By Dr. Hugh Ross
A rising challenge to Christianity, both within and beyond the borders of America, springs from the popular obsession with UFOs (unidentified flying objects) and ETI (extraterrestrial intelligent life).
Growing numbers of UFO and ETI cults, some overtly religious, others with the pretense of purely scientific endeavor, preach their own message of salvation for the human race, a message that directly contradicts—and overtly targets—the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These cults deny the existence of a transcendent Creator. They deny that salvation comes only through faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. They preach, rather, that hope lies in receiving “guidance” from advanced extraterrestrial aliens, through a book of solutions to all humanity’s problems. Some call it Urantia and say it has already come; others call it Encyclopedia Galactica and await its coming.
As Christian apologists (including those from Reasons To Believe) address university and community audiences in Africa, Australia, Canada, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States, questions about UFOs and ETI number among the most frequently asked. These questions make sense in light of surveys indicating that UFO sightings worldwide exceed one million per year.1
Astronomers readily confirm that the vast majority of supposed UFO sightings can be explained by natural phenomena. Only a small fraction of UFOs truly lack any reasonable explanation from nature or from human activity. In the case of virtually all sightings, however, the immediate response of lay people (and even from some scientists) is that superintelligent aliens traveling in sophisticated spacecraft have arrived from the distant reaches of space. “Flying saucers” and “UFOs” are synonymous terms for the vast majority of the world’s population. Flying saucer clubs (and cults) devote themselves exclusively to studying UFO encounters and to promoting the claim that planet Earth has been and continues to be explored by aliens.
How realistic is the notion of interstellar (between planetary systems) or intergalactic (between galaxies) travel—even if we temporarily suspend questions about the possibility of intelligent physical life beyond Earth? Of all the books available on UFO phenomena, few give adequate attention to the properties of space and to the physical challenges of space travel. Such challenges have been underscored by human endeavors of the past few decades, including Apollo 13 and the biosphere experiments.
In this day of almost routine success by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in sending spacecraft to Earth’s neighboring planets (not to mention familiar television and movie depictions of space travel throughout the Milky Way and beyond), people may easily lose sight of two facts: (1) the laws and constants of physics set hard limits on any significant space travel by intelligent physical beings; and (2) no amount of technological capability can overcome such limits.
One obstacle to intergalactic or even planetary-system-to-planetary-system travel arises from the enormous distances separating the stars. Distance, of course, translates to time, and time translates to risk exposure. The more time a living or mechanical body spends in space, the more dangers it encounters—deadly dangers.
The nearest star is 25 trillion miles away. If one were to use a grapefruit to model our roughly million-mile diameter Sun, the distance to the nearest star, on this scale, would be the distance from Los Angeles to Managua, Nicaragua. If a person were to hitch a ride to that star on NASA’s fastest (to date) spacecraft, the trip would take 112,000 years.
The nearest stars, however, fail to meet the basic requirements for life support. Sentient physical beings require an Earth-like habitat—one that orbits a single, middle-aged star closely resembling the Sun. This planet’s orbit must be nearly circular, not too eccentric. The planet must be shielded from asteroid bombardment by a massive companion planet (such as Jupiter) but cannot be bounced around by the gravity of that protector planet. Many more criteria could be listed, but these suffice to make the point.2 No star within about 50 light-years of Earth can meet these requirements. Those with a mass similar to the Sun’s are either too young or too old to burn with sufficient stability.3 They possess partner stars or huge nearby planets that would disrupt the orbit of any Earth-like planet, or they lack large protector planets.4
Even if intelligent beings were to reside a mere 50 light-years distant, they would have to cut a zigzag course through various galactic hazards to reach planet Earth, making their trip considerably longer. Incoming travelers would have to dodge the gravity and deadly radiation of neutron stars, supergiant stars, nova and supernova eruptions, and even the remnants of such eruptions. They would have to avoid the gas, dust, and comets so dense in the spiral arms, as well as the environs of late-born stars (stars formed during the past 5 billion years). But, they would have to stay in the plane of the galaxy. Any departure from the plane would expose the travelers to the deadly radiation that streams from the galactic core…
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