The frantic searching for extraterrestrial life, people believing in UFOs and being kidnapped by aliens, Star Trek, Star Wars, ET and the whole science fiction thing; all this leaves me a bit bemused. Humankind displays a remarkable propensity, almost a need to believe in bizarre, super-intelligent life forms out there in the cosmos.
I can understand the thirst for knowledge about the universe, it’s origins, where we fit into the grand scheme of things and the intellectual delight of informed conjecture about these things. I see it as looking outward, longingly, from the squalid mess we’ve made of our own lovely planet, with half an eye to a future of space colonialism.
Conjecture, of course, must be informed by our accumulated understanding of the universe as we know it. Thus 1950s black and white science fiction movies have become quaint and amusing, whereas the radio dramatisation of War of the Worlds in 1938 caused panic in the streets.
If we go back a few thousand years, when mankind had no knowledge of astronomy, relativity, or even simple biology, when the Earth itself was a mysterious and threatening place, the quest for meaning and significance found expression in fantastic tales of creation by remarkably human-like gods, the formulation of whole pantheons of such manufactured gods, the enactment of rituals (not just a bit of harmless chanting and use of hallucinogens, but sacrifice of goats, calves and the occasional virgin), ultimately leading, inevitably, to the formulation of distinct religions, laws, taboos and moral obligations. Wars were fought, and continue to be fought by the adherents of one religion against those of another. There’s not that much difference, if you think about it, between the crusades or the Spanish inquisition and islamic jihad.
This leads me to the proposition that the gods of yesterday, and of today, for lack of any better, were essentially the aliens of antiquity, lacking only spaceships and death rays, which hadn’t yet been imagined.
I fail to see how any scientist can subscribe to any religious belief, or how any true religious believer can accept the truth of any scientific tenet. Thus, society is burdened by creationists, climate change deniers and anti-immunisation zealots.
To indulge in a little conjecture of my own, suppose for a moment that forty billion light years from Earth there exists a Goldilocks planet (since we seem incapable of imagining that life exists other than in a place very much like Earth), populated by highly evolved creatures who bear not the faintest resemblance to known forms of life, not humanoid, not even bestial or botanical. If we accept, for the purposes of this hypothesis, that some sort of God does exist, and is responsible for the creation of anything and everything, then this god (small g) also created these mysterious beings in a far off place, who quite possibly have their own ideas about theology.
If the existence of an alternative life form were suddenly, irrefutably revealed to mankind, say by their invading us, then every religion on Earth would have to do a serious rethink about what their respective gods might have said or done, way back whenever, and what they possibly looked like. The special relationship between man and god would be rendered nonsensical. If our alien invaders decided that they quite liked Earth and might stay, the human survivors of the invasion would no doubt be sorely tempted to adopt the aliens’ religion or to worship the aliens themselves. Some might even abandon the idea of god entirely.