This has been one of my favorite philosophical ideas which I have always wondered about.

What would happen to human society the moment that undisputable evidence is found for extraterrestrial intelligence?

Hypothetical situation, just for fun:

What if suddenly one day a paleontologist digs up a large, metallic device, buried under dozens of layers of dirt which dates back twenty thousand years. This device is well preserved, contains some burn marks, but otherwise looks intact. The devices is taken to a group of the best physicists and analyzed, and it is discovered to contain an extremely advanced technology. They figure that it had fallen through the atmosphere and was buried thousands of years ago, well before mankind had any significant technology. They continue to take the device apart and discover a physical storage medium with a system of universal mathematical patterns. They study these patterns, deduce a primitive language (describing mixtures of chemicals, nuclear reactions, atomic models, etc), and finally conclude that the device is from an extraterrestrial civilization. They guess that it was probably one of many probes that were sent out to search for life, and maybe since this one crashed here, it didn't report back and therefore nobody came by to visit (hence our lack of vists even now).

Fictional story over, that's just an example of a way we might suddenly (nearly overnight) have solid proof of extraterrestrial life in the universe. Now, this information is told to the public (we'll assume no government cover-up conspiracies this time).

What happens now?

  • The first thing that always comes to mind is: will religious organizations (and people) accept the evidence and adjust their beliefs? Will they abandon those beliefs? Will they reject the clear-cut evidence for hundreds of years (as they did with the heliocentric model)? I can see some problems here. Religious organizations are stubborn to change, and they are the keepers of the ideas which many people cling to the strongest. Suddenly there would seem to be major discrepencies between what some religions have always told us and what we now have in front of us.
  • If we had the opportunity to try to contact these extraterrestrials, should we? The debate here would range between those who believe that the aliens will be benign, and those who think they will exploit us like the way we may have exploited beasts of burden.
  • Will humanity start to become more peaceful? I've always wondered if we became aware of a species which was in all ways far superior to us, would we become collectively humble enough to settle our differences, or would our incessant squabbles continue (which now seem insignificant in our grander perspective), or even be further enflamed by this event?
  • Would anything drastic happen to our worldwide economy? How much of our nation's budgets will suddenly be redirected into extensive study of astronomy, SETI projects, etc. How much into military research? Of course it may seem quite silly to think we could do anything significant in the way of defense against a civilzation that was 20,000 years ago already far more advanced than we are now.
  • Would people become depressed or excited at the idea of not being alone in the universe? Religious people may feel depressed if they grew up believing that humans are the only intelligent species created by their 'god'. Other people may be excited at the prospect of discovering an unimaginable number of new societies and cultures.
  • Would science fiction suddenly flourish? Would most authors depict extraterrestrials as benign or agressive?

It was tall and conical, but looked like nothing I'd seen in the movies. Not smooth, or shiny. It was lumpy and irregular, with fans and vents and heatsinks exposed and visible. Things which looked like cameras and things which looked like ladders. It looked like the Lunar Lander plus a few hundred years. It wasn't even particularly streamlined. Bits were shiny, bits were matt black. Bits stuck out at odd angles. In short, it looked like a spaceship. Not a spaceship designed with the purpose of looking cool or intimidating or mysterious, but a spaceship designed with the purpose of travelling through space.

And when they climbed out, after only a few minutes, they didn't unfold a ramp of steps and walk down out of brilliant shining light within. There wasn't room for a ramp. They popped open a relatively small hatch and climbed out. Like astronauts.

There were three of them. They were like big caterpillars - short, fat, segmented cylinders about two feet long and one foot in diameter - but with four jointed legs nearly five feet long. They had manipulators on the front, along with a cluster of sensors around what I decided to call the head. They weren't used to such high gravity, and wore robotic exoskeletons which they didn't take off for the whole time they were here. Perhaps they had some sense of modesty as well.

The first one that had come out made its way to the kitchen door where I was watching, and waved its manipulator at me in a friendly manner. It emitted a strange series of shrieks and shrills, occasionally slipping into the ultrasonic. Before it had finished, a speaker on the front of its exosuit began talking to me in plain English. "Hi," it said. "We come in peace and all that jazz."

"Uh. Uh, that's... good..." I reply. There's an awkward pause. "Cup of coffee?"

"I'm afraid we'll have to politely decline on that score," said the alien. "In all probability it's completely incompatible with our metabolism, besides which our suits don't have suitable orifices. But thanks for the offer. Look, we're not staying long, we just wanted to ask you a few questions. Does your species have a religion or religions?"

"Um, sure. Lots. All different kinds. Including atheism."

"Any of them monotheistic?"

"I can name three. Listen, what are you so interested in our religions for, are you intergalactic Jehovah's Witnesses or something? Are you about to enslave us and force us to adopt your beliefs instead?"

There was a pause. "My translator doesn't seem to understand the phrase 'Jehovah's Witnesses'. But please be assured we do not intend to impose any kind of doctrine on you or your people. As a matter of fact there aren't actually any formal plans for our species to contact yours yet, but my colleagues and I felt that this matter was more important than maintaining our distance and observing you.

"Do any of your monotheistic religions refer to God begetting some sort of offspring on your planet?"

"Yeah. Christianity. Maybe others. Not sure."

"And what happened to the offspring?"

"I thought you'd be more interested in our language, the way we reproduce, stuff like that..."

"Yes, we are, but for reasons that will become apparent, this is far more important. What happened to the offspring of God after he/she/it came to your planet? Do you have holy writings of some kind which record what he did?"

"The Bible. He was called Jesus. He wandered around, preaching and doing miracles, then he died, was resurrected after three days, was taken into heaven along with - quote - the sins of anyone who believes in him. So it goes, at least."

"And when did this happen?"

"Two thousand years ago, almost exactly."

This seemed to get a reaction from the other two creatures. The one to the left of the one who had spoken to me began to chitter. "Two thousand! Incredible!" And the one to the right said "Do you think it will really happen?"

"What is this about?" I asked them.

The creatures stopped talking. They suddenly seemed to become incredibly solemn. I don't know why I got that impression. They were aliens. Solemnity doesn't cross species like that. Or does it? Maybe keeping quiet and paying attention means the same thing on every planet.

"The exact same thing happened on our world," said their leader. "Our God, whose name is untranslatable, sent a child, whose name is also untranslatable. The child became an adult, and began doing things that nobody could explain, except as miracles. And then he died for our sins, and rose again, and disappeared. This is how it is recorded."

"This is true? You have the exact same religion?"

"Yes. It is particularly well-documented in our case. The man you call Jesus came. And it happens on other planets too. God created the whole universe, after all. He cares for all of us."

It feels like I haven't taken a breath in about a minute. "Oh my God," I gasp.

"Just thought you might like to know," said the leader as they returned to their ship. "It's been a great comfort to us, and we hope it will be to you too. We'll be back in a few years to do all this properly. In the meantime, stay cool, yeah?"


On the flip side is the possibility that the aliens would turn out not to have any religion at all; or a dozen of them, none of them resembling Earth religions. That, if it happened, could be catastrophic for organized religion worldwide.

Christianity was chosen pseudo-randomly; any religion would've made the point.

I have had occasion to ask people a question whose premise is similar to the scenario in sam512's writeup here.

A criticism of the religions claiming a divine source is that they are all location specific. Islam (in Chapter 5:3) & Christianity (John 14.6) are special cases that claim universal application. If any of the 2 religions have a divine origin, there should be traces of that divinity in other places. Islam is doubly special because it claims to be the original religion of all creation. It claims that Adam was a Muslim, that angels pray in the manner Muhammad instructed humans to, and so on. It says that other religions are deviations from the original monotheism of Adam and Abraham. Now, to my knowledge, there has never been a case of 2 cultures which have never had contact practicing either Islam or Christianity. And since every culture has its own unique religion, with similarities being easily explained by our shared humanity, then any claims of universal applicability by any religion are just specific quirks, which others also have.

The question I ask, after the above is this: if aliens were to come to earth and they happen to practice a religion exactly like one here on earth, that would be proof that that religion at least has a non-human and possibly divine origin. This then means that every other religion here is probably fake. If such a situation arose, would you change your religion?

Of all the people that I asked this question, only 1, who happened to be Hindu, said she would change her religion. I was shocked at how vehemently Christians and Muslims twisted and turned while trying to avoid a straightforward answer. Some bluntly said they would not change as they are convinced of the truth of their faith. While admiring their honesty, I was scared (for lack of a better word) at their attitude. What do they rely on that gives them the confidence to refuse evidence (even if weak or circumstantial), logic or a superior argument? While conceding that it is possible that the aliens are not absolute proof of the truth of the truth of a religion, I'd think that a religion that is on more than 1 world has more chances to be true than one that is on just ours. One person who said he would not change had a reason grounded in his faith. He said God is the creator of the universe and thus the other worlds. And so it is possible Satan went to that world and introduced a fake religion there so that the aliens can come to earth and deceive us. I had to give him marks for that.

The first question asked in the first writeup in this node by jafuser was about the reaction of religion to evidence of alien intelligence. Subsequent writeups have all focused on that. Reoccurence of radical ideas notwithstanding, I was asking the question to make people uncomfortable. But at the end of the exercise, I was the one who was quite unsettled. I suppose that serves me right, there was nothing to be gained for me or for them.

Iron Noder 2020, 20/30

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