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[Digest] If we made contact with aliens, how would religions react?

发布时间: 2016年12月18日 浏览次数: 编辑: 李秋雨

编者按:随着人类对宇宙的探索不断推进,许多科学家认为,发现外星人仅仅是时间问题。然而,外星人的存在,对宗教来说意味着什么?

In 2014, Nasa awarded $1.1M to the Center for Theological Inquiry, an ecumenical research institute in New Jersey, to study “the societal implications of astrobiology”.

With few exceptions, most of the discussions about Seti (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) tend to stay in the domain of the hard sciences. But the implications of Seti extend well beyond biology and physics, reaching to the humanities and philosophy and even theology. As Carl Sagan has pointed out in (the now out-of-print book) The Cosmic Question, “space exploration leads directly to religious and philosophical questions”. We would need to consider whether our faiths could accommodate these new beings – or if it should shake our beliefs to the core.

How unique are we?

So what issues might the discovery of intelligent aliens raise? Let’s start with the question of our uniqueness – an issue that has troubled both theologians and scientists.

The Copernican revolution laid the groundwork for scientists to eventually claim that ours is “a typical planet around a typical star in a typical galaxy”. Sagan puts it even more startlingly: “We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.”

However, how could a believer reconcile this with their faith that humans are the crowning achievement of God’s creation?. How could humans believe they were the apple of their creator’s eye if their planet was just one of billions?

Revelation

But do the religious texts themselves mention the possibility of alien life? If Christian salvation is only possible to creatures whose worlds have experienced an Incarnation from God, then that means God’s life is spent visiting the many worlds throughout the cosmos where he is promptly crucified and resurrected.

However, there’s another way of looking at the problem: maybe God’s incarnation within Earth’s history “works” for all creatures throughout the Universe.

Identity

But what about the divisions between faiths? How would the discovery influence religious identity? What would it take for an alien to be considered a participant in an Earth religion? What would she be required to do? Pray five times a day? Perhaps her planet does not rotate exactly as ours, and her days are much shorter – would she be expected to pray as often as Muslims on Earth?

If religion is a human response to divinity – even if that response is taught and initiated by divinity – then it’s obvious that those responses would differ according to the contexts in which they take shape.

The end of religion?

If we wake up tomorrow morning to the news that we’ve made contact with intelligent aliens, how will religion respond?

Maybe it’s ahistorical to assume that religion is too weak to survive in a world with aliens. That’s because this claim underestimates “the degree of adaptation that has already taken place.” With few notable exceptions – creationism, violent fundamentalism, gay marriage – religion has often been able to adapt without much fuss to various paradigm shifts it’s encountered.

Many religions have always believed God names the stars. Is it really a stretch to believe God names the stars’ inhabitants, too? And that they might possibly each have their own names for God?

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