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Space Science

Are the World's Religions Ready For ET? 534

Science_afficionado writes: At the current rate of discovery, astronomers will have identified more than a million exoplanets by the year 2045. That means, if life is at all common in the Milky Way, astronomers could soon detect it. Realization that the nature of the debate about life on other worlds is about to fundamentally change, lead Vanderbilt astronomer David Weintraub to begin thinking seriously about how people will react to such a discovery. He realized that people's reactions will be heavily influenced by their religious beliefs, so he decided to find out what theologians and leaders from the world's major religions have to say about the matter. The result is a book titled Religions and Extraterrestrial Life, published by Springer this month. He discovered that from Baptists to Buddhists, from Catholics to Mormons, from Islam to the Anglican Communion, religious views on alien life differ widely.
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Are the World's Religions Ready For ET?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @10:08PM (#48032403)
  • Yawn... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @10:11PM (#48032417)

    ...just as an example, the early Christian theologians worked out these questions over 1700 years ago.

    Not a big deal for the Christian worldview.

    • Re:Yawn... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @11:45PM (#48032951)

      ...just as an example, the early Christian theologians worked out these questions over 1700 years ago.

      What "theologians" think has very little to do with what the rank-and-file religious think. I know plenty of Christians that believe in reincarnation, can't explain the concept of the Trinity, and don't know who gave the Sermon on the Mount. Among my acquaintances, belief in UFOs, alien abductions, etc. is much more prevalent among the religious.

      • by mrbcs ( 737902 )
        I would suggest that these people are not Christians at all. The criteria is significantly higher than what main stream America thinks or even preaches.

        Just because you say a prayer and call yourself a Christian.... doesn't mean you are one.

        Matthew 7:21-23 21 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and

        • That same line is used by ministers all over the world to also refute atheists who while they reject the existence of God, do see wisdom in the Bible. The illogic being that if you do not embrace Jesus, you cannot possibly do right.

          It's the single best reason to reject Christianity as a religion in general as far as I'm concerned.

          • Please define "doing right" in a universe that does not have a god.
          • Re:Yawn... (Score:4, Informative)

            by LordLimecat ( 1103839 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2014 @08:36AM (#48035211)

            The illogic being that if you do not embrace Jesus, you cannot possibly do right.

            Actually, thats a misunderstanding. The proper view is provided by the bible:
            Romans 3:10 None is righteous, no, not one;
            11 no one understands;
                    no one seeks for God.
            12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
                    no one does good,
                    not even one.

            Whats said is that if you appeal to Christ's sacrifice, then you are accounted as righteous in the court of God's justice.

      • I know plenty of Christians that believe in reincarnation

        Either
        * You dont understand the definition of reincarnation, and how it is different than what christians believe
        * They dont understand the definition of reincarnation, and how it is different than what christians believe
        * Or, they arent christians.

        You do realize that there are actual categorical boundaries for "christian", right? Calling yourself a communist and espousing the free market means you arent a communist; calling yourself christian and subscribing to a view of reincarnat

    • Re:Yawn... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @11:53PM (#48033011) Homepage Journal

      christian theologists? but those guys working on these questions 1700 years ago worked it out wrong for current crop of christians.

      now.. are christians ready for that the bible is not literal? some are, some are not. if they're biblical literalists(which is silly, if you read the fucking book) then yeah, aliens are a problem - however if you're a biblical literalist in the modern day then NOTHING is a problem. why is nothing a problem? because you can always invent ways around shit, from "god did it to test faith" to "before the flood animals were bigger, hence the dinosaur bones you can find in mountain ranges".

      if you're religious enough you twist your observations to fit whatever you chose before making those observations.. I think it's a silly question to ask if the world religions are ready for ET when they're technically not ready to account for observations made on the earth even.

      futhermore, those religions are mutually in disagreement with each other.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... is just to ban science and space exploration, heading this entire situation off entirely.

    By the time ET's make contact with us, we'll have been raptured long ago. I think we're on for next week.

  • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @10:13PM (#48032433) Homepage
    Robert J. Sawyer did a send up of mocking religious people's views on ET in his novel Calculating God [amazon.com] . An alien lands on Earth and finds it odd that all the scientists of our planet are trending towards atheism, when his civilization finds the arguments of natural theology convincing. Of course, the god believed in by the alien (and mused on by Sawyer, who I believe remains an atheist) is an unknowable, silent, watchmaker god who sprung up spontaneously from the quantum vacuum, instead of the personal God that Earth's big three monotheistic religions believe in.
    • An alien lands on Earth and finds it odd that all the scientists of our planet are trending towards atheism....

      Maybe in the West, but not necessarily in the rest of the world.

      Indian scientists significantly more religious than UK scientists [rice.edu]

      ...interviews with scientists revealed that while 65 percent of U.K. scientists identify as nonreligious, only 6 percent of Indian scientists identify as nonreligious. In addition, while only 12 percent of scientists in the U.K. attend religious services on a regular basis — once a month or more — 32 percent of scientists in India do.

      Science and atheism - correlation is not causation.

      • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @11:17PM (#48032803) Homepage
        One thing to keep in mind when looking at those statistics is that Hinduism and atheism are compatible. Hinduism is a ritual complex, not a series of theological propositions that one must hold or else one can't be a Hindu. Many educated Indians believe that Hinduism is a environment within which they interact with their families and the society around them, while inside they believe that there is no supernatural.
      • However, while only 4 percent of the general Indian population said they never attend religious services, 19 percent of Indian scientists said they never attend.

  • Is ET (Score:4, Funny)

    by Ukab the Great ( 87152 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @10:14PM (#48032443)

    Ready for the world's religions?

    • If ETs have enough energy at their disposal to get here, certainly they have enough energy to deal with anything that this world's religions can throw at them.
      • If ETs have enough energy at their disposal to get here, certainly they have enough energy to deal with anything that this world's religions can throw at them.

        Depends. If they got here on a solar sail, they may not have much in terms of "space blasters" and such. Then again, just what CAN religion throw at them? Pamphlets? Tracts? Bibles?

        The aliens will be anxious to talk with all religious groups, because this will give them insights into our thinking (and any Achilles heels we may have should we prove to be rabidly xenophobic).

        That is, if they want to talk to us at all. They may be more interested in what other residents of this planet have to say. Or t

        • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

          If ETs have enough energy at their disposal to get here, certainly they have enough energy to deal with anything that this world's religions can throw at them.

          Depends. If they got here on a solar sail, they may not have much in terms of "space blasters" and such. Then again, just what CAN religion throw at them? Pamphlets? Tracts? Bibles?

          Of course, if they came here on a Solar Sail, after thousands of years traveling here, they are probably anxious to get off their ship and onto solid ground. After taking care to squash any ants or other undesirable creatures that may be crawling around on the planet.

      • Perhaps a War of the Worlds where religion defeats the aliens instead of germs and the aliens all drink kool aid and sacrifice themselves to a comet, or something.
    • Suddenly all the Islamic terrorists like Hamas, Isis, and Iran are forced to think beyond Earth when making their genocidal plans.

  • Rank of this problem in things we need to worry about: 4,534,211.

  • Small steps, lets get them to accept evaluation on our planet first.
  • by TsuruchiBrian ( 2731979 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @10:25PM (#48032501)

    At the current rate of discovery, astronomers will have identified more than a million exoplanets by the year 2045. That means, if life is at all common in the Milky Way, astronomers could soon detect it.

    Being able to detect planets and being able to detect life on those planets are 2 different things.

  • Note: Theologians (Score:4, Informative)

    by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @10:25PM (#48032513) Homepage Journal

    Note that the article and book discuss what educated theologians think, not what the followers think.

    Philosophy and "what if" questioning are a big part of religious educations. The general public, not really.

    So while the Pope and Dalai Llama might be willing to welcome ET with open arms, wingnuts like Westoboro Baptist are going to have apoplectic fits about "devils" and "demons."

    • WIngnuts are everywhere. Those who believe that aliens built the pyramids and in the Annunaki will fall to their knees. One cannot evaluate mankind on the uber fringe.

    • by Nemyst ( 1383049 )
      Actually, Westboro's first reaction would probably be: "Can we sue them?"
  • by scotts13 ( 1371443 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @10:27PM (#48032525)

    When they land, they'll be a demonstrated fact. Religious faith deals with the invisible and unprovable; it's not involved in observable ET's. The alien's beliefs? We'll ask them. Only problem is, if they ry to convert us.

  • World religions have different views on subject, news at 9.
  • Space Trilogy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by michaelmalak ( 91262 ) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @10:30PM (#48032543) Homepage

    C.S. Lewis, Anglican and actually closer to Catholicism in theology, wrote, from 1938-1945, a science fiction trilogy known as the Space Trilogy [wikipedia.org] that explores alien races in the context of Christianity.

    I first read the trilogy when I was an atheist, and it helped remove that particular hurdle in my later study of the world religions that lead to my conversion to Catholicism.

    • The first book was set mainly on Mars. The creatures there were essentially innocent with regard to sin. It is an interesting take on the idea of the uniqueness of Christ's sacrifice. There may be only one world, ours that needed such remedial treatment in Lewis' view.
    • Re:Space Trilogy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nyder ( 754090 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2014 @12:02AM (#48033063) Journal

      C.S. Lewis, Anglican and actually closer to Catholicism in theology, wrote, from 1938-1945, a science fiction trilogy known as the Space Trilogy [wikipedia.org] that explores alien races in the context of Christianity.

      I first read the trilogy when I was an atheist, and it helped remove that particular hurdle in my later study of the world religions that lead to my conversion to Catholicism.

      Hmm, I read those books while a christian and become atheist not long after.

  • I thought that might grab your attention - practising religious or not (I am not. Disclosure: I am a nihilistic fatalist agnostic and proud), it is a very controversial statement to make. What I'm about to follow that with is probably nowhere near, but still, controversial.

    According to the one religion I'm somewhat familiar with, and possibly others as well, humans are the most intelligent (on a sliding scale) form of life in the Universe (not counting the monotheistic God who is apparently omniscient and o

    • Which religion would that be? I'm not aware of any that take that stance.
  • by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @10:30PM (#48032549)

    And the answer is "How many logical fallacies can you fit into a paragraph." *ding ding ding*

    Perhaps "I'd like Trolling Slashdot for 1000", and the answer is "Mention Religion in a summary, more than one preferably"

    No, discussing alien life is not "new" and no, this is not some interesting twist on the discussion. Claiming that "we are going to find alien life by XXXX date" is akin to claiming "the world is going to end by XXXX date". I don't believe in your tarot cards, your phrenology, or what ever else you claim gives you the power to see the future. We all know that the potential is there, but.. well you can read the definition of the word on your own.

    You hopefully stopped reading when the guy correlates finding planets with finding life, knowing it was a troll.

  • Before getting all confident that we can detect ET civilization, how about sending a satellite or three to 10-20 Lunar orbits (what's the Lunar equivalent of the AU?) to determine if we can detect ourselves -- especially when Earth is between it and the Sun.

    If not, then no sense bloviating on religion and ET.

    • by ihtoit ( 3393327 )

      they did that with Voyager: turned it back on Earth and the answer came back "Inconclusive". I don't think they were that far away, either.

  • Didn't Clarke write in Fountains of Paradise that the sudden appearance of an alien probe ship would basically invalidate most religions on the grounds that they're all Earth-centric?

    • Christian theology is mute on the subject of extraterrestrial life. I personally believe that if ET comes, we have to accept extraterrestrial life for what it is.

  • It isn't like we are getting live video from these exoplanets. I find it a bit unlikely that any major (or minor) religions will be shaken by spectrograph squiggles, even if we are pretty sure they are evidence of biology.

  • Come again? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kittenman ( 971447 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @10:33PM (#48032575)
    " He realized that people's reactions will be heavily influenced by their religious beliefs," Really?

    The religious will do this because they can't distinguish between their god and an alien?

    Even as an atheist, I'm insulted for the believers among us....

    And yes, is this a slow news day, I guess.
  • by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @10:35PM (#48032589)
    Religion is something that an ET might bring. It could be in the form of creation myths, some strange gap they discovered in physics and a religion built up around it. Or they may have always had a religion that drove them to pursue physics with a fanatic's zeal resulting in space travel while not straying from their core faith.

    Or even worse, they could be way ahead of us in pretty much every science yet have a fanatical religion where the two options are pretty much to pray to some god or spread out and convert other species.

    Another nasty variation is that they come with some religion that has a series of logical arguments that can pretty much convince anyone who doesn't have a PhD in rhetoric. So they come along drop off their book of faith and leave.

    But if they do come with any religion at all we can all be certain that it will end up with adherents on Earth. Seeing that we have Neo Nazis there is no creed too stupid for some people.
    • by maugle ( 1369813 )

      Another nasty variation is that they come with some religion that has a series of logical arguments that can pretty much convince anyone who doesn't have a PhD in rhetoric. So they come along drop off their book of faith and leave.

      How is that a bad result? If they arrive, drop off a set of supremely-convincing beliefs, and leave, the only result is that everyone now has the same religion. Everyone having the same religion means no more religious conflicts. As long as the religion isn't "sacrifice your lives for your alien overlords", I'd say it'd be a positive outcome.

      • Unless it is a really violent religion that actively encourages human sacrifice as one of its lesser requirements for entry into heaven. Or it is one of these massive time wasting religions where people forego nearly every productive activity to do religious stuff; basically worse than TV is now.
        • If an alien religion requires human sacrifice, then I guess we know why they bothered to come all this way. Sucks for all the aliens that died before they reached Earth though.
      • "Everyone having the same religion means no more religious conflicts."

        Wow. You ARE new here.

    • Hopefully religion will die off and/or they will all stay earthbound. Father figures that are figments of your imagination demand you say on earth thats it.

  • I mean, I don't exactly believe in the Star Trek universe which is even more fairy tale than most religions. Where are we in their world order - are we equals, enemies, slaves, pets, food, pests or just a honking big X-factor that threaten their very existence? Since their military power would be mostly unknown it'd be real easy to get paranoid. Just dealing with wacko humans is bad enough, what do you really know about an alien or how they think? Nothing. I think we'd jump right into a military arms race w

    • The "ET" referred to in the linked article is life out there many light years away, whose organic signature just happens to be detectable from Earth. Just as we have no way to bridge that gap between the stars, they are unlikely to be able to come to us either -- if they had a way, they would have already been here. It's not even a given that they would be interested in going into space. So, talk of a "military arms race" is more than a bit soon.
  • I wonder less whether religions are ready for ET and more whether science is ready for the discovery of inorganic life. Nearly everything I read on the subject carries a stated or more often unstated assumption that evolved alien life will have the same carbon-and-water basis that we do.

    • The scientific community would LOVE to discover proof of inorganic life. It would be a huge new field for biologists to explore! Right now we assume life will be carbon-based because that's the only kind of life we know is possible; we haven't yet conceived of how inorganic life might be possible, and we haven't seen empirical evidence that it is, so in absence of that we proceed as though it's not. But if we found empirical evidence that it was, scientists would jump at the research opportunities to figure

  • With neither real facts nor justification of any assumptions of the frequency of life, multicellular life, intelligent life, technological life, stupid-enough-to-give-itself-away life, this article starts off on the wrong foot and gets worse. It doesn't matter how many exoplanets you can find, one, ten, hundreds, millions, billions, trillions - finding life on those planets is a completely different step. Finding life on a planet that has is not trying to be found is not likely to be possible, and this open

  • Thinking about all the alien looking drawings in Mayan culture, stories of Atlantis, all the star-aligned cultures (Egyptian, Mayan, Easter Island, Stone Henge, etc.), stories from the Bible that seen extraterrestrial, etc. could it be that humans were put here by aliens and that humans in fact are aliens? If we evolved here, why do we sunburn so easily, why are we so different from all other animals on Earth, why are are biological clocks tuned for a 25 hour day? I've thought a lot of creatures on this p
  • The finest single work of fiction concerning the relationship of religion to life on other worlds was Mark Twain's "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven".

    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebook... [gutenberg.org]

    Twain's Captain Stormfield dies and makes his way to Heaven, to find that Heaven is inhabited with uncounted numbers of souls from billions of different planets; every planet has its own Redeemer, but all represent the same God.

    The idea that God is human is laughable; any religion that restricts God to a single planet, o

  • by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Tuesday September 30, 2014 @11:58PM (#48033033) Homepage Journal
    Someone commented above about C. S. Lewis, but Madeleine L'Engle has also used ET to examine religious themes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M... [wikipedia.org]
  • by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2014 @12:50AM (#48033329) Homepage

    Let's suppose that in a few years someone discovers definitive proof that there is life a few thousand light years away.

    It will be big news for a week or two. People who are into the idea of ETs will be happy; people who aren't comfortable with them will question (or flat out disbelieve) the evidence. Everyone will discuss the possible implications until they get bored with the topic.

    After a month or so, it will fade into the cultural background and life will continue as before. With no way to get there and no means to communicate, the fact of the existence of extra-terrestrial life simply won't have much impact on anyone's day-to-day life.

    Net effect on humanity: minimal.

  • by GrumpySteen ( 1250194 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2014 @08:56AM (#48035445)

    At the current rate of discovery, astronomers will have identified more than a million exoplanets by the year 2045. That means, if life is at all common in the Milky Way, astronomers could soon detect it.

    It means nothing of the sort. The methods that we're using to identify exoplanets [wikipedia.org] cannot detect life on those plants.

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