NASA enlisted a priest and other theologians to consider religious reactions to extraterrestrials

Originally published at: NASA enlisted a priest and other theologians to consider religious reactions to extraterrestrials | Boing Boing


Kind of reminds me of that one time the US military invited a bunch of sci-fi writers to Cheyenne Mountain to thinktank Reagan’s Star Wars thing.

I think that really happened, but maybe I imagined it.

EDIT - It did!


Yeah, if we could stop pandering to irrational beliefs, that’d be great.


I imagine that theologians would probably not be the most useful people to talk to for this - most of the reactions by religious people would not be based on theological reasoning, but come from their specific cultures. I mean, it’s not like, for example, conservative US Christians hold a lot of positions that are derived from theological interpretations of their ostensible religious text; their religious positions derive from their political views.


Won’t the church just hand them a Bible and try to convince them their god is the wrong god.

Or will they have to rethink the whole created in God’s image thing.

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Interesting topic.
I’m fascinated by really smart religious people. I do expect that most humans when contemplating the universe wonder about “what it all means” at least a little bit with regards to that which is beyond what we know from science.
However, given all the different and hyper-specific religions that exist… that’s where I don’t get how someone with critical thinking skills stays involved.
Taking it to the most basic level, let’s say one asks the question of a religious person “is your religion correct and all others wrong?” To a certain extent, any answer is the wrong one, but if they say “no”, then… what is the point? What’s the point of not eating meat on Friday or making someone wear something to cover their face/head/hair or making shrimp out of the question? In my mind, if no one is “wrong” then no one is right, either.
How does that relate to this topic? The thing in the back of ones mind that wonders about the universe and what it all means would have to extend to thinking about life elsewhere. It only makes sense from a hypothetical standpoint that SOME sort of life exists in the expanse of space. And if it does, I seriously doubt they are giving up anything for Lent.

In the event I’ll just declare myself Space Pope and that’s that.


If your interest is how people would react, they definitely are a group worth talking too. Religion is important in large parts of the world.


If meeting aliens means encountering a vast population of intelligent beings who have their own cosmology and no knowledge of our religion then we’ve already done that, several times. What does it matter if the new beings are from Vega rather than from Australia, or Hispaniola?


So, what you’re saying is that we’ll likely try to convert them by force, which of course (since they’re the ones with the tech to visit us rather than the other way around this time), will probably go about as well for us as “discovery” has traditionally gone for native cultures…

At this point IMHO, humans could use a bit of a good smack down, which could finally teach the group that it’s better to be harmonious with things than try to dominate everything.


Genocide, yes. But also a small number of Christian theologians saying things like “How is it fair that the only route to salvation was denied an entire intergalactic civilzation?” and the vast majority of the rest of Christian theologians saying “Them’s the breaks!” and then I guess reinventing Limbo.


Ah, man, that’s no fun. I was kind of hoping that their answer would look more like this:


And my point was that talking to theologians won’t (necessarily) tell you anything about the “religious reaction,” which is going to be driven by populations of people who are religious, but whose beliefs are culturally derived, not theologically derived. (I mean look, for instance, at vaccines - churches’ official positions, fairly uniformly, including faiths that often don’t approve of medical interventions, are pro-vaccine, yet large numbers of people are claiming religious exemptions. Their specific pastors/individual church leader may even be in agreement with them, but it’s a belief that’s bubbled up from the culture, not handed down by religious doctrine or theological reasoning.) A reaction to extraterrestrial life is going to be similarly cultural. NASA is better off talking to science fiction writers.


I just hope it’s really NASA doing this research and not body doubles at NASA.

Most of humanity professes some kind of religious beliefs. It would be the height of stupidity to reveal proof of extraterrestrial intelligence without first considering how humanity would be likely to react to such information and plan accordingly.


From a theological perspective, lots of tricky questions. Are they too made in God’s image? Do they have a soul or are they just animals or even Satan’s creatures? Do they have original sin? If you believe in reincarnation you might instead wonder if you can be reborn as an alien and so on.

From a practical viewpoints it’s more: do they have anything we want, and in that case, can we take it?


This actually reminds me of an Arthur C Clarke story (“The Star”), where the chaplain of a deep space exploration vessel is having a serious question of faith. Why? The dead civilisation they’ve discovered was killed by the supernova that heralded Jesus’ birth.


Like those dilithium crystals we need for intergalactic space travel.


I heartily recommend James Blish’s A Case of Conscience on this point (1958). The botanist/Jesuit on a mission to a planet with a practical utopia realizes they have no soul and that from that conclusion, it must be inferred to be the work of Satan. It’s a big reveal for the Priest and when he presents that to Rome, he’s deemed a heretic. One doesn’t need to care about Catholic teaching to find this book interesting (although I do), but simple to accept that the character does makes it for an interesting rumination on this topic.


I want a knitted sweater with this alien picture on it!!! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!!

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