What is the spiritual "place" in which we would place extraterrestrial life, in case it was discovered? Heaven or Earth? Sacred or profane? NASA is asking a group of theologians to answer these questions.
In a recent initiative to understand how humans would react to news that intelligent life exists on other planets, NASA turned to theologians at Princeton University's Center for Theological Inquiry (CTI). One of the 24 experts consulted is the Reverend Dr Andrew Davison from the University of Cambridge, a doctorate in biochemistry from Oxford and a brilliant mind.
Theologians and ETs, a complicated (but fascinating) relationship
Sul blog of the Cambridge University Faculty of Theology Davison says his research so far has already seen "how often theology and astrobiology have been the subject of popular writing" over the past 150 years. Among the questions he and other theologians are called to answer are some incredible ones. For example, would the Catholic religion accept or contemplate the idea of different incarnations of Jesus in the universe?
Moreover, this is only the latest of the steps taken between NASA and theologians. An almost ten-year relationship: it all started back in 2014 when NASA awarded the CTI a grant of over one million dollars. The target? Studying the interest of the faithful and the openness of scientific research with respect to the discovery of extraterrestrial life. Studies have shown a correlation between faith, religiosity and the idea of "aliens".
The search for meaning
A research published in 2017 has found that people with a strong desire to find meaning, but low adherence to a particular religion, are more likely to believe that aliens exist. This, theologians point out, shows that belief in both theories can come from the same human impulse.
Davison notes that "large numbers of people would turn to the traditions of their own religion for guidance" if extraterrestrials were found, and what it means "for the position and dignity of human life."