Someone tweeted this cartoon on evolution last night:
Some might find it to be a bit rude, others (like me, sorry mum!) might think it’s funny. What it makes fun of, is the hypothesis that life on Earth has an alien or extra-terrestrial origin, a proposal that is often attributed to Fred Hoyle. Of course, this idea is contested, going from being outright rejected to being rationally questioned. Curiously enough, the rejectors seem to be, based on Google hits, mostly creationists. That’s odd, because from a theological perspective the idea that life did not (only) emerge on Earth is rather interesting.
First of all, panspermia does not at all exclude evolution. So whether panspermia can be proven or not, it does not seem to change much for theologians thinking about divine creation in the light of neo-darwinism or sociobiology. What could change the game a bit, is the idea of extraterrestrial life. What does it mean to believe that humans are "made in God’s image", when there are thousands of planets outside our solar system, at least some of which could be inhabited by conscious life forms?
This might seem like theology going haywire, but in fact it’s a resurfacing of an old tradition, at least in Christianity (if your religion asks the same kinds of questions: do let me know through the comments!). As a branch of theology it even has a name: exotheology, which is taken serious by the Vatican, and has a regular publication output.
But why should we care about a theology(!) of alien(!) life? Well, I think there are a number of reasons. First, such a theology seems to be a logical step for any theology that engages science. You can not consider cosmology without considering the possibility of extra-terrestrial life.
Second, taking the possibility of life on other planets seriously will help theology to clarify what of creation belief could mean for people living today, in an age of science. I see a resemblance with the evolutionary given of different hominids, sometimes living together in the same environment. This too leads to theological questions about what ‘human becoming’ (Hefner) means, more in particular what ‘human’ means. Who belongs to our species and who doesn’t (and thus becomes a ‘what’ instead of a ‘who’)?
And so thirdly, and maybe most importantly, exotheology could be important in keeping theology faithfull to one of Jesus’ stories, in which he actually answers that last question: the parable of the Good Samaritan.
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