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Religious thinkers have long entertained the idea of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligent "worlds," and not always in "heaven" (the angelic hosts) but also in "the heavens" as well.See Michael J. Crowe, The Extraterrestrial Life Debate 1750-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); Stephen J. Dick, Plurality of Worlds: The Origins of the Extraterrestrial Life Debate from... However, the actual discovery of an extraterrestrial world of living and intelligent beings elsewhere in our universe would, to say the least, be a most interesting new stimulus to theology. Obviously, given the distances that separate our planet from any other possible intelligent civilizations, it is doubtful that much of an encounter is going to take place for a long time. And if and when it does, communication along the electromagnetic spectrum will be maddeningly slow. Even in the neighborhood of our own galaxy whole lifetimes would go by while initial greetings are being exchanged.

Nonetheless, even the mere entertainment of the prospect of eventual contact--whether it ever actually occurs or not--is a wholesomely expansive exercise for theology. And it seems appropriate even now to ponder some of the questions that an encounter with other worlds of intelligent beings would raise for religious thought.

What would happen to the notion of God? Would our own sense of significance in the universe be diminished? What would be the implications for those Earthly faith traditions that identify themselves as specially chosen, as people set apart (the question of religious particularity)? Would our own religions and theologies make any sense to intelligent beings from other planets? What implications would the discovery of other intelligent beings have for the large question of cosmic purpose? And does the world of religious thought even now perhaps provide us with any conceptual frameworks that would be hospitable to, and perhaps even enthusiastic about, the prospect of extra-terrestrial intelligence (ETI). I shall say only a few words about the first three of these questions, and devote a bit more attention to the latter three.

Contributed by: Dr. Jack Haught

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