The following article by Dr. John F. Lang first appeared in the May 2021 (Vol 13, Issue 5) edition of The Lutheran Clarion.
“The truth is out there” or so the UFO refrain goes. But what truth? The answer depends on whom you ask. In recent years, ufology has grown into a carnival: Hucksters promote sensational UFO stories in television documentaries and tabloids. For them, the truth of a UFO story is its potential to boost ratings. “Abductees,” certain of their capture, appear at conferences to put forward their version of the truth. The mainstream media carries regular accounts of military encounters with UFOs performing inertia- defying acrobatics in the sky. Photographic images from these encounters have the potential to verify the existence of alien craft, but the images are fuzzy, stymieing positive identification.
Meanwhile, outside of the hoopla, a largely invisible college of serious investigators researches the topic. Some are only interested in the psychology of UFO contactees, whose collective response constitutes a type of religion.
For them, whether UFOs objectively exist is less important than the response of those who believe they do. Others, convinced that UFOs are piloted by extraterrestrials, are fascinated by the physics of superluminal velocity and the seismic shift in world-wide understanding that the discovery of alien life would stir. For them, physical evidence is an important stepping stone to the truth. A third group painstakingly compiles reports of UFOs in an attempt to reveal patterns which they hope will indicate the true nature of the phenomenon.
One of the interesting, though not surprising, aspects of paranormal sightings is that the observer will interpret his experience in terms of his cultural framework. In ancient times, strange lights in the sky and visitation by alien beings were interpreted mythologically. In medieval times, spirits, ghosts, leprechauns, and fairies were reported, sometimes with astral signs. In 1897, a few decades after the invention of dirigibles, cigar-shaped “airships” with revolving wheels and brilliant search lights were described cruising through the sky in numerous places in the United States. During World War II, the British began investigating unexplained aerial objects for security reasons. By that time, aviation technology had greatly advanced and unexplained aerial objects were assumed to be spacecraft arising from enemy countries, or possibly alien worlds. In 1947 the term “flying saucer” was used by the press to describe the strange objects seen by a pilot over Mt. Rainier. The United States Air Force used the term Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) in its internal investigations, and a book was published on its findingsby the head of the famous Project Blue Book in 1956. By then, the idea of alien visitations was firmly planted in the American mind and became the subject of countless B movies. Today, the extraterrestrial theme remains the primary explanation in the popular media. The notion that UFOs are the product of another country’s secret research is mostly out of vogue. Regardless of the origin of UFOs, the Defense Department recently announced a new program to detect and catalog UFOs which may pose a security threat. The term UAP, unidentified aerial phenomena, is sometimes used instead of UFO.
Since certain atmospheric conditions combined with the light from bright stars and everyday aircraft can create peculiar visual patterns in the sky, a large fraction of UFOs sightings can be explained without resorting to extraterrestrial causes. Experimental aircraft and drones may also be mistaken for something alien. This does not even take into the account the capacity of psychological disturbance or intoxicating substances to produce false memories, or for people to perpetrate hoaxes. The differing cultural interpretation of astral phenomena over the centuries has also been taken as evidence of some type of mass suggestion.
However, the sheer number of credible witnesses of UFOs, many of whom report similar details of geographically based phenomenon even though they had no means of communicating with one another, militates against the conclusion that meteorology, human aircraft, hallucination, or hoax can account for all of the sightings. Indeed, if even a tiny fraction of the stories do not arise from spurious causes, one must look to the only alternative, a paranormal explanation, which could include extra-terrestrials.
If we accept the premise, for the sake of argument, that at least some UFOs are paranormal in nature, what are they? Most of the hypotheses fall into one of the categories described below.
The most common hypothesis, as noted above, is the one which comports with our current technological vantage-point: UFOs are spacecraft operated by aliens of unknown intent from another planet or a parallel dimension.
Though taken as received wisdom by most UFO enthusiasts, this hypothesis has significant drawbacks. One has to be careful about saying superluminal velocities or interdimensional space travel are impossible but given the vastness of space and the extreme technical challenges of such travel, it would seem unlikely on scientific grounds.
Behavioral objections can also be raised. Why would aliens come to earth only to play cat and mouse games with our aircraft? Wouldn’t it make sense for them to announce themselves and open a channel of communication? To counter this argument, those who believe the alien explanation invoke the possibility of a “Prime Directive,” as in the Star Trek series, whereby a more advanced civilization regards it improper to reveal itself to a more primitive one. However, any such directive has already been abrogated since thousands of people claim to have seen UFOs, some of whom even claim to have been abducted. And then there is the evolving form of the UFO craft. How did the steam-driven 1897 airships sighted by thousands manage to get here? Such contrivances hardly seem space worthy.
There is also an eschatological inconsistency with the Biblical account of the end times. The Biblical account of the creation and the end of the universe are synchronized to events on earth. The universe rolls up at Christ’s second coming. That would imply the end to any alien civilizations that exist, which hardly seems tenable, since alien civilizations’ survival would be tied to God’s specific plan for the earth. That raises the question of whether alien life exists at all. Additionally, it may seem uneconomic or wasteful for the vastness of space not to teem with other civilizations, but God created the universe out of nothing. Hence, the vastness of space is hardly a strain on God’s infinite treasury.
A fanciful second hypothesis is that the visitors come from earth but from our future. This avoids the difficulty of interstellar travel, if indeed time travel is possible. It is said that this explains alien reticence since they are concerned about altering history by their presence. However, this makes no sense either. For one thing, whatever such future people might do in our time would already be a part of their history, so they could not change it, they would simply be fulfilling it if they traveled back in time. For another, this creates a paradox in free will. Someone who traveled back to our time, even if he did not interact with us on a personal level, would carry out many unrecorded actions that were still a part of history. An example would be his exact flight path in our century.
When the appointed time in his century came for him to go back in time, he would have no choice but to repeat the flight path exactly as it had occurred in history. He would have no free will to alter it when he visited, which would render him an automaton, yet human beings operate with free will. He can’t both have and not have free will. Quantum mechanics allows for indeterminism on a submicroscopic level, but not at the macro level of human activity.
A third hypothesis, which is not often heard, is presented here because it is an important alternative: UFOs are not what they appear. UFOs are directed by an intelligence, not aliens, which manifests in different ways in different periods of history with deliberate adjustments to fit the technology of the time. That is the premise of a remarkable book which appeared in 1970 and now lies buried below the extensive UFO writings published since then. In Operation Trojan Horse, John Keel, now deceased, provides an extensive account of many UFO sightings throughout history and examines patterns in the timing, location, and nature of these sightings. By his analysis, the three aspects together indicate an intelligent coordination of UFOs by an unknown agent. The sheer volume of data at first seems random and purposeless, but he teases out of the noise what he considers to be a plausible explanation.
Unexplained astral phenomena have common features, even if there has been a shift in form over time: Multi-colored lights, white, red, green, and blue, are seen flashing or whirling about a geometric shape, usually at too great a distance to get a clear view. Most often the sightings are in remote locations at night, and sometimes they are observed by multiple parties. The apparition may move at extreme speeds darting from one place to another. Associated alien beings, if seen, are sometimes reported to be ghost-like, meaning that they are partly transparent and can slip through objects or vanish. They may appear in a person’s home at night. They are purported to communicate fluently in the language of the contactee, often telepathically without sound. The beings appear humanoid, but of a different height than human beings and with different facial features and extremities. The contactee may be examined against his will and may be issued a warning about the future of the earth, typically an environmental warning or a concern about the use of atomic energy. Sometimes the contactee is given to understand that he is being commissioned to perform some task on earth. Occasionally contactees are given prophesies; some come true, but others are patently false.
These features frighten those who experience them into believing that they are in the presence of something powerful and transcendent. That makes them very susceptible to manipulation. The more UFO encounters that a supposed contactee has, the more likely it is that others will follow. Those who are involved in this way may become psychologically unstable and their lives drastically altered. Suicides have resulted.
The fantastic nature of the phenomenon, as well as its psychological aspects, argues against its objective existence. Keel, however, contends for the veracity of his data by pointing that he has interviewed hundreds of sober, sensible witnesses who had no desire for publicity, spoke on condition of anonymity, and frankly were not creative enough to concoct false narratives. He dismisses the charge that the form of the astral signs and visitations is culture-bound and therefore suspect, by arguing that the playbook of the cosmic intellect has been adjusted over time to make the apparitions convincing to its victims. A being claiming to be Zeus or arriving in a Buck-Rogers spacecraft wouldn’t be credible to modern witnesses.
In his view, the cosmic intellect that deploys these apparitions has a mostly malevolent goal, which can range from irksome pranks to fiendish injury. With few exceptions, the intent seems to be to confuse or derail people’s lives.
What should we make of this?
In the numerous UFO events recorded in Keel’s book and others, none give glory to God. All perplex the participants and take them in directions which make Christian faith more difficult. That lends credence to his hypothesis. Some of those enraptured by UFOs become mystics. Their belief in some elusive truth behind UFOs becomes a substitute religion. Some of the scientists involved in UFO research seek to relate quantum mechanics and relativistic concepts involving black holes to the operation of the human brain and a cosmic connection with higher intelligence. This is occultism wrapped in a fancy scientific facade.
Keel’s understanding of Christianity is muddled, conflating the actions of demons and angels. However, it would seem that if the appearance of angels and other Godly Biblical figures are subtracted from his data, the malevolent accounts that remain could be pinned on Satan. He fits the part of Keel’s hidden cosmic intellect pulling the strings.
Consider St. Paul’s exhortation that Christians must do battle against the powers and principalities of the spiritual world. In effect, Keel is applying that observation to UFOs. Perhaps demons can deceive not only the conscience but also one’s perception of reality, extending so far as to create apparitions such as UFOs and misleading physical evidence. This is hardly a stretch since demon possession, which the Bible attests to, exerts powerful control over those afflicted. UFOs may be a more broadly applied (public) mind control made possible by the increasing godlessness and ripeness of the age to receive such a deception.
St. Paul warns of the coming of “the lawless one” in the end times who will bring false signs and wonders with a strong delusion (2 Th. 2:9-11). It is possible that UFOs will play a role in that delusion.
Military aircraft keep amassing photographs and video footage of UFOs. It seems very unlikely that electronic malfunctions or meteorological disturbances can account for all of these sightings. Meanwhile, the public and Congress are demanding more disclosures. Imagine, amidst greater public and government interest, that the photographic evidence slowly becomes more convincing that UFOs exist. Media coverage greatly increases. There is anticipation among everyday citizens and the government that events are coming to a head. Then one day a UFO actually lands and the occupant claims to be from another world. That scenario is the stuff of science fiction, but what if it happened? Are you, Christian reader, ready for that? How would you react? I would be very surprised if the “alien” confirmed our Judeo-Christian beliefs. To be sure, the world would lap-up anything that validated its sinful behavior and humanistic beliefs. And that validation could be very convincing with signs and wonders done for our supposed benefit.
Needless to say, Keel’s hypothesis is highly speculative. He goes on to warn his readers not to become too involved with following and studying UFOs, implying that they may be drawn into something ruinous. That sounds like good advice.