The Great Hope
October 20, 2011 § 1 Comment
Nick Bostrom’s essay In the Great Silence there is Great Hope is the first thing I’ve read in a long time that truly changed my perspective on an issue. While I was familiar with the idea of Fermi’s Paradox, I had never considered the implications of it in the way that Bostrom does. Having never put much thought into the subject, my subconscious always assumed the great filter would be somewhere in our past and not in our future. The idea that intelligent life elsewhere could empirically prove the latter was, in my opinion, a brilliant and thought provoking insight. This idea spawned a line of thought about the implications that contact with such a society would have. Because the overall effect of such contact is far too complicated for a single post, I’m only considering its effect on one aspect of society: religion.
Science and religion have rarely mixed well over the centuries. From the repression of the physics work of Aristotle to the condemnation of Galileo to conflict over stem cell research, the Catholic church has repeatedly been at odds with cutting edge science. This has led to the fairly common belief that religion and science are irreconcilable. Belief in one must necessitate the falsity of the other. But is this really true?
Undoubtedly the first contact with an intelligent alien race would create huge amounts of religious friction. The existence of other intelligent life would immediately conflict with more principles of the major religions than any other event in history. While my discussion will mostly be limited to Christianity (because that’s what I know best), this is true of all major religions. At the heart of Christianity and the majority of major religions is the idea that some god created the world and the people in it. What is notably lacking from all major creation stories is any mention of another intelligent life form somewhere in the universe.
While some would use this first contact as proof that religion is a fraud, I personally believe that religious beliefs would ultimately continue almost exactly as they are today. Over the past two or three thousand years, our view and understanding of the world has changed drastically. From the heliocentric solar system to carbon dating to evolution, religion has adapted and remained relevant despite being proven “wrong” dozens and dozens of times. While some would attribute this to the mere stubbornness of people to relinquish infantile ideas, I believe it is much more.
At the heart of the human condition is the desire to believe in something more. When it comes down to it, people want to believe that this life is not all there is, that there is a higher purpose. Because of this fundamental desire, neither alien contact nor any other event will abolish religion. It will alway evolve and the human race will always believe in something.