Yesterday CTV News reported the somewhat sensational headline “NASA discovers hundreds of new Earth-like planets”. Reading through the article (and similar ones from other news sites), the intensity of the claim is somewhat diminished. These new planets (if they are planets – apparently the scientists aren’t sure about all of them) appear as if they might be of similar size and composition as Earth. But the announcement of the discovery of “Earth-like planets” comes with a caveat; in the words of Dr. Paul Delaney, professor of Astronomy at York University, “It doesn’t mean that there’s life on them, it doesn’t mean that there’s atmosphere and water.” Moreover, we’re not nearly close enough to actually visit them in our search for extraterrestrial life. “You can’t get to these objects with spacecrafts,” Delaney says. “The closest ones are tens of light-years away and some are literally a few thousands light-years away. They are well and truly beyond our technological capability to visit personally.”

Still, the topic is an interesting one, and one that Christians shouldn’t avoid talking about. Should we stand on the assumption that God hasn’t created life on other planets? And if he has, what theological implications would that hold for us? When “creation was subjected to frustration” because of the Fall, did mankind drag down non-sentient life in other parts of the galaxy? Of deeper import, I think, would be the discovery of other sentient life in the universe. Did death enter their worlds because of sin in ours?

I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. In that series, Lewis imagines a universe where life exists on other planets (including the planets in our solar system), but suggests they have not been affected by the sin committed on Earth; God had sealed it off from the rest of the system. This isolation of our planet leads the inhabitants of Mars to refer to Earth as “the Silent Planet.”

Today we know that the worlds outside our world are filled with what we might call “natural evil”. Stars die out, asteroids crash into planets, and so on and so forth. It would be difficult to believe in Lewis’ “Silent Planet” in any literal sense of the expression (though perhaps we could imagine L’Engle’s spreading “darkness”). But the question really becomes whether evil (natural or otherwise) in the universe can be blamed solely on humanity; it would certainly seem unfair if other sentient, sinless beings were made to suffer for mankind’s sin.

In any event, I’d love to hear some Protestant/Evangelical takes on whether other life might exist, and what implications that would hold for Christianity. I just hope the theology involved might be a little more fully developed than in Larry Norman’s song “U.F.O.” with its final verse: “And if there’s life on other planets / Then I’m sure that He must know / And He’s been there once already / And has died to save their souls.” [For an interesting Catholic response to the question, check out Director of the Vatican Observatory Fr. Jose Funes’ take on the subject. The full interview is here in Italian. If, as with me, Italian is not your strongest language, you can check out two English articles on the interview here and here.]