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The Impact of Incontrovertible Proof?

Started by PPI Karl, January 24, 2011, 11:58:40 AM

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PPI Karl

The following interesting article is from the 24 Jan. 2011 issue of (  I felt it inspired a similar question regarding the field of the paranormal:  
  • If incontrovertible evidence of post-mortal existence were discovered, how would it impact religious belief?
It would also be useful to discuss just what "incontrovertible evidence" might be and how the details of "life after death" might determine the response of the public.

A bit o' fish food for thought, anyone?

Could Extraterrestrial Intelligence Sway Religious Beliefs?
by Charles Q. Choi, Contributor

The discovery of extraterrestrial life might not shake people's faith in their religious beliefs, but it could lead them to wonder if Jesus Christ had incarnations on alien planets, scientists and theologians say.

These speculations and more arose from researchers presenting at a meeting of the Royal Society in London last year addressing the potential impacts of aliens on society, who detailed their analysis this month in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.

In one of the studies, which were released Jan. 10, astrobiologist Chris McKay at NASA Ames Research Center noted the consequences that aliens might have on society depend on whether humanity discovered only extraterrestrial life or also extraterrestrial intelligence.

"The discovery of life could very well or would probably be of microbes and could perhaps be on Mars or Europa, while the detection of extraterrestrial intelligence would almost certainly be from signals originating quite distant from us," McKay told

"The implications of extraterrestrial microbial life would be that we would know the answer to the question of whether life is common--we might find it twice in our solar system--and we'd be able to learn more about life on Earth by comparing it to life from elsewhere," McKay added. "The detection of extraterrestrial intelligence, on the other hand, would not only answer the question of whether extraterrestrial life existed, but also be such an amazing event that it would be very hard to try and predict all the impacts it would have on society."

Aliens vs. religion?

One impact that extraterrestrials might have on society is in the sector of religion, said theologian Ted Peters at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Calif. For instance, aliens might lead religions to question whether a second genesis of life elsewhere belongs within the biblical understanding of creation. Might Jesus Christ have appeared more than once in the universe? [10 Alien Encounters Debunked]

"It's been argued for a couple of centuries now whether one incarnation of God as Jesus Christ for the entirety of creation is sufficient, with some thinking that God would do so multiple times as appropriate for the capacity of any individual species to comprehend," Peters told

To see what effects the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence might have on religion, Peters and his colleagues surveyed more than 1,300 individuals worldwide from multiple religious traditions,  -- including Roman Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Mormons, Jews, Buddhists and non-religious groups.

They found the vast majority of religious believers--regardless of religion--were overwhelmingly confident that they wouldn't suffer a collapse in faith in the face of evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. In addition, roughly one-third of religious people thought that the faith of other religions would be threatened, while two-thirds of nonreligious people thought that aliens would sway the faith of the religious as a whole.

Can space change religious beliefs?

There are many open questions as to how people on Earth might view beliefs from space. Could advances that alien civilizations could bring be perceived much like a secular form of salvation? Might advanced civilizations and their perhaps equally advanced philosophies make our religions feel primitive?

Alien religions could draw converts, and if there are many points of agreement between religions on Earth and from space, one might see communication of ideas across species as well. "Greek philosophers never met the God of Moses, but there were people who said, 'Doggone, there seems to be much that coheres,'" Peters said.

Theologians will not find themselves out of a job--traditional theologians will have to become astrotheologians, Peters noted.

"One of the things that distinguish one religious tradition from another are the symbols that have developed over time--Christians have their set, much as Hindus have theirs," he said. "No doubt extraterrestrials have their sets of symbols as well, and theologians will have their work cut out analyzing them to see if there is any continuity of meaning."

In terms of the impact extraterrestrials might have on science, astronomer Martin Dominik at the University of St. Andrews noted that one could then begin to question what environments might prove most habitable in the universe.

"Is Earth really a typical place?" he told "Other forms of life would really allow us to draw deep conclusions about our own origins and our place in the universe."
If you want to end your misery, start enjoying it, because there's nothing the universe begrudges more than our enjoyment.

PPI Tracy

I was impressed when I read "One impact that extraterrestrials might have on society is in the sector of religion, said theologian Ted Peters at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in...."   what killed it for me was the final word of that sentence: " Berkeley". 

Let's face it; two things that are not proven beyond the shadow of a doubt are "Extraterrestrials" and "God".  Asking if alien beings would change my religious beliefs is like asking if oxygen would change my belief in air.  (that probably only made sense to me).

To me, religion is about faith.  Faith in something greater than ourselves.  Most people find that religion and faith give them comfort, something to belong to or hold onto and a sense of peace.  At least that is what is for me.  I believe in God, not because of what the "Good Book" says or because my teachers in Lutheran school as a kid scared the crap out of me.  I believe in God because I want to.  I have faith because I want to.  It would be pretty silly of me to get all pissy with God because I found out there might be life on other planets.  ("How dare you, G!  That's's OVER!").  I have an open enough mind to think that both exist. 

This might cause some eyebrow action (non botox users only) but I believe that something can exist without having to have been created by, The Creator.  The thing is, we don't know if both, one of, or neither exist.  Truly.  There are people who say they have seen God in near death experiences or in other circumstances.  There are those who say they have seen extraterrestrials and have actually been abducted.  Who am I to say that either is not a valid experience?   I don't think God or Extraterrestrials need to be linked or if one exists the other cannot.  My favorite saying is, "Get in touch with your crayon box....the world isn't black and white". (Randy Pausch).  Well, space and beyond isn't black and white either.  At least that's my take on it.  (my rambling take....)

PPI Jason

That's an interesting view you bring up Tracy, and a pretty rational one. But what I find interesting is how the discovery of aliens might affect people who are not rational in their religious beliefs. For example, what about the large portion of born again christians in the United States that have a literal belief in the bible as the word of God. These individuals, unlike you Tracy, will have sort of painted themselves into a corner if aliens are discovered. A born again believes that everything they ever need is in that book. There are many who say that aliens can't exist simply because the bible doesn't mention them.

But I think the article is right in that the discovery of aliens will not have a major impact on the religious beliefs of these people either. In the mid-1800s people started making the connections that large bones that kept turning up belonged to extinct species later dubbed "dinosaurs" and that such species existed well before the timeline provided by the bible (i.e. before 4000 bc when Adam was supposedly still wearing fig leaves). The seeming failure of the bible to account for dinosaurs (and the idea that God would create a species only to let it go instinct) might cause you to think that these discoveries would have destroyed the born again faith. But most either chose to write off the bones as fraudulent or simply recreated their own religious views to incorporate the fossilized anomalies.

I think the same will simply happen when (and I believe when and not if) aliens ever show up in our neck of the woods. In fact, I'm certain that many bible adherents will likely find scriptures that "prophecied" the coming of aliens. If any of those aliens have 7 heads and go by the name of "The Whore of Babylon" then that would be a bonus. But I'm sure we'll find a multitude of predictions in Nostradamus and the Quran and maybe even in Harry Potter that foretell the coming events.

But here is my real point: We as humans have an amazing capacity to believe whatever we damn well please. I feel fairly certain that if we want to believe something strong enough, then we aren't going to let ET, Spock, and especially that damned ALF screw it up for us.
Probably the earliest flyswatters were nothing more than some sort of striking surface attached to the end of a long stick.
-Jack Handey

PPI Tracy

Quote from: PPI Jason on January 24, 2011, 07:20:46 PM
That's an interesting view you bring up Tracy, and a pretty rational one. But what I find interesting is how the discovery of aliens might affect people But here is my real point: We as humans have an amazing capacity to believe whatever we damn well please. I feel fairly certain that if we want to believe something strong enough, then we aren't going to let ET, Spock, and especially that damned ALF screw it up for us.

"Amen, brother"!   0:<

p.s. thanks for saying my name and "rational" in the same sentence.   ;D

PPI Karl

Thanks, Tracy and Jason, for both of your views.  I do think that proof of intelligent alien life is possible, even in our time--improbable, but still possible.  Just as it took the RCC to acquiesce to the scientific truth of a sun-centered solar system (but, after a long period of torturing the heretics first), religions will probably find a way to adapt to the truth of alien life and incorporate it somehow into the canon of their faith.  And, those for whom religion is a spiritual journey in the first place, and not just a set of canonical policies, will find it easier, even natural, to accommodate the idea into their lives, because it won't have any moral implications.  

What about scientific evidence of "life after death," though?  In consideration of alien intelligence, I think many staunchly religious people are able to keep left and right brain attitudes very separate, like the cherry cobbler and the mashed potatoes in a Swanson TV dinner.  They relegate the possibility of aliens to realm of science and science fiction--something "out there" and hyperintellectualized, and therefore not real to their spiritual lives.  I fear that, if scientific proof of life after death were ever discovered, the intrusion of a scientific (and, therefore, intellectual) reality onto a spiritual reality would be significant and difficult.  Many religious people--and, frankly, the rest of us as well--fantasize about life after death as a place where we can finally get away from the a**holes in our mortal existence, and transcend the concerns of physical and social existence.  In short, most views of the Afterlife are escapist.  (To be fair, so are most views of aliens.)  What happens if scientific evidence of the afterlife were to make life-after-death just as mundane and beholden to "rules" of its own physics and social existence?  Yes, if we go on after death, I'm looking forward to be reunited with a handful of people I miss like crazy.  However, I also wouldn't want to have to patrol the living while working alongside Strom Thurman; or, worse, I wouldn't want to have to endure ambling through time in a semi-conscious state--like an Alzheimer's victim, but without a body.  So far, as long as life-after-death is a matter of speculation, the ambiguity of it, whether the concepts of Heaven and Hell or just a secular view of ghostly materialization, brings some comfort.  To very religious people, there might be some comfort because they see themselves only vaguely governed by one or the other of these realms; hope is maintained by imagining lots of overlap or uncertainly about how good you'd have to be to get into Heaven.  Just like the preponderance of so-called evidence of the paranormal, the vagueness allows for many possibilities that suit whatever we desire.  If post-mortal existence becomes a patent, quantifiable and qualified reality--if it is discovered to me mostly Hell, mostly Heaven, or mostly Walmart--what happens to religion in the "now"?
If you want to end your misery, start enjoying it, because there's nothing the universe begrudges more than our enjoyment.

PPI Tracy

I think those that are (in my opinion) religious fanatics, will think that alien beings are nothing more than the work of the devil, Satan, evil, demons, etc.  They will find some way to see them as being the enemy and or the opposite of good and a contradiction to God, heaven, etc.  I mean, truly...what else would they be able to say?

Now mind you, I don't believe in reincarnation.  Never have.  It's not because it's not in the bible, it?s because it makes no sense to me and because I can't wrap my brain around how you could have one soul that keeps coming back as different people.  I can't figure out what happens to those people in the afterlife.  As far as any one person being reincarnated into something like an animal or a tree....I just can't go there. 

If someone doesn't believe in alien beings, they shouldn't come up with "because it's not in the bible".  Think for yourself, people.  WHY don't you believe in it? Search your own brain, don't regurgitate what your preacher told you. 

Maybe my views are skewed but at least I can say they are my views and not someone else's.  I think people empower themselves when they THINK for themselves.  Otherwise, you?re just following the cattle in front of you while you?re looking at their backside.  Not a great view and not a great way to go through life, in my opinion. 

PPI Karl

Tracy, I agree that fanaticism is a powerful force behind the fear of the unknown.  I would add xenophobia to the list.  (I ain't talkin' about Lucy Lawless, 'kay? 8))  Many organized religious institutions are extremely tribal; they encourage distrust of "the other" and make an enemy out of the unknown.  (I'm generalizing, I realize; I know there are exceptions.)  Besides their threatening their religious identities, the confirmation that other civilizations and intelligence have thrived without a belief system influenced by Christianity also threatens their immortality projects.  It is, quite literally, of life-and-death significance to fundamentalists that the machinery of their redemption and their "resurrection" not be altered in any way, least of all unplugged.

That's why I keep coming back to the question:  What happens to these religions if proof of life-after-death ever happens?  There's a poem by Philip Larkin that this discussion reminds me of:  "Church Going."  Larkin argues that, no matter how changed or how obsolete religious traditions become, people will always have the same philosophical need for meaning in their lives, and the unknowable quality of death, even if they believe in an afterlife, drives them to gravitate toward these traditions and institutions, perhaps out of fear or self-doubt.  In their afterlife mythologies, religions have always tried to make a "known unknown" out of an "unknown unknown."  (The most devout believers would say that faith makes no distinction between "known unknowns" and "known knowns.")  I'm very curious to hear from all of you what you think would change (if anything) once science really turns death and the afterlife into a "known known"?

Okay.  Cue the Rumsfield jokes . . .  ;D
If you want to end your misery, start enjoying it, because there's nothing the universe begrudges more than our enjoyment.

PPI Tracy

I think different religions would view it in different ways.  You might have some say that those people who have passed away who have been captured on video/audio/what ever proof science might offer, might view it as, "Oh, those folks are in purgatory.  They haven't moved on yet".  Another religion might say that it is just the work of the devil.  And others would say that it proves there is a heaven and God is just letting them come back to say hello. 

Then you would have those that no amount of "proof" would convince them.  What would constitute "proof" though?  What would it take?  How grand would it need to be to actually prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, scientifically, that there is an afterlife?  I believe in the afterlife 100%.  No doubt in my mind.  Now as far as who goes where and when...and how, your guess is as good as mine.  However, I do know that life after we leave our earthly bodies does exist. 

I truly believe that it would shake religion to its core.  I think a lot of people would no doubt have to re-evaluate their lives.  They would question everything they have ever been taught and believed.  I think it would stop some religions in their tracks.  Then you would have those that wouldn't believe, simply because they would have to turn their own lives completely upside down and admit that they were wrong.  Some people just wouldn't want to do that.  I know so many people that think anything that has to do with the "paranormal" is "evil".  But those same people believe in God and Heaven, but they equate it with something that shouldn't be messed with.  It does seem like a contradiction, doesn't it? 

Okay...I've rambled on way too long and totally overstayed my welcome in this thread.  The subject matter just gets the gears going and ideas are firing faster than I can grab them.  I'll let others weigh in and quit hoggin' up the place.   :)

PPI Brian

I often think about what constitutes absolute "proof", and that often encompasses the idea of life after death. I found this video of Brad Warner discussing this very intriguing topic from a Buddhist point of view and thought it was worth sharing:
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."--Carl Sagan