David A. Weintraub, Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How will we deal with it? Springer-Praxis, 2014. Pp. xiii+234. ISBN 978-3-319-05055-3. $34.99.Reviewed by Djibril al-Ayad
Weintraub’s Religions and Extraterrestrial Life is a work of popular astronomy and theology, written by an academic astrophysicist and published by an imprint of Springer, one of the large academic publishing multinationals that dominate the market. The core thesis of this volume is that we are within a generation at most of either discovering extraterrestrial life (if not intelligence), or learning that it is extremely rare, at least in our part of the universe. He then sets out to discuss how various major world religions will deal with this scientific knowledge, based primary on the foundation texts and/or mainstream theology of each movement, and ultimately concludes that most faith groups will be largely unshaken by the news (either way)—either because their tenets allow for non-human life, or because they are already in the business of denying science and so will have no qualms about ignoring it. As an astronomer, Weintraub’s chapters popularizing the detection of exoplanets and the possibility of astrobiology are extremely well-written, successful and useful; his forays into theology are more patchy, one-sided, and in many places disappointingly shallow. On the whole this is a valuable and interesting book, both thoughtful for non-specialists interested in extraterrestrial life, and a contribution to the critical discussion about religion and science.