Discovery that billions of planets in our galaxy may nurture life has spurred the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). If an epoch-shattering message were picked up by SETI, it likely will bring clues about religion in an advanced civilization. This would be of enormous value to us by suggesting what sort of religion can take a civilization beyond poverty, disease, strife, wars and pollution into a stable era of cosmic communication. Even greater than this is the exciting possibility of insight into a religion shared by millions of advanced civilizations.
To benefit from the clues we get means viewing them in a context free from conflicting terrestrial doctrines. SETR (the Search for Extraterrestrial Religion) is an ongoing project to examine the various types of knowledge an advanced civilization will call on in reaching a transcendent vision of the universe. As a status report, the following is the text of the Editor’s presentation on SETI Religion given at the 100 Year Starship Symposium held in October, 2011, at Orlando, Florida. The full paper will be published in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society.
It may seem unusual to discuss extraterrestrial religion in relation to SETI but bear in mind that there is a great deal of religious material broadcast electronically in our own civilization, including the pleas addressed by every politician to God to bless his mismanagement of his constituents’ economy. It is therefore not unreasonable to anticipate that there will be religious content in the official material broadcast by an extraterrestrial civilization.
Of course, in the absence of SETI detecting any messages, the investigation of an extraterrestrial religion is essentially a theoretical enterprise. It might even be called speculation. But I find this acceptable, because much that constitutes religion is indeed speculation.