If intelligent life was discovered elsewhere in the universe, could monotheistic faiths successfully adapt? Damon Linker is pessimistic:
Think of it as a theological Copernican Revolution. Just as the scientific Copernican Revolution destabilized and downgraded humanity’s place in the cosmos by substituting heliocentrism for a geocentric view that placed the Earth and its inhabitants at the center of creation, so the discovery of advanced life on other planets would imply that human beings are just one of any number of intelligent creatures in the universe. And that, in turn, would seem to imply either that God created many equally special beings throughout the universe, or that God cares for us more than he does for those other intelligent beings.
How the latter view could be rendered compatible with basic tenets of monotheism (including divine omnipresence, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence) is beyond me. Did God create those other intelligent creatures, too, but without an interest in revealing himself to them? Or did they, unlike human beings, evolve all on their own without divine origins and guidance?
How believers answer those questions will be a product, in part, of what the extraterrestrials look like. If the aliens have symmetrical body structures — two legs, two arms, two eyes, two ears, two nostrils — then it may be plausible to assume that they were created in the image and likeness of the same God as we were. But if they look nothing like us at all, the case for separation between “our” God and these alien intelligences would grow much stronger.
Noah Millman, however, offers a more sanguine take:
Religions do not grow and shrink in response to reasoned analysis. Their origins are mysterious and their subsequent trajectories are the function of too many variables to be easily teased out. Why did Mohammed’s conquests lead to the formation of a new world religion, while Genghis Khan’s did not? Why did Jesus beat out Mithra in the contest to succeed Roman paganism? Why was there any such contest in the first place? What, for that matter, do the Abrahamic religions offer that is so appealing that they continue to grow at the expense of non-Abrahamic traditions that, objectively speaking, require much less of a leap of faith, much less suspension of disbelief in the objectively absurd?
I don’t know the answer to these questions. But they have more bearing on the prospective future of Christianity – and what that future will look like – than the possibility that Christianity will seem absurd in the face of this or that scientific development. Even so revolutionary a development as the encounter with extraterrestrial intelligence.
(NASA’s Hubble shows the Milky Way is destined for head-on collision)