Stephen Hawking on receiving a signal from intelligent life on another planet: “We should be wary of answering back. Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus — that didn’t turn out so well.”
Hawking has been saying/synthesizing that sentiment for years. It follows a pattern.
On a number of speculative subjects, Hawking consistently expresses a roiling brew of passionate optimism for scientific progress mixed with an existential fear of its success. On the achievement of artificial intelligence and autonomous robotics, he says, “The potential benefits are huge… Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. It might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks.”
Similarly, because Hawking considers the human brain to be nothing but a computer (“I regard the brain as a computer”), he argues that computer viruses should be considered the first new life form that humans have created (implying we’re on the way to creating even more forms of life). He views this as a massive achievement and also an indicator of our destructive nature as flawed gods. “Maybe it says something about human nature, that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. Talk about creating life in our own image.” It should be noted that the Bible teaches that only God creates life ex nihilo – not even Satan and his demons can create life; they only imitate that miracle, or worse, destroy life (Exodus 7) – and at best we’re stewards of His creation.
So given the risk Hawking sees to discovering intelligent life elsewhere, his advice is to find aliens before they find us, which implies that we should be on the Columbus side of the explorer-as-exploiter narrative. That’s sound reasoning from an Art of War perspective, but it doesn’t mesh with his optimistic musings:
“It would force us to change. We would have to give up the idea that we are unique and start acting with more compassion and humility.” That conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise. We’re hardly setting ourselves up for “compassion and humility” should we succeed. If astrophysicists discovered intelligent life on other planets, it would only puff up their pride to the point of bursting. Pride goes before destruction, and pride mixed with fear and power leads to war. And since we know Hawking thinks our time on this planet is limited and we need to find a habitable planet elsewhere ASAP to survive, finding such a place would result in desperate, unmitigated exploitation on our part.
In Genesis 1:26-29, God tells us that we’re unique and given dominion over the earth, and He’s charged us with the responsibility to replenish and subdue it. For Bible believers, that role is definitive, but it’s also true that our unique role as God’s ultimate creation is not a point of pride, but of humility. The key factor is that we’re sinners to the bone and yet God has redeemed us through the work of Jesus Christ, not of our own merit but of His loving grace. That’s the gospel. The fact that most people don’t behave with compassion and humility, which are among the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23, but instead exude the works of the flesh described in Galatians 5:19-21, only proves the point of man’s natural and total depravity. Unbelievers should be shocked and ashamed to recognize that while they readily confess that humans behave like ravaging animals toward each other and the planet and deserve to be wiped out, this is also God’s message to us, which they don’t realize, and reject as unfairly judgmental on His part, and yet even though we don’t deserve salvation, God has sacrificed His only begotten Son to save those who believe and repent.
Man’s uniqueness in God’s creation would not be shaken by the discovery of intelligent life on other planets. Intelligent life may exist on other planets, just as on this planet animals, plants and lower life forms exist, but these are not creatures made in God’s image, not men and women with souls.
Jesus has always existed from everlasting. He came once to the earth in the flesh to dwell among us, died on the cross, was resurrected and is now received up into heaven and is sitting on the right hand of God. One God, one Father, one Jesus, one Holy Spirit, one world, one perfect sacrifice, one gospel that says when Jesus returns, He’ll inflict one destruction of the universe with fire, melting the elements with fervent heat, and then create new heavens and a new earth, wherein will dwell righteousness for eternity.
While we could theorize about parallel gospels on other planets or universes in a multiverse, the word of God gives no indication of such possibilities. In other words, that would be crazy talk, man’s wisdom separated from God and reduced to foolishness.
“Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:9-10).