According to a BBC write-up posted on Dec. 16: In 2014, NASA awarded $1.1 million to The Center of Theological Inquiry, an ecumenical institute in New Jersey for interdisciplinary research in the field of religion, to study “the societal implications of astrobiology.”
It further states that detection of extraterrestrial life is more a question of when, not if. It also points out that in 2000, astronomers knew of about 50 of the planets outside our own solar system; by 2013 this number reached 850; and it may reach 1 million by 2045.
Life on other planets, which raises both scientific and theological/philosophical issues and poses various challenges, has been a hotly discussed topic for quite some time; and approaches to the possibility and theological handling of aliens are highly diverse across various religions.
Even back in 1714, English clergyman/theologian/philosopher William Derham published a book titled “Astro-Theology Or a demonstration of the being and attributes of God from a survey of the heavens.”
Paul Davies, director of “The Beyond Center” (devoted to confronting the really big questions of science and philosophy) at Arizona State University in Tempe, wrote a book on the subject in 1995: “Are We Alone?—philosophical implications of the discovery of extraterrestrial life.”
Steven J. Dick, who has served as NASA’s chief historian, came out with the book “Many worlds—The new universe, extraterrestrial life & the theological implications” in 2000 by Templeton Foundation Press; which has a chapter by Father George V. Coyne, Jesuit priest and former director of the Vatican Observatory, titled “The evolution of intelligent life on earth and possibly elsewhere: Reflections from a religious tradition.”
We asked our panel of distinguished religious leaders of the region the following question: How will religion respond to the aliens when discovered in the future?
Here is what they have to say:
JUDAISM IS PREPARED
ElizaBeth Webb Beyer, Temple Beth Or Rabbi
Judaism is well suited to a time when life on other planets is openly recognized. “Judaism… can very well accept a scientific finding that man is not the only intelligent and bio-spiritual resident in G-d’s world.” (Rabbi Norman Lamm, YU). Our relationship with G-d and belief system would remain essentially unchanged. Also, we would have a duty to be kind and compassionate to them. (Exodus 23:9).
Our Sages say Judges 5:23, several more Biblical verses and a number of rabbinic texts indicate extraterrestrials exist, in addition to angels. The Lubavitcher Rebbe suggests that we should be looking for extraterrestrial life because to “say there is no life outside of planet Earth is to put limitations on the Creator, and that is not something any of His creatures can do!” “The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity—and the ways our differences combine to create meaning and beauty.” Spock.
WE WILL SHOW HOSPITALITY
Stephen R. Karcher, St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church Presiding Priest
First off, we already know that other rational life exists because we know God created another super-sensible and spiritual world, along with other intelligent beings that are reason-endowed and self-determined. These beings we call ‘angels’. Secondly, the New Testament teaches that by the Son of God “all things were created”. Naturally then, we assume that “all things” include everything we’ve yet to discover. To this point we can mention too that in apostolic times people weren’t aware of the inhabitants of other continents. Despite this, and the existence of entire cultures that no one knew about originally, Christianity would ultimately come to accept these “alien” peoples. Finally, even the possibility of life on another planet wouldn’t contradict Christian teaching because if aliens aren’t sinners, then they wouldn’t need Christ’s sacrifice because they already live with God. However, if they are sinners, then Christ’s redemptive sacrifice counts for them too.
BE KIND TO EVERY LIVING CREATURE
Bradley S. Corbin, Baha’i Teacher
Baha’i writings affirm the existence of life on other planets. Specifically, Abdu’l-Baha refers to beings on other worlds that are capable of knowing God, and Baha’u’llah states that the number of beings in the universe can’t be calculated. These creatures may or may not be similar to us, although the Baha’i writings do refer to beings that have different “states of consciousness” than ours. There’s no information, though, about whether or not any of these beings have visited Earth or even have that ability. However, when contact is made with these beings I’m sure Baha’i response would no doubt be to try to establish commonality and unity with them.
“Briefly, it is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature.” – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 158.
Brandon J. Evans, LIFE Groups Pastor, Summit Christian Church, Sparks
If aliens are discovered (and this is a big “if” given the evidence) then the various faith groups would probably respond with curiosity and seek answers to longstanding religious questions (unless the aliens are hostile; then we would probably run and hide).
The Bible makes several universal truth claims that apply to extraterrestrials, too. For one, that they must have been created by the same triune God we were. But the discovery of (intelligent) alien life would prompt numerous inquiries from Evangelicals: Do they possess the “image of God”? Do they need salvation? If so, did Jesus also become incarnate in their form, die, and then resurrect? Do they have a Bible? If so, do they have coffee mugs with inspirational Bible verses, too? The answers to these questions would probably reshape (but not necessarily disprove) several core Christian teachings.
Kenneth G. Lucey, UNR philosophy/religion professor
This topic has been explored in a book by David A. Weintraub entitled Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How Will We Deal With It? (Springer, 2014). The author says “Knowing the answer … will trigger one of the greatest intellectual revolutions in history, not the least of which will be a challenge for at least some terrestrial religions. … Some religions as currently practiced appear to only be viable on Earth. Other religions could be practiced on distant worlds …” It is well known to students of world religions that Hinduism has the most accurate religious understanding of the size and age of the physical universe. Given that it also recognizes a vast multitude of spiritual beings, it would probably be least affected by the discovery of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Christianity, by contrast, would be quite affected given the centrality to it of the Earth-bound life of Jesus.
EVIDENCE OF GOD’S POWER
Sherif A. Elfass, Northern Nevada Muslim Community President
Muslims believe that Allah (SWT) is the all-powerful Creator of the universe and the Quran is His word to mankind. In the Quran, Allah (SWT) says that He created other “creations” of which we have no knowledge [16:8]. He (SWT) also says: “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens (skies) and earth and what He has dispersed creatures throughout them.” [42:29]. Thus, as Muslims, we believe that there are other creations in this universe beside us. These creations may very well be alternative life forms (aliens). The Quran, however, never explicitly stated that. Meanwhile, the Quran does not mention anything about whether these creations existed before, will exist after or exist at the same time as us. Hence, Muslims will accept the discovery of aliens as another sign of Allah’s power to create and that we, humans, are just one of Allah’s infinite creations.
AS HERE ON EARTH?
Robert W. Chorey, Roman Catholic Diocese of Reno Curia Moderator
I trust we will respond with careful thought and discernment, and without panic or rush to judgment. I hope we apply the same core beliefs to any alien life, whether intelligent or not. I hope that we treat the life with dignity and respect, as we are to treat all life. If it is intelligent life, I trust we will listen to them, seek to understand them and learn from them and their culture.
Of course, I would hope that we apply that to the current life forms that live on planet Earth now. It would seem rather hypocritical to treat alien life with such dignity and respect, when we humans still kill each other over needless things. So before any aliens arrive or are found, maybe we can start to respond to our fellow humans here on earth better?
UNIVERSE OF SENTIENT BEINGS
Matthew T. Fisher, Reno Buddhist Center Resident Priest
The Buddha taught of a Universe full of sentient beings and myriad worlds. There are no Aliens in Buddhism. All intelligent beings of the six realms are in the same karmic soup. Rebirth is not restricted to one world or species or realm. We are all sentient brothers and sisters in the Universe.
Though not surprising to a Buddha, such a discovery will be a shocking discovery for most humans. We are very selfish beings and prone to separating us and them even within our own species. We show kindness only when you are one of us. But first contact with another sentient race will require us to open our hearts and broaden that definition to include all sentient beings. Buddha taught that all sentient beings are OK, just as they are; and that they deserve kindness and benefit from the Wisdom and Compassion of the Universe.
ALIENS HAVE LIVED AMONGST US
Brian E. Melendez, American Indian Spirituality Scholar
I imagine that some religions will probably have a difficult time explaining to their congregants, that we (humans) are not the only ones in the Universe, partly because our little green brothers have not been foreshadowed throughout popular scripture. How does a religion explain something that is not written? Not sure about that one?
Aliens will be the spiritual outlier for many believers that’s for sure. Did the Creator of all things make the Aliens? Or perhaps the Aliens are the Creator? As far as Indigenous people are concerned: collectively, we’d probably say— oh those guys living in the stars…we told you so.
Many tribes share a belief that we originated in the stars. Our oral traditions have expressed that Aliens have lived amongst us for as long as we’ve been a species, teaching and guiding us all. The discovery of Aliens won’t shake us up, were cool.
David A. Luce, Minister for Christ Love Ministries
The idea of and belief in a single, omnipresent God carries with it the idea that there must be a unified field of consciousness active throughout the entire Universe. This consciousness binds all life together, regardless of form or location, by its fundamental nature, which is Love.
If and when we are visited by beings from another world, mankind would be presented with a supreme opportunity to “judge by faith and not by sight.” As human beings, we are often face to face with the unknown and it is only by faith that the unknown becomes knowable. It would be incumbent upon religious and spiritual communities world-wide to be the presence of friendship and love during an extraterrestrial event. “Healing the sick and casting out demons” of fear, suspicion, illusion, and trepidation would be the mandate for those living in faith. Faith reveals love regardless of conditions.
POTLUCK FOR ALL
Louis A. Ling, Worship Leader at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd
All that we will ever know – ever see, touch, smell, hear, sense, learn – was made by God. The Bible begins with a poetic depiction of God’s loving, thoughtful, and thorough creation of everything. Because God made the universe and everything in it, if we learn of beings from beyond our dear Earth, they, too, will be God’s creations.
I would hope that we as Christians – and as citizens of the world – would take our cue from Lot when he was visited by angels, beings from another realm. Lot invited them in, gave them a feast, and sheltered them at considerable personal risk from a mob who meant the aliens unspeakable harm. I envision us inviting our visitors from beyond to an old-fashioned Lutheran potluck and asking them to bring their favorite hot dish for us to try. I hope they like Jello salad. Should be wondrous.