Alien Evangelism

Alien Evangelism December 8, 2013

The notion of humans evangelizing extraterrestrials, or vice versa, has been a staple of science fiction for some time. IO9 recently shared the above depiction of such a scene. What do you think would happen? How do you think the conversation would unfold?

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  • newenglandsun

    I had a teacher in high school and I asked her opinion on aliens. I assume she is a Methodist because she went to Indiana Wesleyan University. But any way, she was describing her views on the issues and how she believes that what we call aliens are in actuality demons.

    So…using that information, how would humans evangelize to aliens? A) Questioning if they were angels or mistaking them as such if they were “nice” aliens or B) Exorcising them as demons. In other words, would religious humans even think of them as being entirely natural? I doubt it.

    • WillBell

      When they realized that sprinkling holy water on them wasn’t making them hiss wouldn’t they realize that they weren’t demons? My understanding is that exorcisms are supposed to be 100% effective (my fundamentalist neighbour at least says that demons are easily cast out by ‘true christians’).

      • newenglandsun

        Probably. I think a Christian who possesses a higher sense of faith is more qualified than a Christian’s who’s faith is low. I wouldn’t say either are false Christians. Technically, baptism is considered an exorcism by at least Greek Catholics (which would mean that Latin Catholics and Eastern Orthodox also follow suit).

      • newenglandsun

        Here it is.

        Category: baptismal exorcism

        • WillBell

          Baptism isn’t to get the demons out, only original sin. It says that in your article.

  • GRobinson

    There’s no reason to think the aliens wouldn’t be under the same normative revelation and that they have shown up to evangelize us. (That’s a CS Lewis thing btw)

    In the scene above, what if they were engaged in dialogue? What if the aliens had their own savior?

    • spinkham

      Really, no reasons at all? Just for a few of the most obvious reasons, how about the fact that the great majority of humans alive at this time disagree about what is revelation with no majority viewpoint, and that about half of people who ever lived lived before the time of Jesus, most of whom would have had very different concepts of the divine and revelation? If there is a god who wanted to give humans some sort of revelation, quite frankly he’s bad enough at it that it sure looks an awful lot like there isn’t one.

      C.S. Lewis might be excused his colonial view of the superiority of his tribe’s beliefs because of the times he lived in, but it’s much harder to make that argument today.

      • newenglandsun

        “the great majority of humans alive at this time disagree about what is revelation”

        This assumes that religions base their entire arguments for their truth claims on revelation alone. While some do, most religions use a heavy dose of reason along with their arguments. Hinduism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, etc., all base the arguments for their revelation entirely on reason. Unless you think that St. Thomas Aquinas never used any sense of reasoning in explaining his theories. This is because a grand majority of reasons teach that reason is a gift of God and this enables us to find the revealed truth through analyzing all possible varieties. This argument simply destroys the entire purpose of what religion is – “a way of life, something that draws back to God, a set of repetitions, etc.” and reduces the definition to “an unreasonable set of claims”.

        “no majority viewpoint”

        The link notes that 33% of all people on this planet entertain some form of Christianity. Not all are considered orthodox variations so you may have a point here but regardless, a majority opinion does not equal a “right” viewpoint. A right viewpoint is again established by using reason and examining through all the various possibilities.

        “about half of people who ever lived lived before the time of Jesus”

        Better read some C.S. Lewis. The argument already assumes that there is a right belief about Jesus and his teachings and the vast majority of those professing as Christians apparently have it wrong. Orthodox Christian thought teaches that Jesus is God and so existed even before his birth. Note that most Christians generally believe that God only judges based on what he has chosen to reveal to others. Hence, why Pope Francis made the statement of atheists going to Heaven recently. Also, C.S. Lewis’s final installment in his Chronicles of Narnia series throws a Narnian equivalent of a pagan into the Narnian equivalent of Heaven and a Narnian equivalent of a Christian into the Narnian equivalent of Hell.

        “If there is a god who wanted to give humans some sort of revelation, quite frankly he’s bad enough at it that it sure looks an awful lot like there isn’t one”

        Either that or this god also wanted to give people the free will to reject him or the reason to explore other various alternatives and determine which came closest to the truth.

        “C.S. Lewis might be excused his colonial view of the superiority of his tribe’s beliefs”

        What were his tribal beliefs again any way?

        • spinkham

          Sorry it’s taken me a bit to respond. It’s hard to do so and stay on the topic at hand and not get dragged down a billion bunny trails. I’ve done my best. 😉

          I’m not making a comprehensive claim that Christianity is wrong here, only that the fact that a god, if one exists, doesn’t even seem to even want to spread his revelation to the vast majority of people groups who ever have lived does give us reason to think he may not have spread it to interstellar aliens also. If he can’t or won’t make it across the river or ocean, assuming he would have gone billions of light years is probably a little much to expect.

          I will make one point about your “reasons” though, because it’s related to the topic at hand: Do you think Aquinas, raised in another culture without a claimed revelation, would have come to the same conclusions? If so, where are the examples of this happening? Aquinas starts from Aristotelian metaphysics and ends up with theistic conclusions. He’s was a pretty smart guy, but the catch is there’s no good reason for us to accept Aristotelian metaphysics, so his whole project falls apart. Also, coming up to the modern day, why do the greatest Christian philosophers alive today, Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne, disagree so vehemently about Christian epistemology, both writing scathing rebuttals where they claim the other’s claimed way of knowing is totally useless? Plantinga demolishes Swinburne’s evidential case, and Swinburne likewise Plantinga’s “god told me so” case. The non-believer has very little work left to do!

          This one is relevant to “tribal beliefs”:

          Either that or this god also wanted to give people the free will to reject him or the reason to explore other various alternatives and determine which came closest to the truth.

          Sure, the vast majority of people who ever lived are “rejecting him because of their free will”. See, *that’s* a great example of what a tribal certainty is and leads to: The need to paint everyone else as evil to justify your own belief.

          The other alternative you mention makes it seem like God doesn’t really care if the vast majority of people who have every lived are wrong about him. That’s more believable anyway, and more palatable to the modern mind, but it doesn’t square with the vast majority of Christian teaching and seems an awfully post hoc hypothesis. Yes, there always have been universalists and other fringe beliefs, but they’ve always been fringe. To the example you list in your other post, yes, the magisterium of the Catholic church in recent years says all are saved through the Catholic church, but that some may be saved outside of it’s direct physical influence, but that’s a *very* recent change.

          Every tribe is equally sure their tribe is correct. There are blistering arguments in epistemology about the significance of epistemic peer disagreement, but given many of the findings of cognitive science about our capacity for totally oblivious self-deception and cultural cognition, it should at least give us pause.

  • spinkham

    Depends on where and when this is. I think if our species is to survive long enough to go to the stars, we have to drop our tribal certainties. The only way for this to be a likely scenario is for us us to be sharing our questions, not our answers, and that’s not really evangelism by most definitions.

    • newenglandsun

      “I think if our species is to survive long enough to go to the stars, we have to drop our tribal certainties.”

      Explain what you mean by this.

      “The only way for this to be a likely scenario is for us us to be sharing our questions, not our answers, and that’s not really evangelism by most definitions.”

      Most evangelization, to be effective involves both things. If we exchange questions we just get something looking this:

      “How are you today?”
      “How are you?”
      “What did you today?”
      “What did you have for breakfast?”
      “What are you planning on having for lunch?”
      “When are you eating dinner?”
      “Did you see the game?”
      “Did you play in it?”

      Etc. Effective communication requires answers and questions. A religious example would be something like:

      “Why is there evil and suffering?”
      “Why are there tornados?”
      “Do animals have souls?”
      “Do humans have them?”
      “Does God exist?”
      “Does Camelot exist?”
      “Are there dragons?”
      “Are there angels?”
      “Are there demons?”

      You see what happens when reduce ourselves to “just” questions. There’s no way for us to even understand one another’s beliefs.

      • spinkham

        Sure, answers are interesting, but not anywhere near as important as the reasons and epistemological framework behind them.

        Things I’d love to see in an interaction with an alien life form:

        Questions we haven’t thought of yet.

        Well evidenced answers to questions we still have unanswered.

        Even better, improved ways of knowing we haven’t thought of with evidence they work.

        I’m doubtful that when it comes to religious questions we’re likely to find much of either, but I’d be happy to be wrong.

        Finding out their beliefs would be interesting in passing, but we already have so many unaligned beliefs on our own planet it’s unlikely to be earth-shaking. I’d rather find out what they know.

        For more on what I mean by tribal certainties and why I consider them dangerous, terror management theory is all about how these tribal certainties function and how they cause violence, and it’s one of the most strongly evidenced theories in psychology. There’s an excellent documentary you can watch for free on Hulu called “Flight From Death” that’s a pretty good introduction if you’re interested.

        I’m sure you don’t recognize your beliefs as cultural byproducts or death-defying ideologies, I didn’t when I was a Christian either. That is how they appear from a sociological and experimental psychological point of view though, and those points of view have much more explanatory power over the world as we find it than any of the competing tribal certainties do.

        • newenglandsun

          “I’m sure you don’t recognize your beliefs as cultural byproducts or death-defying ideologies, I didn’t when I was a Christian either.”

          Maybe I don’t view it that way because they don’t appear that way from a sociological or psychological point of view (I still think the field of psychology is bunk BTW). For instance, you have converts to Christianity, you have Christians in Africa who are black, you have Arab Christians, Greek Christians, Asian Christians, the list could go on.

          Christianity was founded by a Jew (whether Jesus or Paul) and you have WHITE guys in America professing Christianity?!? You either have not studied sociology, studied religion, or are just buying into what some whacko said who has no clue what he’s talking about. That’s exactly what I always did when I was an atheist.

          You have an argument when you talk about something like Judaism but for the vast majority of religions out there, your argument is in serious need of fact checking (Islam is another one that defies your statistics especially considering I’ve known a white Muslim).

        • newenglandsun

          Gathering at the violence though, some religious people are violent most aren’t. Some atheists are violent. There is no credible historian in existence who has made the claim that Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot believed in a deity. I’d recommend reading some of Alister McGrath’s work. He actually used to think like you before he converted to Anglicanism.

          • spinkham

            That not all ideologies are what western monotheists like to think of as religions is not surprising, or proof in any way that religion is more than a tribal certainty.

            Also, you’ve missed the point: not all religion causes all people to be violent, but it causes an in-group out-group aggression that can manifest in violence.

            I don’t like some kinds of psychology either, but TMT is experimental psychology, and backed up by at least 600 or so experimental based, peer reviewed papers. You can not like it, but that’s as useful as not likeing the sky being blue.

            If you want an explanation and attempted defense from a Christian point of view, see the work of Richard Beck, especially his The Authenticities of Faith.

            I’ll quote a bit from his conclusion:

            This is the dynamic described above, a retreat into a new absolutism that allows us to escape from the existential burden of a relativizing pluralism. This is the allure of fundamentalism in modernity. Fundamentalism helps us cope with the anxiety caused by the relativizing encounter with Otherness in our pluralistic world. At the end of the day, fundamentalism is embraced for the existential consolation it provides.

            As Berger and Zijderveld summarize: This is the great refusal of relativization. The proponents of the various versions of neo-absolutism have very seductive messages: “Do you feel lost in the ‘patchwork’ of religious possibilities? Here, surrender to the one true faith that we offer you, and you’ll find yourself at peace with the world.” Comparable messages are on offer to allay the vertigo of choice in morality, politics, lifestyles. And the message isn’t lying: Fanatics are more at peace, less torn, than those who struggle daily with the challenges of relativity. This peace, however, comes with a price. (2009, p. 47)

            We already know what this price is: worldview defense, the stigmatization of Otherness and difference. These suspicions about out-group members scale up to affect the whole of society. Society becomes ideologically balkanized, with individuals seeking ideological reassurances from the like-minded. These ideological groups and their suspicions about each other make modern societies increasingly unstable and prone to conflict. As Berger and Zijderveld describe it, “The final outcome may be all-out civil strife, between radicalized subcultures and the majority society, and/or between/among the several subcultures themselves” (2009, p. 86).

            –Beck, Richard (2012-01-10). The Authenticity of Faith: The Varieties and Illusions of Religious Experience (pp. 256-257). Abilene Christian University Press. Kindle Edition.

            He supports in the end a kind of lightly held belief that attempts to minimize this problem, which is something I have no problem with. We will all always take up one death-defying ideology or another: the alternative is to die. The best we can all do is understand the ourselves and the other as deeply as possible and internalize deeply the idea that it’s possible we’re wrong.

            Sorry, read McGrath, not impressed at all. He makes arguments that sound good to in-group members who don’t know much about much of what we’ve learned in the past 30 or so years about the human condition, but really misses the point entirely for those of us who haven’t. He does make valid points against some equally tone deaf atheists who want to blame everything on traditional religion and are blind to their own ideologies, but then he gets into the weeds real fast trying to defend his own view.

          • newenglandsun

            That was my first impression of McGrath too.

            I’m a misanthrope so I was biased toward the misanthropic position. I like Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene for that.

    • guest

      I have a feeling that any community isolated on a spaceship for years would develop their own religion. Imagine being on a spaceship heading for some unseen planet that’s just a pinprick of light, with nothing but your own thoughts for company. Assuming it’s a generation ship, you’ve never seen the origin planet, and it could easily seem like a myth to you. We have no idea what the stresess of long term space travel would do to humans, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some sort of new, hybrid religion that focused on contemplation and other rituals to alliviate boredom would develop. Probably a mix of Hinduism, Orthodox Christianity, Protestant Christianity and Confusianism/Buddhism, judging from the main players in the space race today (India, Russia, the USA and China). It would be light on idols (because you need a little baggage as possible in a spaceship) and heavy on studying the holy text (you can fit them all on a Kindle), contemplation, meditation, recitation of liturgy and hymn-singing.

  • A conversation. Man: Do you believe in God? Alien: Indeed. At the feast we are preparing all mankind will meet, The Creator.

    A Student: I’ve seen what must be the alien bible, and I believe these advanced beings are truly honest when offering to become mankind’s benefactors in peace and prosperity. My college professor has been working hard deciphering their written language and so far he thinks the title of the book is, “How To Plant Corn.”

    Further deciphering. “The Creator.” A laser-bopping people chopper.

    Me: I don’t believe God would allow an advanced intelligent race to make direct contact with 21st century humans. Not until we have decimated the planet and destroyed ourselves, and the remaining survivors humble and penitent, crawl out of the corn field.

  • Just Sayin’

    Finally watched ‘District 9’ last night. Come to think of it, it lacked an evangelist human, or any religious content at all — a serious flaw. But that’s how a lot of secularists write these days: religion doesn’t exist for them so it doesn’t exist for anybody, alien or human.

    • spinkham

      There’s plenty of religion, from the Nigerians who think they can get the powers of others by eating their flesh, to the corporate leaders who will gladly sacrifice their son in law for the good of the company.

      None of it is monotheistic and holy book driven, but that’s a small minority of religions anyway.

      • newenglandsun

        Most religions aren’t evangelistic. Judaism and Buddhism to name a couple. The Nigerian tribal religions aren’t really evangelistic either.

      • Just Sayin’

        The Nigerian stuff is more correctly considered magic, or even pseudo-science, rather than religion, and the corporate leaders show no signs of religion at all.

        • spinkham

          What is your definition of religion? It’s hard to come up with one where communities who have ideas central to their practices about essentalism & digestion do not count, but communities who have important practices where words, thoughts, and songs offered up to an invisible being does. Both are magic and pseudo-science to outsiders.

          Likewise, the corporate leaders have a shared belief that the most important thing is the need to do good by the cooperate entity and a shared ethic and lifestyle built around that. You may consider such worship of the corporation as less worthy than your own chosen death-defying ideology, but it’s hard to craft a generally useful definition of a religion that can tell a difference.

          • Just Sayin’

            Unless religion is defined (arbitrarily) as “beliefs leading to morally bad acts”, none of the corporations actions are religious anymore than Nazi experimentation on humans was religious.

            There are free online courses such as this one:

            which will help you differentiate between religion and magic.

          • spinkham

            Here’s some definitions of religions from important thinkers of the past hundred or so years:


            I tend to favor one like this:

            “Religion signifies those ways of viewing the world which refer to (1) a notion of sacred reality (2) made manifest in human experience (3) in such a way as to produce long-lasting ways of thinking, feeling, and acting (4) with respect to problems of ordering and understanding existence.”

            and find Becker’s argument’s compelling:

            “culture itself is sacred, since it is the ‘religion’ that assures in some way the perpetuation of its members.” “Culture is in this sense ‘supernatural,’ and all systems of culture have in the end the same goal: to raise men above nature, to assure them that in some ways their lives count in the universe more than merely physical things count.”

            You’ve neatly sidestepped the question of how you’re defining religion and why you think it should be so defined.

          • Just Sayin’

            As has often been pointed out by sociologists and historians, ‘religion’ is an abstraction that can’t be adequately defined. There is no ‘religion’, there are only religions.

  • Gary

    “A conversation. Man: Do you believe in God? Alien: Indeed. At the feast we are preparing all mankind”…reminds me of The Twilight Zone, “To Serve Man”, which turns out to be a cook book. Assuming aliens arrive, they will be more advanced than us, and non homo sapiens. Using us as the example, all non Homo sapiens species we have met, have usually ended up as food for us. Can’t use salient being as an excuse. If cows could talk, we’d still eat them. Too tasty.

    • guest

      Pigs have passed the mirror test under some definitions, meaning they are possibly self-aware, and people still eat them, so yeah. Octopus also, quite intelligent, still lunch. But I assume that any alien race that can work out how to get to us would also be able to work out how to grow their own food in the spaceship. We might be poisonous to them anyway.

      When you look at how humans have treated other humans, especially ones with inferior technology, then it’s hard not to imagine that aliens might be just as bad, or worse. Slavery and mass murder come to mind.

      On the other hand, it’s a long way to come just to do things like that. If we’re lucky, they’ll be scientists, and just dissect us instead.

      • Gary

        Yea, agreed. I was also thinking of dolphin, with language, social structure, and we still eat them (infamous killing of dolphin in Japan). Of course, killer whales at sea world kept for our entertainment may be our fate, when aliens come knocking.

  • guest

    I think it’s a huge leap of faith to think we could even have a conversation in the first place. Any alien would be more different from us than an octopus or a palm tree, because these creatures at least evolved on the same planet and we share a common lineage with them. Trying to concieve a properly alien alien is a bit like trying to describe God. That thing in the picture is just a gray, lumpy human.

    There’s no reason to imagine that an intelligent being would walk upright or that it would communicate by talking. Dolphins seem to have a kind of language but we need sophisticated equipment to understand it, since they use sound frequecies we can’t hear. Ants communicate with chemicals, bees with dancing. I imagine that if we found aliens with language it would take several hundred years to decode it.

    Then there’d be the culture aspect. The most basic things we take for granted might be different. How would you explain the virgin birth to aliens that hatch from eggs? How do you explain male and female gender roles to a species that might not even have males and females? On earth there are animals with more than two sexes, some which are both, some which start out male and become female…who knows what other weirdness is out there in the universe? Trying to explain crucifiction to beings that had never heard of the Romans would be interesting. It would be a bit like evangelising to Chinese people or some uncontacted tribe in the jungle…except if you met an alien, then differences between you and an amazon tribesperson would seem trivial in comparison.

    Of course you’re assuming that aliens have souls, which is uncertain. I don’t believe in souls personally, but from what I’ve read, many religions claim only humans have them, being a special creation. Finding another sentient, intelligent species might be a shock for those religions. Faiths like Hinduism, Buddhism or Scientology would find it easier.

    It’s a fascinating concept but I doubt it will happen in any of our lifetimes because space is really big. We won’t even be on Mars until 2050, if we’re lucky.

  • GakuseiDon

    Kind of related to the topic: Link below to a trailer for a 2012 Japanese anime movie, called “The Mystic Laws”. Using alien technology, a new leader in China starts to build a global empire. Our only hope? A Japanese man who is the reincarnation of Buddha!:

    I don’t know much about it, but apparently the movie was produced by a new religious group in Japan, whose founder believes himself the reincarnation of Buddha. So I’d expect some evangelising.

  • texcee

    Remember that scene in the old 1953 version of “War of the Worlds”, where the preacher walks out to the Martian machine, reciting the 23rd Psalm … and gets fried for his trouble? Yeah, THAT.