Wednesday, January 19, 2011

An Astrotheology of Extraterrestrial Life

A recent article in the had the title "Earth must prepare for close encounter with aliens, say scientists". The article goes on not to detail elements from the cultural fringe, but to describe a publication on the subject from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. This interesting publication addresses the subject of extraterrestrial life from a variety of perspectives, including religion. In considering the implications of extraterrestrial life for theology, the paper includes a contribution by Ted Peters with the following abstract:
This paper asks about the future of religion: (i) Will confirmation of extra-terrestrial intelligence (ETI) cause terrestrial religion to collapse? ‘No’ is the answer based upon a summary of the ‘Peters ETI Religious Crisis Survey’. Then the paper examines four specific challenges to traditional doctrinal belief likely to be raised at the detection of ETI: (ii) What is the scope of God’s creation? (iii) What can we expect regarding the moral character of ETI? (iv) Is one earthly incarnation in Jesus Christ enough for the entire cosmos, or should we expect multiple incarnations on multiple planets? (v) Will contact with more advanced ETI diminish human dignity? More than probable contact with extra-terrestrial intelligence will expand the Bible’s vision so that all of creation—including the 13.7 billion year history of the universe replete with all of God’s creatures—will be seen as the gift of a loving and gracious God.
There are several interesting facets to this paper, including Peters's survey of representatives from various religious traditions who state that they would not be upset by the discovery of extraterrestrial life, but they believe their tradition would be threatened. Beyond this, Peters's paper brings together several strands of thought to formulate an "astrotheology" that takes us beyond the reactions against this found many times in evangelicalism, at least in the countercult in response to the UFO phenomenon.

Peters's paper can be read here, and an MP3 of his presentation can be downloaded here.

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