This past weekend creationist Ken Ham, best known to most for his highly publicized debate with Bill Nye, posted an odd reflection concerning alien life to his blog. The impetus for Ham’s post appears to have been recent predictions by experts at NASA that we will find evidence of extraterrestrial life within the next twenty years.
Ham bemoans the search for extraterrestrial life as “desperate and fruitless,” and a waste of “countless hundreds of millions of dollars,” though his problem isn’t that we should be spending that money on other things of importance. Ham’s objections are theological:
Life did not evolve but was specially created by God, as Genesis clearly teaches. Christians certainly shouldn’t expect alien life to be cropping up across the universe.
The Bible, Ham notes, never mentions the existence of life anywhere else but on earth, which:
was created for human life. And the sun and moon were created for signs and our seasons—and to declare the glory of God.
More seriously for Ham, however, is his claim that the existence of alien life forms, especially other intelligent beings, would dissolve the meaning of the gospel:
You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation. One day, the whole universe will be judged by fire, and there will be a new heavens and earth. God’s Son stepped into history to be Jesus Christ, the ‘Godman,’ to be our relative, and to be the perfect sacrifice for sin—the Savior of mankind.
Because God became human and not something else, “salvation through Christ is only for the Adamic race—human beings who are all descendants of Adam.” There’s a reason why “Jesus did not become the ‘GodKlingon’ or the ‘GodMartian’!”
Of course it’s easy to ridicule Ham’s claims. That’s how the Huffington Post has dealt with them, though it’s worth pointing out that Ham’s thinking is not out of the ordinary among biblical literalists. Indeed, although Ham is regularly lampooned for his beliefs, they are widely shared among a sizable population of Christians—at least in the United States. That’s why someone like Ham and his organization Answers in Genesis can be successful in the first place.
What I find most troubling in Ham’s claims, though, is not so much their content. Sure, most of what Ham says about science, the origins of the universe, the origins of life, and theology doesn’t stand up to even the lightest scrutiny, but even more problematic is his lack of curiosity. For Ham, the question of whether or not there’s life elsewhere in the universe isn’t even worth asking—precisely because we already have the answer.
It’s this lack of curiosity that makes biblical literalism so damaging, scientifically, socially, and politically speaking, for once we have all the answers there’s really no need to explore, discover, or create.
It’s also what makes biblical literalism so damaging for religion. Many of my students are curious about why I study religion and what I get from it. I always tell them that for me, religion isn’t finally about providing answers but spurring questions; it isn’t about telling us what to think and do but about providing resources and spaces for our thinking and doing. That’s, unfortunately, something for which Ham’s approach, and biblical literalism more generally, doesn’t allow.