Would Discovering Extraterrestrial Life Make us – and them – Platonists, Mormons, or Atheists?

Would Discovering Extraterrestrial Life Make us – and them – Platonists, Mormons, or Atheists? May 16, 2015

The Week featured an article a while back which suggested that the discovery of alien life would turn us all into atheists or Mormons. Matthew Ferguson recently mentioned a number of issues which would, at the very least, raise issues for traditional Christian theology.

In an article which quoted me (even if it gets my name and role wrong), Gizmodo explored similar issues related to the development of artificial intelligence. That article also focused on the work of Christopher Benek, whom I mentioned recently, and who has explored the intersection of Christianity and robots in interesting ways.

According to IO9, NASA seems to be cranking its search for extraterrestrial life into high gear. And so these subjects may not be merely theoretical forever.

Which religious traditions do you think will flourish or struggle in response to the discovery of extraterrestrial life?

See also yesterday’s post “Jesus: Out Of This World.”


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  • Whichever religions predicted the discovery of the extraterrestrials in sufficiently vague, yet, sufficiently specific terms, of course, will gain followers. Those too specific (and wrong) will lose whatever followers they had.
    Most religions will probably view the extraterrestrials as fertile ground for new converts, as they viewed the Chinese, Native Americans, and Australian Aborigines back in the day. If, unlike these cases, the extraterrestrials will have technological superiority over us, the question will be to what religion the ETs will try to convert us to, if any.

  • A.I. would be more feasible and interesting.

  • ccws

    I knew someone in high school who said ETs and flying saucers were “of Satan.” Then I knew someone in college who honestly believed that Jesus only had to come to save humans because humans were the only sentient beings who sinned.

    C’mon, people, you can’t have it both ways! 🙂

  • Gary

    I hope they’re not Mormons. They would then be Gods. Plus, I do not think I could survive in a Universe where Brigham Young and Joseph Smith are Gods on their own planets, populated by all their spirit children offspring. Most distasteful.

    • Glenstorm

      That’s not what (most) Mormons think about extraterrestrial life.

      LDS scripture, instead, teaches that this world’s God is the God of countless inhabited worlds:

      “And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten. … there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.” (Moses 1:33, 35)

      • Gary

        Doctrine and Covenants 132:20
        ” 20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.”

        Actually, you are right about this world/universe, since Joseph and Brigham are currently dead. Only Gods when they reach the Celestial Kingdom. With their own planets.

        But, then again, section 132 also includes plural marriage, so maybe the whole God-thing is currently under advisement.

        • Glenstorm

          Notice: I didn’t say anything about LDS doctrines of divinization; they’re contested.

          I just said that those beliefs (however people conceive of them) have very little to do with Mormon conceptions of extraterrestrial life. I’ve met plenty of people who believe that humans have spiritual siblings on other worlds, but have met no one who thinks that potential extraterrestrial life forms that humans could encounter would be spiritual descendants of humans from this world.

          • Gary

            BTW, I should mention that way back in my Mormon days, a Mormon scout father told me that the plot of Battlestar Galactica was dominated by Mormon theology. Something about people looking for their home planet. I didn’t pay much attention to it, since I didn’t watch the program. Seemed a little too “comic book” to me, for the little pieces I saw of it.

          • Glenstorm

            Glen A. Larson, the creator of the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica, was a Mormon and apparently wove various Mormon theological ideas into the series. I, however, have only seen the (very good but not very Mormon) 2004 reboot series, so I can’t personally speak to the accuracy of those claims!

          • I loved the original Battlestar Galactica series, and can confirm that it integrated elements that reflected Larson’s LDS faith.

  • Shiphrah99

    Reminds me of Sydney Carter’s “Every Star Shall Sing a Carol.”

  • C.S. Lewis wrote a couple of excellent essays on the theological implications of discovering ET. Unfortunately, I don’t think that they can be found online.

  • Rust Cohle

    Far Side. 😉

  • Derek Dean Rumpler

    As an atheist, I don’t see any great worldview conflict if extraterrestrial life exists. In fact, life has already happened on this planet and I think the chances are good that it could happen elsewhere in the universe.

  • Betwixt-and-Between

    Polytheism would still be a go. Philosophical religions would be fine. Pantheistic/Panentheistic religions would probably be like “I told you so”.

  • Thierry Clicot

    For a sane, thinking Christian, it should not be a problem or dichotomy…

  • I’d still be Catholic. Because it’s true.

  • ptownelite

    The thought of an advanced civilization still clinging to a vestige of their ignorant and fearful past is laughable.

  • guest

    It really depends what the extraterrestrials were like.
    If they were violent you might see them branded as demons.
    Scientology, Mormonism and Raelians already believe in alien life. In some ways that might make it harder for them, if aliens don’t fit their preconcieved notions.
    Non-theist philosophies like humanism would have questions to ask too, like, can an intelligent alien be considered a person? Would we have moral obligations to them?

  • Nick G

    Well maybe the aliens will have the true religion – which everyone will recognise as such immediately when it’s explained to them 😉

  • Joshua Belcher

    Of all the things humanity could learn from extraterrestrial life, clean energy, life extension technology, how to build spaceships capable of exploring the universe, …you’re concerned with religion

    • This comment seems very odd. My interest in energy, exploration, and life extension has been made clear here before. But as a religion professor who blogs about religion, why would you be surprised that I focus attention on that subject?