Allan and Pia asked:
What do you think the influence of an alien visit would be on the worlds religions?
The physicist Enrico Fermi once suggested that "If aliens exist they would be here!" Given that alien
life is more than likely we have to ask why aren't they here?
One reason may be religion. Many sci-fi writers suggest one answer to the so called Fermi paradox,
in which the advanced alien community has cordoned off the earth in a galactic nursery, until the time
that we have reached an adequate stage, ready for contact.
Religion could be one of the factors holding us back and when we nave outgrown this childish world
view, the ban on visiting earth will be lifted. If so then the effect on religion would be zero, there would
be no religions when aliens land. Of course this doesn't really get to the heart of your question, what
you really want to know I guess, is what the implications of alien life would be for, the world's
religions. There are a number of issues here and I will deal with only a few.
- Some religions think that god was an alien, so perhaps an alien visit would be seen as fulfilment of
- On a more general level the very fact that alien life exists would mean that we are riot the centre of
the universe. While most religions now recognise that the earth is just a lump of rock, they still believe
that WE human beings are the most important thing in creation, that we occupy a special place in
God's plan. The existence of aliens would seem to make this implausible especially if they are more
advanced than we are (on all levels, intellectually, spiritually) This would mean that God has acted in
the development of the aliens in a way he did not act in ours, which in turn would mean that we do not
occupy the paramount role in God's creation, which as I said is a fundamental idea in religions.
- For Christianity, Judaism and !slam the existence of aliens is especially problematic. All these
religions are based on the idea of a covenant between us and God. Now consider two possibilities; (i)
the aliens do not believe in God and do not share the idea of a fall from grace by man (or I guess
created beings) and a promise between God and man of a way to return to grace and the forgiveness
of sin. Perhaps they have a different religious belief of their own. (ii) the aliens do believe in these
things and even have a Moses, Jesus, or Mohammed of their own.
Possibility (i) would mean that these aliens would be in need of conversion and salvation, and of
course it would be up to the faithful to lead the way. I can't help but think this would lead to a new
level of arrogance and self righteousness than they have had in the past. It may not lead to a holy
war, but I doubt that the religious will adopt a policy of non interference concerning the aliens beliefs.
Possibility (ii) is more interesting. For Christians the covenant was fulfilled in the sacrifice of JC. Now
if aliens had there own incarnation this would undermine the covenant we share with God and our
personal saviour, 'God made man', Christ. It would have all kinds of problems for the doctrine of
resurrection (do aliens and humans share the same kind of spirit, will humans get resurrected in alien
bodies?), the Eucharist (would the body and blood be alien Jesus' body and blood, if not do the aliens
partake of a different sacrament?) These of course are doctrinal issues and though they are not
trivial, especially for the Christian, the existence of aliens would have the more fundamental effect on
these monotheistic faiths of calling into question mans very relationship with, God and the rest of
creation. (It is interesting to note that the Vatican has a research program devoted to evaluating the
implications of alien life for the Christian faith, I'm not sure if they have published any conclusions yet,
but I bet it would be interesting!)
- Perhaps other non-monotheistic religions would fair better, these would not be concerned with
salvation or redemption, but with a universal spirit, or some such corresponding idea the existence of
aliens may be seen as just another manifestation of this universal life force. if aliens landed tomorrow
I am sure that religions of all kinds would have to change, but I bet that they would fight against it,
they would after all be fighting for their survival. For the long run I can't help but feel pessimistic.
Dept of Philosophy
University of Sheffield