This is part IV of a series of studies focused on fundamentalist religion’s attitudes on extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI).
From reading several papers regarding religion and ETI, it became apparent to me that there are several positions regarding this topic. In my opinion, there are academic/scholarly theologians who study and write about theology as it pertains to the past up to the present; then there are the clergy who preach from the pulpit. There are points of agreement and contention within and between the two camps. There are other groups weighing in on the ETI topic, such as non-theologian scientists, UFO researchers, and those researchers and writers who are a combination of all of the above.
The challenge for me was to present these viewpoints in a way that doesn’t labor and bore the reader. There are so many papers, books, websites, videos, and so forth about the religious viewpoint regarding the UFO phenomenon that it is in itself an entire branch of study. Just as with research on folklore and ufology, so is the study of religion and ufology.
The scholarly theologian or scientist theorizes about the possibility of extraterrestrial life on other worlds and the ramifications of contact in regards to a radio signal confirmation, or proof that life on Mars is a scientific reality.
The general view of the papers I read written by scholarly theologians is that the idea of ETI is not inconsistent with a Christian perspective. Many scholars do not want to limit God’s powers and his ability to create life on other worlds. To some, this is a testament to the glory of God. The idea is that there is nothing in the Bible that precludes life elsewhere in the universe. Some scholars would disagree of course and you can find papers that present both sides of these viewpoints, but overall, many theologians write about the possibility of ETI in the Universe.
The Search for ETI – The Early Years
Here is a brief background that theologians tout as a historical pedigree of theorizing about ETI :
- In the year 1277 the Bishop of Paris, Etienne Tempier, issued a condemnation of 219 propositions that he considered too restrictive of divine omnipotence, including that God could not make several worlds.
- Several theologians who questioned Aristotelian ideas raised the possibility of a plurality of worlds.
- William of Ockham, the fourteenth-century Oxford Franciscan, declared it probable that God would create a better world than ours and he was certain that he could create an infinite number of worlds identical to ours.
- Fifteenth-century Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa realized the universe can have no center and also suggested the possibility of other earth-like planets.
- Dominican monk Giordano Bruno suggested the idea of an infinity of worlds and believed that God’s omnipotence and infinitude could only be expressed by creating an infinite number of worlds. Bruno was arrested in 1592 and his works were condemned by the Inquisition. He was burned at the stake in 1600.
Of course there were dissenters to these views. In 1578 L. Danacus stated that the idea of life on other planets should not be accepted since it was not taught in Scripture. Danacus argued that the Biblical book of Genesis states that God rested on the seventh day and thus did not start work on other worlds .
The Search for ETI - Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the idea of other inhabited worlds continued to be discussed.  By the end of the seventeenth century, the idea of other worlds became more widely accepted.
- Kepler suggested that the moon might be inhabited by beings with large bodies to withstand the long, hot lunar days. He believed the four moons of Jupiter were made by God for the benefit of Jovian inhabitants, this proving that other planets are inhabited.
- Bishop John Wilkins argued for lunar inhabitants and that this idea did not conflict with Scripture.
- French author Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle published The Plurality of Worlds in 1686.
- Richard Bentley, who was a friend of Newton, argued that God would not have made so many stars for human purposes only.
- Alexander Pope was an 18th - century English poet who published Essay on Man in 1734, which considered the possibility of inhabited star and planetary systems.
- English naturalist John Ray believed that life on other planets could be used to contemplate God’s creative work, just as the multitude of species reveal the wisdom and power of God.
- German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote extensively on extraterrestrial beings. Kant is considered the central figure in modern philosophy. He synthesized early modern rationalism and empiricism and set the terms for much of nineteenth and twentieth century philosophy.  
The Search for ETI – The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
The controversy over ETI continued and evolved in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In 1853 the philosopher and historian of science William Whewell published Of the Plurality of Worlds: An Essay. He was also the Master of Trinity College at Cambridge and had been a supporter of inhabited worlds, but came to attack the idea of alien beings. His essay touched off intense debate about extraterrestrial life on philosophical, theological, and scientific grounds.
Alfred Russell Wallace, the co-founder of the theory of evolution, published a book entitled Man’s Place in the Universe in 1903. Wallace wrote about the sheer improbability of the emergence of human intelligence and argued against astronomers searching for signs of intelligent life. 
In 1952, an article appeared in The [Sydney] Sunday Herald, “Vatican View on Space Inhabitants,” describing a Vatican pronouncement that Roman Catholics are free to accept or deny the existence of dwellers in space.  Part of the article reads, “If science should be able to ascertain the existence of human beings in worlds outside the earth, neither dogma nor theology would find themselves in difficulty.” (Thanks to David Rudiak for graciously contributing this article.)
I believe we are all familiar with Percival Lowell and the Mars canals, Orson Welles’ Halloween radio broadcast of the War of the Worlds, the start of various SETI programs, the Drake Equation, and so forth.
This is a minimalist overview of a historical perspective on ETI. Since I started this series, I have collected numerous additional books and papers on the subject. Some researchers have donated papers and suggested books on the topic, for which I am very grateful. I am sure I will revisit this topic again.
Religion as a Survival Strategy
Before I progress to the real meat of the topic of religion and ETI, I would like to bring up a paper that discusses how religion binds people into moral communities.   Jonathan Haidt’s video TED talk  on spirituality and self transcendence is worth watching.  Jonathan Haidt is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. I believe this is important because I think it is helpful to look at religion from a social science perspective. We can see the social implications of religion as well as the spiritual components.
Haidt presents the phenomenon of self-transcendent emotions, which is basically an uplifting spiritual moment that transcends self to a feeling of something greater. He also postulates that religion can turn large numbers of people who are not related into a group that works together to accomplish goals as a whole. A group that believes in similar things is more likely to cooperate and succeed where groups that do not, tend to fail. Charles Darwin originally had this view of groups who competed for survival and not just individuals outcompeting each other. This concept is called “group selection”.
A fascinating point to consider: did we evolve to be religious? If you watch the video TED talk, Dr. Haidt asked the audience to raise their hands if they considered themselves religious. Some hands went up from the audience. Then he asked how many people thought they were spiritual. Almost every hand went up. Humans appear to be hard wired to relate to some kind of spiritual experience that transcends their daily lives where they feel they become part of something that is greater than themselves.
Once a social group is formed based on particular belief systems such as religion or politics, the group will fight to defend them. It’s easy to see this throughout human history. As many writers have written for countless years, how many wars were fought because of religion. We still see it today. Religions bind people together into moral communities.
During this year’s Summer Olympics in August, NBC aired a special featuring the host country Great Britain. Part of the special profiled Great Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill as he worked to bring America into the war as an ally. Eventually, Churchill was able to meet President Roosevelt for a meeting, and he thought of strategies of what would be the best way to get through to the President to sway him further to Britain’s war effort. Winston Churchill decided to play religious hymns such as Onward Christian Soldiers. The strategy worked and President Roosevelt committed more aid to Great Britain. One could argue that Churchill was creating a greater sense of community between Great Britain and America by appealing to Roosevelt’s religious beliefs. This sense of community through religious harmony promotes cooperation and a sense of closeness as Dr. Haidt describes.
I feel these topics are important to consider as we look at the attitudes of fundamentalist religion toward the subject of UFOs.
The next focus in this series will be the current discussion among scientists and theologians on the subject of religion and extraterrestrial intelligence. This will be followed by the fundamentalist religious view on ETI itself. I felt that in order to talk about this subject it was worthwhile to review the history of religion and ETI. As it turns out, this history dates back hundreds of years.
Here is part of what is coming up:
- The concept that ETI is not inconsistent with Christianity or other religions.
- Christianity already believes in extraterrestrial beings such as angels, so the discovery of an extraterrestrial intelligence would not be a stretch.
- The religious viewpoint that humans are unique.
- The argument among theologians in regards to multiple incarnations of Christ on multiple worlds if ETI were discovered on other planets.
- Discussion on the “states” of ET.
- The consequences of finding life on Mars.
- SETI as a religion.
- The Brookings report.
- Was there more to Frank Drake than Drake’s Equation?
- Christianity has little to say on UFOs and abductions.
Then the conclusion of this multi-part blog; what does fundamentalist religion has to say about extraterrestrial intelligence. I hope you find that the journey was worth it.
 J. Levin, “Revisiting the Alexander UFO Religious Crisis Survey (AUFORCS): Is There Really a Crisis?”, Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 26, No. 2, Summer 2012, pp 273-284.
 T. Johnson, L. Owens, “Survey Response Rate Reporting in the Professional Literature”, American Association for Public Opinion Research, Survey Research Laboratory, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2003
 E. H. Livingston M.D., J. S. Wislar MS, “Minimum Response Rates for Survey Research”, JAMA Network, Feb. 2012
 Survey Fundamentals – A Guide to Designing and Implementing Surveys, Office of Quality Improvement, University of Wisconsin-Madison, www.quality.wisc.edu
 United States Government, Office of Management and Budget Standards and Guidelines for Statistical Surveys, 2006
 J. F. Strange, “Some Observations from Archaeology and Religious Studies on ETI”, University of South Florida, The Society for Planetary SETI Research
 T. Peters, J. Froehlig, “The Peters ETI Religious Crisis Survey”, 2008
 Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley CA
 The Roper Poll, “UFOs & Extraterrestrial Life: Americans’ Beliefs and Personal Experiences”, Prepared for the SCI FI Channel, Sept 2002
 D. A. Vakoch, Y. S. Lee, “Reactions to Receipt of a Message from Extraterrestrial Intelligence: A Cross-Cultural Empirical Study”, SETI: Interdisciplinary Aspects Review Meeting, 48th International Astronautical Congress, Turin, Italy, October 1997
 D. P. Rosenbaum, R. A. Maier, P.J. Lavrakas, “Belief in Extraterrestrial Life: a Challenge to Christian Doctrine & Fundamentalists”, Journal of UFO Studies, 1980, pp. 47-57
 Varimax Rotation and Factor Analysis
 H. Abdi, “Factor Rotations in Factor Analysis”, The University of Texas in Dallas
 J. A. Gliem, R. R. Gliem, “Calculating, Interpreting, and Reporting Cronbach’s Alpha Reliability Coefficient for Likert-Type Scales”, Midwest Research to Practice Conference in Adult Continuing, and Community Education, 2003
 M. Tavakol, R. Dennick, “Making Sense of Cronbach’s Alpha”, International Journal of Medical Education, 2011
 UCLA Academic Technology Services, Stat Computing
 J. L. Spradley, “Religion and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence”, PSCF 50, September 1998, pp. 194-203
 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
 A. R. Wallace, Man’s Place in the Universe, 1903
 “Vatican View on Space Inhabitants”, The Sunday Herald (Sydney), Sunday Nov. 2, 1952
 J. Graham, J. Haidt, “Beyond Beliefs: Religions Bind Individuals into Moral Communities”, Personality and Social Psychology Review, pp. 140-150, 2010
 J. Haidt, "Why We Love to Lose Ourselves in Religion", CNN
 From the web site, "TED is best thought of as a global community. It's a community welcoming people from every discipline and culutre, who seek a deeper understanding of the world."
 J. Haidt, "TED talk video" Self Transcendence