Just last month, the Kepler mission discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, in that parent star’s habitable zone. It’s only 4.25 light years away, which makes it a pretty close neighbour of Earth. The Kepler mission has also found some 216 planets in habitable zones of other parent stars, and of these has determined that 20 are most likely to support life. Unlike the habitable planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, all of these other habitable planets are many 100s of light years from Earth.
We are not alone.
Jerome Eckstein, in “The Fall and Rise of Man”, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 5, no. 1 (1965), pondered on what the discovery of alien life would mean for traditional Christian religion:
Let our imaginations roam, and let us speculate about the possible conflicts between future discoveries of space exploration and our old religious beliefs, if these religious beliefs are understood as offering knowledge of the kind given by science. Suppose a strangely figured race of creatures with the approximate intelligence of humans and a culture and ethics radically different from ours was discovered on some distant star, would this not pose serious problems to the dogmatic and authoritarian interpretations of the Judaeo-Christian religions? Would these creatures, who obviously were not descended from Adam and Eve, be tainted with original sin? Would they too have souls? Would they be in need of grace and salvation? Did Jesus absorb their sins? Would they be in need of the Messiah? Would they be subject to the laws and traditions of these earth-centred religions? Would they be eligible to life in the hereafter? (80)
What do you think? Might Jesus have become incarnated as sentient life-forms on other planets? Does the plausibility of alien life-forms make traditional religious dogmas like incarnation, salvation, and the Trinity a bit parochial, in the perspective of the wide universe? What about the other forms of life on this planet? Would theology find a way to rationalize the existence of aliens? Are these questions a bit silly? But more silly than other theological questions?
Maybe C.S. Lewis has a point (in “Religion and Rocketry”):
Each new discovery, even each new theory, is held at first to have the most wide-reaching and theological consequences. It is seized by unbelievers as the basis for a new attack on Christianity; it is often, and more embarassingly, seized by injudicious believers as the basis for a new defence. But usually, when the popular hubbub has subsided and the novelty has been chewed over by real theologians, real scientists and real philosophers, both sides find themselves pretty much where they were before.
As Albert Schweitzer once said, “Es gibt keine Lage so verzweifelt, dass die Theologie keine Ausweg wüsste” (“There is no question so complicated that Theology does not know the answer”). I’m sure that if and when sentient aliens are encountered, Theology will come up with all kinds of rationalizations.