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The Question of Human Importance

Would knowledge of the existence of more intelligent, and perhaps more ethically developed, beings elsewhere perhaps undermine our self-esteem, thus making our religions seem woefully provincial and unduly anthropocentric in convincing their devotees that they are somehow special? What would be the religious implications of an extended "Copernican principle," one whereby the Earth's intelligent occupants would be shown to be just one more "average" population in a universe of countless intelligent worlds?

In the first place, we should emphasize that it is biologically inconceivable that there would be other humans anywhere else in the universe; so our uniqueness as a species is virtually guaranteed in any case. "Of men elsewhere, and beyond, there will be none forever," writes Loren Eiseley. Natural selection has brought us about along roads that will "never be retraced" biologically.Quoted by Stephen J. Dick, Life On Other Worlds: The 20th-Century Extraterrestrial Life Debate (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 194.

Second, and more to the point, however, according to the great teachers in Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and other religious traditions, we express our own unique human dignity and value not by looking for signs of our mental or ethical superiority over other forms of life, but by following a path of service and even self-sacrifice with respect to the whole of life, wherever it may be present. Authentic existence, as Buddhism especially makes clear, consists of our capacity for compassion rather than the urge toward competition. The meaning of our lives according to many religious traditions consists of the opportunity to give ourselves to something larger, more important and more enduring than ourselves. Thus, it is inconceivable that the eventual encounter with beings that may in some ways be our superiors would ever render such instruction obsolete.

Contributed by: Dr. Jack Haught

Cosmic Questions

Are We Alone? Topic Index
Theology After Contact: Religion and Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life

The Question of Human Importance

What Would Happen to the Idea of God?
The Question of Religious Particularity
Are Extraterrestrials Religious?
Does SETI Have Implications for the Question of “Cosmic Purpose?”
Available Frameworks for a "Theology after Contact"


Jack Haught

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