Are the world's religions ready for ET?

September 30, 2014
The cover of Religions and Extraterrestrial Life. Credit: Springer

In 1930, Albert Einstein was asked for his opinion about the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. "Other beings, perhaps, but not men," he answered. Then he was asked whether science and religion conflict. "Not really, though it depends, of course, on your religious views."

Over the past 10 years, astronomers' new ability to detect planets orbiting other stars has taken this question out of the realm of philosophy, as it was for Einstein, and transformed it into something that scientists might soon be able to answer.

Realization that the nature of the debate about life on other worlds is about to fundamentally change led Vanderbilt Professor of Astronomy David Weintraub to begin thinking seriously about the question of how people will react to the discovery of life on other planets. He realized, as Einstein had observed, that people's reactions will be heavily influenced by their religious beliefs. So he decided to find out what the world's major religions have to say about the matter. The result is a book titled "Religions and Extraterrestrial Life" (Springer International Publishing) published this month.

"When I did a library search, I found only half a dozen books and they were all written about the question of and Christianity, and mostly about Roman Catholicism, so I decided to take a broader look," the astronomer said. As a result, his book describes what religious leaders and theologians have to say about extraterrestrial life in more than two dozen major religions, including Judaism, Roman Catholicism, the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, several mainline Protestant sects, the Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelical and fundamentalist Christian denominations, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Seventh Day Adventism and Jehovah's Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Islam and several major Asian religions including Hinduism, Buddhism and the Bahá'í Faith.

Discovery of Planets

The remarkable progress that astronomers have made at detecting exoplanets gives the issue of extraterrestrial life a new sense of immediacy. In 2000, astronomers had detected 50 planets orbiting other stars. Today, the number has grown to more than 1,000. If the rate of discovery keeps up its current pace, astronomers will have identified more than a million exoplanets by the year 2045.

"If even one exoplanet shows signs of biological activity – and those signs should not be hard to detect, if living things are present – than we will know Earth is not the only place in the universe where life exists," Weintraub points out. "Although it is impossible to prove a negative, if we have not found any signs of life after a million exoplanets have been studied, then we will know that life in the universe is, at best, exceedingly rare."

Public opinion polling indicates that about one fifth to one third of the American public believes that extraterrestrials exist, Weintraub reports. However, this varies considerably with religious affiliation.

Belief in Extraterrestrials Varies by Religion

  • 55 percent of Atheists
  • 44 percent of Muslims
  • 37 percent of Jews
  • 36 percent of Hindus
  • 32 percent of Christians

Of the Christians, more than one third of the Eastern Orthodox faithful (41 percent), Roman Catholics (37 percent), Methodists (37 percent), and Lutherans (35 percent) professed belief in extraterrestrial life. Only the Baptists (29 percent) fell below the one-third threshold.

Asian religions would have the least difficulty in accepting the discovery of extraterrestrial life, Weintraub concluded. Some Hindu thinkers have speculated that humans may be reincarnated as aliens, and vice versa, while Buddhist cosmology includes thousands of inhabited worlds.

Weintraub quotes passages in the Qur' an that appear to support the idea that spiritual beings exist on other planets, but notes that these beings may not practice Islam as it is practiced on Earth. "Islam, like other faiths, has fundamentalist and conservative traditions. All Muslims, however, likely would agree that the prophetically revealed religion of Islam is a set of practices designed only for humans on earth," Weintraub wrote.

Weintraub found very little in Judaic scriptures or rabbinical writings that bear on the question. The few Talmudic and Kabbalistic commentaries on the subject do assert that space is infinite and contains a potentially infinite number of worlds and that nothing can deny the existence of extraterrestrial life. At the same time, Jews don't believe the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence would have much effect on them. He quotes a Jewish anthropologist and scholar who has addressed this issue and concluded that the relationship beween Jews and God would not be affected in the slightest by "the existence of other life forms, newly discovered scientific realities or pan-human behavioural changes."

Christian Debate

Among Christian religions, the Roman Catholics have done the most thinking about the possibility of life on other worlds, the astronomer discovered. In fact, they have had an on-again, off-again theological debate that has gone on for a thousand years. The crux of the matter is original sin. If intelligent aliens are not descended from Adam and Eve, do they suffer from original sin? Do they need to be saved? If they do, then did Christ visit them and was he crucified and resurrected on other planets? "From a Roman Catholic perspective, if sentient extraterrestrials exist some but perhaps not all such species may suffer original sin and will require redemption," Weintraub summarizes.

The inherent diversity of Protestant denominations, where individuals are encouraged to interpret scripture independently, has led to many conflicting approaches to the question of . Weintraub determined that the views of Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich appear to represent a viable consensus. Tillich argued that the need for salvation is universal and the "saving power" of God must be everywhere. At the same time, he maintained that God's plan for human life need not be the same as his plan for aliens.

Evangelical and fundamental Christians are most likely to have difficulty accepting the discovery of extraterrestrial life, the astronomer's research indicates. "...most evangelical and fundamentalist Christian leaders argue quite forcefully that the Bible makes clear that extraterrestrial life does not exist. From this perspective, the only living, God-worshipping beings in the entire universe are humans, created by God, who live on Earth." Southern Baptist evangelist Billy Graham was a prominent exception who stated that he firmly believes "there are intelligent beings like us far away in space who worship God."

Weintraub also identified two religions – Mormonism and Seventh-day Adventism – whose theology embraces extraterrestrials. In Mormonism, God helps exalt lesser souls so they can achieve immortality and live as gods on other worlds. And, Ellen White, who co-founded Seventh-Day Adventism, wrote that Got had given her a view of other worlds where the people are "noble, majestic and lovely" because they live in strict obedience to God's commandments.

Are We Ready?

In answer to the question "Are we ready?" Weintraub concludes, "While some of us claim to be ready, a great many of us probably are not... very few among us have spent much time thinking hard about what actual knowledge about extraterrestrial life, whether viruses or single-celled creatures or bipeds piloting intergalactic spaceships, might mean for our personal beliefs [and] our relationships with the divine."

Explore further: Are we ready for contact with extraterrestrial intelligence?

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Doug_Huffman
1.6 / 5 (7) Sep 30, 2014
Thank gOoDness for the Criterion of Demarcation.

I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in poltergeists. When I feel the urge to swear, I drown my blaspheme in prayer..
tadchem
4.5 / 5 (8) Sep 30, 2014
ETs would be more of a threat to religious *leaders*, whose careers and self-esteem depend on being surrounded with faithful adherents who accept every word as unassailable truth. Religions without priests (Hinduism, Daoism, Sikhism) seem to have no problem with it.
vaire
4.2 / 5 (5) Sep 30, 2014
By the time we find extraterrestrial life (if we ever do) *all* religions of today will have died. Or changed beyond recognition, to the point of being more philosophies than what we mean by religion today. So kinda an exercise in futility.
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (7) Sep 30, 2014
There is no alien threat to global warming religion.

teslaberry
1.4 / 5 (10) Sep 30, 2014
how do universities justify their own existence when paying 'professors' to write psuedo nonsense like this.

its time to tear down the university system. and rebuild it . in order to save science from the pseudo scientific tentacles of 'social science' and the humanities, which have lost their path and are now co-opting other disciplines simply to get attention. .
Uncle Ira
3.5 / 5 (11) Sep 30, 2014
how do universities justify their own existence when paying 'professors' to write psuedo nonsense like this.

its time to tear down the university system. and rebuild it . in order to save science from the pseudo scientific tentacles of 'social science' and the humanities, which have lost their path and are now co-opting other disciplines simply to get attention. .


Why the professor-Skippy can't write the book about anything he wants to write about? It's the free country. You think your boss should tell what book can you write about on your own time? I think it sounds like the interesting book and I might just buy him when it comes out in the paperback.

I bet lots of peoples would be interested in hearing what different religious-Skippys say about lifes maybe off the earth.
Shootist
2.1 / 5 (7) Sep 30, 2014
Are humans ready for ET to come and proselytize us?
Returners
1.7 / 5 (12) Sep 30, 2014
First, I am non-denominational, and do not attend church services for ecumenical reasons. Call me a "Protester of Protestantism", if you will.

The Bible clearly teaches that their were beings in the "heavens" which were intelligent and interacted with mankind.

-These beings are seen in several types of heaven: The atmosphere, the Celestials, and the place where the "manifestation/avatar" of God (as "The Father") resides on a throne.

-These beings have several, usually humanoid or demi-human forms: Wingless as a man, man or woman-like with a pair of wings, 4-faced (man, eagle, lion, ox) with 4 wings(Cherubim), and those with 6 wings (Seraphim).

The Cherubim and Seraphim are apparently able to change form, though some passages about them are more symbolic or metaphor, and other passages are literal. For example, I don't think they actually have 4 faces, but that is 4 aspects of the personality of a being (see below).

Then there are arch-angels, thrones, dominions, etc.
NOM
4.6 / 5 (11) Sep 30, 2014
If ETs turn up a bunch of people will be loudly denying there existance, just as they now deny everything else.
Returners
1.3 / 5 (12) Sep 30, 2014
We see angels take several forms. The "Death Angel" in Egypt appears to have been formless. The 2 liberator/destroyers at Sodom and Gomorah appeared as normal men.
An angel in Judges appeared as a normal man, ignited a sacrificial altar, and ascended to heaven bodily.
Beings in the Book of Daniel are called "The Watchers", and it is they who deliver the interpretation of Nebucadnezar's dream to Daniel. This group may be God plus the angels in general, or it may be yet another sub-set of the angels.

They are able to traverse the distance between the Sun, the Celestials, and the Earth. See references to Michael, as well as an unnamed angel in Revelation, but again in Daniel, where the righteous angel Michael, along with an evil angel(devil) named the "Prince of Persia" are also mentioned by the angel who is actually speaking to Daniel in the passage.

Apparently, the speaking angel was in a battle with the "Prince of Persia", but could not beat him alone, so Michael came to help him.
Returners
1.7 / 5 (11) Sep 30, 2014
So the notion of "Beings" out there, in whatever form of "heaven" is consistent with the Bible.

Early on in the book of Genesis, it even claims that a group of beings called, "The Sons of God" interbred with Earth women, and this is the primary reason for the "flood". It states also that this happened again later after the flood.

Whether this passage is meant to be literal, or figurative, I don't think it really matters. If t is literal then they clearly believed in space beings. If it is figurative, it still implies some sort of spiritual change to the human race or a sub-set of the human race.
This is mentioned in the Book of Enoch, and is also mentioned in the Epistle of Jude.

TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (12) Sep 30, 2014
First, I am non-denominational, and do not attend church services for ecumenical reasons. Call me a "Protester of Protestantism", if you will
Ah I think you just get banned from churches too, and for the same reasons probably.
The Bible clearly teaches that their were beings in the "heavens" which were intelligent and interacted with mankind
-Are these the ones who told you that DM could possibly have some effect on planetary motion? If so then they were wrong about that as well werent they?
They are able to traverse the distance between the Sun, the Celestials, and the Earth
-which is relatively easy for them as the bible says that the sun orbits the earth.
Uncle Ira
3.7 / 5 (15) Sep 30, 2014
@ Returning-Skippy. Now I am not trying to cause no trouble with you no. But I really got to ask.

After you write all that stuff right up there like you did, how in the world can you say all the scientist-Skippys are telling you stuffs that's hard for you to believe? I mean, you believe there are all those weird beings like you describe for us there, but you find it hard to believe in the dark matters?

Can't you see that is why peoples think you are really strange and weird? You don't believe the evidence for the dark matters, but you do believe in the four-winged-four-faced-six-legged-three-armed-three-headed what ever it is?

Or do you have to be the multilevel maxiheaded super-duper genius Skippy to believe in those things?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.2 / 5 (11) Sep 30, 2014
Whether this passage is meant to be literal, or figurative, I don't think it really matters. If t is literal then they clearly believed in space beings. If it is figurative, it still implies some sort of spiritual change to the human race or a sub-set of the human race
Well if there is some question as to whether things in the bible are either literal or 'figurative' as you put it, then we have to wonder which is which, and who gets to judge.

For instance we know that there is no mt sinai, no exodus, and thus no moses; and so if these things were meant to be figurative then we would have to assume that the 10 commandments are as well. Correct?

They must be metaphor for a more comprehensive list somewhere that 'god' is only implying the existence of when speaking figuratively.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.4 / 5 (10) Sep 30, 2014
So the notion of "Beings" out there, in whatever form of "heaven" is consistent with the Bible
I see... so SETI should be looking for some evidence of angels, demons, nephelim, jinn, shape-shifters, giant horsemen, multi-headed fire-breathing beasts, and such and so forth?

I wonder what frequencies they may be broadcasting on. Any ideas?

I think it is illegal to make fun of handicapped people but it is hard to resist-
IQ121
not rated yet Sep 30, 2014
Heck, the wolds' religions are not even ready for the book I recently read titled GOD WHO? by Thomas Cole!!
ryggesogn2
1.9 / 5 (9) Sep 30, 2014
Are world govts ready?

Those most afraid of aliens would be govt leaders who would instantly realize they are impotent. They wouldn't admit it though.
Milou
4.2 / 5 (5) Sep 30, 2014
Forget "Are the world's religions ready for ET?". I am more worried about "Is this world religions ready for ET's religion?"
Returners
1.6 / 5 (7) Oct 01, 2014
Can't you see that is why peoples think you are really strange and weird? You don't believe the evidence for the dark matters, but you do believe in the four-winged-four-faced-six-legged-three-armed-three-headed what ever it is?


One is an eye-witness testimony.

The other is theorized to be totally invisible.

Ghost:

NASA model of Dark Matter in a gas cloud, and the claims of the narrator:

https://www.youtu...7ttCCC20

NASA claims DM behaves quite differently than what you claim.
This NASA video agrees with me a hell of a lot more than it does with you.
Returners
1.5 / 5 (8) Oct 01, 2014
Spot the flaw in this galaxy merger video, assuming DM behaves as the above NASA video showed:

https://www.youtu...a1CP9ImA

The DM in this galaxy model, which is the best I've ever seen, is not behaving in the same way as the DM in that galaxy cluster model.

This is evidence that the DM is not being modeled properly even given it's alleged, theoretical characteristics.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.5 / 5 (8) Oct 01, 2014
Spot the flaw in this galaxy merger video, assuming DM behaves as the above NASA video showed:

https://www.youtu...a1CP9ImA

The DM in this galaxy model, which is the best I've ever seen, is not behaving in the same way as the DM in that galaxy cluster model.

This is evidence that the DM is not being modeled properly even given it's alleged, theoretical characteristics.
Wrong thread retard. How does a genius make that mistake?
MorganW
5 / 5 (3) Oct 01, 2014
I think we know what the aliens would say:

- "Kneel before Zod."
Moebius
not rated yet Oct 04, 2014
No alien race is going to contact us. Even aside from the fact that we're a planet of morons why would they? They would have to be morons themselves not to realize the probable dire consequences of us being able to travel freely in the galaxy. We would just transplant all our problems everywhere. We can't even manage this planet properly. Population, political, religious, racial pressures would make us a plague.
freeiam
5 / 5 (3) Oct 04, 2014
Asking insane people a sane question and expecting a sane answer?
How about asking non religious people.
rfw
not rated yet Oct 04, 2014
More to the point, are the world's religions ready for the new species and biological creations of biotechnology???
ryggesogn2
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 04, 2014
biological creations of biotechnology???

Man will become God?
If man can create life, that will prove life can be created.
Nik_2213
5 / 5 (2) Oct 04, 2014
"They have religion ? They have religions, plural ? Captain, they still have religion !! They're at a much lower development stage than we thought ! We must not contact them lest we falsify their precious tribal-derived philosophies ! Quick ! Issue a 'General Recall'; we must get out of here before some faction goes { jihad } on our { butt } !"
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 04, 2014
"They have religion ? They have religions, plural ? Captain, they still have religion !! They're at a much lower development stage than we thought ! We must not contact them lest we falsify their precious tribal-derived philosophies ! Quick ! Issue a 'General Recall'; we must get out of here before some faction goes on our !"

Hah. Religion as a condom for interstellar contact. I like that premise.

In the end: who cares what certain people will think. It'll be like always: Some will deal with reality and others will flee into feel-good delusions, others will lash out in the hope of destroying that which threatens their feel-good delusions...and still others will wait for someone else to tell them what to think.

It'll be business as usual.
rfw
not rated yet Oct 04, 2014
ryggesogn2, yes, "that will prove live can be created". I suggest you read the book "Regenesis" and also consider the efforts at reviving lost species that are currently underway. Creation and re-creation are well underway. The challenge will be learning how to manage and widely apply our hard gained knowledge. Monsanto and GMOs are proof that advances in biotechnology can prematurely be applied by business-oriented bosses who do not understand the issues involved. Yep, it is a steep learning curve!!! But then, what else is there to do....
dtxx
not rated yet Oct 05, 2014
I'm sort of thinking about this from the other way. Suppose a being showed up and it possessed amazing capabilities. Say for example it could create living humans apparently out of thin air or transmute matter. Which way does occam's razor cut? Would your first thoughts be to classify it as a religion god type creature or one with extremely advanced technology?

I would lean very very strongly towards the creature being an advanced alien. This raises a question I haven't heard asked here much when the continual arguments on here lead to the evidence for or against some sort of magic skyman who loves you and is responsible for that new mercedes you deserved for praying so hard but lets kids in africa starve to death... what would possibly constitute proof of actual godhood and not imitation that we are too limited to discern from the real thing at this point?

So I guess for someone like me, there really is no proof possible. No matter what the being did I would be skeptical.

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