The Post had an article this morning on a conference being sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences on religious implications of the possible discovery of extra-terrestrial life.
In principle, I’m not sure most the challenges posed by such a discovery would be all that different from ones we’re already used to. We’re already having to come to terms with the idea that human beings aren’t the center of the cosmos. Why should it be threatening to Christians to think that God, in his overflowing goodness, would want to create other creatures throughout this unimaginably vast universe?
Similarly, the question of salvation and Christian uniqueness with respect to aliens doesn’t necessarily seem to be tremendously different from the question of Christianity’s relationship to other religions on Earth. The basic options would seem to be (1) that the one incarnation in Jesus is salvifically sufficient for all creatures, (2) that there could be multiple incarnations, or other suitable ways of relating to the divine, for each race of beings, or (3) that alien races aren’t in need of salvation, or at least not in the same way that humans are (C.S. Lewis depicted such an “unfallen” alien race in his Space Trilogy). Interestingly, Lewis proposed that the more likely scenario would be one of humans trying to exploit alien races and that it would be better for all parties concerned if we never came into contact with them.
Maybe the most challenging scenario would be to encounter races of intelligent aliens who had no religion whatsoever. Christians have been inclined to think that the development of a certain level of intelligence necessarily brings with it the potential for relating to God. But suppose there were aliens who simply lacked this sense or capability, but were otherwise just as intelligent as us (or more intelligent). Would that count as evidence against God’s existence?
UPDATE: See Caelius Spinator’s thoughts on this at the Monastery of the Remarkable English Martyrs here.