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xx Finding other life wouldn't shake most most faiths
« Thread started on: Dec 11th, 2003, 4:54pm »

Many religions open to idea that God created other intelligent species

By Todd Halvorson and Robyn Suriano
FLORIDA TODAY

It's very simple for Barry Friedman, who has preached the Jewish faith for 26 years as a rabbi in Central Florida.

There must be lots of intelligent species in the universe, Friedman said. He just thanks God for giving him the sense to realize it.

"It would be an incredible conceit of egotism to think we're the only form of life," said Friedman, who sees no trouble for Judaism if aliens were to land on his synagogue's doorstep tomorrow.

"There are religious beliefs and there are scientific truths. Sometimes, they will coincide and sometimes they'll conflict. But being intelligent and insightful people of belief, we are able to make the distinction and not be blinded by our faith, but be supported by it."

Friedman represents many of today's religious leaders, who say most faiths would not crumble or even change appreciably if science offered proof of another
intelligent species in the universe.

A more disconcerting effect might befall the human ego as people search for humanity's niche among other life forms that could be so advanced they make us look like amoebas.

"This is all about calibrating our place in the universe: Are we really the top dogs, which is the way we act, or are we one of many?" said Jill Tarter, chief scientist for the SETI Institute in California, a private group engaged in a search for extraterrestrial life.

Unlike earlier times, most religions would not be dismayed by such a finding.

That's because many faiths already have accepted the notion informally, seizing upon the possibility as evidence of an almighty's power to fill any celestial crevice with living things.

"It would seem strange if God would have created this entire universe and have creatures in only one small corner who were able to witness it and see what
miraculous work he has done," said Alvin Plantinga, director of the Center for Philosophy and Religion at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

"So the natural thing to think from a Christian perspective is that there are lots and lots of intelligent species out there."

That idea has not always been welcomed by religious power brokers.

Polish cleric Nicholas Copernicus startled Roman Catholic leaders in 1543 by challenging the accepted view that the sun revolved around the Earth. Not so,
Copernicus said. The sun holds center stage. Earth travels around it.

Publishing the findings from his deathbed, Copernicus escaped the consequences of pushing Earth from the center.

Back then, religious doctrine held that humans were God's sole rational creatures. They were given Earth to rule over and a universe to dazzle them. The stars were a tribute to God's glory.

Those who believed otherwise could face death.

The best example is the case of Italian monk Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake in 1600 for refusing to back down from his opinion that other
life-bearing planets were spinning in the universe.

But today's philosophers say the world's religions have progressed much, leaving churches far less threatened by the potential for life elsewhere.

For example:

Judaism is a faith based on relationships - between God and humans; between God and the Jewish nation; between the Jewish nation and the land of Israel.

Many Jews believe the relationship between humans and God is not so fragile that it couldn't survive the discovery that God has bonds with another
intelligent species.

Islam, which claims the world's second-largest group of believers next to Christianity, submits to an all-powerful Allah.

If it were shown that Allah designed other life forms, Muslim followers would accept his creations without question.

(article cont. in next post)
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xx Re: Finding other life wouldn't shake most most fa
« Reply #1 on: Dec 11th, 2003, 4:55pm »


Hinduism is a complex religion whose followers believe in many gods, a single god or none at all.

A basic tenet is the notion of reincarnation, with souls moving up and down an infinite hierarchy depending on how people behaved in their previous lives. A moral soul eventually escapes the cycle in a heavenly place called Nirvana.

There is no exclusive bond between humans and the cosmic cycle, which might include many other intelligent species unknown to people.

Buddhism has no god, and therefore no special claim on a creator. Followers of this faith believe in deep introspection and austere living, shunning human
pleasures.

Buddhists do not condone the killing of any living creature. As such, they would respect other intelligent species.

Some say only the world's largest religion, Christianity, might run into problems in the face of alien intelligence.

The Bible says humans are made in the image of God, who cherished his creatures so much that he sent his son Jesus to Earth to save humanity from sin.

People are therefore God's favorites, made in his form and promised salvation through Jesus.


"Christians believe God became incarnate as a human being and Jesus Christ is the savior of humankind," said Australian physicist Paul Davies, who has written several books examining the philosophical issues surrounding the prospect for alien life.

"He didn't come to save the great apes, for example, and he certainly didn't come to save little green men. So this is a unique relationship between God and man."

The question becomes: Is that special bond broken if it turns out there are other intelligent species in the heavens?

Many Christian scholars say no.

"If intelligent beings were found elsewhere in the universe, (they) couldn't compromise the special relationship already existing between God and human
beings any more than a young couple compromises their love for their first child after having a second," said Hal N. Ostrander, associate dean of Christian
theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

"The first child may feel slighted for a time, but the parents' love nevertheless remains steadfast."

Still, some Christian sects would have a hard time sharing the creator. They include churches that teach a literal interpretation of the Bible, and claim Earth is the only inhabited world in the universe.

At the very least, their teachings would be startled by the discovery of aliens. At the most, the churches would lose followers.

"You very well could get some people who would toss out their Bibles, but I don't think that many," said J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, an independent research group based in Santa Barbara, Calif. "Though the discovery would require some major adjustments right at the heart of theology."

(article cont. in next post)
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xx Re: Finding other life wouldn't shake most most fa
« Reply #2 on: Dec 11th, 2003, 4:56pm »


Even so, scholars agree the most far-reaching effects of extraterrestrial intelligence will not be on religious views.

More profound would be the implications for the human ego, as the discovery induces changes in humanity's self-image.

The extent of the effects would depend on the discovery. Most scientists agree finding microbes on Mars would do little to alter the way people think of
themselves as a species.

But the work of Tarter's SETI group holds potential for a more shattering finding.

By listening for radio waves that could be sent throughout the universe by another technological civilization, SETI could find proof of intelligent alien
beings.

Potential discomfort could follow if it's clear the aliens are far more advanced than we are - spiritually, mentally and technologically.

Creatures from a civilization that is millions or billions of years old could seem saintly or even godlike to us.

Such a finding could have a humbling result far more powerful than Copernicus' shuffling of the solar system four centuries ago.

"The consequences would be completely npredictable," Davies said. "It could have a very demoralizing effect. People might wonder, `What's the point?' I'm not at all sure it would be very good for us."

But some people think the potential downside is trivial compared to the way humans could grow as a species.

The late Carl Sagan felt that hope, not despair, should follow the discovery. Sagan, who died in 1996, popularized the idea of aliens and the field of
astronomy through his acclaimed TV series, "Cosmos."

If life were found beyond Earth, people would feel more connected to their human brethren and their home planet, Sagan believed.

"The animosities which divide the peoples of the Earth may wither," he wrote. "The differences among human beings of separate races, nationalities, religions and sexes are likely to be insignificant compared to the differences between all humans and all extraterrestrial beings."

Others say people also could feel a stronger tie to the universe around them.

"Some people think being able to look back on Earth has changed the way we feel about the planet," said William Dean, who teaches a course on science,
religion and American culture at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

"When you look down on Earth from space, borders don't exist, it's a solid, unified ball. The same thing could happen if we get a better view of Earth in
the context of the entire universe. We could all feel part of something bigger, more important."

That's why many people say the search for life is critical for our species.

By reaching out for other living beings, we learn more about ourselves, said Hal Povenmire, astronomer and author of several science books, who lives along
Florida's east coast.

To not search for others is to risk losing important information about the human race, he said.

"It's like finding out as an adult that you had a twin sister and a lot of people knew it but you," Povenmire said. "Wouldn't you feel deeply offended that something like that had been kept from you?

"It's the same thing with extraterrestrial life. Not searching would deny you knowing your exact place in the whole scheme of things. It provides a better
basis of reality."
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