Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Aliens and religion!

Yes it's a ridiculous subject. Yes I'm going to write about it. What if, tomorrow, aliens of some kind were discovered. How would this change people's religious views?

I don't think alien existence is impossible, but the chances of any smart species somehow reaching us within our lifetimes are very low. Most people agree that if life is found off-Earth, it will be simple, proto-animals or proto-plants. It might just be bacteria. I'm not going to deal with the question of sentient aliens or alien religion because they're too speculative.

A horribly sidetracked discussion on ReasonOnline finds one James Anderson Merritt saying the following:

I think it is important that the assertion was that a belief in aliens
would not contradict a "belief in God." Belief in the truth of the
scriptures, however, is quite another thing. Genesis, Chapter 5, says
quite clearly, "In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God
made he him..." We styled ourselves "God's favorites," because we were made in "the
likeness of God," and were given dominion over all of "God's
creatures." I think it is interesting that the vatican assertion was
that aliens would also be among "God's creatures." So would aliens simply be animals? If they didn't look or think much
like us, which species would more accurately reflect "God's likeness"? While belief in aliens would not necessarily preclude belief in "God,"
it would be hard to believe in a God who made us in "his likeness" --
i.e., the God of catholicism -- if we were to encounter sentient
aliens, Unless, of course, they seemed exactly like us. Not being especially religious, I nevertheless hope that I live to see the answer to these questions.

This comment is basically on-track. Meeting aliens doesn't mean everyone will magically become atheists, despite the fears of some. Since the life would probably be simple, I'm not even sure that the problem of "In the image of God" would come up. How worked up would you be about bacteria infringing on your status as God's image? Besides, the quote above sees the word 'image' very narrowly - it could be a spiritual, symbolic image. Even a literalist reading of the phrase must give it some symbolic quality, since humans can't be strictly 'God's Image' since we don't all look alike.

However, life on other planets would be a blow to hardcore creationists since the Bible seems to make it clear that no other planets were mentioned. Obviously there are ways to reconcile this: God could have placed simple forms all around the universe. Or there could be denial that the life is actually extraterrestrial - it could be blamed on contamination from whatever probes detected it.

In Islam, a group of beings called the Djinns were created prior to humans. They are more powerful, but they are not angels, since those cannot sin in most interpretations. Djinns have free will like humans, and can convert to Islam - something Muslims were actually tasked with doing if they encountered one. I bring this up because alien life wouldn't shake up Muslims as much as Christians, since Islam has a looser creation story that has a bunch of ways to reconcile a new kind of life.

Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and friends don't often deal with creation issues right now, and something like alien life wouldn't do much to disturb believers. One thing I would predict is that certain New Religious Movements - the things that derisive media usually call 'cults' - would rack up a few more followers. There have been a number of prominent NRMs that openly predict and discuss alien life and especially aliens as technological salvation. A discovery that these groups had been a least partly right in their predictions would drum up interest and some conversions at the very least.

As for me, I think that as long as alien bacteria don't kill all life on Earth, I'm perfectly fine with any alien discovery.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the perspectives I had not yet considered that you brought to my attention. In my own personal research to find God, I have discovered something quite different. The existence, beliefs and astrological significance of this planets earliest civilizations have more in common than any religions today. I offer to you to compare the egyptian, Sumerian, Incan, Aztec cultures (even some Native American), specifically their accounts of the visit by their creators. I also note the apparent plagarization of pre-existing religions by modern religions (most likely to promote the acceptance of the ideas presented.) (Dan Brown) There is a strong astrological symbolism in the Bible. (Zeitgiest) I do not wish to "knock those off of the skyscrapers which they've built." And I do not feel that this evidence discredits the beliefs of the Religions mentioned. Basically, we all seek (or ought to, anyway) to serve a purpose greater than ourselves, and that is the premise for a better society. While I don't feel that there are any right or wrong religions, there are aspects which ought to be known, so that a proper, common, perspective can be achieved.
Von Daniken presented a great case, though incredibly controversial, for the possibility (i reitarate the word possibility) that life MAY have originated due to extra terrestrial activity.
I actively pursue communication with, the supreme being, the divine or what have you, but also donate time to research, to help guide my understanding of what HAS BEEN to better understand what IS.

In short, we'd all be better off if a benevolent higher power exists, and pursuit to that end ought not to be restricted by misinformation, fear, or denial.

Extraterrestrial life probably does exist, and if could visit earth would have to be of a benevolent mindset not to have overthrown our shoot first ask questions later human race with their superior technology, or they simply can't reach earth. In either case, bettering ourselves to better society is an endeavor I encourage everyone to continue to pursue, by whatever means is most effective to you.

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