I saw this essay from TIME Magazine pop up on Twitter today: “Dabbling in Exotheology.” The date of the essay was 1978 (unless that’s a typo). The essay opens with this question: “Can the “image of God” survive in extraterrestrial life?” An understandable one, but an ignorant one, nonetheless. Anyone who has followed my work knows I’ve lectured on this many times. The answer is “yes” (if what is meant is the survival of the doctrine). It’s “no” if what is meant that ET also has this image.
Lest I be misunderstood, I’m not saying TIME is guilty of theological ignorance. The question really is to be expected. The ignorance is to be found among the many millions of Christians and Jews who would be spooked about the confirmation of ET life because they have fundamentally misunderstood the image of God as some sort of (heretofore) human attribute, like intelligence, sentience, speech, etc. This is the way the image gets talked about all the time, but that notion is not at all coherent.
I won’t take the time or space to rehearse the content of my lectures here. The best I can do is the twelve-page essay on the image of God that I recently wrote for a study Bible published by my employer, Logos Bible Software (the article was for the Lexham Bible Dictionary, also our product, but accessible through the study Bible). Look for the section on the meaning of the image. I could have devoted twelve more pages as to why the “traditional” (attribute-based) view undermines a pro-life ethic and fails because of research in fields like artificial intelligence and animal cognition (and the theoretical study of intelligent ET life), but this will have to do. People who have a high view of Scripture and its teaching about how humans are God’s imagers (to know why I use the verbal phrasing, read my essay), an intelligent ET ought not to be any theological threat. And yet it would be, due to theological ignorance.