In a shameless display of unfettered narcissism and cosmic ignorance, famous young-earth creationist Ken Ham stated in a recent blog post that even if intelligent extraterrestrials exist (which he expressly denies as a possibility), they would be damned to hell anyway. His reasoning is as follows: Since any intelligent extraterrestrial life would not be descended from Adam, caretaker of the biblical Garden of Eden, they cannot be eligible for the salvation offered by Jesus Christ.
However, Ham has written a response to the media attention on his “aliens are hellbound sinners” implication, in which he clarifies that all this talk about aliens going to hell is beside the point. The main point he was trying to get across in his original post is this: “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.”
Now, let’s assume for the sake of argument that some kind of God actually exists, one who created the entire universe and everything in it. If extraterrestrials also exist, then such a God must have created them. Perhaps this God has other plans for these extraterrestrials that we humans here on Earth do not know about and which are of no consequence to us. If some God exists, who is Ken Ham to say he knows the entirety of this God’s plan for everything?
Also, given the assertion of Ham and his fellow Christian fundamentalists that all sin is inherited from Adam and Eve, it should follow that any extraterrestrials not descended from Adam could conceivably be perfect, without sin. But Ken Ham disagrees. According to him, the action of two humans on Earth can cause this thing called “sin” to instantly propagate throughout the entire universe, impossibly exceeding the speed of light and infecting the totality of physical existence:
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 [emphasis mine]. . . .
Jesus did not become the “GodKlingon” or the “GodMartian”! Only descendants of Adam can be saved. God’s Son remains the “Godman” as our Savior. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we see the Father through the Son (and we see the Son through His Word). To suggest that aliens could respond to the gospel is just totally wrong.
An understanding of the gospel makes it clear that salvation through Christ is only for the Adamic race—human beings who are all descendants of Adam.
So salvation is only for descendants of Adam. Through no fault of his own, E.T. is doomed. However, Ham specifically states that, for this very reason, he does not believe aliens exist. “I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel.” In other words, Ham denies the existence of anything that does not fit into the framework of a literalistic reading of an ancient book.
To put some perspective on just how absurdly parochial and provincial Ken Ham’s view of the universe is, consider a thought experiment presented by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on the final episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Tyson, the host and narrator of the series, invites us to select any one of the hundreds of billions of stars located in our Milky Way galaxy, which in turn is just one galaxy among a hundred billion that make up the known universe:
How about that star, or that one? Okay, this one. It’s orbited by dozens of planets and moons. Suppose on one of them, there lives an intelligent species, one of the ten million life forms on that planet. And there’s a subgroup of that species who believe they have it all figured out: their world is the center of the universe, a universe made for them, and that they know everything that they need to know about it—their knowledge is complete.
How seriously would you take their claim?
This is a paraphrase of the late great Carl Sagan, who presented the same consciousness-raising perspective on his classic 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. When, with the aid of Sagan’s “ship of the imagination,” we zero in from the vast universe at large to one little, insignificant planet called Earth, located on the outskirts of one unremarkable spiral galaxy, we can immediately see the ignorance and absurdity inherent in Ken Ham’s belief that our world is the centerpiece of the entire universe.
Not only does Ken Ham naively believe that Earth is unique and holds a favored place in the center of a manufactured universe; he also believes that the universe in its entirety is nothing more than a short-lived theatre show put on exclusively for us humans to enjoy, until the end credits roll and God burns the reel:
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.
For now, the universe beyond Earth is just a show to gawk at, an appetizer served up to us before the main dish.
Ken Ham’s narcissism is boundless, rivaling the vastness of the cosmos described by Tyson above. Not only does he seem to believe that the universe revolves around him, but he writes as if scientists and skeptics of the supernatural define themselves by not accepting his belief system. In Ken Ham’s world, scientists are evil propagandists for secularism whose only motivation for studying things like evolution is to rebel against Ham’s particular deity. That’s also why scientists are looking for extraterrestrial life. As Ham writes,
Of course, secularists are desperate to find life in outer space, as they believe that would provide evidence that life can evolve in different locations and given the supposed right conditions! The search for extraterrestrial life is really driven by man’s rebellion against God in a desperate attempt to supposedly prove evolution!
Ham is apparently incapable of understanding that serious scientists and skeptics do not give a damn about him and his creationism. It is not as if the pseudoscience of creationism is something secular scientists and skeptics fret about constantly. The love of exploration into unknown places and phenomena on the borders of human understanding is reason enough for atheists such as myself to embrace hard science that is not poisoned by supernatural wish-fulfillment fantasies. In science, nothing is off-limits to free inquiry, and this includes the possibility of life beyond Earth. The Ken Hams of this world may be content to willfully remain in ignorance and denial of the world outside their heads for fear of having their personal and infantile religious fantasies shattered by reality, but those of us who are curious and unafraid of the cosmos are not so content.
We conclude that biological evolution is a reality, not because we are in “rebellion” against a supernatural creator we do not even believe exists, but because of the overwhelming physical evidence that has favored evolutionary theory for almost two hundred years. But Ham writes as if everything evolutionary scientists do is carried out for the sake of persecuting him and his narrow-minded belief system. The reality is that debunking Ken Ham’s absurd worldview is just an added bonus, nothing more.
Ham continues with more presumptions,
Many secularists want to discover alien life hoping that aliens can answer the deepest questions of life: “Where did we come from?” and “What is the purpose and meaning of life?”
Ham’s uninformed presumptions here betray a severe case of projection on his part. The search for extraterrestrial life and/or intelligence is not an attempt to answer the “Where did we come from” question. And even if looking for alien life was about answering what is, so far as we know, a completely unrelated question, who is Ken Ham to dictate what is or is not an acceptable way to seek answers?
“What is the purpose and meaning of life?” This is a question that I as a freethinking individual do not need to ask anyone else, not even intelligent alien life forms. The question is a personal and subjective one; I am responsible for defining for myself what the purpose and meaning of life is or should be. I am certainly not going to derive the meaning of my life from a single book.
In his book Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1995), the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould described science as a process of toppling pedestals of human egocentricity one by one, of smashing “the previous props for our cosmic ignorance” (p. 325). The first major revolutionary fracture in human narcissism was the demise of geocentrism, the realization that our planet is not located in the center of the universe. We soon came to the further unwelcome realization that we are not even located in the center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. Thus displaced from cosmological significance, most members of our species wanted to hang on to the notion that we are specially made by a divine engineer as the pinnacle of his creation. We were violently knocked off that particular comfortable pedestal when Darwin discovered evolution and the mechanism by which it proceeds. And it gets worse for the most egocentric among us. Not only do we share an evolutionary heritage with the animal kingdom, but we Homo sapiens do not even constitute the pinnacle of evolution. If we do not destroy ourselves in the interim, our species will evolve into something new given enough time. Perhaps someday a third pillar of human egocentricity will be smashed by science: the discovery that we humans are not the only species in the cosmos endowed by natural selection with intelligence and self-awareness.
Science has thus reduced all honest and thinking people to the undeniable conclusion that we as a species are completely and utterly unremarkable and unimportant in the grand universal scheme of things. We are a part of the universe, and in that sense we do not stand apart from it as a distinct or dominant creation. The physical processes that brought us into being exist everywhere throughout the universe. This is not to say that humanity is not unique. We do have a sort of specialness about us (provisional, not ontological), and we can create our own meaning which is applicable within our own individual contexts. So while our earth is, as Freud noted, “only a speck in a world-system of a magnitude hardly conceivable,” we can nevertheless find our own meaning from our perspective.
But Ken Ham is neither honest nor capable of serious thought. To him and others like him, nothing can have any meaning unless we humans are a privileged creation, distinct from a universe that is nothing more than a dispensable sideshow. Ham’s is an extremely childish view of reality.