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New planets, extraterrestrial life and what it means for God

by Brad A. Greenberg

February 14, 2011 | 11:24 am

Interesting story from Irtiqa, which used to be called the Science and Religion News blog. It’s about the discovery of new planets by NASA’s Kepler mission, which has detected 1,235 candidate planets:

Out of these, 68 are the size of the Earth! Wait. This is not all. Astronomers usually get more excited to find planets orbiting in the habitable zone of the star. This is the distance at which water can stay in liquid form. For our Solar system, Earth and Mars are in the habitable zone (though Mars is right at the edge). We think if there is liquid water, then there is a good chance there is life there as well.

Well, Kepler has found 54 candidates in the habitable zone - and 5 of these are close to the size of the Earth.

That, of course, raises the issue about whether there could be not just biological life on another planet, but life like we have on Earth. Which for a religion blogger then raises the question about what sort of religious implications such extraterrestrial would have. Here’s a snippet from an old story I wrote for The Sun, excerpted in the “God and Aliens” post:

The theological significance of extraterrestrial life has been debated for centuries. In the Middle Ages, as today, some argued that God could have created worlds better than ours; others maintained that Earth was the center of God’s universe.

“Although it became heretical to deny that God could create other worlds, it was dangerous to claim he had,’ Joseph L. Spradley, a physics and astronomy professor at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., wrote in 1998 for a fellowship of Christian scientists.

The verdict from most Christians is still out. However, many theologians say, if God did create other worlds and other people, that would not contradict the biblical story of the sin of man being redeemed by the son of God.

“How God shares the story of creation and of love and of the ultimate hope for the restoration of all things in God’s design, I think that can be worked out in many different ways,’ said Philip A. Amerson, president of the Claremont School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary.

There could be different paths to God on different planets, Amerson said. Others accept a more traditional salvation model.

“Saint Paul would suggest to indicate, and it is just a hint, that if there is life on other planets, and these beings needed salvation or redemption, the death of Christ on planet Earth would be a sufficient price,’ said the Rev. John Jefferson Davis, a Presbyterian and professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary near Boston.

This cartoon suggests otherwise.

I’m not sure which I agree with. I tend to think that the discovery of aliens would prove very problematic for religions that see a connection between humans, God and heaven (i.e. the Abrahamic faiths). That being said, I have to believe that we just won’t discover that kind of alien life.

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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