confused, and angry, Prentiss immersed himself in a debauched lifestyle and alcohol. Having abandoned his Christian lifestyle, he entered into a period of deep depression. In hindsight, he believes that God used these experiences to open his ‘spiritual’ eyes to a Bible-based world view. He says he realized he was being deceived:
“ … my thought processes were influenced … to embrace the concept of extraterrestrial beings with its concomitant theory of naturalistic evolution which would, of course, serve to negate the biblical truth that Christ died once for all. Since then … as I have allowed Jesus Christ to become Lord of my life … inner convictions have been reinforced through study of the Scriptures, as well as the preponderance of scientific evidence supporting the biblical account of creation” [emphasis in original].2
- Paul Davies, Radio interview quoted in R. Stannard, Science and Wonders: Conversations About Science and Belief, Faber and Faber Limited, London. Return to text.
- Cited in Bates, G., Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection, 6th printing, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, GA, USA, December 2011, pp 262–263. Return to text.