General, Research, Technology

What will happen to religion if we find aliens?

The search for life on other planets is somehow completelyat first glance, it does not converge with faith in a higher power, in God. And yet many theologians have already opened their hearts to possible aliens, says writer Brandon Ambrosino. In 2014, NASA donated $ 1.1 million to the Center for Theological Research, an ecumenical research institute in New Jersey, to study the “societal implications of astrobiology.”

With a few exceptions, most discussionson the topic of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), as a rule, remain in the field of exact sciences. But the consequences of such a search go far beyond biology and physics, reach the humanities and philosophy, and even theology. As Carl Sagan noted, “space exploration leads directly to religious and philosophical issues.” We need to consider whether our faith, our religious beliefs, can adapt to these beings - or whether our beliefs will be shaken to the core.

Before you skeptically curl your lips,remember and accept for granted that religions of various nations are still the driving forces in our world, whether it be peace or war, large or small cells of society, individuals or entire countries.

The development of these issues may become“Exotheology” or “astrotheology,” as Ted Peters calls them, Emeritus Professor of Theology at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, reflecting on the theological significance of extraterrestrial life. Peters is not the only one to use this term - 300 years ago he first appeared in a work of 1714 entitled "Astrotheology, or the Demonstration of the being and attributes of God from observations of heaven."


  • 1 How unique are we?
  • 2 Revelation
  • 3 Identity
  • 4 The end of religion?

How unique are we?

What problems can detection raiseintelligent aliens? Let's start with the questions of our uniqueness - a question that worries both theologians and scientists. The search for extraterrestrial life is based on three principles, according to Paul Davis in his book Are We Alone? Firstly, it is the principle of the uniformity of nature, which states that the physical processes taking place on Earth can be found everywhere in the Universe. That is, the same processes that gave rise to life can occur everywhere.

Secondly, it is the principle of completeness, whichclaims that everything possible will be realized. For SETI purposes, the second principle states that while there are no obstacles to the formation of life, it will be formed; or, as Arthur Lovejoy, the American philosopher who invented the term, said, "no real opportunity can be left unfulfilled." According to Sagan, this is because "the origin of life on suitable planets seems to be built into the chemistry of the universe."

The third, the principle of mediocrity, claims nonothing special in the status of the Earth or in its position in the Universe. This can be the biggest problem for the main Abrahamic religions, which teach that people are purposefully created by God and have a privileged position in relation to other beings.

Secondly, we do not leave the word "special"only for unique, unique, individual phenomena. According to Peters, the discovery of life elsewhere in the Universe does not compromise God's love for earthly life, "just as the love of parents for a child is not minimized due to the birth of this child’s brother or sister." If you believe in God, why assume that he is able to love only a few of his stellar children?


Do the religious texts themselves mention possiblealien life? “What is the most basic thing in religion,” writes Catholic Oath and theologian Thomas O’Meara, “so this is a statement of some kind of contact within and yet beyond the limits of human nature.” For Jews, Christians and Muslims, this implies a written revelation, although it depends on the specific historical situations in which it occurred originally. Top theologians recognize these limitations. Some of them, however, do not recognize, and for them, along with believers like them, the discovery of aliens can be alarming.

Weintraub believes evangelists may haveproblems with the search for extraterrestrial life, as they follow their Scriptures with a high degree of literalism. Their hermeneutical legacy goes back to Luther's Sola Scriptura, the war cry of the Reformation, which confirms that "only Scripture" is necessary for understanding God's plan of salvation. A notable exception here is the evangelist Bill Graham, who told the National Enquirer in 1976 that he “firmly” believes that God created an alien life “far in space”. These believers argue that any other written work or idea should be judged and judged by the Bible. Take, for example, Darwin's theory of evolution, which some evangelicals reject on the basis that, according to the Bible, God created the world in seven days.

If you asked one of these Christians,If he believes in alien life, he would first try to remember what the Bible says about God's creation. Finding no evidence of alien life, he could conclude that people are alone in the universe. For some, it follows that Scripture states that intelligent life is nowhere else. Of course, at the same time, he may remain open to the discovery of alien life, but he will not have to reconsider the divine revelation in the most convenient way: let him go with some epistemic humility.

Secondly, he will think deeply about the concept.The incarnations, according to which God is fully and uniquely embodied in a man from the first century named Jesus of Nazareth. According to Christianity, salvation can only be achieved through the death and resurrection of Jesus. All paths lead to God and, in essence, pass through him. But what does this mean for other civilizations that live somewhere else in the universe and are completely unaware of the history of Jesus?

As Davis notes, spiritual thinking requiresanimals to be simultaneously self-conscious and "reach the level of intelligence at which they can evaluate the consequences of their actions." On Earth, this kind of knowledge exists at best for several million years. If life exists elsewhere in the Universe, then it is very unlikely that it is in the same stage of development as we are. And given the huge length of time the universe exists, it is likely that part of another life is much older than us and is further on the evolutionary path. Thus, "we could expect to be the least spiritually developed in the universe."

If Davis is right, then, unlike the popularworks of literature, people will not teach their stellar counterparts about God. Learning will proceed in a completely different way. In addition, other civilizations could understand the Divine in countless other ways, and all could be compatible.


But what about the separation between faiths? How could the discovery of aliens affect religious identity? In the story of Philip Klass, “We have a rabbi on Venus,” at some point in the future, the Jewish community on the planet Venus holds the first interstellar neo-Zionist conference. Among those present - a rational view of aliens named "bulbs" that came from a distant star Rigel. The Jews at the conference are puzzled by the physical appearance of the Bulb, their gray spots and tentacles. They decide that bulbs cannot be people, which means they cannot be Jews.

It was decided to turn to the rabbinical court todecide how Jews should relate to new visitors. What will happen, they ask, if one day people find aliens who want to be Jews? “Do we say: no, is this completely unacceptable?”

The rabbis conclude that this answer is not very good and offer a paradoxical solution to the Venusians. “Here are the Jews - and here are the Jews. Bulbs will belong to the second group. ”

The farce of this story is enhanced by the fact that wewe recognize that a certain tribalism is inherent in religion. A statement of any identity, belonging, can divide the world into groups: they and we. But with the participation of religion, this separation occurs in the cosmic dimension: we and they, and God are on our side.

Perhaps this is a more difficult task for Judaism andIslam than for some forms of Christianity, which pay less attention to daily rituals than other religions. Islam requires its adherents to follow certain standards of behavior throughout the year. During prayers it is necessary to look in the direction of Mecca and pray five times at a certain time during the day, physically kneeling and prostrating. In many religions, fasting and pilgrimage to certain places are observed. But unlike Islam, modern Judaism is not so attached to the place because of the tragic history of exile and the diaspora.

What then is necessary to acceptaliens in the religion of the earth? What will they need to do? Pray five times a day? Perhaps their planet does not rotate like ours, and the days are much shorter - will they pray as often? Will they be baptized? Communion? Build tents on Sukkot? We generally imagine that aliens will have a physical structure like ours, although there is no reason to believe this. What to do?

Perhaps someone will find it a littlefrivolous exotheology, but the point is this: all our religious identities are concentrated on the earthly. There is nothing wrong. Religion is a purely human invention.

The end of religion?

If we wake up tomorrow morning and see the news,that we came into contact with intelligent aliens, how do religions respond to this? Some believe that the discovery will set us on a path that will lead to the end, to the development of religion. One of the studies conducted by Peters showed that twice as many non-religious people than religious people, believes that the discovery of alien life will put an end to earthly religion (69% and 34%, respectively).

But suppose religion is too weak toTo survive in a world with aliens is to spit in the face of history. Because this assumption underestimates the “degree of adaptation that has already taken place,” as Peters says. With a few exceptions - creationism, violent fundamentalism, same-sex marriage - religions often adapted without fuss to the various paradigms they encountered. Of course, its versatility and flexibility is evidence that there is something in religion that resonates with people at the deepest level.

Some aspects of religion will have to be reviewed,but to completely refuse - no, says O’Meara. “If being, revelation, grace comes to other worlds besides the Earth, this fits into the humble self-understanding of Christians,” and we can add to the self-understanding of any religions. However, this is not a matter of addition or subtraction: it is a way to see everything in a new way.

Many religions have always believed that God gives names to stars. So will it be difficult to believe that God gives the names and inhabitants of these stars? Or perhaps they themselves give names to God?