It has been revealed that NASA went to religious leaders and theologians to assist examine and grasping the existential problem that humankind may confront if extraterrestrial life is discovered elsewhere in the cosmos. The project, titled “The Societal Implications of Astrobiology,” took place between 2015 and 2018 at Princeton University’s Center for Theological Inquiry, and saw religious thinkers examine how people of various religions might react to the discovery of extraterrestrial life, according to The New York Times.
The effort featured Christian priests, a Jewish rabbi, and an Islamic Imam aiming to write what NASA believed would be “serious study” on the theological implications of discovering life on another planet, even at a microbiological level, with the support of $1.1 million in NASA funding.
After all, the finding of alien life, no matter how little or insignificant, poses some eyebrow-raising issues, not just for scientists, but also for theologians: is it referenced in the Bible? What does this mean in terms of the creation stories? Do extraterrestrials have to follow the same moral code as Earthlings? Why it is that God has placed bacteria on faraway planets?
Although there have been numerous cases throughout history of new scientific findings upsetting long-standing religious systems, researchers believe that the main global faiths would be able to embrace the idea of alien life without jeopardizing their larger beliefs.
In his forthcoming book Astrobiology and Christian Doctrine, Reverend Dr. Andrew Davison, a priest and theologian the University of Cambridge with a doctorate in biochemistry from Oxford who took part in the project in 2016-2017, writes, “The headline findings are that adherents of a range of religious traditions report that they can take the idea in their stride.”
“Non-religious individuals also seem to exaggerate the difficulties that religious people… would confront if proof of alien life is discovered.” The experts pointed out that the Quran has a line that says, “And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the Earth, and the living beings that He has spread across them,” which might be a reference to life beyond Earth.
They also feel that the finding of alien life would be no problem for Judaism, which has been considered by rabbis since medieval times. Who knows, maybe the issue of whether or not we are alone in the cosmos may be addressed soon. The James Webb Orbit Telescope, the most advanced and costly telescope ever built, was successfully launched into space on Christmas Day 2021. The $10 billion telescopes will be able to inform us about the atmospheres of exoplanets and maybe detect if they can sustain life, in addition to staring at the earliest galaxies that formed in the early cosmos.