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Do UFOs exist? Logic, physics, Scripture, and gratitude for divine grace

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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A UFO hovers within clouds above a busy highway
© sherri lynn herrmann/EyeEm/stock.adobe.com

On this day in 1977, the world changed forever. That was the day when we first saw on movie screens the words, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .” Then came the iconic logo for “STAR WARS” and John Williams’ unforgettable orchestral music I can hear in my mind as I type these words.

The movie received seven Oscars and grossed close to $800 million worldwide. It made Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Darth Vader as famous as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy—to younger audiences, perhaps even more so. 

What we saw on movie screens, we’re now watching on the daily news. 

“We don’t know exactly what they are” 

Last summer, the US Defense Department issued a news release with the headline “Establishment of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force.” Its mission “is to detect, analyze, and catalog UAPs that could potentially pose a threat to US national security.” UAPs, in case you’re wondering, is government-speak for Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFOs. 

The Senate Intelligence Committee then called for the director of national intelligence to produce a report on everything government agencies know about UFOs; that report is due sometime next month. 

In the meantime, numerous media sites are reporting on Air Force and Navy pilot videos showing unexplained objects traveling at unusual speeds and performing unexplainable aerial maneuvers. Former President Barack Obama even told a late-night TV host, “There is footage and records of objects in the skies that we don’t know exactly what they are.” The New Yorker recently published a feature-length article on the subject. 

A former Department of Defense official who investigated UAP phenomena for nearly a decade claims that the technology on display is much more advanced than anything currently used by the US military. It is the physics-defying aspect of these reported sightings that raises the question of alien civilizations.  

However, the logic of such visitations is challenging. A research fellow with Columbia University named Richard Hanania claims that UFOs are not real. His reasoning considers three options: 

  1. Aliens visit this planet and want to be discovered.
  2. Aliens visit our planet but don’t care if they are discovered because they’re too advanced and physics-defying to care what humans think.
  3. Aliens visit this planet and don’t want to be discovered.

He dismissed option 1: aliens advanced enough to visit our planet are advanced enough to leave much stronger evidence than we have. He also rules out number 2, since a common theme of these sightings is that when cameras lock onto the “aliens,” they fly away and disappear. He notes that number 3 is unlikely: such advanced beings would do a better job of avoiding radar and US military pilots. 

The Fermi paradox and our fine-tuned planet 

However, it’s the theological logic behind this debate that especially interests me today. 

Those who believe aliens are visiting us typically claim that the odds of life evolving through natural selection are high. In their view, there is no reason to presuppose that aliens could not exist and could not be visiting our planet. Their claim presupposes that life happens anywhere in the universe that conditions are right; it ignores or sometimes rejects any necessity for a Creator. 

To the contrary: as John Stonestreet notes, “The universe we live in has properties one would expect if it were, in fact, designed by a God who had us in mind when he made the place.” John points to the work of Cambridge-educated philosopher of science Stephen Meyer and others. They demonstrate scientifically that gravity, electromagnetism, nuclear forces, and other laws are precisely calibrated to make life possible. A naturalistic worldview simply cannot explain the fine-tuned nature of the universe we inhabit. 

In addition, the Fermi paradox (named after Italian-American physicist Enrico Fermi) asks: If so many planets exist that apparently could support life, why do we have no conclusive proof of life on any of them? 

So, let’s reframe the question: Did God make life on other planets? 

If aliens exist, Jesus made them 

Our answer involves three theological facts. 

One: If aliens exist, Jesus made them. 

We know from God’s word that in Christ “all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). This is the case everywhere in the universe. 

Two: If aliens have free will, they need a Savior. 

Freedom requires choices, in this case between good and evil. Finite beings will inevitably choose evil, which breaks their relationship with their holy Creator. Their fallen status requires the atonement of a sinless Savior, namely Jesus (Hebrews 4:15). 

Thus, if aliens exist on other planets, Jesus would have to die for them as well. In addition, they would need to know of his atonement so they could choose to trust him as their Lord and Savior. 

Three: The Bible is a practical book. 

It does not tell us what happened to the dinosaurs or the size of the universe. Clearly, we don’t need to know if aliens exist in order to have the personal relationship with God for which we were created (John 1:12). 

Why the cosmos was created 

Here’s my bottom line: I am not aware of a biblical text that categorically vetoes the possibility of life on other planets. However, the logic of such life, combined with the uniqueness of our planet and the necessity of Jesus’ atonement for such beings, leaves me highly doubtful that aliens exist. 

I agree with Dr. Albert Mohler’s assertion: “There is nothing in Scripture that says there can’t be some form of life somewhere. But what we are told is that the cosmos was created in order that on this planet Jesus Christ, in space and time and history, would come to save sinful humanity.” 

Not only did Jesus make and save humanity, he also made you. Not because our planet needed another human, but because Jesus wanted you to exist. 

Not only that: he died for you. 

Not only that: if you were the only person who had ever sinned, he would have died only for you. 

Do these facts evoke the deepest sense of gratitude in your soul? 

If not, why not?

NOTE: For more on God’s grace and our response, please see my article, “American Idol crowns surprising winner Chayce Beckham: The present-tense path to God’s best future.” For practical ways to respond to God’s grace by offering grace to others, please see my article, “Sen. Rand Paul receives death threat: Grief for our culture and the urgency of civility.”