UFOs and Hard Evidence

hard-evidence (1)

UFOs are reported to appear seemingly out of nowhere, travel at phenomenal speeds across the sky, turn at impossible angles, and disappear without a trace. Given this, UFOs are scientifically very hard to explain. One researcher commented that “it is literally impossible to understand them within the space-time framework we use to interpret ordinary events.”[1]

UFOs have been sighted virtually around the world. Many nations have officially or secretly engaged in serious investigations of UFOs at the governmental and military levels.[2] In fact, in the United States alone, countless millions of dollars have been spent on official UFO investigations by the CIA, FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army Intelligence, Naval Intelligence, and other organizations.[3] The scientific community remains largely skeptical. 

The reality is that over 90 percent of all reported UFOs prove to be IFOs—that is, identified flying objects. Such IFOs can turn out to be the planet Venus, stars, distant airplane landing lights, ball lightning, weather balloons, satellites, formations of birds, lenticular and other strange clouds, wind-borne objects (such as kites, Frisbees, and pieces of paper), blimps or airships, searchlights at night, and various kinds of astronomical and meteorological phenomena. There are all kinds of possibilities.

The ball lightning explanation for UFOs has been explored in detail by researcher Philip Klass. This little-known kind of lightning, which involves plasma, “is usually oval in shape and an intense red, is often heard to sizzle, and moves around with unpredictable vigor, sometimes hanging motionless, at other times darting about at high speeds with instantaneous changes in direction.”[4]

Klass studied some 746 UFO sightings, and in almost every case, he discovered that the reported UFOs displayed characteristics typical of plasma—color, shape, erratic movement, and hissing.[5]

The strong electrical charge of a plasma could also explain the frequent reports of interference with radios, lights, and automobile electrical systems in the vicinity of UFOs. Since a plasma has little mass and is responsive to electromagnetic fields, its erratic flight and high-speed reversals of direction posed no theoretical problem. Moreover, plasmas reflect radio waves, so they cannot be ruled out when UFOs appear on radar screens.[6]

Klass’s theory certainly explains at least some of the reported sightings of UFOs. He wrote that ball lightning may “explain many sightings of lower-altitude ‘unidentified flying objects.’”[7]

Other theories are presented by Dr. Hugh Ross, president of Reasons to Believe (a Christian ministry). He believes that probably half of the UFO sightings reported are the planet Venus, which often appears to be a bright morning star and can even appear during the daytime hours.[8] Ross also notes that on occasion birds that have been exposed to phosphorous (glowing) dust and migrate during the nighttime hours have sometimes been mistaken for UFOs.[9]

There are still further possible explanations for UFO sightings. For example, we now know that the military is working on various methods of displaying 3-D (three-dimensional) holographical images in the sky as a form of nonlethal weaponry. Such images would not be detected by radar, which is consistent with many UFO reports.[10] Someone could easily see such an image in the sky and think it was an alien spacecraft.

There are also various “black projects” or secret projects that the government has been engaged in. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, one of these projects involved a saucer-shaped craft that could hover above the ground. This craft no doubt accounts for some of the UFO sightings that occurred in the Washington state area during that timeframe.[11]

A key factor to keep in mind regarding all this is that, according to many experts, the human eye can easily be tricked, even to the point of hallucination:

A bright light, such as the planet Venus, often appears to move, though a clamped telescope or a sighting bar shows it to be fixed. A visual impression of distance is also unreliable because it is based on an assumed size. Reflections from windows or eyeglasses may provide superimposed views. Optical defects can turn point sources of light into apparently saucer-shaped objects. Such optical illusions coupled with a desire to interpret visual images account for many UFO reports.[12]

Moreover, experts have pointed out how much junk is floating around in outer space, so there are plenty of opportunities for the human eye to be tricked:

There are 7,087 man-made objects in space. They include ten screws, each an eighth of an inch in diameter, that were discarded during a 1984 shuttle mission; a thermal glove that floated out of Gemini 4 in 1965; a screwdriver dropped by a careless space-walking cosmonaut aboard the Soviet Mir space station; and several thousand satellites, some actively communicating with ground stations, and some relics, useless twentieth-century antiques that will continue to whiz and clank through space for generations. All this hectic traffic above the planet Earth is constantly monitored by the U.S. Space Command’s Space Surveillance Center hidden inside snowcapped Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs.[13]

Given such facts, when one sees a UFO, one is on the safest ground assuming that there is a natural explanation. Now, it could be that there is not a natural explanation—and in that case, it may involve occultism (see my article “UFOs and the Occult Connection”). But a good starting point is to suspect a natural explanation.

A Brief Interview with Philip Klass

Because Philip Klass has made it his life’s purpose to force UFO advocates to come up with hard evidence to support their views, please indulge me if I cite his responses a bit more than anyone else in this article. Klass granted a brief interview to Nova Online (an Internet website), and he was asked how compelling he thought the evidence was for the existence of UFOs. Though his answer deals primarily with abduction claims, he demonstrates quite forcefully just how uncompelling much of the physical evidence is:

The evidence, first off, is not universal and it is not compelling. Budd Hopkins likes to claim that anyone with a scar on their body, [and] they cannot remember how they got it… that that scar was caused by aliens. Nonsense.

When I give UFO lectures, I ask people in the audience: “How many of you have a scar on your body somewhere?” And nearly every hand goes up. And then when I ask: “Can you remember how you got the scar?” almost no hands go up. Because most of our scars and bodily injuries—particularly the minor ones—occur when we’re children, when we are learning how to roller-skate and ride bicycles and doing the sort of things where we injure ourselves.

Missing time is supposed to be another mark of abduction. Heavens, I experience missing time every time that I look at my watch and say: “My goodness, it’s two p.m., I thought it was only around noon.” When I go for a drive, I typically experience missing time, because I don’t recall passing this bridge or passing that bridge. It is automatic. It is routine….

So—now it is claimed that the aliens leave implants [up peoples’ noses, for example]…. Now, wait a minute. If aliens are abducting thousands or millions of Americans, and if they’re putting implants in many of them, all it would take would be one little micro-electronic, or one unusual device that we could say: “This could not have been made on this earth.” And that would be the evidence that would convince even me. But so far, they cannot come up with any scientifically credible evidence.[14]

The Need for Irrefutable Proof

If it were true that extraterrestrials were visiting this planet in spacecrafts that seem to defy the laws of physics, this would unquestionably rank as the most significant discovery in the history of science. That being the case, in order for people to accept it and believe it, there must be extraordinary evidence to prove it.

As astronomer Alan Hale put it, “If you are making an extraordinary claim, the burden is on you to produce the extraordinary evidence to prove that you are correct; the burden is not on me to prove that you are wrong.” Furthermore, Hale argues, “you must prove your case by providing the direct and compelling evidence for it; you can’t prove it by eliminating a few token explanations and then crying, ‘Well, what else can it be?’”[15]

It makes good sense that if one is confronted with a series of phenomena for which there exists more than one viable explanation, one should choose the simplest explanation that fits all the available data. Many people have indeed seen things in the sky for which they have no explanation. But it is also true, as Hale notes, that “reports can come from people who are unaware of the various phenomena that are visible in the sky and from people who are not equipped or trained at making reliable scientific observations.”[16] That’s why people shouldn’t make dogmatic claims about UFOs when the evidence is so flimsy.

New Light from the CIA

A recent admission by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) further confirms that many UFO reports have natural explanations. In 1997 the CIA admitted in a study that the Air Force lied to the public about UFO sightings in the 1950s and 1960s. Gerald K. Haines, a historian at the National Reconnaissance Office, wrote in the 1997 study that during the Cold War years, the Air Force frequently provided explanations for UFO sightings that were untrue in order to deflect attention away from the super-secret spy planes they were using. “Over half of all UFO reports from the late 1950s through the 1960s were accounted for by manned reconnaissance flights (namely the U-2) over the United States,” Haines said.[17]

These early spy planes—the “U-2s”—were silver and reflected the sun’s rays, especially at sunrise and sunset. They often appeared as fiery objects to people at the ground level. Because of this, the U-2s were later painted black.[18]

Haines noted that concern about the public finding out about the secret spy planes “led the Air Force to make misleading and deceptive statements to the public in order to allay public fears and to protect an extraordinarily sensitive national security project.”[19] The whole goal was to deflect attention away from America’s super-secret spy planes that were considered crucial to national security.[20] Haines concedes that “while perhaps justified, this deception added fuel to the later conspiracy theories and the cover-up controversy.”[21]

All of this is simply to say that many of the UFO reports in the 1950s and 1960s were U.S. spy planes. People can debate over whether the government should have lied. But the dishonesty aside, the point I am making is that these planes constitute a natural explanation for a great many sightings. This further supports my earlier statement that unless there is good reason to believe otherwise (such as occultic phenomena), one’s first best assumption should be that the sighting has a natural explanation of some sort.

What About the Recent Evidence from the Pentagon? 

The U.S. Government has issued a new report on UFOs. On June 25, 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released its preliminary assessment on the recent “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” (UAP)—apparently the new term for UFOs.

The report is not without its critics. Some criticize the report for uneven reporting procedures. Others criticize it for “observer bias in the reporting.”[22] Nevertheless, we will briefly consider the report for any possible “hard evidence” for UFOs. 

Addressing the report, one official commented: “We are seeing, let’s call them, vehicles, if you will, in U.S. airspace that are displaying performance characters well beyond anything we can either replicate or in some cases understand.” These vehicles “are displaying instantaneous acceleration, hypersonic velocity.” They have “this weird antigravity where you have vehicles with no wings, no control surfaces, no engines, and somehow they can fly and outperform the very best aircraft we have in our inventory.”[23]

Another official commented on some of the video footage described in the report: “The most interesting part of the footage according to analysts is the unidentified object’s lack of a heat signature. This suggests a lack of a conventional propulsion engine which means it is using a different technology to power its flight.”[24]

The question is, does a “vehicle” that uses different technology, and is very fast and highly maneuverable, constitute “hard evidence” that aliens are among us? I don’t think so. 

I’ve always believed that when we confront things we may not understand, that is the most important time to anchor ourselves on the things we do understand. And here is what we do understand: 

  • Most UFOs (unidentified flying objects) turn out to be IFOs (identified flying objects). John Spencer, a British UFO researcher, estimates that 95 percent of received UFO reports “are turned into IFOs and explained satisfactorily.”[25]
  • There is always the possibility that the “vehicle” could be technology from one of our adversaries. Super-fast and maneuverable drones would be an ideal way for our adversaries to spy on military installations in the United States. “We know foreign adversaries have a strong interest in developing and using novel stealth drones for espionage and probing our defenses.”[26] 
  • There is always the possibility that these super-fast “vehicles” might be “black projects” of the U.S. military. The report released by the Pentagon “could not confirm one way or another that some of the phenomena were advanced US military or aerospace research activities.”[27] “Black projects” are, by their very nature, known only to a very few people. They are top-secret projects. That means that air force pilots and their commanders—and even intelligence specialists at the Pentagon—may be unaware of some of these projects. 
  • Here is an alternate possibility: Suppose the “vehicle” is a new technology of the United States that the Pentagon is aware of. In that case, one might naturally expect the Pentagon to put out disinformation by claiming that this “vehicle” has capabilities far beyond anything in the U.S. arsenal. After all, the U.S. government likely does not want hostile adversary nations to catch wind that this technology is now in the U.S. arsenal. 
  • Regardless of the so-called “vehicle,” it does not constitute proof that aliens are among us. Just one of many problems with such a hypothesis is the distance that would have to be traversed by the aliens to get to earth:

Probably the greatest challenge to interstellar space travel is simply the immense size of the universe. One group of scientists, assuming that any alien spacecraft would likely maintain communication with either the home planet or with other members of their traveling party, “scanned all 202 of the roughly solar-type stars within 155 light-years of Earth. Not one intelligible signal was detected anywhere within the vicinity of these stars.” This implies that, at a minimum, E.T. would have to travel 155 light-years just to reach earth. Unfortunately, numerous galactic hazards would prevent traveling here in a straight line. Avoiding these deadly hazards would increase the minimum travel distance to approximately 230 light-years.

Dr. Hugh Ross estimates that “any reasonably-sized spacecraft transporting intelligent physical beings can travel at velocities no greater than about 1 percent” of light speed. Although this is nearly 7 million miles per hour, it would still take about twenty-three thousand years to travel the 230 light-years to earth! Of course, a lot can go wrong in twenty-three thousand years. The aliens might run out of food or fuel. Their spacecraft might be damaged beyond repair by space debris. A contagious epidemic might destroy them. The mind reels at the overwhelming improbability of completing such a multi-generational mission. 

A final problem relates to Christian theology:

God formed the earth to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18)—not Mars, Venus, or some other far-flung planet. Also, when Adam sinned, his sin affected all of creation (Romans 8:22). Jesus came as the last Adam [a human being] to save those of Adam’s race who will repent and believe. If there were intelligent aliens out there, they would suffer the effects of sin but couldn’t be saved because Christ died for mankind, not for aliens (1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 9:27–28, 10:10). So, theologically, we know that aliens can’t (and don’t) exist.

Whether or not one agrees with this theological assessment, I think it is unwise to conclude that aliens are among us simply because some air force pilots have recorded footage of a very fast and highly maneuverable “vehicle.” I suspect that these “vehicles” are either “black projects” of the United States or new technology developed by an adversary nation. I think it is unwise to claim aliens are among us unless one sees with their own eyes the actual alien beings

  1.  Brooks Alexander, “Machines Made of Shadows,” SCP Journal, 17:1-2, 1992, p. 9.
  2. John Ankerberg and John Weldon, “UFO Encounters,” SCP Journal, 17:1-2, 1992, p. 17.
  3.  Ankerberg and Weldon, p. 17.
  4.  The UFO Phenomenon: Mysteries of the Unknown, ed. Time-Life (Alexandria: Time-Life Books, n.d), p. 104.
  5.  The UFO Phenomenon: Mysteries of the Unknown, p. 104.
  6.  The UFO Phenomenon: Mysteries of the Unknown, p. 104.
  7.  The UFO Phenomenon: Mysteries of the Unknown, p. 104.
  8.  Bob Waldrep, “Beam Me Up, Scotty,” Watchman Fellowship Web Site, 1997, downloaded from Internet.
  9.  Waldrep.
  10. “Your Views on the UFO Phenomenon,” MSNBC Home Page, 1997.
  11.  “Your Views on the UFO Phenomenon,” MSNBC Home Page, 1997.
  12.   Richard Kadrey, “UFOs,” Comptons Online Encyclopedia, downloaded from Internet.
  13.   Howard Blum, Out There: The Government’s Secret Quest for Extraterrestrials (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), p. 25.
  14.   Interview with Philip Klass, NOVA Online, insert added.
  15.   Alan Hale, “An Astronomer’s Personal Statement on UFOs,” Skeptical Inquirer, March-April 1997, p. 29.
  16.   Hale, p. 29.
  17.  “US Lied in UFO Explanations,” The Associated Press, 2 August 1997, downloaded from Internet.
  18.  “US Lied in UFO Explanations.”
  19.  “US Lied in UFO Explanations.”
  20.  “U.S. Feared Soviets Might Exploit UFO Sightings,” Los Angeles Times, 4 August 1997, p. A-4, downloaded from Internet.
  21.  “US Lied in UFO Explanations.”
  22.  Mark Clark, “New US Government UFO Report: A Christian Perspective,” Reasons to Believe (www.reasons.org), August 12, 2021.
  23.  Sandy Fitzgerald, “Former Pentagon Program Chief: UFO Report Will Be ‘Compelling,’” Newsmax, March 23, 2021.
  24.   Nathaniel Artosilla, “Ex-Pentagon Official Reveals Navy Video of Alleged UFO Encounter,” Christian Post Contributor, March 16, 2018.
  25.   John Spencer, ed., The UFO Encyclopedia (New York: Avon Books, 1991), s.v. “Identified Flying Objects (IFOs),” cited in Hugh Ross, Kenneth Samples, and Mark Clark, Lights in the Sky & Little Green Men (Colorado Springs, Colorado: NavPress, 2002), 25.
  26.   Ken Ham, “Will the Pentagon Report Prove UFOs are Real?” Answers in Genesis, June 21, 2021.
  27.   Mark Clark, “New US Government UFO Report: A Christian Perspective,” Reasons to Believe (www.reasons.org), August 12, 2021.
  28.   Michael Gleghorn, “A Tale of Two Hypotheses,” Probe, May 27, 2003.
  29.   Ham, “Will the Pentagon Report Prove UFOs Are Real?”

Dr. Ron Rhodes received his Th.M. and Th.D. degrees in systematic theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, graduating with honors. He is currently the president of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries, an apologetics organization located in Texas.

The author of more than 60 books, with millions of books in print, Dr. Rhodes is a keynote speaker at conferences across the United States and Canada. As time permits, he also teaches at a number of seminaries, including Dallas Theological Seminary and Veritas Evangelical Seminary. He has been a guest on many national and regional radio and television programs, including the John Ankerberg Show. He and his wife, Kerri, reside in Texas.

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