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Chapter Two: Problems with God

Section 11: Alien beliefs

The probability of other intelligent species in the universe undermines the claim that man was made in God's image - and in the vastness of space, God becomes irrelevant.


How big is the universe? The answer is out there somewhere. One estimate is that space is expanding by at least 27 trillion cubic kilometres per second. If my mathematics is correct, every second new space is being created that could hold 24,600 earths.

That’s a lot of space. Even if my calculations are off the wall, it’s clear that we live on a Very Small planet in a Very Big universe. Nor are we unique; the earth is only one of billions of planets orbiting countless stars.

2.11a Alone in the universe?

Despite the claims of mentally unbalanced Americans and Europeans, we have never been visited by extra-terrestrials and we have no other evidence of alien life. That is not surprising, given the vast distances between ourselves and other inhabitable planets. Nonetheless, theoretically at least, millions of worlds could host lifeforms at least as intelligent as ourselves.

What does this mean for religion? Some believers argue that God’s universe is devoid of life except for that found on Earth. He may have created the incomprehensible vastness of time and space, but his only concern is one small speck and the tiny creatures that populate it. Everything else in the universe, stretching billions of lightyears in every direction, is no more than idle decoration scattered across our night sky.

Is it likely that God would create this vast, empty universe to host nothing more than the insignificant and highly destructive human race? Does he wish to mock us, given that we are unlikely ever to be able to escape our one solar system? Or are we only one of many species that he has created for his pleasure and entertainment?

2.11b Aliens and God

Believers who accept that other lifeforms almost certainly exist, have two options in incorporating them into their theology.

Problems with God

Chapter One showed us that if there is a God, we cannot be certain about his nature. So let's look at the question from another perspective: Is there a form of god that can exist?

We start by looking at the god described in the Bible and Quran; does the information there support or reject the idea of God? Then we look at general concepts of God and see if they make sense.

2.1: In the Bible
Do inconsistencies in the Bible make it irrelevant?

2.2: The Jesus myth
Biblical evidence suggests that the Son of God never lived

2.3: Other scriptures
What do other scriptures tell us about God?

2.4: Forgotten tongues
Why can God not speak modern languages?

2.5: Male order
God's fondness for men

2.6: Compassion and bloodlust
God claims to be compassionate but frequently causes pain and death

2.7: Disease and disaster
Why do they happen?

2.8: Omniscience and free will
One or the other, not both

2.09: Miracles and prayer
How does God make his presence known?

2.10: Eternal life
Do we really want to live forever?

2.11: Alien beliefs
Do they know God on Betelgeuse?

2.12: Summary

Finished this chapter? Move on to

Chapter 3
God the creator?

God does not have to be the creator of the universe; in some religions the world comes first and then the gods apprear.

In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, however, God is the creator of the universe. How does he do it?

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The Roman Catholic approach is to say that only their dogma allows access to God. Believers, wherever they live, can only be saved through Christ, the crucifixion and the sacraments proffered by Catholic priests.

That's a tough one for aliens. How exactly do they learn about Jesus? God first has to tell them that salvation is available on our distant planet. Then the devout among them must turned their telescope, radio receivers and other tracking systems towards the Earth in order to beam back copies of the Bible and papal encyclicals.

The task is made even more difficult for life-forms which transmit information through smell, electrical impulse or other means, not to mention aliens which have not yet reached the level of technology required to eavesdrop on our planet or who live so far from us that it may be billions of years before they hear the Good News. How many billions of aliens have died and are cluttering up limbo or purgatory or hell because their technology has not yet reached the stage of learning that their salvation depended on a wandering preacher in a solar system they have never heard of? (Which leads to the question as to whether each species has its own hell, or will we be sharing the eternal flames with six-tentacled slime beings from system 3XY4Q-Z?)

Even if these benighted beings have heard God's good news, there's the question of providing priests to give the sacraments. How can that happen? Since priests can only be ordained by bishops who have been authorised by the Pope, does it mean that the Vatican regularly holds secretive ordinations for the different races of aliens who land in St Peter's Square at night when no-one is looking?

This column was first written in 2008, and is the development of an article first uploaded on this site in 2005. In 2009 the London Times revealed that the Vatican takes these issues seriously. Click on the pic above for more.

2.11c Each to his own

The Catholic approach highlights the absurdity of its claim to be the only authority in the universe on God's existence. If the deity does exist and has created many alien species, it is reasonable to assume that it (the deity) has decreed that each species must find its own path to salvation.

But that still begs a question: if humanity is not the centre of universal religion, does worship of God follow the same pattern on every planet? If Christianity reflects the true faith, the Son of God must be on an eternal cosmic journey, spreading the gospel from planet to planet and being executed again and again and again. Other questions also come to mind, such as what form of execution is practised on each planet and what is the gender of the Virgin in species which require three or more sexes to reproduce?

In other words, if both aliens and God exist, it is highly unlikely that the human version of the deity reflects God's true nature. We are therefore drawn away from the Jewish-Christian-Muslim concept without knowing what replaces it. Perhaps the Hindu version is the most accurate, allowing, as it does, for thousands of gods to represent the one godhead. In other words, believers who accept the possibility of life on other planets must somehow reconcile that idea with the notion that God is somehow human (because we are supposedly made in his image). If the ultimate essence of God has some humanity, then so too must the aliens in distant solar systems; but if aliens are not humanoid, then neither is God.

Note that this section has separated God from aliens. It sees aliens as being part of the universe and God, if he exists, as being outside the universe. From this perspective God created aliens in the same way as he supposedly created humans.

Some people confuse God with aliens. They believe that the god(s) that humans worship came from other solar systems within this universe. This is in many ways a more rational position than belief in a god outside the universe. The problem is that there is no firm evidence or scientific theory that supports their claim. Rationalists therefore have to conclude: (a) there is no god; (b) there are probably aliens; (c) aliens have almost certainly never visited this planet.

2.11d God's irrelevance

Trying to reconcile the absurdities of religion with the realities of the universe we live in leads many believers into theological labyrinths from which there is no escape. The more rational response is to use Occam's razor - to simplify the problem by removing unnecessary complications: in this case, God. That leaves us with the simple question of (a) confirming whether and where intelligent alien life exists (b) how to contact such life and (c) whether it would be wise to contact them if we could do so.

Indeed, the more we contemplate the possibility of life on other planets, the more remote our earthbound God becomes. Whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim or multi-personality Hindu, our gods are such petty deities, obsessed not with our happiness or our prosperity, but with the minutiae of our sexual behaviour, with our diet and with appropriate forms of worship. Set against the spectacular and humbling backdrop of space, our earthly god reflects not eternal truths but mundane human concerns.

The questions we ask about God - does he perform miracles, will he forgive us our sins, is he one or three-in-one or many-in-one? - reveal nothing more than our own insecurities. Since our species first became capable of reflective thought, we have marveled at the universe, knowing that we can only ever glimpse a few of its glories and that we will never fully understand it. It has always unsettled us, and our invention of a god-creator is our vain attempt to bring its magnificence down to human size and comprehension.

We start by recognising that the probability of other intelligent species in the universe undermines the claim that man was made in God's image; we end by understanding that compared to the vastness of space, God himself is parochial, insignificant and irrelevant.

for a summary of this chapter click here

or move on to

Chapter Three: God the creator?

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

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