The Rev. Glen Swartwout said that many religious people believe the universe came from one divine source, and that doesn't mean God's power is restricted to just Earth's creation: “There’s no end to the beauty and mystery and what we can learn,” he said.
And like LeClaire, Swartwout sees the universe as part of God’s body.
“We’re these living cellular bodies living within God’s heavenly body,” he said. “I call it the 'big gift' rather than the Big Bang.”
Life on other planets
Somewhere in the 20th century, the general population began thinking that religious beliefs were imperiled by the thought of their being life on other planets, Stanley said.
But that assumption is wrong, he said: “For the most part, it’s still not thought that religious belief has any kind of disconnect with the idea that there’s other life out there,” Stanley said.
There are some religions that use new space knowledge to feed into their beliefs — like UFO religions, that teach that extraterrestrials exist and are interacting with humans.
Hameed said some other modern religions incorporate the new space-related knowledge into their beliefs, like Scientology. These newer religions are often looked at as cultish, Stanley said. He said one religious group, Heaven’s Gate, believed heavily in extraterrestrials as the group committed a mass suicide to show its devotion to the idea of life on other planets.
Perceptions of how the universe works — as well as religion itself — might be reshaped, if extraterrestrial life is discovered, Hameed said. Though some believe God created the universe, Hameed said believers of many religious think God focused on humans. If other species came into the foray, it would challenge the way believers understand the way God influenced their daily lives, Hameed said.
“There are more planets, that’s great, that’s all apart of God’s creation,” he said. But “the discovery of life elsewhere would challenge religion. The challenge would come in if some discoveries challenged some of the centrality of human beings.”
He said, for example, if life was found on Mars or Saturn’s moon, Europa, believers would raise questions about “multiple origins of life,” Hameed said.
“Religion would completely transform," he said.
But LeClaire doesn’t think her beliefs in God would transform in the slightest.
“I don’t think if we find life on another planet it negates our faith at all. I think it shows us Gods movement.”
Confidence from the cosmos
LeClaire said believers find confidence in the universe, at least for now. When you look at other planets – like Mars, a planet that some scientists believe once housed life — it can’t all be random and for nothing, she said.
“This wasn’t an accident,” she said. “This wasn’t some Big Bang. This wasn’t some afterthought. It was deliberately conceived. This was hand-crafted in a way that God intended.”
She said God has given humans the tools — like intelligence, will and knowledge — to study the universe. This led to the creation of rocket ships, telescopes and the other tools to look at the galaxy, she said. Studying about the universe, planets and Earth is a part of God's plan, she said.
The universe is so chaotic and scattered that it can’t just be happening without some sort of guidance, she said.
“It’s proof that God exists,” LeClaire said. “It’s so perfect. It’s so ordered so perfectly. What’s to keep it from melting and coming down? God.”
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