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What Would Happen to the Idea of God?

Certainly, at the very least, an encounter with alternative intelligent worlds would be one more in a series of great occasions modern cosmology has provided for theology to enlarge its sense of God and divine creativity. But contact with ET's would also provide an opportunity for theology, on its part, to display the unitive power of radical monotheism. Any other intelligent cosmic provinces in this universe would obviously be grounded in the same creative principle that our earthly monotheisms posit as the source of all things "visible and invisible." Radical monotheism - with its belief that all things, all forms of life, all peoples and all worlds have a common origin and destiny (in a God who creates and encompasses all beings impartially) - is still the surest ground we have for embracing that which at first seems alien.See H. Richard Niebuhr, Radical Monotheism and Western Culture (London: Faber and Faber, 1943). To learn to love what God loves is the vocation and the constant struggle to which our greatest religious prophets have already called us. Of course, tribalism and ethnic hatred, as well as disregard for nonhuman forms of life, still tragically persist here on Earth, but an argument could be made that this is so only because radical monotheism, which emphasizes the ontological unity underlying all diversity, still has too tenuous a hold on human awareness, including that of religious people themselves. Many people do not yet really believe in the ultimate unity of all beings even here in our own world. And so, the discovery of other intelligent worlds would be a wholesome new challenge to radicalize monotheism.

Viewed theistically, all galaxies and all universes are rooted in an ultimate unity of being; so our travels could never bring us into an encounter with anything completely alien to us. Nihil alienum. Theology's relevance to SETI lies most fundamentally in its conviction that all possible worlds have a common origin in the one God. And by virtue of the omnipresence of the one God we too would have an extended home in all possible worlds to which we might eventually travel.Roch Kereszty, as quoted by Thomas F. O'Meara, "Extraterre strial Intelligent Life," Theological Studies 60, 29.

At the same time, the fundamental unity of being implied in the notion of divine creativity would tend, by its very nature, to unfold in an unlimited diversity of ways, and possibly a multitude of different "worlds." In the Summa Theologica St. Thomas Aquinas poses the childlike question as to why God created so many different kinds of beings. His answer: so that what is lacking in one thing as far as expressing the infinity of God is concerned can be supplied by something else.Summa Theologica I, 48, ad 2.Diversity in creation, in other words, is appropriate precisely because of the nature of an infinitely resourceful creativity. The basic theistic belief that the reality of God has already become partially manifested in the extravagant multiplicity of non-living and living beings on our own planet should already have prepared the religious mind for a disclosure of even richer diversity elsewhere--and in ways completely unfamiliar to us now. Perhaps there is no better way for religious people to prepare themselves for "exo-theology" than by developing here and now an "eco-theology" deeply appreciative of the revelatory richness of the variety of life-forms on our planet.The term "exo-theology" (a take-off on "exo-biology" which studies the prospects of life outside of our planet) is used by Peters, p. 188.

Contributed by: Dr. Jack Haught

Cosmic Questions

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

What Would Happen to the Idea of God?

The Question of Human Importance
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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