Analysis of Responses to Questions 3-5
The first two
questions of each questionnaire served to identify the respondent. Questions three
through ten provide the content. Questions 3, 4, and 5 are of particular interest,
because they deal most directly with variants on the focal question.
Question 3 asks
the respondent to attend to his or her own personal religious beliefs. Significant
here is that among those who self-identify as Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant,
evangelical Protestant, Orthodox Christian, Mormon, Jew, and Buddhist, the vast
majority expect no crisis to develop when learning of ETIL. No evidence of widespread
anxiety or fear that their religious belief system might be threatened surfaces
here. Hey, comments a mainline Protestant respondent, Id share a pew with extraterrestrials
any day. If adherents to the worlds religious traditions foresee no threat, then
the widespread assumption about an impending crisis fails to gain confirmation here.
accompanying the survey responses indicate that this is the majority view among
Christians and non-Christians alike. Finding ETI, I believe, would be a profound
and wonderful event, commented a mainline Protestant. From an evangelical Christian
perspective, wrote another respondent, the Word of God was written for us on Earth
to reveal the creator....Why should we repudiate the idea that God may have created
other civilizations to bring him glory in the same way? One Orthodox Christian
commented: Nothing would make me lose my faith. God can reach them if they exist.
surmised that there is nothing in Christianity that excludes other intelligent
life, while another argued that the Bible allows for the possibility of advanced
beings who can take on human form - 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6.
The place of
Jesus Christ and his work of salvation is important to Christians. A Roman Catholic
remarks: I believe that Christ became incarnate (human) in order to redeem humanity
and atone for the original sin of Adam and Eve. Could there be a world of extraterrestrials?
Maybe. It doesnt change what Christ did. Similarly, an evangelical Protestant
contends that Christs death and resurrection were universally salvific, valid
for ETI, while another evangelical says, I believe that the eschatological claim
that every knee will bow to Jesus as God applies to extraterrestrial intelligent
beings (even if they dont have knees).
Among the few
Muslim respondents, one wrote, Islamically, we do believe that God created other
planets similar to Earth; and another seemed to concur, only arrogance and pride
would make one think that Allah made this vast universe only for us to observe.
One Buddhist speculated that ETs would be, essentially, no different from other
sentient beings, i.e., they would have Buddha Nature and would be subject to karmic
consequences of their actions. A self-identified mystic trumpets: my belief in
God is absolutely unaffected by extraterrestrial life. Finally, discovery of ET
would not affect my personal belief system because I am a stone atheist.
Some of the religious
respondents hinted they believe in contact optimism - that is, they expect
that extraterrestrial intelligent life forms exist and they positively look forward
making contact. Others placed themselves with the rare earth camp - that is,
they believe that life on earth is so rare that a second genesis of life is not
likely to have occurred anywhere else in space. The rare earth position does not
necessarily make the beliefs of the person who holds it fragile or vulnerable. One
evangelical Protestant cheerfully remarked: I dont think they are out there. But
if they are, thats cool.
Despite the clear
majority who feel comfortable with knowledge of ETI life forms, a minority of individuals
perceive a challenge to their religious faith posed by gaining knowledge of ETI.
The speculative assertion that the foundations of my religion (Catholic) and many
others may be shaken by such a discovery appeared among the comments. One evangelical
Protestant states, I personally believe that Satan, the enemy of Jesus, will attempt
to deceive the world into believing he is an ET, and many will fall for it....There
are no ETs in the sense of physically evolved alien creatures. There are ETs in
the sense of spiritual beings (angels and demons).
sometimes surfaces: fundamentalist believers are the most vulnerable to a religious
crisis because ETI does not fit the fundamentalist worldview. Confirmation of alien
intelligence might cause a crisis for Protestant fundamentalism and Islam, for which
their scriptures failure to predict the aliens could be quite damaging, writes
a non-religious respondent.
The Peters survey
did not try to ferret out fundamentalism as a separate category. Respondents who
belong to the fundamentalist tradition generally locate themselves within the more
inclusive evangelical Protestant category. The category of Protestant: evangelical
includes conservative Christians, some of whom but not all of whom are fundamentalists.
The survey data alone do not discriminate. However, some respondents volunteered
comments, suggesting that they fit the description of fundamentalists. Of these,
a few did voice apprehension about the prospect of ETI communication. Nothing I
can find in scripture altogether rules out extraterrestrial life, but on balance
I think it is very unlikely that such a thing exists.
Within the scope
of Christian theology, it appears that little if any beliefs preclude the existence
of extraterrestrial beings. Their presence would at most widen the scope of ones
understanding of creation and create some puzzles for how Christians understand
the work of salvation (Peters, chapter 3). Jews and Buddhists, it appears, would
experience even less friction in their belief systems should confirmation of the
existence of ETI be established.
Question 4 shifts
from personal beliefs to the beliefs of the religious tradition to which the respondent
self-identifies. Can we distinguish slightly between ones individual belief and
the belief he or she shares with tradition? There is nothing in Christianity that
excludes other intelligent life, commented one evangelical Protestant. Another
added: I honestly dont think ETI existing has any affect on the Bible and the
Christian faith; whereas still another hinted at doubt: my personal religious
tradition would have trouble if there were ETs who were sinful. Another evangelical
pressed us to prepare for the eventuality: the religious tradition with which I
identify (Protestant Evangelical) is not prepared for the day we do make contact;
but we need to start thinking this out and become prepared.
Question 4 tell us that very little fear is registered regarding a possible threat
to ones inherited belief system. However, the numbers are not identical to those
of Question 3. They drop slightly in the Disagree/Strongly disagree option. Might
this indicate a slightly higher level of confidence with ones own individual beliefs
than with the beliefs of the larger religious tradition to which one belongs? Here
is what one Buddhist told us: As a Mahayana Buddhist, with a worldview that includes
in scriptures Buddhas and bodhisattvas from many different world systems, such information
[news about ETI] would not be shattering theologically, though of course institutions
and practices might reverberate. One respondent offered this: the strict followers
of religion would be the most affected by such a finding of extraterrestrial life
whereas the loose followers such as myself would welcome the new discovery. Might
a small number of respondents worry slightly more about others in their tradition
than they do about themselves?
could be supported by data drawn from another survey. A 2007 survey of more than
35,000 Americans conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life uncovered
a trend that may be indirectly relevant. Whereas conventional wisdom might suggest
that the more religiously zealous a person is the more intolerant he or she would
be, this survey indicates that the opposite is true. Zealous Americans are tolerant,
even welcoming religious perspectives that differ from their own. To the statement,
many religions can lead to eternal life, for example, 57 percent of evangelical
Protestants agreed as did 79 percent of Roman Catholics. So did the majority of
Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists. What this suggests is a broad trend toward tolerance
and an ability among many Americans to hold beliefs that might contradict the doctrines
of their professed faiths (Banerjee).Now,
this survey is limited to Americans and it does not test directly for openness toward
ETI. However, if it is in fact the case that many religious people are capable of
holding beliefs that might contradict the doctrines of their professed faiths,
then it might follow that those who welcome ETI into their worldview could do so
even if they worry slightly about doctrinal fragility in their own respective religious
Note how high
Mormons score. Many Mormon respondents added comments to the effect that belief
in ETI is already a part of Mormon doctrine. My religion (LDS, Mormon) already
believes in extra-terrestrials.
After seeing how firm the Disagree/Strongly
disagree position is taken by adherents to the major religious traditions in Questions
3 and 4, the contrast with Question 5 becomes illuminating. A slight majority remain
in the Disagree/Strongly disagree category. Yet, the Agree/Strongly agree cluster
is significantly higher than in Question 3 and still higher than in 4. Those who
identify with a major religious tradition give a modest degree of credence to the
forecast that the worlds religions - religions other than their own perhaps - might
confront a crisis. Some degree of credence only, we stress; yet, it is still
worth noting. Could it be the case that an individual religious believer is slightly
more worried about someone elses beliefs than his or her own? At minimum, respondents
were willing to say that some religious traditions are more vulnerable to a crisis
A Buddhist projected a crisis
for some religions but not others: lumping together all the worlds religions is
a conceptual error (as in Question 5). The religions of the book (the Abrahamic
traditions) would have a very different set of reactions than the Asian traditions.
A Buddhist typically belongs to an Asian tradition; so in this case we seem to see
an Asian who is worried about the three Abrahamic (monotheistic?) traditions. A
Jehovahs Witness tried to gain precision: I think #5 should say some world religions
would be affected, not all.
Some respondents saw the crisis
precipitated by news of ETI as temporary, leading eventually to a strengthening.
I believe in the short-term there will be crises...but in the mid- and long-range,
pre-contact belief will return to normal or perhaps slightly strengthened, wrote
a mainline Protestant.
Now, let us turn to the 205 respondents
self-identifying as non-religious. What happens in Question 5 may be quite revealing.
We will look again at Question 5, comparing the non-religious with all the religious
traditions grouped together.
In this chart comparing all those
who identify with one or another religious tradition to non-religious respondents,
we computed the P value. The P value is much less than 0.0001. This gives us confidence
that this comparison is not the result of a mere sampling error. P represents the
probability that the two groups are indeed the same, presuming that any apparent
difference in a given sample is just the result of random chance. Chance plays a
part whenever a sub-sample of a population is taken. Might the difference between
religious and non-religious be due merely to a sampling error? We do not think so.
The difference between these two groups in our sample would only come about by chance
in less than 1 out of 10,000 samples taken from groups were indeed the same.
With this confidence, we observe
how a significant majority (69%) of those who identify as non-religious project
a crisis for religion. This is twice the average of those who are affiliated with
a religious group (34%). That is, the non-religious have a much more negative forecast
for religion than do adherents to religion. What might this suggest? Could it suggest
that non-religious persons think of themselves as more open to ETI than their religious
neighbors? Might this observation speak directly to what some astrobiologists assume,
namely, that as scientists they are more open minded than their closed minded religious
One self-identified non-religious
respondent warned strongly, our religions, most of which are dogmatic, would be
rocked. Another wrote with nuance: encounters with aliens will so frighten the
ordinary human that he/she will cling more strongly to their beliefs. From the
point of view of the non-religious, religious beliefs are fragile and vulnerable
to a crisis.
As we summarize our findings
from Questions 3, 4, and 5 of the Peters ETI Religious Crisis Survey, it appears
that people who embrace a traditional religious belief system do not fear for their
own personal belief; nor are they particularly worried bout their own respective
religious tradition. A shred of evidence suggests that believers in one religious
tradition might be more
inclined to impute fragility
to other religions to which they do not subscribe or about which they know little.
Non-religious people seem to know too little about religious people, because they
are mistaken in their assessment of the fragility of religious beliefs. Our central
finding is this: the hypothesis that the major religious traditions of our world
will confront a crisis let alone a collapse is not confirmed by the Peters ETI Religious
Crisis Survey. Furthermore, it appears that non-religious persons are much more
likely to deem religion fragile and crisis prone that those who hold religious beliefs.
Printer-friendly | Contributed by: Ted Peters