Chapter 3

Would The Discovery Of Extraterrestrial Life Improve The Human Condition?

Let’s assume that an inhabited or inhabitable planet exists elsewhere in the cosmos. Let’s also assume that someday, winged by ingenious technology, earthlings cross interstellar space and reach that planet. Granting these two colossal assumptions, a pertinent issue emerges: Will such a discovery revolutionize human nature? Not in the least.

MANKIND’S PHYSICAL LIMITATIONS

Before dealing with that issue, however, let’s look at the feasibility of travel to planets outside our solar system. The quotations given previously in this booklet make it clear that contemporary scientists no longer regard that trip as an unrealistic dream. Didn’t human beings reach the moon? Then why not believe they can reach out much farther into space? While scientists view venturing into deeper space as lying within the confines of possibility, they are also aware of the immense difficulties that must be overcome before humans can play hopscotch among the planets. First, before a vehicle able to conquer space is constructed, technical problems of incredible complexity require solutions. Second, the cost of constructing such a spaceship will be astronomical, and governments may hesitate to foot such a gigantic bill. Third, if by effort of human genius such a vehicle is successfully devised, it must cross millions of miles to reach the nearest planet, passing through frigid emptiness where it may be bombarded by penetrating radiation or struck by meteorites. Fourth, regardless of how fast that spaceship travels, it will take a long time to arrive anywhere.

Scientists are aware of the immense difficulties that must be overcome before humans can play hopscotch among the planets.

So the obstacles are simply tremendous. Yet who can tell? They may be overcome. Further, astronomers point out that if we’d try to communicate with some distant civilization from which we have received a message, the time it would take for us to get a message back would likely be longer than the timeframe of all of human history! That’s like Adam making a phone call shortly after he was created and having it finally ring at my house today. If he called collect and I picked up the phone, I’d better be prepared for a major longdistance phone bill! That’s 10-10-NO-WAY!

MANKIND’S EMOTIONAL LIMITATIONS

Another question must be answered. What would be the emotional reaction of any crew that eventually pushed back the cosmic frontiers and carried human life into other worlds? Our intrepid astronauts, if they reached such planets, would be compelled to build protective structures outside of which they couldn’t survive. And what would they do there except conduct scientific research as, under strictest surveillance, they occasionally ventured out in their space suits? Boredom, monotony, and tension would be inevitable. And besides that, there would be haunting anxiety and the awareness of lonely isolation perhaps too great for the human psyche to endure. Thus the emotional reaction might be devastating.

MANKIND’S MORAL LIMITATIONS

Let’s assume that psychologists carefully picked crews who could adjust themselves to a strange, distant, confining environment. What if humans become semidomesticated residents of some remote planetary body? Would that stupendous achievement make any essential difference in human nature?

It would make a difference in the range of human experience and knowledge. Think of what we might possibly discover about how the Creator structured the cosmos. Consider what we could learn, especially if elsewhere there are intelligent beings somewhat like ourselves with a different history and culture. Assuming that we established meaningful communication, the economic, educational, political, and social impact would likely be more earthshaking than the arrival of Western explorers in the New World.

A month after our descendants land on that distant planet, it will be glaringly apparent that earthlings there or elsewhere in space will be the same as they were on earth.

That historical watershed motivates us to ask again, “Would the nature of people be changed by such a revolutionary event?” The answer is no. A month after our descendants land on that distant planet, it will be glaringly apparent that earthlings there or elsewhere in space will be the same as they were on earth. Their environment may be amazingly different, but their nature will be dismayingly unchanged. Whether on Mars or in Milwaukee, they will have the same burdens, problems, fears, temptations, longings, frustrations, and sins. Whether on Saturn or in Seattle, they will continue to covet, quarrel, and fight. Whether on Uranus or in Eureka, they will be selfcentered and self-seeking and with no power to effect the self-healing of their egoism. Whether on Pluto or in Paris, people will still be troubled by greed and anger and lust.

C. S. Lewis, in his essay “Religion And Rocketry,” emphasizes the shortcomings of sinful humanity face to face with ET:

I fear the practical, not the theoretical, problems which will arise if ever we meet rational creatures which are not human. Against them we shall, if we can, commit all the crimes we have already committed against creatures certainly human but differing from us in features and pigmentation; and the starry heavens will become an object to which good men can look up only with feelings of intolerable guilt, agonizing pity, and burning shame. Of course, after the first debauch of exploitation, we shall make some belated attempt to do better. We shall perhaps send missionaries. But can even missionaries be trusted? “Gun and gospel” have been horribly combined in the past. The missionary’s holy desire to save souls has not always been kept quite distinct from the arrogant desire, the busybody’s itch, to—as he calls it—“civilize”— as he calls them—the “natives.” Would all our missionaries recognize an unfallen race if they met it? Could they? Would they continue to press upon creatures that did not need to be saved the plan of salvation which God has appointed for man? Would they denounce as sins mere differences of behaviors which the spiritual and biological history of these strange creatures fully justified and which God Himself had blessed? Would they try to teach those from whom they had better learn? I do not know (from The World’s Last Night And Other Essays).

As Lewis warns us, earthlings on any other planet will have the same desires we have today. The same temptations with respect to the flesh and the spirit— pride, egocentricity, and self-will—will follow us wherever we go. And so will the same urge to find meaning in existence; the same wondering about life after death; the same longing for faith, hope, and love; the same need for a vital God-to-man relationship.

Distance cannot change human nature in the least. For distance, however great, cannot remove humans from themselves. Faced with a desperate life situation, we all feel the temptation to pack suitcases and leave our troubles behind. Whether we go to South Africa or the French Riviera or Hawaii, we always take ourselves along with us. There is no escape from the human condition. (Philosophers label this the “egocentric predicament.”) And unless we can somehow be changed inwardly, external change will not avail to make us different. If any significant change in human beings is to take place, it must be accomplished with resources available to us now. And that means a vital faith. It means the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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