God or E.T.

E.T. movie

UMMER traditions in the DeWitt family always include a couple visits to the drive in movie theaters. Since most movie theaters aren’t open, and new movies aren’t coming out as quickly, drive in theaters have been playing some of the classics. Our first drive in outing this summer was to the iconic E.T.

People have always been intrigued by the possibility of life in outer space. What if we find an alien? Or what if it’s more like E.T., and the aliens find us? What if it’s like the movie “Aliens”? Oh, my.

Do you ever think about aliens? The celebrated atheistic author Richard Dawkins thinks you should. He says that every time you see something that looks like it is best explained by design, instead of thinking of God, you should think of intelligent aliens. The reason Dawkins prefers this view is that the aliens would themselves be products of evolution, it fits his other worldview commitments.

This is a theory that goes back to the famous scientist Francis Crick who suggested what we see as design could indeed be just that. But Crick, instead of crediting God, put forward a way of thinking about it that doesn’t need God. What if evolution led to intelligent beings who were so far beyond our own evolution, were capable of helping “design” our planet so life on earth is possible.

This view is called “directed panspermia.” If it were true, we would have an explanation for why there is intelligent life on our planet, but that explanation would be entirely natural and fit perfectly with an atheistic appropriation of Darwinian natural selection. Of course, we don’t have any evidence for smarty pants alien creators just yet. Just a small detail.

But still, Dawkins says we should first think of aliens if something in our world seems too complex, what is sometimes described as irreducibly complex:

“If such evidence [for design] were found, our minds should immediately start working along the lines of Crick’s directed panspermia, not a supernatural designer. Whatever else irreducible complexity might demonstrate, the one thing it cannot appeal to in ultimate explanation is something else that is irreducibly complex.”(Richard Dawkins, Science in the Soul, p. 206)

After reading the Dawkins essay that the above quote is from, I was reminded of C.S. Lewis. I know no one is surprised. Earlier this afternoon I pulled out an old magazine published the year Lewis died, 1963, that includes an essay by Lewis. The cover advertises multiple articles on space with the caption, “Space Race: Towards a Renaissance?”

To be honest, I borrow from this Lewis essay all the time, particularly when I’m trying to share the gospel. I used it this weekend.  But today I enjoyed going back to the source and re-reading it in its entirety.

Lewis says that if we found aliens in space we may discover (a) they are unlike us and perfectly good and not sinful or fallen, (b) they are like us and are a mixture of good and bad and in need of redemption, or (c) they could be entirely evil. But in the essay, Lewis gives less attention to aliens and more thought to God. Richard Dawkins clearly wouldn’t approve.

Lewis says if we were to know God, it would not be to go to space looking for him. If God is the author of our world there would be signs pointing to his creative work everywhere. It would depend upon “the seeing eye.” Someone who is blind to all the design in creation around them, who ignores the handy work of God under foot and over head, will be blind to signs for God in outer space. Why would altitude change their attitude?

If we are to know God in a concrete way, God would have to enter the physical world communicate with humanity. On this point, Lewis likens our world to Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Lewis says, “Dante is (1) the muse outside the poem who is inventing the whole thing, and (2) a character inside the poem, whom the other characters meet and with whom they hold conversations.” If the characters in the poem would know their author, Dante would have to write himself into the story.

Of course, if Richard Dawkins were one of the characters in the Divine Comedy, he’d tell them to assume it was aliens.