What does ET have to do with the Doctrine of Creation?
We have to find a balance between maintaining the importance of humanity in God's creation without pretending the universe revolves around us.
Before You Read
We’ll get right to it: Young people today are departing the faith in historic numbers as the church is either unwilling or unable to address their questions on science and faith. BioLogos is hosting those tough conversations. Not with anger, but with grace. Not with a simplistic position to earn credibility on the left or the right, but a message that is informed, faithful, and hopeful.
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We’ve covered a lot of ground in this series on Prof. David Fergusson’s small book Creation. I’ve not attempted to give a formal review of the book, but instead to use its topics and ideas as a springboard for reflection. I think we’ve seen that there is much more to a doctrine of creation than the question of whether it happened in six days or billions of years. We’ve considered Scripture, but the focus of the book (and this series) has been on theological doctrines—explanations that emerge from our reading of Scripture as well as from church tradition and our own experience.
It might sound holy to say the Bible is the only source you need or use; but it’s just not true. All of us are embedded in a culture, and Scripture too is embedded in a culture. And because these cultures are not the same, we must constantly be on the lookout for ways that our culture has gone off the rails by examining it in the light of biblical truth; and we must constantly examine what we take the message of Scripture to be in light of what God has allowed us to discover about his world during our time and in our culture.
At BioLogos, we believe that that the Gospel—the good news that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has defeated sin and death through his life, death, and resurrection—can (and should) be articulated faithfully in a culture that accepts evolution as the best scientific description of the development of life. Perhaps one day, the science of evolution will be superseded by another, more comprehensive, scientific explanation (though I wouldn’t hold my breath for that, any more than I would for heliocentrism to be replaced). But these are our days and our culture. A faithful witness to Christ demands that we work out our faith in the context of what humans have learned and discovered about God’s world at this point in history.
By way of review, I’ve argued in this series that the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is fundamental to understanding the relationship between God and the world. We also considered the doctrines of the Fall and providence in light of evolutionary science. Then there was a chapter on deism and natural theology, and another that dealt specifically with common theological objections to evolution. Today’s post reflects on the last chapter in Fergusson’s book, and its title is… are you ready for this… “Animals, the Environment, and Extraterrestrials.” The environment is often brought into creation, as we have been charged to be stewards of the world; animals are part of the created order, but is there anything more significant about them in a doctrine of creation? And what in the world (or out of the world), do extraterrestrials have to do with theology?
It turns out that all of these are linked to the question of how anthropocentric your doctrine of creation is. That is, how much are human beings at the center of creation? There is no question in Christian theology that humans have a special place. Christ became one of us, taking on our DNA. He became part of the human story. So yes, humans have a central role in our doctrine of creation. But for a long stretch of Christian theology, we were the focal point of all of creation, or to mix metaphors, the center of gravity that gave purpose to everything else. This fit so well with the cosmology of the day, according to which we were literally the center of the universe, and everything else revolved around us. Why do stars exist? So we can navigate at night time. Why do animals exist? To feed us and help us do our work. And so it went, with everything defined in terms of its usefulness to us.
Discoveries of things that bear very little on our own lives called that picture into question. What were the dinosaurs for? Why did the vast majority of all species that have ever lived go extinct before humans were even around? Such questions start to show the chinks in the armor of that old worldview and suggest instead that God delights in other created things purely for themselves, not just for what they do for us. Once we take that step, perhaps we too will value the created order and not just exploit it for our gain.
And then, of course, it allows us to wonder about what other things in this vast creation we might discover. Fergusson says,
“If we can rejoice in God’s concern for creatures that have little direct relation to ourselves, then this same impulse can inform our disposition towards extraterrestrial creatures, whether their intelligence is less than or far surpases our own” (109).
Some Christians seem to think that it is a logical impossibility for there to be intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Would they have experienced the same salvation history as we have? Some theologians think Christ’s life, death, and resurrection on earth could be appropriated for other beings in the universe. That still sounds very anthropocentric to me. Why couldn’t the second person of the Trinity become Incarnate in other worlds too, taking on their flesh and becoming part of their stories? Well, of course we’re speculating now.
This is an interesting topic to end the book on. It forces some humility upon us in the recognition of how much we don’t know about the universe God has created. The central doctrines of the church were articulated in a time when we thought the earth was the geographical center and focal point of the universe. Now we look out through telescopes and have found thousands of other planets orbiting other stars, and as far as we can see there are more and more galaxies. What else could be out there? The doctrine of creation forces us to keep our theology engaged with our knowledge of creation.
May it be so.
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Charles Foster | Inhabit the World