Latter-day Saint exobiology (part 2)

God is speaking to us in a consistent voice. God will deal with all the human family equally. We might be in a large ward or a small branch, our climate or vegetation may differ, the cultural background and language might vary, and the color of our skin could be totally different. But the universal power and blessings of the restored gospel are available to all, irrespective of culture, nationality, political system, tradition, language, economic environment, or education.

— Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, 2nd Counselor, First Presidency, July 2008 Ensign

Or, one might add, to those living on a different planet altogether.

In part 1 of this series, I noted that the LDS concept of myriad inhabited worlds within this universe dates back to 1830, the same year the LDS Church itself was founded. In other worlds, LDS doctrine has from the start had a very expansive, non-geocentric view of reality. This is a doctrine in which “were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still…” (Moses 7:30), and in which “by [Christ], and through [Christ], and of [Christ], the worlds are and were created, the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (D&C 76:24).

But what will those sons and daughters look like?

Consider the diversity of human forms (usually lumped under the unfortunate term “race“) known to exist in historic times just here on Earth.  The MButi people of Africa average around 4.5″ in height, while the Watusi (since merged into the Tutsi) average — or used to average — around 6.5” in height; furthermore, there are anthropological evidences (albeit controversial) of yet taller and shorter population groups. There are wide variations in skin color, eye color, and hair color and type, as well as in the shape of the human skull, facial characteristics, and many other genetically-linked or -influenced traits. We then have to add in the influences of environment, including evidences of rapid evolution and growing genetic diversity among modern humans.

And that’s just here on Eath.

We in the LDS Church have historically been strongly influenced by our British/European roots in our view of the physical nature of God and Christ. But what if the Gospel had been restored (for argument’s sake and ignoring the socio-politcal difficulties) in Africa, China, or India, or among indigenous peoples in Australia, South America, or North America? How would we view God and Christ then? It’s an old argument, I know, but valid nonetheless.

Now, let’s extend the above to countless worlds spread across this universe, inhabited by “begotten sons and daughters unto God” who have lived and been shaped by countless different ecologies and environments, and who will need to be genetically and physically compatible with those worlds. What physiological traits of those humans might emerge and dominate on a given world vs. what traits would be common across all worlds?

The common traits would likely correspond to those common among humans here on Earth:  upright, bilateral symmetry, two arms, two legs, front-facing head with basic facial organization, two genders [yeah, yeah, go argue elsewhere], and so on. I suspect we’d recognize them as human — but, again, that covers an awful lot of ground right here on Earth.

There could be signficant differences as well. As a simple example, consider this listing of “7 people from around the world with real mutant superpowers” (warning: profanity; also, ignore the guy with the flying jet pack). Again, these are all people here on Earth; the human body, as we know it, is capable of things that we don’t fully understand, and such characteristics — rare here on Earth — could be selected as a survival trait on another world. Other rare characteristics, considered here as birth defects — such as extra digits or webbing between fingers and toes — could again be normal and common elsewhere.

There could likewise be variations in the characteristics listed above — height, eye color, hair color/style, skin color, skull and facial characteristics, overall body shape, and so on — that don’t appear here on Earth.  Nothing inherently prohibits blue hair, red eyes, or green skin; while they’re not in the human genome here on Earth (as far as I know), they could well exist in the human genetic code on other worlds.

The planet itself could shape or require a changed physiology. Consider factors such as gravity, air pressure, O2 content, solar radiation, humidity, land mass vs. water surface, dissolved minerals in water, climate (with the resulting weather patterns), and the fundamental chemistry of plants and animals, that is, food sources. This could change existing physiology — consider the claimed physiological adaptations of population groups that have lived for many generations at high altitudes — or there could be completely new physical characteristics that don’t correspond to any human characteristics here. As a simple example of the latter, imagine infrared sensors on one’s cheeks or neck, analogous to those found on pit vipers; this could be useful on a world surrounding a small red sun (the single most common type of star out there).

At this point, the image that comes to mind is (wince) “Star Trek: The Original Series”, with its variety of very-human-looking aliens, usually having only cosmetic external differences among them, though often claiming significant internal and sensory differences. Of course, “Star Trek” did this because it was cheaper and easier to slap some makeup and prosthetic foreheads on real humans than to try to create a truly non-human alien (though they actually made a few decent stabs at that as well).

In sum, I don’t think we can presume that the “begotten sons and daughters unto God” on these billions (or more) of other worlds would necessarily blend in while wandering around the BYU campus. But they would be our brothers and sisters, nevertheless. In that, we and the Vatican would agree — but we would mean it a bit more literally. ..bruce..

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4 thoughts on “Latter-day Saint exobiology (part 2)

  1. First off, I had to chuckle in disbelief upon seeing your use of the term “prosthetic foreheads,” which I never expected to see outside the lyrics of They Might Be Giants. *hopes nobody notices his username*

    Now, I think it was a quote by Joseph Smith–which I’m trying to find again, so I apologize if I’m very off base–that says something to the effect that the human-like skeletons that were being discovered in the author’s (Joseph’s?) day were of a people who were once enlightened with the gospel but who had become degenerate. If what I remember of this quote retains any resemblance to the actual quote, this statement seems to back up not only selection or evolution in humans but also the possibility of human speciation. We know our divine parentage, “the origin of man,” but the effects of apostasy one could include affecting one’s (and likely others’) spiritual condition as well as one’s physical condition. P. P. Pratt’s quote about the effects of the gift of the Holy Ghost on its possessor seem to apply to this condition in reverse. While, Pratt says, the Holy Ghost:

    “quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands, and purifies all the natural passions and affections; and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings and affections of our nature. . . . It develops beauty of person, form and features. . . . It develops and invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man.” (Key to the Science of Theology, 101-102)

    the effects of apostasy do the opposite, taking away that which was had, causing one’s God-like traits to digress into the natural man’s, also called an animal nature, which is so often inferred from the fossil record of man’s so-called “relatives,” which may have been (or were) simply another species–but whether a another species from the beginning or later, who can tell.

  2. First off, I had to chuckle in disbelief upon seeing your use of the term “prosthetic foreheads,” which I never expected to see outside the lyrics of They Might Be Giants.

    Yep, that was a deliberate (if obscure) homage. “Flood” remains one of my all-time favorite albums. ..bruce..

  3. It doesn’t get much better than TMBG.

    But on the exobiology angle, if we agree that aliens could be quite strange looking, how can decide what “in the image of God” means? If strange aliens are children of God, what about animals? Insects? Plants? I know I am taking it to an absurd level, but how could we distinguish between children of God and animals?

    I am asking this, because I had a post on my own blog
    that was stuck on that very question.

    Of course, depending on your sources, anywhere from a majority to a minority of UFO sightings involve ‘Nordics’ – people quite indistinguishable from us – for what it is worth.

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