The idea of the possible existence of aliens has excited many ever since man first set foot on the moon in 1969. However, a less discussed idea is what the implications would be for religious believers. What would it mean for God if we discovered that another species existed somewhere in the universe? For some, this would be a positive discovery, increasing the likelihood that there was a creator or a designer behind the universe. However, for others this would challenge ideas of Christianity such as the speciality of the human race. This is before we even go into the question of whether aliens exist or not…
One idea that makes aliens appealing to religion is that it counters some of the criticisms of the design argument, mainly that of the Epicurean hypothesis. The Epicurean hypothesis states that a finite number of particles (such as those in the universe) within an infinite time frame will take all possible positions. Some of these will be in a state of order (such as the state we are in now) and some of these will be in chaos. This argues against the design argument because it gives a rational explanation of how the world came into being without the help of a free agent. This is a small chance, but cannot be discounted due to probability and the fact that the design argument is based on a posteriori evidence. This, however, is an even bigger possibility if we look at life within the universe. As far as we know, we are the only planet with life on out of the millions within the universe. If we look at this as a percentage, this wold be a very small number – probably the same odds as the Epicurean hypothesis. Therefore, this increases the likelihood of the Epicurean hypothesis and increases the odds of a designer not existing and so decreases the likelihood of God.
This can be viewed as a very damning challenge to the design argument. But what if the life to planets ratio changed? What if there were aliens that could increase the planet-life ratio and therefore decrease the likelihood of the Epicurean hypothesis? This is exactly what aliens do. By organisms existing on other planets then the planet-life ratio would increase, no longer matching the likelihood of the Epicurean hypothesis, and therefore making it more likely that life is the result of a designer or a creator.
Surely from the point of view of the religious believer that this would be a score. However, not necessarily. It is not enough for the existence of God to be proven. It must also be the case that the God of the Bible and the God of philosophers is proven to be correct as well. This is because God must be proven to be worthy of worship, otherwise there is little point. When it comes to this point, like many design arguments, the idea is weak.
For example, it calls into question the speciality of humans and the statements within Genesis. Within the Genesis story, God calls all other things which he creates “good.” However, when it comes to the creation of humans, we are described “very good”. Along with the fact God created humans in his image, this is viewed often as humans getting a special status in the eyes of God, resulting in the special relationship we have with him. However, the existence of aliens would challenge this idea because it calls in to question our specialness. Would the existence of another species undermine this special bond we have with God, and if we looked different from the organisms we encounter, who would be the ones made in God’s image, us or the aliens? As a result, to accept the argument above may call for religious believers to deny some of their beliefs about God. Would it be worth it? For most, probably not.
Then there is also a question of the fact we have found no aliens. One of the assumptions above is that we will find aliens one day. But what if we don’t? Is it possible for the argument above to be flipped around to prove that God doesn’t exist? Luckily, there is a saving grace (pun intended) for the religious believers, due to the vague probability of the Epicurean hypothesis. There is no set number for the Epicurean hypothesis, only probability due to the vast numbers of particles within the universe. Therefore, it could equally be argued that the fact we have found no aliens also could be used to prove the existence of God. This would be because the life-planet ratio would be far below the probability of the Epicurean hypothesis, and therefore can be interpreted as God purposefully creating us as his special people.
This argument is appealing as this God falls in line with the God of the Bible and the God of philosophers, providing no clashes of evidence and belief. However, as a result of this, we have gone back to the very issue we have tried to side step in the first place. Because the planet-life ratio being lower than the probability of the Epicurean hypothesis it can still be viewed as a possibility of how life came about, which supports the atheist’s argument of a designer not existing.
So could aliens be used to prove the existence of God? The answer is unclear. If there is some way to overcome the issues of the clashes between religion and evidence then possibly yes. However, this is not necessarily an ideal solution. It also depends on your belief in the Epicurean hypothesis and what the probability of it being true is in your eyes.