There are two groups of people holding their breaths for a definitive resolution to the question of extraterrestrial life: they are, atheists and the religious. They are anxious for the answer to that question for philosophic rather than purely factual reasons. I might add that scientists fall into one of those groups or the other. As far as agnostics are concerned, they are not anxious for the answer to that question unless they allow themselves to fear alien hostility, a non-philosophic anxiety.
The absence or presence of a God is not within the purview of this article. My interest centers on the validity of a philosophic argument posited by both atheists and the religious. Virtually everyone in either group believes that unequivocal evidence of extraterrestrial life would be in itself an answer to the question of whether or not God exists.
On the contrary, I believe that proof of extraterrestrial intelligent life would not provide a conclusive resolution to the question of deity. I base that belief on the premise that if there is an Entity that can create a universe, It can just as well manage an alleged multiverse that includes ETI. If Christians, Jews, Muslims, et al have their details wrong, that doesn’t necessarily prove that there is no God. I am not advocating the existence of God, but I cautiously submit that logic does not sustain the popular argument that ETI precludes the existence of a God.
Coupled with the notion that the discovery of ETI would prove that there is no God, is the argument that a world without religion would release global havoc. That argument is based on the premise that religion is critical as a restraining force against barbaric hedonism. History and logic tell us otherwise. History is replete with religious repression, intolerance, persecution, and wars, and during a purely secular war, religiosity is suspended. Logic goes further by dispelling the notion that news of ETI would inevitably fracture global order (such as it is).
I believe that if ETI is discovered, the overwhelming majority of humanity would go on living as it had before the news of it. Billions of people would not lose their faith in God or cease religious practices. For most people, religion is not at the center of their lives. Those who would lose their faith would not necessarily change the ethic they had derived from religion or some other source. Also (and contrary to popular belief), there are millions of atheists whose non-theological ethic is exquisitely high. They, more than any others, would not make behavioral changes in response to proof of ETI.
But predicting the behavior of masses of people is tricky. For example, if Muslim terrorists were to suddenly lose their faith in God, would they end their Jihad? I think not. I believe they would simply give Jihad another name and continue fighting if only to keep Sharia Law alive. Communists would continue to reinforce their concept of society as a replacement for God. ETI would be good news in atheist North Korea, but not so good for leaders of communist nations where freedom is making some headway, with or without religion.
Religion has taken a big hit in the last century or so. Yet, the global decline of civilization does not appear to be significantly related to the global decline of religion. In the unlikely event that ETI is proved to exist in this corner of the Universe, fear may cause the religious to huddle in places of worship, but I doubt that there’ll be global mayhem then anymore than there is now.
In any case, intergalactic wars are extremely low on my list of potential human catastrophes. There are far more probable and actual events of terrifying hostility to be addressed for the survival of humanity. Arguments about the effect that the discovery of ETI might have on terrestrials pale by comparison.
Please stay tuned for Part Two of Three: When Did Yesterday Happen?