Last month, I learned about something called “Fermi’s Paradox” on a This American Life episode of the same name. Fermi’s Paradox, for the non-nerds, says basically this: if it’s so scientifically likely for there to be life on other planets, then why haven’t we found it? The most likely explanation is that it simply doesn’t exist and life on earth is a cosmic fluke. For David Kestenbaum, PhD, this question was a game-changer. He became incredibly depressed as he began to despair of there being any intelligent life beyond our own. His friends and colleagues tried to help him as they came up with all kinds of good reasons for why aliens might exist but had not contacted us, but none of these explanations made him feel better.
Part of his depression, it seemed, had to do with the partial failure of his worldview: everything he knew about the way the universe worked told him that it is highly probable for life to evolve elsewhere. One of his colleagues speculated that if there were no life on other planets, David would have to believe in God to account for the miracle of human life on earth. But that didn’t seem to bother him that much. What he really wanted in extraterrestrial life was something bigger, smarter, better than we are. In David’s words, if there were no alien life, “…this would mean that there’s nobody out there who knows more than we do…about science…there are no better songs. There are no better books. This is it, you know?” As I listened to the episode, it seemed to me that David wasn’t so much worried about having to acknowledge God as he was worried that he would never find anything like God out there in the universe.
Last week, I piled into a car with some of my favorite people in the universe for a tour of Roswell, New Mexico — aka Alien City, USA. Our amazing tour guide, Dennis, walked us through every piece of the 1947 Roswell incident, showing us pictures, sharing first-hand accounts and eye-witness interviews, and driving us to the sites in town where all the mysteries went down. Something happened in Roswell in 1947, and Dennis has made it his life’s work to uncover the truth. Toward the end of the tour, he took us to the site of a former Catholic hospital where two nuns reported seeing what they believed to be a falling aircraft on the night of the storied alien contact in July 1947. He spoke of the Vatican’s affirmation of the possibility of alien life, and he told us he figured that God created everything, so, aliens or no aliens, his faith wouldn’t be shaken. He is a true believer — and a true Christian believer.
Last year, I embarked on a quest to better understand the Holy Spirit. I wanted to learn to recognize God’s voice in my life. Most of the stories I’d heard about people following God’s voice seemed more like cases of confirmation bias than a real word from God — the people were looking to hear something and so they interpreted various signs to that effect. But some stories seemed too hard to explain. I wanted to be part of those stories, deep in the mysteries of God. I wanted to feel my faith down in my bones and be certain that the choices I was making were God’s choices. The direction I believe God led me as I learned about the Holy Spirit felt like the familiar sense of creative inspiration. I believe that the Holy Spirit guides me in all my creative endeavors, and I began to trust that sensation in other areas of my life. But that feeling couldn’t guide me everywhere. Sometimes I didn’t feel it at all. Sometimes, all I could do was pray, “I believe, but Lord help my unbelief.” In other words, like Mulder in the X files, I want to believe. I want to interpret the signs all around me as evidence of something fundamentally other invading my world.
Jesus told Nicodemus that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. When I catch glimpses of the kingdom, I believe it is because of my new birth in Christ, with the Holy Spirit leading the way. When I can’t see the kingdom at all, my explanation isn’t nearly as tidy. Like David in This American Life, I can sink into depression: what if this is all there is? But the thing about truth is that it is always true, all the time. Like my new friend Dennis, from Roswell, I believe that the truth can withstand questioning. Truth can withstand doubt, worldview shifts, and alien invasions. And if I’m interpreting the signs correctly, this longing many people share to find something bigger and better than we are may be evidence that something bigger and better exists — that God exists. The truth is out there, and perhaps wanting to believe is enough.