Is Scientism Ready for E.T.?
In speculating about the impact of extraterrestrials on world religions, an author neglected the impact on his own.
It was with apparent glee that Astrobiology Magazine and PhysOrg presented the views of David Weintraub, professor of astronomy at Vanderbilt University. Weintraub just wrote a new book, Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How Will We Deal With It? In the book, which sports a cartoony drawing of the typical green small-bodied big-headed slanty-eyed alien of early TV sci-fi, Weintraub speculates on what impact the discovery of extraterrestrials might have on Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and Christians. As every secular scientist knows, religious people rely on faith instead of science, so here’s a way to stick it to them. The Astrobiology Magazine article includes a video clip of Weintraub summarizing his speculations.
The only religions he sees having a problem with E.T. are Muslims and some Christians. Muslims might have a problem figuring out how aliens would find Mecca to bow toward from millions of light years away. Some evangelical Christians, Weintraub thinks, might be hardest hit:
Evangelical and fundamental Christians are most likely to have difficulty accepting the discovery of extraterrestrial life, the astronomer’s research indicates. “…most evangelical and fundamentalist Christian leaders argue quite forcefully that the Bible makes clear that extraterrestrial life does not exist. From this perspective, the only living, God-worshipping beings in the entire universe are humans, created by God, who live on Earth.” Southern Baptist evangelist Billy Graham was a prominent exception who stated that he firmly believes “there are intelligent beings like us far away in space who worship God.”
Actually, the Bible does not say anything about extraterrestrials specifically. The evidence for human uniqueness is indirect; the Bible’s focus is on man, and God’s concern for people on Earth “since the foundation of the world.” This has allowed a variety of positions, although the cosmic uniqueness of Christ’s death and resurrection seems to support human uniqueness. Christians believe, however, in the omnipotence and omniscience of God; He can do whatever He wishes, and has not revealed everything to man.
Weintraub thinks most people are not ready for the discovery of aliens; “very few among us have spent much time thinking hard about what actual knowledge about extraterrestrial life, whether viruses or single-celled creatures or bipeds piloting intergalactic spaceships, might mean for our personal beliefs [and] our relationships with the divine,” he says. While he seems willing to consider the impact of aliens on mankind in general, he apparently neglected to consider the impact on scientism.
Tell you what, David; we’ll think hard about it after you have some evidence for it. How about that? We could ask the same questions about other speculative matters: what would be the impact of the discovery of gnomes? What would be the impact of the discovery of unicorns? What if? What if? What if? Irene Klotz on Live Science just gave an interesting excuse: “Aliens may be out there, but too distant for contact.” SETI hope, therefore, is pragmatically indistinguishable from belief in gnomes. Come back when you have some data.
Let’s turn the tables and think about the impact of aliens on scientism and evolutionism. Suppose the first alien signal from another planet reads, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” WWDD? (What would Dawkins do?)
Actually, one could make that case; Jesus repeatedly said he was from above. “My kingdom” He told Pilate, “is not of this world” (John 18:36). Need extraterrestrials? Try that One. And how about the angels? There is a rich tradition of eyewitness sightings of good and evil angels. Does eyewitness testimony count? Or does the only permissible evidence have to come via radio waves? Actually, “angelology” is a significant sub-branch of systematic theology, with a lot of supporting textual evidence, even though it may seem “alien” to a materialist.
While we’re what-iffing, what if aliens tell Weintraub that they exist and evolved by natural selection? How would he know they are not lying? How would he know they are even physical beings? After all, Christians believe that demons are “deceiving spirits” that can appear in physical form or else take possession of humans, on occasion. They are so good at deceit, in fact, that the book of Revelation predicts that the whole earth will follow after The Beast, believing in his promises of “peace and safety” (I Thessalonians 5). The aliens to come will delight Weintraub with their manual, “How to serve man.” Only when it’s too late will he find out the Twilight Zone punch line: “It’s a cookbook!”
Actually, it would take far less to throw the religion of scientism into consternation. If SETI succeeds, it will demonstrate that the fundamental principles of intelligent design are valid. For one, it would show that purposeful signals can be distinguished from natural processes. For another, it would demonstrate the identity of the messenger is a separate question from the identification of a message. For a third, it would show that information is a fundamental property of the universe. This would undermine materialism, because aliens would show by communicating with us that they understand the functional relevance of information.
So we say, Weintraub and the SETI believers should hope that aliens are never found. As long as they are absent, evolutionists are free to speculate and tell stories. Once they show up, the problems for the religion of scientism will have just begun.
In the meantime, the rest of us will respect evidence over imagination. We will not waste time “thinking hard about” what might not even exist.