AstroTheology: Religious Reflections on Extraterrestrial Life Forms

By Ted Peters

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How should theologians reflect on the religious implications of what seems to be the imminent discovery of extraterrestrial life? Will it make a difference if this extraterrestrial life is intelligent or not? Will it make a difference if this extraterrestrial life form is superior to us, perhaps more intelligent than we human earthlings?

In order to ready the theologian to engage in such speculative reflection, we ask theologians to partner with the scientists working in the relatively new and exciting field of astrobiology. When contact is made with life beyond earth, the astrobiologists are most likely to announce it to our world.

Astrobiology is the scientific study of biological processes on earth, and beyond (University of Arizona).  NASA’s Astrobiology Roadmap of 2003 orients the field around three fundamental questions: (1) How does life begin and evolve? (2) Does life exist elsewhere in the universe? (3) What is the future of life on Earth and beyond? (NASA, 2003, p.1). According to Christopher McKay at NASA Ames Research Center, “Astrobiology has within it three broad questions that have deep philosophical as well as scientific import. These are the origin of life, the search for a second genesis of life, and the expansion of life beyond Earth” (McKay, 2000, p.45).

Within the encompassing field of astrobiology, we should distinguish between unintelligent and intelligent life. The field of exobiology focuses on the discovery of microbial or biologically simple forms of life, non-intelligent life forms. At the risk of insulting Martian microbes, we will refer to them as ETNL, extraterrestrial non-intelligent life. We will distinguish the search for ETNL from the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life, from which the SETI project gets its name. In what follows, I plan to use the acronym ETIL to refer to extraterrestrial intelligent life.

Exotheology is the name I have given for that branch of theology which reflects upon extraterrestrial life, both biologically simple and intelligent.[1] One might just as easily call it Astro Theology or, better, astrotheology. Perhaps these terms might be considered interchangeable, at least for the time being.

In what follows, I will look briefly at the implications of ETNL. Then, I will turn to the larger question of ETIL and the assumptions with which many astrobiologists begin their inquiry. Among these assumptions is the inclusion of the origin of life right along with speciation in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin’s theory dealt solely with speciation; but astrobiologists require an explanation for life’s origin as well. They assume the grand cosmos is biophilic - that is, it loves life and that life is likely to be plentiful among the stars. What this means for the theologian is that religious reflection will have to deal not just with the subject of ETIL but also the evolutionary assumptions that structure the astrobiologist’s research agenda.

The matter before exotheology is not a simple one of reflecting directly on what scientists know or say. What we consider to be scientific knowledge is all mixed up with myth. The line between science and myth is blurred, at least in the field of astrobiology. This is because astrobiology relies upon a number of assumptions regarding the theory of evolution, assumptions which are unproven yet decisively important. The employment of assumptions in itself belongs within the sphere of science, to be sure. But when assumptions begin to take on the structure of a worldview and elicit a passionate hope for a scientific savior, we have entered the domain of myth. The exotheologian needs to discriminate between science and myth in order to pursue a rational response to the prospect of ETI.

When we turn to theological responses, I will ask whether people who have faith in God should believe the ETI myth? I will answer in the negative. The negative applies not to the question of whether extraterrestrial beings exist. Rather, it applies to the implicit belief that science can save earth’s humanity from its own self-inflicted demise. Terrestrial science, even if augmented by extraterrestrial science, is insufficient for the human race to heal itself. To reflections on ETNL, ETIL, science, and myth, we now turn.

Theological Reflections on ETNL

As we just said, exobiology focuses on the discovery of microbial or biologically simple forms of life, extraterrestrial unintelligent life or ETNL. Astro ethicists are concerned about exobiological contamination, actually two directional contamination. Forward contamination would consist of earth intrusion into the ecosphere of another world. By landing either a robotic probe or our own astronauts on Mars or a moon orbiting Saturn or Jupiter, the context which supports whatever life form exists might be subject to alteration, perhaps deleterious alteration. Back contamination could result from bringing life samples back to earth, altering earth’s ecosphere and perhaps poisoning some of us. Astro ethicists are busy devising preparatory principles to rely upon when the first news of ETNL breaks.

What might be the theological implications of ETNL? Margaret Race at SETI opens up this question. “If we find evidence for past or present Earth-like life on Mars, it would be extremely interesting scientifically, but less so theologically or philosophically because it could be explained as the result of dispersal between neighboring bodies; the panspermia idea would then be a strong hypothesis. If, however, Martian life were found to use a completely different biochemistry, it would be suggestive of an independent origin of life, with significant philosophical and theological implications” (Race, 2007, p. 493). Now, just what is the logic of Race’s suggestion here?

If ETNL on Mars or another neighbor within our solar system is found to be earthlike, then it would support the panspermia hypothesis. The idea of panspermia suggests that the planet earth as well as Mars was seeded with a primitive life form coming from a common source in space. The source in space is unidentified; but the hypothesis includes the assumption that all life forms both on earth and elsewhere in our solar neighborhood are kin to one another. Life on earth would be part and parcel of extraterrestrial life.

Race is hinting that continuity in life would be less challenging to traditional Western theology than discontinuity - that is, a second genesis elsewhere might be more upsetting to traditional religion than a single genesis which we earthlings share with our space neighbors. So, perhaps we should ask: if life originated independently on earth and elsewhere, would this mean a loss of significance for life on earth? Does our theology presuppose earth-centeredness and earth-life-centeredness? And would it be upset if life - even ETNL - would begin to grow without earth’s influence?

Theologian of science Robert John Russell formulates the question Race is hinting at. “If life were nowhere to be found in the universe except on earth, would this increase its significance (as with the parable of the coin) or decrease its significance (as though it were a curious anomaly)? (Russell, 2008, p.280).

It appears to me that the answer to such questions would be: finding a second genesis of ETNL or (or even ETIL) would not marginalize the significance of terrestrial life. Our confidence in God’s love for life on earth would not be compromised, just as a parent’s love for a child is not compromised because that child has a brother or sister. God could love both.

In addition, belief in a unique genesis of life restricted to earth does not seem to be implied by biblical accounts of creation. The worldview of the ancient Hebrews at the time the Bible was written certainly assumed that earth is the center and that the stars in our sky look down upon us. This worldview has changed, of course. Our modern image of the cosmos with billions of possible worlds is a recent development; yet, our modern word, cosmos, was still the word used in the Bible to describe God’s creation. “For God so loved the world (κοσμος ,cosmos),” says John 3:16, “that God gave his only begotten son...” Perhaps the biblical image of the cosmos was smaller than ours, yet the word still referred to the totality of created reality for the Bible just as it does for us today. Biblical theology was never a strictly earth-bound theology.

Oh, yes, Thomas Aquinas argued that the concept of perfection implied that there could be one and only one world, our earth. Nevertheless, many other medieval theologians could speculate about the existence of other worlds among the stars where life would be flourishing. God would have been the author of such life there just as God is the author of life here. John Buridan (1295-1358), for example, held “from faith that just as God made this world, so he could make another or several worlds” (Cited by Dick, 2000, p.29). And, relevant to our discussion of exobiology, these other worlds might have different elements and could obey different laws of nature; and they could produce different results. With the advent of Copernican heliocentrism, many theologians along with scientists began to speculate about life among the stars. In my own study of this matter, I could find both acceptance and rejection of the extraterrestrial hypothesis in the history of theological thought, with the preponderance of speculative opinion favoring the existence of separate worlds among the stars.

Even though the sharp distinction between ETNL and ETIL is necessary for the pursuit of astrobiology, it would seem to me that previous theological acceptance of ETIL should suffice to cover what might happen should we discover ETNL. In sum, I do not forecast much in the way of theological upset over a discovery of ETNL, at least within the Christian tradition.

Contact Optimists vs. Unique Earthers

Of the three fundamental questions asked by astrobiologists, the question of the second genesis of ETIL, is the one we ask next. We ask about  the possibility that intelligent living creatures currently inhabit earthlike planets somewhere in the cosmos. To date no empirical evidence exists that extraterrestrial intelligence exists. Despite more than three decades of active SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) research, no radio or visual contact has occurred. If we rely solely on empirical evidence, then we have no reason to believe that anyone else is out there.

Space researchers are divided into two camps. The Contact Optimists contend that simple reasoning would suggest that the universe should be teeming with life. Those holding the Uniqueness Hypothesis, in contrast, suggest that the earth is probably the first and only home for a technological civilization. Until recently, the lack of empirical evidence combined with the high improbability of a repeat of earth’s evolutionary history seemed to give the edge to the uniqueness hypothesis, to the unique earthers (Brin, 1983).

The unique earth hypothesis depends on the assumption of the improbability that just the right prebiotic contingencies would fall into place to make the spring from non-life to life possible, and the low probability that the contingencies that made the evolution of intelligent life on earth could be repeated in sequence. Two of the most prominent evolutionary biologists, Stephen Jay Gould and Francisco Ayala (Gould 1989; Ayala 2004), have argued that if you replay earth’s evolutionary tape again and again, it will never produce the same result. “The chemical origin of life seemed to depend on such an improbable sequence of events, similar to throwing a die over and over and getting a six every time, that biologists were inclined to think that life elsewhere must be a very rare occurrence,” writes David Darling (Darling 2001, p.121).

Contact optimists, while recognizing the improbability problem, counter with the idea of big numbers. Because the number of possible locations in this vast universe for evolution to get started is so large, the number of possible repeats of earth’s biological history is also large. In contrast to the unique earth biologists, contact optimism has grown among astronomers. “Most of the speculation about life in the universe came from astronomers, who were generally positive about the idea simply because they thought there were probably so many planets around. With billions of potential homes, surely life couldn’t be that scarce,” comments Darling (Darling 2001, p.121). He concludes, “Almost beyond doubt, life exists elsewhere” (Darling 2001, p.xi).

The Speculations of the Contact Optimists

Now, contact optimists, like theologians, can speculate. And speculate they do. Today’s star searchers can rely on a dramatic form of speculation known as the Drake equation. The Drake Equation, first formulated by Frank Drake in 1961 (National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia), looks like this:

 N = N* fp ne fl fi fc fL where

N* = the number of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy
fp = the fraction of stars with planets around them
ne = the number of planets per star
fl  = the fraction of planets in ne where life evolves
fi  = the fraction of fl where intelligent life evolves
fc = the fraction of fi that communicate
fL = the fraction of the planet’s life during which communication happens
N = the number of communicating civilizations in the galaxy. (Drake 1961)

The value of the Drake equation is not in knowing the numerical equivalent of N. Rather, the value is that here we have a template for structuring research and filtering incoming data. As research advances, new numbers can be plugged in. The calculations will change as new information is gathered. As of the present moment, NASA estimates that 1021  planets exist in the universe, of which 1010 might be earthlike (NASA, 2003, p.18). George Coyne, S.J., former director of the Vatican Observatory, estimates that there are 1017 earthlike planets in the universe (Coyne, 2000, p. 180). The mere appeal to such big numbers persuades many astrobiologists that contact optimism is justified.

The sense that discovery of ETIL is imminent has grown conspicuously since 1995, when the first planet was found around a star similar to our sun, 51 Pegasi. As technology increased to measure gravitational effects of suspected planets on their respective stars, so has the number of identified planets. These planets cannot be seen directly, but their gravitational pull can be detected by the wobble they cause on their star. Evidence of perhaps two hundred extra-solar planets is now in. As one might expect, larger planets will likely be discovered first; and those already logged seem to be Jupiter sized objects orbiting quite close to their equivalent to our sun.

Although it is not clear exactly what a planet needs to have in order to generate life or to sustain life that comes first as a visitor, astrobiogists are looking for a planet that is earth size, metal rich, and sufficiently distant from its respective sun in order to provide liquid water. It might need to provide molecular oxygen and ozone, according to NASA’s roadmap. To fit within the biophilic range, such a planet should be like the porridge Goldilocks preferred to eat, not too hot and not too cold. A Goldilocks planet would find itself in a Circumstellar Habitable Zone (CHZ). And such a planet would need to remain stable and safe for a long period of time, perhaps earth years numbered in the billions. To date, no empirical evidence that a Goldilocks planet exists is in; even though speculative considerations make many astrobiologists optimistic.

The Place of Evolution in the ETI Myth

Now, you the reader might say: astrobiology is straight science! Why all this talk about myth? I grant that the mythical structures may require a bit of analysis to become visible. Let me provide that analysis now.

Such a myth would be a cultural construct, a window frame, so to speak, through which we look in order to view the world out there. In ancient times, myths were stories about how the gods had created the world in the beginning; and this beginning explains why things are the way they are in our contemporary experience. In the modern world, we think of ourselves as turning to science rather than myth to explain the origin of things. Yet, what ancient myth and modern science have in common is that they both provide a worldview, a frame for understanding and explaining what we experience. Or, to say it a bit more precisely, science contributes to the myths we modern people believe. At work in modern culture is an identifiable framework - a myth, if you will--within which we cast the questions we pose to the mysteries evoked by our experience with outer space.

The ETI myth begins to reveal its shape as Frank Drake gives voice to speculations reflecting contact optimism. “Everything we know says there are other civilizations out there to be found. The discovery of such civilizations would enrich our civilization with valuable information about science, technology, and sociology. This information could directly improve our abilities to conserve and to deal with sociological problems - poverty for example. Cheap energy is another potential benefit of discovery, as are advancements in medicine” (Cited by Richards, 2003, p.5). Note how this optimism extends well beyond mere contact with ETIL. It includes optimism regarding the solution to “sociological” problems such as poverty and energy while giving us a leap forward in medicine. What Drake believes is that science is salvific, and extraterrestrial science would be even more salvific than earth’s science.

The ETI myth is structured around evolutionary assumptions. Here is one of the assumptions: life must evolve wherever the conditions are right; and there simply must be extraterrestrial planets where this is possible. “Life is the product of deterministic forces,” writes biologist and Nobel Laureate Christian de Duve. “Life was bound to arise under the prevailing conditions, and it will arise similarly wherever and whenever the same conditions obtain. There is hardly any room for ‘lucky accidents’ in the gradual, multistep process whereby life originated. This conclusion is compellingly enforced when one considers the development of life as a chemical process” (de Deuve, 1995, p. xv). As long as the right chemical conditions exist somewhere in outer space - in the Goldilocks location--we can expect life to evolve and develop and progress. And, perhaps, some day we will meet this extraterrestrial life form. At the level of assumption, this evolutionary belief has worked its way into the ETI myth.

Based on the Green Bank equation of 1961 (see the Drake equation above), de Deuve speculates that “the figure of about one million ‘habitable’ planets per galaxy is considered not unreasonable. Even if this value were overestimated by several orders of magnitude, it would still add up to trillions of potential cradles for life. If my reading of the evidence is correct, this means that trillions of planets exist that have borne, bear, or will bear life. The universe is awash with life” (de Deuve, 1995), p.121). With such contact optimists speculating without empirical evidence that the universe is teeming with life, it is easy to imagine our culture developing images of just what that life might be like.

This biologist continues to feed the growing myth with apparent scientific veracity. “My conclusion: We are not alone. Perhaps not every biosphere in the universe has evolved or will evolve thinking brains. But a significant subset of existing biospheres have achieved intelligence, or are on the way to it, some, perhaps in a form more advanced than our own” (de Deuve, 1995, p.297). When science becomes mythologized, we speculate with egregious confidence that our partners in outer space could be more highly evolved - “more advanced” - than we are.

Now, speculation belongs to good science, to be sure. Yet, when non-empirically founded speculations begin to frame a worldview that fills the sky with projections of superior intelligence, superior science, and perhaps even the power to save earth from the inadequacies of its evolutionary past, then we can see how a framework for a myth is being erected.

Carl Sagan similarly embraced the ETI myth. Yet, the Cornell exobiologist recognized that this belief structure is based on speculation rather than sufficient empirical evidence to deem it scientific. “I would guess that the Universe is filled with beings far more intelligent, far more advanced than we are. But, of course, I might be wrong. Such a conclusion is at best based on a plausibility argument, derived from the numbers of planets, the ubiquity of organic matter, the immense timescales available for evolution, and so on. It is not a scientific demonstration” (Sagan, 1994, p.33).

These scientists have taken a number of non-empirical and speculative steps from the Drake equation to myth-like images of ETI more advanced in intelligence and even spirituality. Might these more advanced intelligences represent our own future? Might they speed up earth’s evolution and transcendence of our own past?

How a Theologian Interprets Myth

When it comes to theological discernment, one must first ask the question: does myth count in theology? No. Most theologians are willing to interpret myths, but certainly not willing to believe them in their literal form.[2] Myths tell us about human anxieties and propensities, to be sure; but they do not tell us about the reality of God. It is the task of the theologian to say: don’t believe this myth. Or, at least avoid believing it with a high degree of confidence. Science has not demonstrated that it can save us from self-destruction, whether it be terrestrial or extraterrestrial science.

Science, just like all other human enterprises, is fallen. Despite the marvels of the new knowledge gained and new technology produced, science has become subject to the funding of jingoists and the ambitions of militarists. Advances in scientific knowledge lead frequently to equal advances in the breadth and efficiency of murder, mayhem, and mass destruction. Each decade marks a new level of global terror due to advances in nuclear and biochemical weaponry. This spiral is beyond political control, religious control, moral control, and beyond self-control. If the ETI myth suggests that augmenting terrestrial science with extraterrestrial science will provide this control, the theologian must simply shrug and say: where is the evidence for such a belief?

The blind alley into which the myth leads us I call the eschatological problem  (Peters, 1977). The myth  proposes that if we in our generation simply make the right choice that, with the advance of science, we in the human race can advance from warring destruction to a state of world peace. Yet, the theologian should ask: how do we get from here to there? Can a leopard change its spots so easily? If science got us into the present mess, how can we expect science to liberate us from this mess? If we have evolved to this point, why should we think that more evolving will save us?

Salvific healing, according to the Christian theologian, comes from divine grace granted us within the setting of our fallen life on earth. The cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ symbolize the presence of this saving grace. In the cross we see God’s identification with the victims of human injustice or violence. In the resurrection we see God’s promise that we will not forever be locked into a cycle of poverty or spiral of violence. Unambiguous healing - even world peace - will come to us only as an eschatological transformation, as an act of God. More science will not save us. It is a delusion to think that it will. The theologian, like the rest of us, should welcome and even celebrate the triumphs of science; but these triumphs should not delude us into thinking that science will save us from our human propensity for social injustice or even environmental degradation.

The Astrobiological Delusion Regarding the Future of Religion

Returning to the ETI myth within astrobiology, we note how it includes a prediction about the demise of terrestrial religion, especially Christianity. The conventional wisdom among those who look at terrestrial religion from the outside is this: if we gain conclusive knowledge that we are not alone in the universe, this will shatter all current religious belief systems. Ancient beliefs in the God of Israel and other beliefs in personal gods will be crushed under the weight of new cosmic knowledge. Why does it appear that our religious traditions are so fragile? Because, allegedly, our inherited religious traditions are terrestrial, earthbound, parochial, narrow, and atavistic. This is quite a set of assumptions, but we find them at work within the worldview of many astrobiologists.

The prevailing logic seems to go like this: once we speculate about life on other planets, then the Christian faith looks ridiculous. Once we make contact, the Christian faith will collapse. This is the logic of SETI scientist, Jill Tarter, for example, who constructs an entire scenario based upon the Drake equation. Although to date no contact of any sort with extraterrestrial intelligent life has occurred, Tarter can imagine myriads of planets teeming with living beings. All will have evolved. And, if some got a start earlier than we on earth, they will have evolved further. Their technology will have progressed; and they may even have a technology sufficiently advanced to communicate with us. Further, she imagines that these extraterrestrial societies will have achieved a high degree of social harmony so as to support this advanced technology. And, still further, if they have developed their own religion, it too will be more advanced than the religions we have on earth. Or, more likely, the “long-lived extraterrestrials either never had, or have outgrown, organized religion” (Tarter, 2000, p.146). We can forecast, then, that contact between earth and ETIL will necessitate either the end of our inherited religious traditions or a new incorporation of a more universal worldview.

Steven Dick makes the same evolutionary assumptions and foresees virtually the same scenario. Earth’s ancient beliefs in a supernatural personal god just must go by the wayside. To take its place will be belief in a new God, a naturalist’s God, built right into the universe. Dick welcomes the arrival of “the concept of a natural God - a God in the universe rather than outside it” (Dick, 2000, p.202).

Now, in my judgment, such alleged conventional wisdom regarding the predicted demise of religion is misleading and unfounded. It is misleading because it commits the fallacy of false alternatives: either believe in the ancient God of Israel or believe the speculative facts about ETIL. This is a false set of alternatives, because theologians both Christian and Jewish could easily absorb new knowledge regarding extraterrestrial life. Both Christians and Jews have debated the theological implications of many worlds since the middle ages, with increased interest during the post-Reformation and post-Copernican periods. Among major contemporary theologians, only a few address the issue of ETIL, but those who do are quite comfortable at integrating possible new knowledge on the subject.[3]

These forecasts about the demise of terrestrial religion are unfounded. No evidence exists to support them. In fact, evidence to the contrary does exist. Victoria Alexander conducted a survey of U.S. clergy regarding their religious responses to extraterrestrial life. She provided clergy from Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish congregations with a set of questions such as, would you agree that “official confirmation of the discovery of an advanced, technologically superior extraterrestrial civilization would have servere negative effects on the country’s moral, social, and religious foundations”? She tabulated her data and concluded: “In sharp contrast to the ‘conventional wisdom’ that religion would collapse, ministers surveyed do not feel their faith and the faith of their congregation would be threatened” (Alexander, 2003, p.360). The speculations by astrobiologists regarding the demise of terrestrial religion are a product of their myth, not their science.


This essay has been an exploration in exotheology, a speculation on the theological implications of possible contact with ETNL or ETIL. We have found that theological speculation regarding possible contact with extraterrestrial life forms requires a critical stance regarding the science of astrobiology.

It is necessary to distinguished between the raw core of astrobiology’s search for a second genesis, on the one hand, and the cultural overlays of the ETI myth, on the other. What we find in the ETI myth is a complex speculation that projects a repeat of earth’s evolutionary history stretched out by the doctrine of progress so that ETs are imagined as beings more highly evolved than we, more advanced, and superior not only in science but in morality. These projections are most satisfying to terrestrial scientists because they paint a picture of science as our world’s savior, revealing the hidden religious dimensions built into scientific speculation. The self-congratulatory self-image of the scientist is projected onto the screen of outer space; so that the scientists’ image of themselves returns from the heavens to earth to save us. Astrobiologists have a vested interest in propagating this myth, because under the guise of inquirers they slip into the role of saviors. My theological recommendation is that we avoid believing this myth, at least with a high level of confidence, even if it is touted by some of the most respected scientists in our society.

It is my judgment that the ETI myth does not warrant confident belief for three reasons. First, the history of science on earth has been ambiguous. Even though science has brought us modern medicine which saves lives, it has brought us the atomic bomb and the terror of the nuclear arms race. No precedent exists that science on its own can heal itself and become benign let alone salvific. Second, the theory of evolution as currently employed by biologists resists the doctrine of progress. There is no built-in principle of advance. At most, one can find reason to affirm growth in complexity within biological evolution, but definitely not something we might wish to call “advance.” The idea of progress over time is an ideological import into the theory. So, to paint a picture of ETIL as more advanced in science and morality is to speculate well beyond the limits of even what the theory of evolution would permit. Third, as of yet no empirical evidence for the existence of ETIL exists. Yes, that evidence may appear in the future. At that future moment when we actually encounter ETIL, however, we may be in for some surprises. ETIL might be quite different than we expect. All this leads us to treat the ETI myth with caution, not rejecting it out of hand but recognizing that its plausibility hands on a very thin thread.

When it comes to the centuries old debate within Christian theology regarding life on other worlds, we need to address the question of whether Christian theology could absorb new knowledge regarding neighbors living in other star systems. Those who contend that the Christian worldview is too brittle or too fragile to adapt to this new knowledge underestimate the degree of adaptation that has already taken place. The theory that the Christian religion would collapse when shocked by ETIL has insufficient evidence to support it. What Christian theology can absorb is authentic scientific knowledge regarding what may or may not be the case regarding ETNL or ETIL. What theologians need to interpret is the ETI myth; and they need to interpret this myth without mistakenly thinking that myth is science.


Alexander, Victoria (2003). “Extraterrestrial Life and Religion,” in UFO Religions, edited by James R. Lewis (Amherst NY: Prometheus Books, 359-370.

Ayala, Francisco J. (2004). "The Evolution of Life on Earth and the Uniqueness of Humankind." in: S. Moriggi and E. Sindoni, eds., Perché esiste qualcosa invece di nulla? (Why There Is Something rather than Nothing?) (ITACAlibri: Castel Bolognese, Italy, 2004), 57-77.

Brin, Glen David (1983).  “The Great Silence: the Controversy Concerning Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life,” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 24: 283-309.

Bultmann, Rudolph (1958). Jesus Christ and Mythology. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Coyne, George V.,  S.J., (2000). “The Evolution of Intelligent Life on Earth and Possibly Elsewhere: Reflections from a Religious Tradition,” in Many Worlds: The New Universe, Extraterrestrial Life and the Theological Implications, edited by Steven Dick. Philadelphia and London: Templeton Foundation Press, 177-188.

Crowe, Michael J. (2000).  “The Plurality of Worlds and Extraterrestrial Life,” in The History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition: An Encyclopedia, ed. by Gary B. Ferngren. New York and London: Garland Publishing,, 342-343

Darling, David (2001). Life Everywhere: The Maverick Science of Astrobiology. New York: Basic Books.

Drake, Frank (1961). Drake Equation at: .

de Duve, Christian (1995). Vital Dust: The Origin and Evolution of Life on Earth. New York: Basic Books.

Dick, Steven J. (2000).  “Cosmotheology: Theological Implications of the New Universe,” in Many Worlds: The New Universe, Extraterrestrial Life and the Theological Implications, edited by Steven Dick. Philadelphia and London: Templeton Foundation Press, 191-210.

Gould, Stephen Jay (1989). Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. New York: W.W. Norton.

McKay, Christopher (2000).  “Astrobiology: The Search for Life Beyond the Earth,” in Many Worlds: The New Universe, Extraterrestrial Life and the Theological Implications, edited by Steven Dick. Philadelphia and London: Templeton Foundation Press, 45-58.

NASA (2003).  Astrobiology Roadmap. Moffett Field, CA: NASA Astrobiology Institute, NASA Ames Research Center. .

Peters, Ted (1977).  Futures - Human and Divine. Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Peters, Ted (2003).  “Exotheology: Speculations on Extraterrestrial Life,” chapter 6 of Science, Theology, and Ethics. Aldershot UK: Ashgate,  121-136.

Race, Margaret (2007).  “Societal and Ethical Concerns,” in Planets and Life: The Emerging Science of Astrobiology, edited by Woodruff T. Sullivan, III, and John A. Baross. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press,  483-497.

Richards, Diane (2003). “Interview with Dr. Frank Drake,” SETI Institute News, 12:1; First Quarter, 5.

Russell, Robert John (2008). Cosmology from Alpha to Omega. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Sagan, Carl (1994).  Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. New York: Random House.

Tarter, Jull Cornell (2000). “SETI and the Religions of the Universe,” in Many Worlds: The New Universe, Extraterrestrial Life and the Theological Implications, edited by Steven Dick. Philadelphia and London: Templeton Foundation Press, 143-149.

University of Arizona (2008). “Astrobiology and the Sacred: Implications of Life Beyond Earth,”

[1] Elsewhere I have introduced the work of exotheology  (Peters, 2003, pp. 121-136) as speculative reflection on the theological significance of extraterrestrial life. Whether we call it ‘exotheology’ or ‘astrotheology,’ this differs from ‘cosmotheology’ as proposed in Steven Dick, which takes the form of a cosmic naturalism (Dick, 2000, p.200). Exotheology still draws upon classical theological commitments.


[2] Rudolph Bultmann gave us the term de-mythologizing. “Its aim is not to eliminate the mythological statements but to interpret them” (Bultmann, 1958, p. 18). This New Testament scholar had in mind the mythological worldview of biblical times, whereas here we are dealing with a modern scientized myth. Whether the myth is ancient or modern, the theologian does not accept a myth literally. A myth must be interpreted in light of what God reveals regarding divine grace and salvation.

[3] Rational debate over the existence and relevance of extraterrestrial beings has imbued Christian theology since the middle ages; and it continued right down into the modern era of astronomy. “The extent of the debate is suggested by the fact that, by 1916, more than 140 books (not counting works of science fiction) and thousands of articles addressing this issue had already appeared....Not least surprising is the fact that authors found ways to marshal extraterrestrials in support of, or in opposition to, Christianity, deism, atheism, and dozens of other creeds and philosophies” (Crowe, 2000, p.343).