With the discovery of new habitable planets like Kepler-452b, the world has experience renewed interest in the possibility of alien life. As scientists and futurists discuss alien life and propose theories surrounding it, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have their own viewpoint about the ideas of alien life.
In the Book of Moses we read that God has created many worlds:
And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.
But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.
Latter Day Saint apostles have often mentioned the existence of other worlds, and church members believe that worlds without end have been created, some of which are inhabited. When confronted with the question of what the inhabitants of other worlds might look like, the standard fall-back position for most Mormons is to say that they are created in the image of God, since he is the creator of the cosmos. Thus they may look like us.
Now, I believe in other habitable worlds, not because of my theology but because the possibility of other worlds is scientifically sound. I do not believe that they have visited us. But I do not have a problem with admitting that they are probably out there.
But when we start to ask what these people might look like, the interpretation of “in the image of God” can split down two camps, the hard interpretation and the soft interpretation.
Hard Interpretation: This is the standard theological view. Any intelligent beings out in the cosmos would be recognizably human-like. They would have the same body types, similar features, and we would be able to see that we have a common lineage as children of God. Looking at alien life in this way is helpful, but can be narrow-minded. Although most evolutionary biologists believe that our body type is ideal, we can expect variations across the cosmos. An alien race may look generally similar to us, without being recognizably from Earth. Think about the variations on our own planet. If you are living in America, you can tell the familiar origin of most people, whether they are from Europe, Africa, Asia, etc. On our own planet, there are racial differences between different geographic locations, and we should expect a greater variation in the cosmos.
Soft Interpretation: My preferred view on the issue of alien life being created in God’s image is that we need to use the term “image” very loosely. Instead of insisting that other worlds are inhabited by human-like civilizations, we can think of the word image as describing the mental capacity of a species. Maybe alien species look nothing like us, but they are in the image of God in the sense that they have the mental capacity and capacity for spirituality that would give them the opportunity to achieve all the blessings of Godhood. In this sense they are created in the spiritual image of God, not so much the physical, and God would be able to take whatever form necessary to communicate with his children. I prefer this point of view, because it accounts for the extreme variation that could occur out in the cosmos, and does not force the Mormon view of the universe into a restrictive box.
So that’s a little food for thought for your Friday night. It’s all idle speculation and it is not critical at all to Mormon theology. But hey, it is interesting.