Pastoral Perspectives

The Truth is Out There

What do we do when we encounter something which bursts the bounds of our Christian worldview? Just a few weeks ago there was an interesting hearing which took place in the Congress of the United States of America. Three military veterans were brought in to testify about Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs). UAP is the U.S. military’s term for what is popularly known as Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs). Yes, we are talking about extra-terrestrial life forms (ETs) here! Why would U.S. Congress call for such an odd hearing? That is because they are trying to pressure U.S. intelligence agencies for greater transparency about UAPs, arguing that they are a matter of national security. Since UAPs may pose a threat to military and civilian aircraft, it makes sense to have more transparent reporting.

The testimonies of the three military veterans are surprising, especially to anyone who strongly believes UFOs reside in the realm of science fiction. David Grusch, a retired Major who was part of the Pentagon’s UAP Task Force claimed the U.S. government has operated a secret decades long program to reverse engineer recovered flying vessels. He also alleged they have recovered non-human biological material from UAP crash sites. This would be earth-shaking if true since they are evidence for intelligent (and highly advanced) ETs.

David Fravor, a retired Navy Commander, testified that he and three other servicemen encountered an UAP over the San Diego coast in 2004. It was a white “Tic Tac” -shaped object with no rotors, wings, or any kind of flight control apparatus. He said, “The technology that we faced was far superior than anything that we had. I’m not a UFO fanatic. But what we saw with four sets of eyes — we have nothing close to it. It was incredible technology.” 

This was similar to what former Navy fighter pilot Ryan Graves encountered. He recounted an incident with a UAP off the coast of Virginia Beach in 2014. While flying an F-18, he came upon an aircraft that looked like a “dark gray or black cube inside of a clear sphere” that he estimated to be five to 15 feet in diameter. It was unlike any aircraft he has ever seen, and it seemed capable of remaining stationary amid hurricane-force winds.

Their testimonies about UAPs are supported by documentary evidence. Fravor’s 2004 encounter was recorded on video (along with audio of the pilots’ astonishment) and subsequently released by the Pentagon in 2020, along with two others recorded in 2015. Such evidence suggests that the UAPs are not hallucinations. The Pentagon acknowledged that the videos are real even though the UAPs remain characterized as “unidentified.” In other words, the most technologically advanced military in the world admits that there are things flying around earth which even they have no idea about (or which they are disinclined to reveal). 

Of course, none of these conclusively proves the existence of ETs. Until the day non-human biological remains and flying vessels are openly studied and the findings published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, it would be inappropriate to insist on the definite existence of ETs. Yet, we must not be too quick to dismiss the evidence from multiple credible eyewitnesses and video recordings. If anything, they keep open the possibility that we may not be alone in the universe.

So, what do we do when we encounter something which bursts the bounds of our Christian worldview? What happens to our faith if ETs do exist? Commenting on the discovery of water on Mars, physicist Paul Davies wrote in 2003, 

Still, the discovery of just a single bacterium somewhere beyond Earth would force us to revise our understanding of who we are and where we fit into the cosmic scheme of things, throwing us into a deep spiritual identity crisis that would be every bit as dramatic as the one Copernicus brought about in the early 1500s, when he asserted that Earth was not at the center of the universe. Whether or not we are alone is one of the great existential questions that confront us today.

Do we have the sufficient resources to rethink our theology if ETs do exist? Yet even before we deal with the prospect of ETs, we should realise that the Christian faith has already been thrown into “a deep spiritual identity crisis” for a while by something else: that of the theory of evolution. While there is no definitive scientific evidence for ETs, we do have incontrovertible evidence for biological evolution through natural selection. This theory is now supported by evidence from various scientific fields such as molecular biology, biogeography, palaeontology, palaeoanthropology, genetics, embryology, and anatomy. Hence, the idea all lifeforms on earth share a common ancestor as a result of variation and selection over a long period of time is the current accepted paradigm in science.

While one may be tempted to dismiss natural selection as “just a theory” the concept of “theory” in science is radically different from how the word is used in regular speech. A scientific theory is not some baseless opinion or coffeeshop talk like conspiracy theories. According to the National Academy of Science, a scientific theory is “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.” In other words, theories are what can best explain natural phenomena given all the facts we have accumulated. Evolution through natural selection is therefore the robustly tested and accepted paradigm for understanding the development of life on earth.

Despite how established the theory of evolution is, Christians have often dismissed and rejected it on the ground that it is not present in Scripture: if it is written in Genesis that Adam and Eve were created directly by God, then the theory of evolution cannot be true! This has often led Christians to accuse the scientific academy of being an atheistic or an anti-Christian establishment. Under this conflict framework, Christians are forced to choose between faith and science, a situation which has produced severe crises of faith for many. It is not uncommon to read testimonies of Christians turning atheist or agnostic when they encounter the theory of evolution for themselves. After all, they have been set up to think that either the theory of evolution is bunk, or Christianity is bunk. When they start to study evolution, they discover that the Christianity they have been brought up with has been wrong all along. Tragically, they then leave the faith. 

So, what do we do when we encounter something which bursts the bounds of our Christian worldview? We reflect and rethink our theology. Accepting the theory of evolution does not mean atheism. The theory of evolution itself speaks nothing of the existence of God. Science is merely an observation and analysis of the natural world. God is transcendent beyond that. What science studies is a world created and ordered by God. Therefore, there can be no contradiction between faith and science if God is the Creator of all that exists, visible and invisible. Nature and Scripture have been said to be the “two books” of God because each reveal him in different ways. If both are from God, then neither can contradict each other because God is not a god of confusion. Any contradiction necessarily arises from our finite perspectives as human beings. What the theory of evolution forces Christians to rethink is not the existence of God, but the process by which God created all living things—instead of having them arise from the earth spontaneously, God created them through the lengthy process of evolution. 

Therefore, when we encounter something which bursts the bounds of our Christian worldview, then either our understanding of the natural phenomenon is wrong, or our theology is wrong. If it seems unlikely the understanding of the natural phenomenon is wrong—as in the case of biological evolution—then perhaps we need to rethink our theology and our interpretation of Scripture. In fact, theologians and biblical scholars from all quarters of the faith have long begun that process, just that their voices have not often been heard. Yet, if we want our faith to be alive and relevant, then burying our heads in sand or engaging in pseudoscience is not the way. We ought to pursue truth humbly and honestly through the pathways of faith and science.  It is only when we clear away the underbrush of errors that get in the way that we may acquire a better knowledge of God and his creation. Whether it is the theory of evolution, or the existence of ETs, God stands behind them all as Creator. The question is: do we have the courage to allow our personal worldviews to be reconfigured by them? May the Spirit who leads us into all truth be our guide.