NASA recently turned to religious thinkers to help assess and understand the existential challenge humanity could face if we found out about alien life.
Are we alone in the universe ?
This is probably one of the biggest questions in the history of mankind. So far, to our knowledge, Earth is an exception, but there could theoretically be other life forms elsewhere in the Universe. To find out, a lot of work is in progress, but many specialists are now convinced that we will soon have proof of it.
Considering the incredibly large distances between the various stars and galaxies, this life should be microbial, and probably fossilized, but the universe could have other surprises in store for us as well.
So, if we ever make contact with alien life, how will our species react? Are we going to feel threatened or will we be enthusiastic on the contrary? Could we just enjoy the moment? Are we going to take full measure of it or process the information and then quickly move on?
There is a lot of speculation about how we might respond to this kind of news for the simple reason that such a discovery would be a great first for our civilization.
What do theologians think?
In an attempt to pin down our reaction, NASA has developed a program called “The Societal Implications of Astrobiology.” The latter, conducted at the Center for Theological Investigation at Princeton University between 2015 and 2018, involved the intervention of several Christian priests, a Jewish rabbi and an Islamic imam, reports the Times. The aim was to provide “serious scholarship” on the theological implications of the discovery of extraterrestrial life, even at the microbial level, on another planet.
After all, such a discovery, beyond the purely scientific aspect, might also baffle theologians: Is extraterrestrial life mentioned in the holy books? How could such a discovery align with the creation stories? Why would God offer life forms to distant planets?
Towards widespread acceptance?
Despite the challenge that such a discovery would pose, researchers are confident that the world’s major religions would be able to accept the possibility of extraterrestrial life without compromising their broader beliefs.
“The main results are that followers of a range of religious traditions say they could adopt the idea,” said Reverend Andrew Davison, a priest and theologian at Cambridge University, for example. “Non-religious people also seem to overestimate the challenges religious people would face if faced with evidence of extraterrestrial life. ”
Regarding Islamic belief, scholars point to this passage from the Qur’an which may perhaps allude to a life beyond Earth: “And among its signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the living creatures that it scattered through them “. The authors also point out that the discovery of extraterrestrial life has been discussed by rabbis since medieval times.
So, how will religions react, and the human species more generally? To find out, we will have to be a little more patient. But who knows, this discovery could come sooner than you think.