The discovery of life beyond Earth would be a triumph for science but might wreak havoc on certain religions. Some faiths, such as evangelical Christianity, have long held that we are God’s favorite children and would not easily accommodate the notion that we would have to share the attention; others, such as Roman Catholicism, struggle with thorny questions such as whether aliens have original sin.
Now that researchers have discovered more than 1,500 exoplanets beyond the solar system, the day when scientists detect signs of life on one of them may be near at hand. Given this new urgency, Vanderbilt University astronomer David Weintraub decided to find out what the world’s religions had to say on the question of aliens. In his new book, Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How Will We Deal with It? (Springer Praxis Books, 2014), Weintraub investigates the implications of life beyond Earth on more than two dozen faiths. Scientific American spoke to him about his findings, including whether Jesus saved the Klingons as well as humanity.