Today we’re going to talk a little bit about aliens. But not necessarily the green-man, laying-eggs-in-your-chest, saucer-flying variety you see in the movies. The extraterrestrials we’re discussing today are much smaller, and much less likely to invade our home planet and abduct us from our comfortable Terran lifestyle. But that in no way means that they’re any less interesting. And so I begin this conversation with this:
If scientists discovered microbes or some other form of life on another world in our solar system, the Church would still be true. I promise. In fact, the Latter-day Saints should take the news of extraterrestrial life better than just about any other religion. (1)
Where I’m Coming From
When I was younger, I did not believe evolution was a real thing. Frankly, I was under the impression that evolution was pure evil. But I still paid attention to science news on occasion, because, well, I’m a nerd. I heard that NASA was searching for life on Mars, and it scared me. A lot. It scared me because, at the time, I believed that finding bacteria on Mars would prove once and for all that the Church was false. Now, I know that may sound a bit dramatic, so let me explain.
Growing up I learned that the animals and plants were all created for us to use. I learned that there was no death before 4,000 BC. And I learned that there were humans like us on other planets throughout the universe. Putting those three things together led me to conclude that finding microbes on Mars, a planet that had no humans on it, would prove once and for all that the Church wasn’t true.
You see, if Mars has no people, but it has germs, then what the heck are those germs doing there?! Isn’t every living thing supposed to exist for our benefit or for our trials (I’m looking at you, mosquitoes)? If Mars housed ancient or living microorganisms, they must have evolved, maybe even from a primordial ooze brought to life by a random lightning bolt somewhere on the Red Planet’s barren crust. And if evolution really does happen, then the Church must be false. If A is true, then B is true; and if B is true, then the Church is false. That at least, was my line of thinking.
Looking back now, I see that my fears of the Church being disproved by fossilized Martian amebae were a tad unfounded. There was a lot that I still needed to learn, not only about science, but about the Creator Himself. And so, in the light of the past few years of my development, I ask the question, what if there had been microscopic life on the Martian surface a long time ago?
Scientists today agree that finding life (or the remains thereof) on a world other than Earth would be an absolute game changer. It would mean that life really does evolve by natural processes, not only on Earth, but in other places, and it would give another data point of life for us to study and nerd out over. It would mean that life on Earth is not alone. It would be so out-of-this-world awesome (pun intended, as always)! Imagine the influx of cool science news that would hit the internet when that happens! (3)
And when is the key word there. Most experts agree that it’s not a matter of if we’ll find evidence of extraterrestrial life, but WHEN. And when that announcement comes, the Latter-day Saints should have nothing to fear. (4)
Joseph Smith Taught the Existence of Extraterrestrial Life
First off, Joseph Smith gave us A LOT about life on other worlds–probably way more than you would expect from a 19th-century farm boy trying to bring salvation through Christ to his fellow brothers and sisters. In Moses 1 (revealed to Joseph in 1830), the Lord says that there are “worlds without number” which have their own creation stories, and presumably, unique features, plants, and creatures. (Moses 1:33)
In Moses 7, Enoch proclaims that there are “millions of earths like this” one. And since this one has quite the cast of diverse lifeforms, you could expect the other millions to have their own as well. (Moses 7:30)
In early 1832, the Lord revealed to Joseph that Jesus is the Creator of many “worlds” whose “inhabitants … are begotten sons and daughters of God” (D&C 76:24). If inhabitants of these other worlds could rightly sing songs like “I Am a Child of God” like we can, then they probably look mostly like humans and would have to eat stuff, same as we do. And if we’re the examples, what better things to eat than other living things (vegetable or animal), because that’s what we eat!
My personal favorite came in 1843, when Joseph expounded on the heavenly vision of John the Revelator as recorded in Revelation 5 by saying that “John [must have seen] beings there that had been saved from ten thousand times ten thousand earths like this–strange beasts of which we have no conception–all might be seen in heaven.” This right here tells me that there are some pretty weird-looking creatures out there among the stars—including things that would be completely foreign to us native earthlings. (5)
Now I know–Mars is not an earth-like planet, and there aren’t any others like Earth in our cozy little solar system; but should it be all that surprising that God may have created a few microbes on another planet or moon in our immediate neighborhood? Perhaps on Europa or Titan? I don’t think so. From the ideas of Joseph Smith alone we can paint a picture of a universe that’s teeming with life, and we don’t have to exclude the other bodies that orbit our own Sun. (6)
We’re Not the Only Important Ones
Second, I think one of the false doctrines we’ve taught each other and have accepted without too much hesitation or thought is that all the plants, animals, and bacteria on this earth were created just for us; that us Homo sapiens are the end-all-be-all reason for Creation itself. Do animals, plants, and microbes play a pivotal role in our survival and happiness during this mortal life? Of course they do! We have to eat plants and animals to survive, and our guts need a healthy dose of microbes to keep us healthy and happy. But that’s not their ONLY purpose. Most bacteria on this planet will never enter your intestinal tract, most animals in the world will never be eaten by humans, and most plant matter never makes it onto our plates, yet they all still exist for some reason. I’m convinced that all living things play a bigger role in God’s plan and love than we typically think or talk about. I believe that all organisms possess a spirit of some kind. (7)
I’ve talked about this before on the blog in posts like Organization of Intelligences, the Spectrum of Human Ancestors, and Animal Intelligences. To me, the ever-increasing scientific research on non-human behavior points to all creatures being eternal, emotional, and decision-making intelligences, just like us. Animals feel pain, sorrow, and joy. Joseph Smith even taught this in March of 1832 when he revealed that beasts will have “enjoyment” and “felicity” in the “eternal” realm (see D&C 77:2-3).
Joseph Smith once said, “God glorified himself by saving all that his hands had made whether beasts, fowl, fishes, or man.” And it doesn’t matter where those beasts (or bacteria) come from, be it Mars, Europa, Titan, or some other non-Earth world. They’ll still be saved at some point as they certainly would fall under the “all that his hands have made” category. (8)
We were spirits (or intelligences) once living with God, and He sent us here to get physical bodies (see Abraham 3:21-25). If God decided to put bacteria on Mars that’s okay because those little guys needed bodies too! Their existence and purpose likely has nothing to do with us, and it doesn’t have to. And they can live on a world that has no humans and never will have humans, and that’s totally fine! We are not the only reason God created the universe.
What Do Other Churches Say?
Now, a lot of other churches may find news of extraterrestrial life extremely damaging. Religious leaders like Ken Ham scoff at those searching for life elsewhere because they believe the Bible precludes such a thing from existing. To them, it doesn’t fit the gospel of Jesus Christ for there to be other worlds with life. (10)
On the other hand, there are many churches that would continue going just fine if the news dropped of another planet or moon out there harboring its own life forms. They could go either way on the issue because their texts and doctrine allow for it. (11)
But Joseph Smith, the prophet who organized the Restored Church, explicitly taught of extraterrestrial life on a prolific scale. He called it, way back in the early 1800s. Whether you realize it or not, it’s a fundamental doctrine of our faith. The news of actual, verified alien life would only serve to confirm Joseph’s teachings, not destroy them, as I believed when I was younger. The fact that he spoke of millions of worlds filled with bizarre (alien) creatures, beasts possessing spirits and being saved in heaven, and of intelligences being organized in the premortal life on a scale from lesser to greater intelligence (see Abraham 3:18-19), provides, in my opinion, a very strong case for the Church and its inspired first leader, Joseph Smith.
I’m predicting it. I think we will find evidence of life elsewhere at some point. And when it happens, we, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, should have absolutely no problem with it. Our scriptures easily allow it, our founding Prophet brilliantly anticipated it, and our Heavenly Father is a creative, imaginative Deity who says things like, “There is nothing that the Lord thy God shall take in his heart to do but what he will do it” (Abraham 3:17). So, if the Lord should decide to cause a colony or two of microbes to evolve on a lonely planet far from Earth, He can do it. And, according to His own words, He “will” do it. (13)
Sources and Notes
- Another way to get evidence for life on another world would be to examine the atmospheres of exoplanets (planets outside of our solar system) for biosignatures (chemicals that indicate life is on that planet). See “Detecting Life’s Influence on Planetary Atmospheres”, Amanda Doyle, NASA, https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/news/detecting-lifes-influence-on-planetary-atmospheres/.
- “Bill Nye & Neil deGrasse Tyson on a Roof”, The Planetary Society, YouTube, 17 Aug 2015, https://youtu.be/GW-ud-F9qY4.
- “Bill Nye the Science Guy on life beyond Earth”, CBS Sunday Morning, YouTube, 8 Jul 2016, https://youtu.be/gJai33NYgxc; “Bill Nye: We May Discover Life on Europa”, Big Think, 30 Jul 2014, https://youtu.be/upRqAaCEEhw.
- Joseph Smith, in what I call the “Four Beasts Sermon,” 8 Apr 1843, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/discourse-8-april-1843-as-reported-by-william-clayton-b/7#full-transcript. I cleaned up some of the punctuation and stuff.
- Europa is a moon of Jupiter, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europa_(moon); Titan is a moon of Saturn, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titan_(moon).
- One justification for this statement is the sheer estimated number of individual insects (which are animals) in the world: 10 QUINTILLION. That’s a 10 with 18 zeros after it. That’s like 1.3 billion insects per human alive today (assuming a human population of 8 billion). I don’t care what you say–we don’t eat that many bugs, https://www.si.edu/spotlight/buginfo/bugnos. Another justification is that about 80% of biomass on earth belongs to plants, while about 0.01% of biomass is humans. There’s no way we’re eating most of the plants grown on Earth, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/humans-make-110000th-earths-biomass-180969141/. And microbes? There are so many stinking individual microbes on earth–trillions upon trillions–in all sorts of places, even under the earth; there’s no way they’re all there just for humans, https://www.nature.com/articles/nrmicro2644.
- Four Beasts Sermon, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/discourse-8-april-1843-as-reported-by-william-clayton-b/7#full-transcript. Again, I cleaned up some of the punctuation.
- “Bill Nye: Are We Actually Aliens? #TuesdaysWithBill”, Big Think, 20 Oct 2015, https://youtu.be/fcSUMwYknK0. Ken Ham once said: “I’m shocked at the countless hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent over the years in the desperate and fruitless search for extraterrestrial life… 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!… And I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel.” …“We’ll find a new Earth within 20 years”, Around the World with Ken Ham (July 20, 2014) https://answersingenesis.org/astronomy/extraterrestrial-life-more-common-than-previously-thought/?utm_source=facebook-kh&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=blog20191205. For other examples, see David A. Weintraub, Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How Will We Deal With It?, Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014.
- David A. Weintraub, Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How Will We Deal With It?
- Emphasis added.