Aliens Among Us? - Part 3
Erich von Däniken popularized the idea that the appearances of God in the Bible were actually UFO encounters. Primitive man, so the story goes, was not able to grapple with the great technology of extraterrestrial visitors, and therefore mistook these aliens for divine beings. Thus the miracles and wonders of the Bible quite likely took place, and needn't be denied. They must simply be reinterpreted in light of current knowledge and the presumed technology of our space brothers.
The God-astronaut theory has been promoted by others as well. More recently, Zecharia Sitchin has taken up a line of argument in which the God of Scripture is replaced by a god of immense technology. This idea is also fostered by numerous television shows and movies. Those who approach the Bible with this presupposition find it quite easy to interpret a cloud as a spaceship, or a resurrection as a feat of medical genius. Proponents of this theory are committed to finding UFOs—convinced as they are that biblical religion is a record of extraterrestrial creatures, not an all-powerful deity.
That the God of the Bible might have actually been some sort of alien life form is an increasingly popular thought. Besides the numerous books on the subject, there have been of late a variety of science fiction programs making similar claims. One recent television show (presumably fictional) tells of an Episcopal pastor who is forced to face up to the reality that UFOs may invalidate all of his previously held religious beliefs. The underlying assumption is that traditional Christian interpretations will have to be abandoned because all of life's mysteries will be explainable in terms of advanced extraterrestrial visitors. This episode highlights what many people believe, that UFOs are the missing link in the quest to know more about man's origin and place in the universe. After all, if UFOs are capable of such amazing feats, traditional religion might be seen as meaningless. Many, many people are being exposed to this type of pseudo-scientific mentality. Discerning Christians know such influence affects the way people think about matters of ultimate importance. Therefore, believers must learn to counter the arguments for outer space religion.
Throughout history there have been many attempts to deny or twist the Christian message. During the early years of the Church, various heterodox teachings arose concerning God, Christ, and the locus of divine revelation. Fortunately the Church (in God's grace and providence) responded by grounding its theological formulations in the apostolic testimony derived from Scripture.
In recent times, the attacks have been of a more skeptical nature. Surely, the biblical writings aren't to be accepted at face value. Modern man cannot be expected to believe the Scriptures record literal truth. Along these lines, many now-famous arguments have been devised by which we can "better understand" what the Bible records. Jesus' resurrection, for instance, has been interpreted in many ways. Some prefer to believe that the resurrection is nothing more than a fable added to the Christian tradition long after the fact. Others have conjured up elaborate explanations in order to deny the historical evidence. Of course, one major problem with these theories is that they tend to ignore all or part of the Bible's story line. As might be expected, then, many Christian apologists have displayed the inconsistencies and contradictions inherent in these liberal theologies.
UFO religion, however, represents an entirely different brand of attack on historical Christianity. Proponents of the God-astronaut hypothesis don't necessarily reject the basic historicity of the Old and New Testaments. In that sense, they represent a less skeptical brand of interpretation. In fact, they often attempt to assimilate biblical events into their theories. Rather than attacking its contents and denying its basis in history, they accept much (if not all) of what the Bible records. At the same time, though, there is a strong denial that God is all the Scriptural writers claim He is. Proponents of the God-astronaut theory do this by plugging the UFO phenomenon/extraterrestrial hypothesis into the biblical text. There reasoning is something as follows: The people of Bible times were, for the most part, sincere and reliable individuals. Therefore what they record is probably, in the main, an accurate reflection of what they thought they had witnessed. Their limitation, though, was that they didn't have the technological know-how of modern man, and so they erred in their interpretations of what actually transpired. In other words, the biblical authors/characters had enough sense to know they had observed "something," but recorded their observations in light of their own antiquated presuppositions. They weren't able to identify a space ship, so they labeled it a cloud. Miracles were merely the misidentified medical practices of an advanced alien culture.
The God-Astronaut hypothesis (and the religion it spawns) represents a very clever attempt to deal with the biblical data, while simultaneously denying its very basis. On the surface such an argument looks plausible. But closer scrutiny reveals some glaring weakness in the theory of religion from the stars.
1. Those who want to find UFOs everywhere in the Bible are usually quite sloppy when it comes to interpreting the biblical texts.
Because their ultimate allegiance is elsewhere, UFO enthusiasts are not usually careful students of Scripture. For many, the alien agenda has so consumed them that they are unable to honestly interpret a passage. Thus they tend to construct flawed interpretations of historical events, and so misrepresent the original author's meaning.
The only sure way to accurately interpret the Bible (or any literature) is by letting it speak for itself. In other words, the only valid guide to interpretation is exegesis. This means interpreters must not force their assumptions into the text. The goal, rather, must be to determine what the biblical authors intended to convey by the words they penned. Fanciful interpretations may capture the imagination, but they misrepresent the Bible's message.
One common example where ufologists mishandle a biblical text is the now famous case of Ezekiel's encounter with God (Ezekiel 1:4ff). Those who wish to find flying saucers in the ancient writings look for support in such places as this. Ezekiel's "wheels," for instance, are thought to be UFOs. A closer look at the passage, however, shows how fallacious this interpretation is. The so-called UFOs are actually part of a vision which Ezekiel receives from God (v. 1). A vision, of course, is not an actual physical manifestation, as would be the case, presumably, in a UFO encounter. In fact, Ezekiel's companions apparently remained unaware of what had transpired. Therefore, what might sound like evidence to be marshaled in favor of the UFO phenomenon is actually nothing of the sort. "By picking some elements out of context, reading into the particular verses things you want to see, and by frankly manipulating the words of the text to suggest something that it is not, then it is possible to claim this was an alien spacecraft. . . . This all shows the danger of inaccurate research."
2. If UFOs are responsible for the contents of the biblical record we are left with the same problem which C.S. Lewis defined years ago, the tri-lemma.
A number of years ago, C. S. Lewis spoke of what has often been referred to as the trilema of Christ. Many in his day (and in ours as well) tried to manufacture a Jesus devoid of the supernatural, a man with admirable qualities but only a man. Such has often been the case. Whatever the specifics, men seek to reconstruct Jesus in a manner which fits their preconceived notions. Not surprisingly, He is nearly always portrayed as something less than divine.
But Jesus hasn't left us with such an ambiguous portrait of Himself. No man could make the claims He made and still be considered a good and honest individual. This is where the trilema comes into play. Either Jesus was not telling the truth when He claimed to be the Son of God—in which case He was a colossal liar. Or He sincerely believed Himself to be that which He obviously was not—thus inviting the label of delusional. Or He was who He claimed to be—the eternal Word made flesh, the Lord from heaven (John 1:14). These are the only reasonable options: Lord, liar, or lunatic. Lewis's famous words are worth quoting:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher; but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg.—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Obviously, since Jesus is neither deceiver nor crazy man, He must be the divine Messiah.
This same truth applies when considering the claims that Jesus was actually an alien, and not the Son of God. Here is a theory which promotes the belief that Jesus was an honest individual, a teacher of righteousness. But what of his stupendous claims, claims of equality with God and the like (Mark 2:5; John 5:23; 8:58)? To deny He uttered such words contradicts the wealth of evidence to the contrary. Acknowledging that Jesus made such claims but deceived his hearers in doing so, puts us back in "Lewis territory." How could a good man, a wonderful model of all that is right, be so outlandishly misguided or deceptive when it comes to his very identity? Good men tend not to promote their own worship. Descent people aren't apt to freely accept adoration. Men of marvelous character don't make claims of deity. The Jesus was an alien concept just doesn't make sense. If He was an alien (or was manipulated by them—the situation remains the same either way), Christendom must face up to what must be the most devastating act of deception in the history of mankind. And all fairminded individuals must ask why a supposedly advanced race, in its attempts to assist humanity, would so mislead us. Why would they build us up only to dash all of our hopes? Again, the theory is neither logically nor psychologically plausible.
3. The people of Bible times are not to be classified as ignorant and uninformed. Had they truly encountered alien craft or some such thing, they would have been able to convey that fact adequately.
Many assume that the people of Bible times were backward and ill equipped to accurately describe their experiences. Therefore technological marvels would appear to them as miracles. But this goes against the available evidence. Though ancient peoples didn't posses advanced scientific knowledge, they did have enough common sense to know the difference between, say, a saucer-shaped object and a cloud. If the biblical writers had truly encountered the aliens described by many ufologists, they would have been able to give reasonably accurate, albeit pre-scientific, descriptions of their experiences. Yet there is little that resembles a full-fledged, modern UFO sighting.
There will always be those who look for (and expect to find!) a demon (or UFO) around every corner. But an evenhanded approach looks for a more sure basis for belief than mere conjecture. Of course UFOs may not be extraterrestrial visitors. Instead, they may be better explained as part of a spiritual control system. If so, the mechanism which undergirds the UFO phenomenon may well have played a (sinister?) role in the unfolding of biblical events.
4. The Bible and the God of the Bible have changed far too many lives to be relegated to the category of alien history. Furthermore, the internal consistency and inherent authority of Scripture argue for a divine rather than an extraterrestrial or merely human explanation of its existence.
There is more to apologetics than defending the faith. Christians also have the responsibility of going on the offensive. That is, it is important to lay out the Bible's story line in such a way that its inherent beauty and consistencies are manifest to all who are willing to see. Biblical Christianity has a remarkable record in that it has been the impetus to positive change in the lives of countless millions throughout history. Individuals, families, even nations, have been forever transformed by the truths of Scripture. The Bible makes claims and promises which have been validated in the lives of different people from many backgrounds in every age. Surely this argues for a divine rather than a high-tech explanation of its origin. Only God can change a human heart; the Bible has been the divine instrument to that end (e.g., Psalm 19:7-11; 119:1, 9, 89, 97, 114).
The Bible's contents are also a marvelous thing to behold. While we shouldn't minimize the doctrinal disputes which have arisen throughout Church history, it is none-the-less true that the Bible displays an inner coherence. Its teachings make sense; they fit together. The countless volumes on theology are evidence that the Bible is no ordinary book. This, in turn, supports a divine rather than an extraterrestrial explanation for its existence.
The idea of life from outer space has not gone unchallenged. Before closing this section, therefore, it might be helpful to list some of the authors who debunk the God-Astronaut thesis. These include the following:
Alnor, William. UFOs & The New Age: Extraterrestrial Messages and the Truth of Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992.
Boa, Ken and William Proctor. The Return of the Star of Bethlehem. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980.
Lewis, James R., ed. The God's Have Landed: New Religions from Outer Space. New York: State University of the New York Press, 1995.
Rose, Fr. Seraphim. Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future. Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1975.
Story, Ronald. The Space-Gods Revealed. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1977.
Wilkinson, David. Alone in the Universe? Crowborough: Monarch Publications, 1997.
Wilson, Clifford. Crash Go the Chariots. New York: Lancer Books, 1972.
________. The Alien Agenda. 1974; New York: Penguin Books, 1988.
________. The Chariots Still Crash. Old Tappan, NJ: Spire Books, 1975.
Wimbish, David. Something's Going On Out There. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company Publishers, 1990.
As many of these authors argue, the substitute religion proposed by certain ufologists is an inaccurate reflection of the biblical record. Though there are some similarities between UFOs and ancient events, these are usually superficial and the result of an overly-active imagination. Furthermore, the fact that the phenomenon approximates but does not duplicate historical realities may indicate something quite sinister. Whatever UFOs are, the ideas which are sometimes associated with them look like forgeries. This means that far from being the key to unlocking Scripture, the UFO phenomenon looks more like a clever counterfeit of true religion. This doesn't furnish us with complete answers as to the identity and nature of these alien forces. It does, however, show us something of the deceptive nature of the "gods" from outer space.
There have been a number of Christian writers who have labeled the UFO movement Satanic. Unfortunately, though, few display a willingness to look seriously at both the biblical data and the UFO phenomenon itself. To only superficially investigate one or the other is to run the danger of misrepresenting the facts on either side. Many Christians have only a shallow understanding of the claims and profound evidence presented for UFOs. Because of this, they are prone either to dismiss the movement out-of-hand, or to give shallow (though perhaps accurate) definitions of what UFOs really are. Rarely has anyone put any effort into unfolding the meaning of texts which may prove helpful in an investigation such as this. Therefore, few have sought to formulate what might be termed a truly biblical perspective on this phenomenon. While UFOs are of secondary importance (at best) to the Christian believer, it would certainly help if those who choose to enter the field in the first place would do so with more intellectual vigor, imagination, biblical literacy, and theological acumen.
While a degree in theology isn't a necessary prerequisite to sound study, investigation within this field must become better informed and more Scripturally sound. To that end, it must be asked what biblical category most closely parallels the modern UFO phenomenon. The most plausible answer would seem to be that of angels. While seeking to avoid overly dogmatic assertions, it is reasonable to wonder if a portion of genuine UFO activity falls within this category. This idea can be traced out further.
First, it should be noted that the angelic encounters of the Bible leave the impression that these supernatural creatures are capable of great feats. Genesis 6:2-4, for instance, describes a scene in which "the sons of God" mate with human women. Though commentators debate their identity, some believe angelic beings are in view. If true, this is a scene in which spiritual entities mate with humans. Apparently, angels are capable of taking on physical form and characteristics. How this occurs, of course, is beyond us.
Next, there is Genesis 18:1ff. Here three "men" appear to Abraham and his wife. The context clearly tells us that one of these "men" is the Lord Himself, while the other two are angels (19:1). All three of these beings take on a physical form, even consuming food (v. 5). Again, spiritual beings manifest themselves in tangible ways.
Then in 2 Kings 6:17 Elisha prays for divine intervention. Suddenly, an invisible army of horses and chariots is revealed to Elisha's servant. Angelic creatures show themselves in the physical realm.
Moving to the New Testament, there are further examples. The "young man" at Jesus tomb (Mark 16:5) is a prime case in which an angel (cf. Matthew 28:2, 5) takes the form of a man. Luke 3:20-21 may represent a similar happening, only here it involves the Holy Spirit Himself. In this scene, the Spirit seems to take on some type of visible form, that of a dove.
These represent only a sampling of what we are trying to show, namely, that non-physical beings have the ability to appear in physical form. Perhaps, they are given temporary "bodies" in order to accomplish their various tasks. Maybe spirit beings (or some of them) have the gift of materialization. Though the mechanism involved is impossible to decipher, undeniable is the fact that spirit beings are able to assume a tangible existence.
Given the above perspective, it is easy to see the parallel between the UFO phenomenon and some accounts of angels. Angelic beings can manipulate matter and so project themselves in rather unusual ways. Sometimes they appear as "young men." On other occasions they consume food. At times they show themselves as warriors riding horses and chariots. In other words, UFOs could be some sort of manifestation in which angels project images in a manner compatible with our time frame. Admittedly, such a concept is difficult to fathom. But the unusual behavior of certain UFOs and their occupants, the New Age characteristics inherent in much of the movement, and the unbiblical messages attributed to them, should cause us to consider this as a possible explanation for some part of the phenomenon. UFOs might be explainable within the biblical category of angels.
While many within modern society reject the Christian concept of angels, this doesn't hinder these amazing creatures from finding new ways to express themselves. As Keith Thompson hauntingly states: "We may have long ago cast aside our angelic hierarchies, but the demonic has not forgotten where we live, and means to enter through the least secure door. . . . " Perhaps many have been "entertain[ing] (fallen?) angels with knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2).
23. Erich von Däniken's books include Chariots of the Gods?, God's from Outer Space, and Gold of The Gods. Among von Däniken's theories is that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah recorded in Genesis 19:1-28 was actually an atomic explosion. Many such claims permeate his works. These conjectures are taken up and refuted specifically by Clifford Wilson in his Crash Go the Chariots (New York: Lancer Books, 1972), and The Chariots Still Crash (Old Tappan, NJ: Spire Books, 1975). Also see Ronald Story, The Space-Gods Revealed (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1977).
24. Sitchin's works include a series entitled The Earth Chronicles (5 books in all), and Genesis Revisited (New York: Avon Books, 1990). Sitchin bases much of this conjecture on his interpretation of information acquired from the ancient Sumerian civilization (in today's southern Iraq).
25. E.g., J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (1923; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), J. I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (1958; Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988).
26. Wilkinson, Alone in the Universe? p. 104.
27. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1943; New York: Simon & Schuster Publishers, 1996), p. 56.
28. For a defense of the orthodox portrait of Jesus, see Gregory A. Boyd, Cynic Sage or Son of God? (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1995), Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 1996), and Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1996).
29. "The ‘Jesus was an astronaut' theory may sound initially attractive, but as you look at the accounts of Jesus, you have to give this alien more and more powers and schemes, when it is truer to the observations to adopt a different explanation. He was God as a human being." Alone in the Universe?, p. 112.
30. Far from naive, the early Christians were not even prone to accept a miracle as significant as Jesus' resurrection. When the women at the tomb reported the resurrection, we are told "these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them" (Luke 24:11). In other words, the apostles were not predisposed to such events; they had to be convinced!
31. We should stress here that there is no consensus as to the identity of these "sons of God." In his commentary on 2 Peter, after discussing some of the options of a related passage, Moo cautiously states that "properly nuanced, we need not think it impossible that Genesis 6:1-4 refers to fallen angels who had sexual relations with women." Douglas J. Moo, 2 Peter and Jude (NIV Application; Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), p. 112. See also David Atkinson, The Message of Genesis 1-11 (BST; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), p. 130. For an evenhanded appraisal which favors the angelic interpretation, see Sydney H.T. Page, Powers of Evil: A Biblical Study of Satan & Demons (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), pp. 43-54, 230-237.
32. It is worth noting that the vision referred to here (2 Kings 6:17) describes angelic creatures manifesting themselves in ways that conformed to that particular culture. Similarly, and perhaps not by coincidence, modern UFOs are consistent with the expectations of those who live in our high-tech society.
33. Keith Thompson, Angels and Aliens (New York: Ballantine Books, 1991), pp. 232-233.
Back To Main Page | Apologetics | Creation/Origins | Culture | Self | The Problem Of Evil | Truth Unleashed: An Apologetics Handbook | UFOs | Biblical Studies | Christian Community | Communication/Evangelism | Perspectives on God's Word | Random Thoughts | Recommendations | Spiritual Living | Who is Carmen?