ExoTheology & Space-Age Interpretations of the Bible

(religious implications of an inhabited universe)

Category Archives: ExoTheology

Shabbat in space and Communion in space

I previously posted on a midrash written for Ilan Ramon, the astronaut who took a Torah scroll into space with him on the Shuttle Columbia back in 2003. I love how Melanie Fine (who wrote the midrash) imagines that pieces of the Torah scroll survived the destruction of the Shuttle Columbia and drifted out into space and reached extraterrestrials. It’s a really wonderful piece. I recommend it highly.

Today I wanted to post on Ilan Ramon and Buzz Aldrin — both as examples of astronauts who kept traditional religious ritual in space: Ramon, Shabbat (first video), and Aldrin, Communion (second video).

I don’t know of any other religious rituals that have been performed in space. If you know of another, please comment or email and let me know? Thanks.

(You might want to skip ahead to minute 1:16 in the second video, as that’s where’s the description of Buzz Aldrin performing the communion ritual begins.)

C.S. Lewis on travel in outer space, extraterrestrials (May 1963)

This is from an interview with C.S. Lewis, done in May of 1963, six or so months before Lewis died. It’s from C. S. Lewis on Heaven, Earth and Outer Space By Sherwood Eliot Wirt. “Once we find ourselves spiritually awakened, we can go to outer space and take the good things with us.” I love that.

Wirt: Do you think there will be widespread travel in space?

Lewis: “I look forward with horror to contact with the other inhabited planets, if there are such. We would only transport to them all of our sin and our acquisitiveness, and establish a new colonialism. I can’t bear to think of it. But if we on earth were to get right with God, of course, all would be changed. Once we find ourselves spiritually awakened, we can go to outer space and take the good things with us. That is quite a different matter.”

 

William Lane Craig on Romans 8, Ezekiel 1, extraterrestrial intelligence, and UFO

This is a transcript from William Craig Lane’s Reasonable Faith podcast, from 17 August 2008, available here, via iTunes, and elsewhere.

[…]

Interviewer: It seems, Dr. Craig, that the Bible is largely silent about this issue [UFOs, aliens, flying saucers].

Lane: I think it is, silent, Kevin. The scriptures are given to human beings as God’s revelation to people on this planet. And therefore there’s no reason to think that there could not be persons that God has created in some unknown galaxy that we have no idea about, and he has provided a revelation of himself to them as well. I think it would be presumptuous to say that we know that he hasn’t done that.

[…]

Lane: I’m puzzled by folks who seem to think, that if life, intelligent life, were discovered somewhere else or that if it were to come here that somehow this would be a disproof of Christianity. I…  that seems to me to be a complete non-sequitor. It doesn’t follow, because Christianity simply doesn’t speak to the question of whether or not God has created life elsewhere in the universe.

[Interesting / helpful comments on the idea that the vastness of the universe points to the likelihood of extraterrestrial life.] Read more of this post

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan on extraterrestrial life

I found an article pointing to some Jewish perspectives on the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrial life: “Extraterrestrial Life” by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, posted on torah.org.

Kaplan discusses the range of sages’ views on extraterrestrial life.

One Rabbi figures there’s nothing in Jewish thought that precludes ETs and quotes, as Kaplan says, “the Talmudic teaching (Avoda Zara 3b) that “God flies through 18,000 worlds.” Since they require His providence, we may assume that they are inhabited.”

Another Rabbi figures that since the universe was created for human beings “no other creature can exist possessing free will,” and without free will, why exist? (I’m not sure I get the logic which goes from “the universe was created for human beings” to “no other beings with free will exist.” I guess this Rabbi is assuming that ETs with free will could not benefit man in any way (assuming this Rabbi’s understanding of the universe as created for the benefit of humanity). But why not? ETs could serve us well in multiple ways. Read more of this post

“Are the Gliesans Going to Hell?”: Extraterrestrial implications of cosmic view of the fall

From Christianity and Extraterrestrial Life: Are the Gliesans Going to Hell? (Karl Giberson, Ph.D. BioLogos Foundation. Posted: October 10, 2010 09:00 AM, Huffington Post)

I almost didn’t read this article — even with a title like that — because I’ve seen many articles that only repeat the kind-of old refrain, saying “Oh, look — this extraterrestrial thing could become an issue for Christianity.” But in this article, Giberson makes a point I haven’t seen before: that interpreting Genesis traditionally literally (i.e., as if when it refers to “heavens and earth” it means the whole universe) means having to draw some absurd conclusions in regards to possible extraterrestrial life.

This is the last part of the article.

The creative interpretative scheme used by the Young Earth Creationists leads them to find biblical support for claims about laws that science discovered centuries later. Other Young Earth Creationists suggest that the Second Law of Thermodynamics actually appeared for the first time as the scientific consequence of sin.

In this view, the sin of the first human affected everything, even stars trillions of miles away. Read more of this post

review of Paul Davies’ _The Eerie Silence_

[emphases mine]

A deathly hush
Apr 8th 2010

The little green men may be on their way

The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence. By Paul Davies. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 242 pages; $27. Published in Britain by Allen Lane as “The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe?”

[…]

Given the great size not only of space but also of time, perhaps intelligent life looks different elsewhere. If mankind persists for a further 100,000 years, the species will surely change. Indeed, it has already developed intelligent machines and is well on its way to building devices that are more intelligent than their makers. Perhaps the baton of intelligence will be passed to these contraptions, in which case, those looking for extraterrestrial life should be seeking not little green men but little green machines.

Should mankind finally receive a message from the skies, Mr Davies considers the impact it might have, who should have the right to reply and what should be said. (One of the winning entries to a competition, run by the Daily Telegraph, for the best message Earthlings might send to extraterrestrials, reads, “Two thousand years ago, we had a very enlightening visit from the Creator’s Son. Has he been to visit you yet?”) Mr Davies provides a timely and thought-provoking account of a search that, after five decades, has not yet produced any sightings.

“Will religion end on Mars?”

Was just adding a google-news search keyword to my Google News page for “religion” and found this article. Will religion end on Mars?” It’s an old question, but one that hasn’t been explored (except, like this article, to throw the question out there). Well, Paul Davies explored it a bit in his Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life. But, at least back in the late 1990s, the last I checked, no theologian had seriously explored it. And that’s what I was going to do in my doctoral dissertation in theology.

Still a fascinating question, but, you know what, it just doesn’t seem as important or even needful to me anymore. I mean, basically theology (even the theologies of “scriptural faiths,” as this article puts it) will just adapt. They always do. And they’ll probably be enhanced, too. Tradition expanded… keeping the baby, draining the bathwater — always a good thing.

The London Times: “Does Jesus save aliens?”

Does Jesus Save AliensDoes Jesus save aliens? (11/11/09)

Four hundred years after Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for his belief in the “plurality of worlds” (aliens), scientists and religious leaders gathered this week at a seemingly more open-minded Vatican for a conference on astrobiology (aliens).

The meeting focussed on current science, rather than the theological quandaries thrown up by the possibilty of other life forms beyond this planet. But that hasn’t stopped debate spilling over outside the conference.

Yesterday I spoke to Paul Davies, a cosmologist from Arizona State University, just after he addressed the conference. In his view, the possibility of other civilisations – potentially more intelligent than our own – puts Christians “in a real bind”. Specifically, he says that nobody’s satisfactorily addressed the question of whether aliens get saved. “The Catholic church offers a very species specific brand of salvation. Noone says that Jesus came to save the dolphins and certainly not little green men,” he said.

The possibility of extraterrestrial life does not pose the same problems for Eastern religions, which tend to be less Earth-centric, or Islam, which speaks explicitly of life beyond Earth, he said.

The Vatican does not have an official position on alien life forms, but a number of its scientists have spoken out on the issue. Father Jose Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory told the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, that the possibility of “brother extraterrestrials” was not incompatible with Catholic theology.

William Stroeger, an astrophysicist at the Vatican Observatory Research Group and a Jesuit priest, agreed: “There might be fundamentalists for whom the two things are incompatible but mainline congregations – Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists – would not have a problem with this,” he said.

Stroeger pointed out that the Catechism introduced after the second Vatican council states that there can be no conflict between science and religion. “If there’s a contradiction it means that we haven’t understood or interpreted one of them correctly,” he said.

This may be the case, but I agree with Davies that this isn’t a trivial issue for theologists. Giggle factor aside, the question of whether Jesus would save aliens goes right to the heart of Christian beliefs. If you believe that “intelligent life” equals having a soul, then you have to ask where you’d draw the line. If scientists found dolphins on a distant planet, they would be mad with excitement at having found something so smart. But what would theologians make of them?

Stroeger conceded that the discovery of intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe would pose a challenge, but said that it would not be insurmountable. “There are some difficult issues to resolve, such as whether Jesus as saviour is the one who saves everyone in the Universe or if there are other equivalent salvation events that take place elsewhere in the Universe,” he said.

I was left feeling slightly mind-boggled at how you would even begin to answer such a question.

The Atlantic Wire: “Does Jesus Love Aliens, Too?”

Does Jesus Love Aliens, Too?

By Heather Horn on November 11, 2009 1:07pm
The Vatican is holding a conference on extraterrestrial life: if there’s a more irresistible bit of news for bloggers to riff on, let’s hear it. But aliens, it turns out, test theologians’ reasoning abilities almost as much as journalists’ poker faces. If extraterrestrials exist, it could throw a significant wrench in the ecumenical works. For example: are aliens saved? Here are some of the problems:

* Do Aliens Get Saved? This question “goes right to the heart of Christian beliefs,” explains the London Times’ Hannah Devlin, who strikes a half-serious tone. “[T]his isn’t a trivial issue for theologists,” she argues. One would have to consider whether “intelligent life” implied the existence of a soul. Then there is the matter of whether Jesus saved every intelligent life form at one time, or whether there are, to quote one astrophysicist, “other equivalent salvation events that take place elsewhere in the Universe.”

* Stop Laughing: This is About Earth-Centrism The Washington Post’s Marc Kaufman manages a more sober tone (save for the headline–“When E.T. Phones the Pope”). “[T]he logic of astrobiologists,” he writes, “points … to the likelihood that we are not alone, and perhaps that we are not even the most advanced creatures in the universe. This may not ‘conflict with our faith,’ but it may conflict with the stories we tell about who and what we are.” Catholicism has a particularly tricky relationship with these scientific disruptions to earth-centrism; the Vatican, as Kaufman notes, “got Copernicus, Galileo and other men of science wrong and doesn’t want to do that again.” There’s a divide on this issue:

Many Protestant scholars agree … that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would not pose a major challenge to their faith or theology, especially if it was not intelligent or morally aware. But on the evangelical side, there is a deep concern, one reminiscent of the battles over evolution. “My theological perspective is that E.T. life would actually make a mockery of the very reason Christ came to die for our sins, for our redemption,” Gary Bates, head of Atlanta-based Creation Ministries International, told me recently in a critique of the Vatican conference. Bates believes that “the entire focus of creation is mankind on this Earth” and that intelligent, morally aware extraterrestrial life would undermine that view and belief in the incarnation, resurrection and redemption drama so central to the faith.

* No Kidding–Aliens Would Change Everything Doug Mataconis at Below the Beltway takes the problem at face value. “Are Christianity and, to some extent, other religions only stories about life on Earth?” This is the question as Kaufman phrases it. The answer is easy, thinks Mataconis: “yes.”

Even more so that the Copernican Revolution, or Darwinian evolution, the discovery of intelligent life elsewhere–life which may or may not have it’s own form of a belief in a god and which may believe that it is the central story of that god’s creation–would seem to pretty clear be the end of the universality of any religion that claims Earth as the center of God’s universe.

The Washington Post: “When E.T. phones the pope”

When E.T. phones the pope

By Marc Kaufman
Sunday, November 8, 2009

ROME — A little more than a half-mile from the Vatican, in a square called Campo de’ Fiori, stands a large statue of a brooding monk. Few of the shoppers and tourists wandering through the fruit-and-vegetable market below may know his story; he is Giordano Bruno, a Renaissance philosopher, writer and free-thinker who was burned at the stake by the Inquisition in 1600. Among his many heresies was his belief in a “plurality of worlds” — in extraterrestrial life, in aliens.

Read more of this post

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