Do aliens exist, in some form? The less religious you are, the more likely you are to accept that possibility, according to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center.
While only 40% of white evangelicals believe there’s intelligent life on other planets, that number jumps to 85% for atheists. (It’s 80% for “Nones” altogether.) So why is it that being non-religious makes you more likely to accept something for which we have no evidence?
Perhaps because the odds that life began and evolved on only one planet, in only one galaxy, and nowhere else in the universe, seems utterly incomprehensible. While atheists understand how lucky we are to exist at all — considering everything that must have happened over the course of many millennia for life to form — we also know we’re not special in any kind of cosmic way. It would be stranger to think we’re alone in the universe than to acknowledge there may be life out there, somewhere, even if we don’t have proof of that. (Yet.)
Meanwhile, Christianity is built on this idea that humans are unique. God created us. (We didn’t evolve, dammit!) If aliens existed, it would be a slap in the face to the idea that we’re special in God’s eyes.
Obviously this is all just hypothetical. Do I think life exists on other planets? As much as I’d like to say yes, I could just as easily be one of the few people in the “No Answer” category; without any proof, I’d hate for my wishful thinking to guide my beliefs. Still, so much rides on that possibility. David Weintraub, an astronomy professor at Vanderbilt University, told Bob Smietana of Religion News Service that the discovery of extra-terrestrial life would have enormous theological implications:
“Having real knowledge that we are not alone in the universe — I honestly can’t think of a more philosophically, theologically profound discovery,” he said. “It would have enormous effects on our understanding of our place in the universe.”
Besides the obvious scientific implications, it would force people to rethink their place in the universe, and that would no doubt affect religious people far more than atheists. They’d find a way to do it, I’m sure. Assuming the life we discover is nothing more than a single-celled organism, pastors would just say God gave us brains and a conscience, so we’re still special. And if we found aliens, then someone would pull a John Allen Chau and attempt to convert these creatures who don’t have any need for the Christian God. I’m hard-pressed to think of how such a discovery would change any of my core beliefs.
(Featured image via Shutterstock)