The New York Times issues yet another in a series of found-another-planet-out-there articles that have been steadily coming in from astronomers around the world. In this case, the team reports that the new planet is the “the most Earthlike planet yet to be discovered.” It seems that it’s just a matter of time before we detect planets that can support life. And you know what that means. Aliens. No, not flying saucers but worlds in which intelligent beings are thriving. Since at least Lucretius in the first century BCE this idea has captured our imagination. In his epic poem On the Nature of Things he wrote:
“And now, if store of seeds there is so great that not whole life-times of the living can count the tale… [then it] must be confessed in other realms there are still other worlds, still other breeds of men, and other generations of the wild.”
There is a unique theological conundrum here for Christians that Jews and Muslims escape: of what value is the incarnation if there are thousands (perhaps millions) of other worlds in the universe with intelligent life? Perhaps there were multiple incarnations—a million deaths on a million crosses—in a sort of macabre cosmological Groundhog Day.
Or maybe out of all of the “other breeds of men” we’re the only ones who screwed up so badly that God found it necessary to take on the form of a man, sacrifice himself as a blood offering, so that he could then turn around and take receipt of that offering as forgiveness for everyone. (That’s like a son who borrows a bunch of money from his father and so the father decides to forgive the debt by withdrawing everything from his savings account on Tuesday and then depositing it back in on Wednesday.)
In any case, the aliens are coming. Christians had better get their story straight now so they’re on the same page when they finally arrive.