The discovery of Kepler-452b is not likely to see the public swoon with a collective rendition of Kumbaya. But this Earth 2.0 is a huge if under-appreciated discovery, not because Kepler-452b is unique but for just the opposite reason; there are likely thousands or millions or even billions of such earth-like planets in the universe. The discovery of just one such world is good evidence for many more: after all, we know of 100 billion galaxies each with as many as 300 billion stars (big variation per galaxy). Astronomers estimate that there are about 70 billion trillion stars. Math wizardry is not necessary to conclude we did not by chance find the only other possibly habitable planet among that huge population of stars.
With this discovery, we come ever closer to the idea that life is common in the universe. Perhaps you are not convinced. That is OK; let me speculate what would happen should we ever find evidence of life beyond earth even if you think such discovery unlikely. I would like here to preempt what will certainly be a re-write of history on the part of the world's major religions. I predict with great confidence that all will come out and say such a discovery is completely consistent with religious teachings. My goal here is to declare this as nonsense before it happens. I am not alone in this conclusion that religion will contort to accommodate a new reality of alien life.
Let us be clear that the Bible is unambiguous about creation: the earth is the center of the universe, only humans were made in the image of god, and all life was created in six days. All life in all the heavens. In six days. So when we discover that life exists or existed elsewhere in our solar system or on a planet orbiting another star in the Milky Way, or in a planetary system in another galaxy, we will see a huge effort to square that circle with amazing twists of logic and contorted justifications. But do not buy the inevitable historical edits: life on another planet is completely incompatible with religious tradition. Any other conclusion is nothing but ex-post facto rationalization to preserve the myth. Let us see why more specifically.
From Genesis 1:1, we get:
God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of god he created him; male and female he created them.
Nothing in that mentions alien worlds, which of course the ancients knew nothing about. Man was told to rule over the fish on the earth, not on other planets. But god would have known of these alien worlds, so it is curious he did not instruct the authors to include the language.
There is also a problem with Genesis 1:3: And God said, "Let there be light" and there was light. Well, the earth is only 4.5 billion years old, yet the universe, and all the light generating stars in ancient galaxies, are more than 13 billion years old. So when god said, "Let there be light" there already had been light shining bright for at least 10 billion years. He was flipping a switch that had been turned on eons before by the thermonuclear reactions in billions of stars that predate earth. That light bathed other suns and other planets long before the earth was a loose accumulation of rocks orbiting our sun. Since this is the story of all creation, these tidbits seem an important omission that will undermine the entire story when we find life elsewhere. We were late to the game of "let there be light."
We are also told in unambiguous terms that all life was created in six days. Genesis 2:1 says, "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them." So here we learn that all life, in all the heavens, was complete, and all found on earth and on earth alone. The complete totality of that creation in all the heavens, all of which was here on earth, is made clear in the preceding sections of Genesis 1:1-31 with "every herb bearing seed" and "every beast" and "every fowl of the air." There is no modifier like "every fowl of the air, that is, on earth but excluding life on the planet Zenxalaxu." We know all of this took place in six days because Genesis 2:2 says, "And on the seventh day, god ended his work which he had made." Now some say that these are not real days, but allegorical "god days" which could be millions of years each. But no, when god said let there be light and created life in six days, he tied these events to seasons on earth, which are governed by real days. So the Bible tells us that all life, in all the heavens, was all put on earth in six days, that is six earth days. Let us be perfectly clear that this leaves no room for alien life in this creation story. The discovery of alien life would therefore undermine the entire saga.
We can also have no doubt that the earth is the center of the universe, because this is where god placed man. In the trial of Galileo, Pope Urban VIII made perfectly clear the church's understanding of god's word that the earth is unambiguously the center of the universe:
We say, pronounce, sentence and declare that you, Galileo, by reason of these things which have been detailed in the trial and which you have confessed already, have rendered yourself according to this Holy Office vehemently suspect of heresy, namely of having held and believed a doctrine that is false and contrary to the divine and Holy Scripture: namely that Sun is the center of the world and does not move from east to west, and that one may hold and defend as probable an opinion after it has been declared and defined contrary to Holy Scripture.
Yet it would be difficult to claim the unique position of universe center if other planets held life that was zipping around in anti-gravity cars traveling at the speed of light. Clearly, if the ancients knew there was alien life, any form of life at all, the idea that the earth was the center of the universe would be more difficult to sustain. Again, though, there is no mention of alien worlds or life beyond this little blue dot.
None of the 66 books of the bible make any reference to life other than that created by god here on earth in that six-day period. If we discover life elsewhere, one must admit that is an oversight. So much so in fact that such a discovery must to all but the most closed minds call into question the entire story of creation, and anything that follows from that story. How could a convincing story of life's creation leave out life? Even if the story is meant to be allegorical, the omission of life elsewhere makes no sense.
Be clear I am talking here only of how just the simple existence of life elsewhere undermines religion. I leave the question of how religion would accommodate thornier questions like would such life go to the same heaven as earth life, or the same hell, or would such life be tainted by original sin even if not descendant from Adam and Eve. Maybe childbirth would not be painful. That is fodder for another blog.
As I stated at the beginning, none of this will matter upon life's discovery elsewhere. Religious leaders will simply declare that such life is fully compatible with, in fact predicted by, the Bible. Just like they eventually swept under the rug being wrong about earth's position in the heavens. Or evolution. They will create contorted justifications to support this view, cite a few passages of the bible that could mean anything, and declare victory. Don't say I did not warn you.