Leave it to Live Science to ask Would Finding Aliens Shatter Religious Beliefs? Answer hint: maybe yes, maybe no. Experts say so.
The discovery of life beyond Earth would shake up our view of humanity’s place in the universe, but it probably wouldn’t seriously threaten organized religion, experts say.
Ah, experts. Presumably, given the subject matter, these experts have studied other inter-, and quite possibly intra-, galactic species, watched them develop through crude animism, to monotheism, to their first NPR station, to final stage enlightened atheism, and then waited until those species noticed that there were other species who were not their species. They then gauged how the still-religious aliens in the species that discovered there were other sentient species reacted to the discovery that there were other sentient species. The experts cataloged these reactions and then moved onto the next alien species that had not yet discovered there were other alien species. Do you follow?
Even if you don’t, it’s difficult to imagine what an “expert” in this kind of case is. Doug Vakoch, director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI, sure doesn’t seem like one. But he’s the first “researcher” in the story quoted. He said, “I think there are reasons that we might initially think there are going to be some problems. My own hunch is they’re probably not going to be as severe as we might initially think.” Problems? Like Mormons rioting in the street? Hindus queuing up at McDonald’s? Jews clamming on Jones Beach on Saturdays?
The writer of the story, Mike Wall, reveals his biases when he opines
Religious faith remains strong in much of the world despite scientific advances showing that Earth is not the center of the universe, and that our planet’s organisms were not created in their present form but rather evolved over billions of years. So it’s likely that religion would also weather any storms caused by the detection of E.T., researchers say.
The implicit theory is that once a theist is given knowledge that the Earth is not privileged and that newts were once newtosauruses (or whatever), he should wise up and buy a Richard Dawkins t-shirt (to announce to all how much he has grown).
What Wall, and many American non-theists are unaware of, is that the vast majority of theists—most Muslims, most Buddhists, most Christians, etc., etc.—are well in advance of secularists in accepting empirical observations. And they can even show how no empirical observation can be disproof of their religious beliefs.
So it is a wonderment that Wall writes “Nicolaus Copernicus made perhaps the first powerful case for it in 1543, when his seminal work ‘On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres’ showed that Earth revolves around the sun, rather than the other way around.” Wall might have learned this from astronomer Seth Shostak, who sagely said, “We haven’t been the center of the universe for a while now — four centuries.”
Both Shostak and Wall appear not to have known that Copernicus was a devout Catholic priest (there is also evidence that he might have only took minor orders), that he received a doctorate in Canon Law, and that his theory of the heavens in no way “challenged” his faith. The “experts” also failed to understand that while the Earth was indeed seen as a kind of center in Western life, it was the same kind of center as the hole in the middle of your commode. Instead of a privileged place, Earth was seen as something much lower.
The nearest thing Wall could find to a true expert—and I do not jest—was science-fiction author Robert Sawyer, a man used to thinking of how people would react to the “problematic” news that other sentient beings exist. He said, “If you ask most people whether there is alien life, most people say yes.”
They do, indeed. Even to the extent of believing that they are among us, snatching and probing with merry abandon. And this is for good reason, at least in those countries with movie screens. Alien life surrounds us on screen and in print. I myself have been in a dark room with strangers, many of them surely Christians, and watched as a spaceship full of alien slaves crash land in Los Angeles (that was before all movies had to be made in New York). I can report that absolutely none of those strangers ran amok and recanted their religion.
The real question is how would scientists react were they to discover a different metaphysics. Let he that readth understand.