I have met practitioners of “lucid dreaming”who are beginning to describe and explain the worlds that they encounter in the dream state. The Lucidity Institute offers a website on the topic.
This topic is directly and extensively explorered in C.S.Lewis’s Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength). In addition to being a good analysis, it is an incredibly exciting science fiction adventure.
I don’t know how big the theological shock would be. It seems that some theologies have worked out possible ways to incorporate it into what they already believe.
The early American Puritan theologian Cotton Mather, for example, believed there could well be intelligent life forms elsewhere in the universe, and dealt with the jurisdictional question by supposing it possible that God’s dealing with humans and revelation in human history might be, ultimately, for the purpose of benifiting or educating the aliens. He imagines in the Triparadisus that the apocalyptic, world-wide conflagration might teach “moon men” about the sovereignty of God, for example.
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Three things bugged me in this article:
1) “A contemplation of the universe of galaxies as evoked by modern astronomy already creates doubt as to whether the creator of this universe, if he exists at all, could possibly be interested in what must appear to him as the utter trivia of events on a small planet in a corner of the Milky Way.”
This is an arbitrary assumption about such a creator’s psychology. There is just as much (or as little) evidence to suppose a creator’s disinterest in this little corner of the universe as there is to suppose that this little corner of the universe is the center of such a creator’s attention.
2) “Yet it is possible to imagine different worlds, with completely different physical, chemical and biological laws.”
Sure. But the imaginability of something is equivalent to neither evidence nor a rational argument. Should chemistry or biology reevaluate itself based on an imaginable “might be” in the absence of supporting evidence? Probably not. So why should theology?
3) “science has become the guardian of, at any rate, the official definitions of reality”
Actually, this is only a true in a commonsense sense. Empirical science of the sort intended by Berger’s statement, properly speaking, does not pronounce on reality; it pronounces on the verifiable. The consideration of the relation between verifiability and reality is extra-scientific (when science is meant in this sense) and is instead properly philosophical. To take science as arbiter of reality is to make a serious mistake in the arena of the philosophy of science.
I have to stand up for my field here–science fiction is much more sophisticated on these kinds of questions than Mr. Berger seems to be aware of. There have been wonderful novels and stories on many of the themes he elucidates. Among living writers, Gene Wolfe is known to be a religious Christian whose faith informs his work, and Orson Scott Card is a believing Mormon. A wrestling with the God of the Torah informs my own work. But I am sure Mr. Berger’s first instinct is right–contact of any kind with other sentient beings would lead to a revolution in all kinds of thought, religion definitely included. I’m not too sure Hindus and Buddhists would be so much better equipped to deal with that than followers of the so-called Abrahamic faiths.
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I think we eventually discover other gods, other ways to the Universal Mind. I am afraid Jesus never appeared on Altair 5 or Mohammed on Gleise 351 b. The future shock question: will an alien religion supplant (render extinct) all Earth’s spiritual traditions? Get ready for a wild ride when we meet up with ET. I for one believe we should be secretive about presence here. What evil lurks int he dust lanes of the Milky Way and beyond?
I can hardly think of a better way to ignite a science-fiction type war with extraterrestrials then to try and “redeem” them with any of our beliefs.
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TR said, “I for one believe we should be secretive about presence here.” It is a billion years too late for that. For anyone with the sort of technology we can expect to have in a hundred years or so, the presence of large quantities of oxygen in our atmosphere is a giveaway for the presence of life.