Do Aliens and Gods Reflect the Limits of Our Imagination?

alien sign next to dirt road
Image by Elias from Pixabay

Have extraterrestrial beings visited the Earth? I'd better re-phrase that question. I'm not interested in whether "ancient" aliens might have visited the Earth. Did they come to built various things long before humans created their gods. I won't pretend to care. A better question would be something like this:

Have aliens visited the Earth sometime between 1950 and today?

I picked 1950 because I've heard that was when America was "great," and I needed to pick a date. Many people, including some atheists, believe they have. Are they right?

Come to think of it, I'm not sure I find that question very interesting either. If aliens have visited, we don't have much evidence that they have. It is better to assume that they haven't until that changes. That said, the question of whether aliens have visited us raises a question I find much more interesting. Why is it that almost all the accounts of aliens involve humanoid creatures? Whether we're talking about "little green men" or gray aliens, they are all humanoids.

Why do I find this so interesting? I see no reason to think that aliens from outer space would be humanoid. They could be micro-organisms like bacteria or a virus. They could be all sorts of other things that bore little resemblance to the human shape. Does our insistence on depicting them as humanoid reflect a failure of imagination, or is something else going on here?

As you may have guessed, I see a parallel between aliens and gods. We depict aliens as humanoid for the same reasons we have depicted most gods as having human personality traits, if not human-like forms. We are the ones creating these things, and we are creating them in our image.

Much of this does seem like a failure of imagination. We don't have a lot of experience interacting with formless beings made of energy, for example. When we create aliens, gods, and whatever else, we draw on what we know. It should not be a surprise that the results end up being so similar.

The Christian notion that a particular god created us in its image is laughable. None of us are invisible. It seems obvious that we created this god in our image. It may not share our form, but it shares our psychology. It even shares several of our least desirable characteristics.

I suspect our depictions of aliens work in much the same way. Why is it that so many of the alien abduction stories involve probing? Might it be that we've had experiences of probing by medical practitioners? If we were to encounter a strange and unidentified being, our scientists would dissect it. Again, we are drawing on our experiences to fill in the details of our creation.

What if the first extraterrestrial visitor wasn't even sentient in a way we'd recognize? What if it wouldn't communicate with us at all? It could be something that hitched a ride to Earth on a meteorite and works much like a virus. The alien might then go about the business of destroying us. Religious believers would appeal to their gods for aid without wondering why their gods allowed this tragedy to befall us.

It is possible that aliens are "out there" and look how we like to depict them. It is also possible that some sort of god created humans. And yet, the bulk of the evidence suggests that we created these things to resemble us. We based them on what we know.

This post from 2020 was revised and expanded in 2022.