Scientists have put a lot of thought into what would happen if aliens ever did visit our planet. From what they would look like to whether or not they would be friendly or hostile, there is no shortage of hypotheticals to pour over — but NASA's latests efforts look to tackle the existential quandary extra-terrestrial life would pose from a more spiritual angle.

The space agency's new initiative sees them enlisting the expertise of 24 theologians to explore how the world's different religions would respond if we were to make contact with aliens. According to the former head of NASA's Astrobiology Institute, Carl Pilcher, the agency brought them in to “consider the implications of applying the tools of late 20th (and early 21st) century science to questions that had been considered in religious traditions for hundreds or thousands of years."

As a part of this effort, NASA gave a $1.1 million grant to a program at the Center for Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey that invited academics to ponder this exact question. Among the theologians involved is British priest Rev Dr Andrew Davison, who explains in his upcoming book that “non-religious people also seem to overestimate the challenges that religious people... would experience if faced with evidence of alien life.”

According to Davison, confirmation of the existence of alien life would see a large number of people "turn to their religions' traditions for guidance” in an attempt to grapple with what the discovery would mean “for the standing and dignity of human life.” As for other theologians, Davison posits that they would have to contend with the concept of "many incarnations [of Christ]" existing in alien cultures.

All of this is worth serious consideration given that the question of alien life isn't really a matter of if we make contact or not, but when. The notion that Earth is the only planet in the universe with life on it, as Pilcher explains, is "just inconceivable when there are over 100 billion stars in this galaxy, and over 100 billion galaxies in the universe.”

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