Does the existence of aliens contradict religion?
- A 15th-century painting, Madonna with Saint Giovannino, accredited to Domenico Ghirlandaio, depicts a UFO flying near the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and St. John.
- A passage in the Bible, Ezekiel 1:4, disputed to be an accounting of either an alien encounter or a spiritual experience (vision), states, “As I looked, a stormy wind came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber.”
- In 2014, Pope Francis said that “he would be willing to baptize aliens if they came to the Vatican, asking ‘who are we to close doors’ to anyone - even Martians.”
- A recent Insider poll revealed that one in five Americans believe that aliens have visited Earth.
While the discovery of alien life would give theologians much to debate about, it would not contradict major religions. Significant scientific discoveries such as the Earth's rotation, the big bang, and biological evolution have challenged the literal interpretation of sacred texts, yet major religions still exist. Scientific discovery can only address the what, when, and how questions; for the why, people turn to religion.
New ideas or discoveries do not phase those with unshakeable faith, nor does faith need scientific explanation or evidence-based proof. It exists as it is. For believers, their sacred texts--and the truths they contain--stand as written, and the discovery of alien life could not disrupt their beliefs.
The three Abrahamic religions mention the cosmos, suggesting that there is more in the universe than is to be found on Earth. The Psalms claim that God has named all of the stars, while the Talmud claims that God spends his night flying throughout 18,000 worlds. The Koran tells us that 'all things in the heavens and on the Earth' belong to Allah. The Jewish oral tradition goes further, claiming that every genuinely religious person will become the governor of a planet in outer space one day.
Religions with a multitude of gods, demigods, and spirits, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, already know of a hugely complex cosmology. The line between what is alien and what is domestic is quite malleable for these traditions.
The discovery of alien life would mark a major turning point for human knowledge, but not for religious belief and understanding. The world's major religions have their own history with alien life and are supported by an unshakeable faith.
The discovery of alien life could have several implications for Earth's religions, depending on the state in which we find it. Intelligent life might prove the most inconvenient for religions to contend with because complex life forms have a tendency towards superstition. Our extraterrestrial friends may have their own dearly-held patterns of superstition, having not had the time or maturity to move beyond them. Countless lives lost in religious conflicts throughout history stand as evidence of religions' inability to coexist. Why then would alien mythologies prove any less problematic to the religiously minded? Even today, government policies are continually enacted across the globe that prove our veneer of tolerance is thin at best.
The discovery of even a single-celled alien organism would be devastating for one of the last mysteries to which people turn to religion to explain: abiogenesis, the inception of life on Earth.
Religion is as diverse a concept as those that practice it. However, all religions seem to agree that they--and only they--have all the right answers. 'I am the way the truth and the life' (John 14:6). Religion sells itself to the curious while standing in opposition to empirical understanding. Science has chased the 'demons' from the minds of the mentally ill and shown us our relationship to nature and our place in the solar system. God only exists within the void of our understanding. The existence of alien life contradicts religion by giving it one less place to hide, while it also challenges religion's supremacy about the very origins of the world. Therefore the two cannot coexist.
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