It’s been a weird year for humanity. And in perhaps the most 2021-esque news possible, NASA has asked theologians at the Center for Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey, to determine how major world religions would potentially respond if humans were to make contact with aliens.
Carl Pilcher, the former head of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, said the space agency brought theologians in to “consider the implications of applying the tools of late 20th (and early 21st) century science to questions that had been considered in religious traditions for hundreds or thousands of years.”
The group will examine how various religious groups would react to news of alien interactions in order to be prepared for potential contact, although there is no indication that that interaction would be happening soon. Rev. Dr. Andrew Davison, a University of Cambridge religious scholar and one of the 24 theologians enlisted to help with the project, believes that if or when alien contact happens, “it will be useful to have thought through the implications in advance.”
More and more Americans believe in the potential of intelligent life existing on other planets. A Pew Research study released earlier this year shows that two-thirds of Americans believe that intelligent life exists on other planets. Younger Americans are more likely to believe in the existence of aliens.
The link between religion and belief in extraterrestrial life has grown in recent years. A research study from Scientific American found that faith in either a religion or extraterrestrial life may come from the same human impulse to find a deeper meaning in life.
CTI director Will Storrar said that the theologians hoped to see “serious scholarship being published in books and journals” about extraterrestrial life, answering to the “profound wonder and mystery and implication of finding microbial life on another planet.”
So far no human has (knowingly) made contact with aliens, but the potential is out there. If humans were to make contact with an alien species, Davison believes a “large number of people would turn to their religions traditions for guidance” and the impact would have major implications “for the standing and dignity of human life.”
This study is the latest news to come from a partnership between NASA and a religious institute. In 2014, NASA awarded CTI a $1.1 million grant to study worshippers’ interest in and openness to scientific inquiry called the Societal Implications of Astrobiology study.