How Would Discovering Extraterrestrial Life Affect the World’s Religions? October 2, 2014

How Would Discovering Extraterrestrial Life Affect the World’s Religions?

According to Vanderbilt Professor of Astronomy David Weintraub, a majority of atheists believe in extraterrestrial life. That’s one of the revelations he discusses in his new book Religions and Extraterrestrial Life:

Specifically, he found that 55% of atheists believed in aliens while the number was lower for religious believers. Only 44% of Muslims, 37% of Jews, 36% of Hindus, and 32% of Christians felt the same way.

This is actually not a surprising claim.

While the book’s cover makes aliens look like cartoon-y works of fiction, the idea that there’s other life in the universe isn’t new at all. In fact, given the size of the universe and how relatively little we actually know about it, one could argue there’s a pretty good chance there are other forms of life out there that we just haven’t encountered yet. As Richard Dawkins said last week, “The idea that we are alone in the universe seems to me completely implausible and arrogant… Considering the number of planets and stars that we know exist, it’s extremely unlikely that we are the only form of evolved life.”

Meanwhile, if you’re religious, there’s reason to believe God specifically put humans on Earth because we’re his precious little snowflakes.

Evangelical and fundamental Christians are most likely to have difficulty accepting the discovery of extraterrestrial life, the astronomer’s research indicates. “… most evangelical and fundamentalist Christian leaders argue quite forcefully that the Bible makes clear that extraterrestrial life does not exist. From this perspective, the only living, God-worshipping beings in the entire universe are humans, created by God, who live on Earth.” Southern Baptist evangelist Billy Graham was a prominent exception who stated that he firmly believes “there are intelligent beings like us far away in space who worship God.”

I’ve said this before, but discovering life on other planets would arguably be the greatest threat to religion we’ve ever seen. It would just destroy the idea that we’re “special,” and it would likely confirm everything we’ve ever known about evolution (since aliens would have had to evolve just like we did).

Thinking about how various groups of people would take that news makes for a wonderful — and not even far-fetched — thought experiment.

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