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January 11, 2018

David Weintraub, Ph.D.

What Happens To Religion If We Find Extraterrestrial Life?

PART 1  |  PART 2 >>

S y n o p s i s

In the twenty-first century, the debate about life on other worlds is quickly changing from the realm of speculation to the domain of hard science. Within a few years, as a consequence of the rapid discovery by astronomers of planets around other stars, astronomers very likely will have discovered clear evidence of life beyond the Earth. Such a discovery of extraterrestrial life will change everything.

Knowing the answer as to whether humanity has company in the universe will trigger one of the greatest intellectual revolutions in history, not the least of which will be a challenge for at least some terrestrial religions. Which religions will handle the discovery of extraterrestrial life with ease and which will struggle to assimilate this new knowledge about our place in the universe? Some religions as currently practiced appear to only be viable on Earth. Other religions could be practiced on distant worlds but nevertheless identify both Earth as a place and humankind as a species of singular spiritual religious importance, while some religions could be practiced equally well anywhere in the universe by any sentient beings.

Weintraub gives us an invigorating tour of the world's most widely practiced religions. It reveals what, if anything, each religion has to say about the possibility that extraterrestrial life exists and how, or if, a particular religion would work on other planets in distant parts of the universe.

B i o

David Weintraub is a Professor of Astronomy at Vanderbilt University, where he directs programs in the Communication of Science and Technology and in Scientific Computing. He is the 2015 winner of the Klopsteg Award from the American Association of Physics Teachers, which recognizes the outstanding communication of the excitement of contemporary physics to the general public.

He earned his bachelor`s degree in Physics and Astronomy at Yale in 1980 and his PhD in Geophysics & Space Physics at UCLA in 1989 before he was appointed to the Vanderbilt Astronomy faculty in 1991. In 2011-2012, he served as Chair of the Vanderbilt University Faculty Senate. He is an expert in the study of star and planet formation and is the author of three books for popular audiences, including What Happens To Religion If We Find Extraterrestrial Life? (2014). He is also co-author of two astronomy books for children and author of over 70 peer-reviewed papers in professional journals. His book Is Pluto a Planet? (2006) was a finalist for the Subaru Prize for Excellence in Science Books and his book How Old is the Universe? (2010) received an Honorable Mention Award from the Association of American Publishers. He is also the author of a forthcoming book (Princeton University Press, 2018) called Life on Mars: What do Know Before We Go.

Weintraub has been honored by Vanderbilt University through separate awards for his internationally recognized research, his excellence in teaching, his dedicated advising, his distinguished service in the councils and government of the university, and for his outstanding contributions to undergraduate student-faculty relations.

Links to Guest

Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How Will We Deal With It?

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