Claire Moskowitz, senior writer at space.com, ponders the question that many others have reflected upon of late: if alien life were discovered in the galaxy, would that change religion, and in particular, for our interests on this blog, Christianity?
Moskowitz suggests that of all the major world religions, Christianity may have the most difficult time dealing with the possibility if it turns out to be fact because of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation-- God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ. She writes,
"Did Jesus die for Klingons too?" as philosophy professor Christian Weidemann of Germany's Ruhr-University Bochum titled his talk at a panel on the philosophical and religious considerations of visiting other worlds.
"According to Christianity, an historic event some 2,000 years ago was supposed to save the whole of creation," Weidemann said. "You can grasp the conflict."
Here's how the debate goes: If the whole of creation includes 125 billion galaxies with hundreds of billions of stars in each, as astronomers think, then what if some of these stars have planets with advanced civilizations, too? Why would Jesus Christ have come to Earth, of all the inhabited planets in the universe, to save Earthlings and abandon the rest of God's creatures?
Weidemann, a self-described protestant Christian, suggested some possible solutions. Perhaps extraterrestrials aren't sinners, like humans, and therefore aren't in need of saving. However, the principle of mediocrity — the idea that your own example is most likely typical unless you have evidence to the contrary — casts doubt on this, he pointed out.
"If there are extraterrestrial intelligent beings at all, it is safe to assume that most of them are sinners too," Weidemann said. "If so, did Jesus save them too? My position is no. If so, our position among intelligent beings in the universe would be very exceptional."
Another possibility is that God incarnated multiple times, sending a version of himself down to save each inhabited planet separately.
However, based on the best guesses of how many civilizations we might expect to exist in the universe, and how long planets and civilizations are expected to survive, God's incarnations would have had to be in about 250 places simultaneously at any given time, assuming each incarnation took about 30 years, Weidemann calculated.
If God truly became corporeal and took human form when Jesus Christ was born, this wouldn't have been possible, Weidemann said.
My big problem with this is Weidemann's suggestion that, if necessary, God could not incarnate himself simultaneously elsewhere. Really? Christians believe that God is omnipresent, that is God is everywhere. We don't know how to describe such all encompassing presence in its detail, and we have no idea how God can be everywhere, since we human beings obviously cannot be in more than one place at a time. But we figure that, well... God is God. Indeed, omnipresence is one thing that makes God who God is, and our lack of it is part of what makes human beings who we are. Then why is it so impossible to believe that God could make himself corporeally present in more than one place at a time? Can we understand how God can do that? That's like asking if we can understand how God can incarnate himself even once, say, in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago. Comprehending God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ is no less difficult to make sense of than God revealing himself in the same way on different worlds simultaneously. It doesn't seem to me that simultaneous incarnations is an impossible feat for the God who created all that is.
If there is intelligent life out there somewhere in the universe (and I am truly non-committal on this subject for what I believe are good reasons), I think Christianity can maintain its core doctrines while standing in amazement at the grandeur of God and the universe he created with limits that are far beyond our limits of understanding.
Perhaps the late Larry Norman was on to something many years ago when he sang,
If there's life on other planets,
then surely He must know.
And He's been there once already,
and has died to save their souls.
Or perhaps, our civilization is the first and the oldest, and so God chose to incarnate himself here and get to the root of the problem before it spread.
I do not assume that there are "Klingons" out there in the vast universe, but if there are, I can live with it and still keep my faith.... better yet.... I will continue to pass it on.