Reading Time: 2 minutes By NASA, ESA, and C. Robert O’Dell (Vanderbilt University) ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Guardian recently ran an article that provokes some interesting thought and discussion. If we are close to finding alien life (for the sake of argument, though the number of exoplanets discovered is constantly rising), how would this affect the major religions of the world?

Santhosh Mathew writes:

The interaction with alien life is not just being discussed in the domain of philosophy any more, it has entered into the traditional scientific realm. Realising this possibility, Nasa, in 2014, gave $1.1m to the Center of Theological Inquiry, an independent institution, to support an initiative to study “the societal implications of astrobiology”. Nasa was criticised by some for providing money to an organisation rooted in Christian theology.

The idea of infinite space with the infinite glory of God originated with Nicholas of Cusa, a German philosopher who kept his infinite theology within the Catholic framework. In 2017, such philosophical thoughts have given way to practical science – three scientists in the field of exoplanet science have been named in Time magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people.

The core question would be, does God’s creation extend beyond a single planet? If so, would the inhabitants of those planets believe in the same gods as humans do? How could the creator of the universe deny the inhabitants of those worlds a chance to redeem their sins? Does that mean that God incarnated as Jesus in those worlds contrary to Bible teachings that say that the redemption in Christ was a unique event meant for humans on Earth?

You could make a very strong case for institutional religions surviving the discovery of alien planets and the ensuing tussle with exotheology – a term that describes theological issues as related to extraterrestrial intelligence. These institutions have always shown an amazing ability to remain relevant. Whenever they encounter a new paradigm shift, they come up with interpretations from scriptures that justify their own existence. There is also, quite simply, something special about religion that resonates with humans on a fundamental level.

He goes on to talk about how this might provide an opportunity for religions to promote their own wealth and power. In the same way that religions triumphed over the Copernican revolution, so they would potentially overcome and exploit such alien life discovery. One could imagine an extremely unlikely scenario whereby humanity is enslaved a la Planet of the Apes only for Christianity to claim a second Hebrew bondage. Gah.

As Carl Sagan wrote in Cosmos, though: “Meanwhile, elsewhere there are an infinite number of other universes each with its own God dreaming the cosmic dream. It is said that men may not be the dreams of the Gods, but rather that the Gods are the dreams of men.”

What do you think?

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...