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Extraterrestrials, Evil, and a Perfect God

Associate Professor of Philosophy Sam Ruhmkorff Publishes Paper in Leading Journal on Philosophy of Religion

As hints of extraterrestrial life glimmer in the news, we on Earth could be on the brink of learning that God doesn’t exist and evil thrives on a vast scale.

Sam RuhmkorffIn “The Copernican principle, intelligent extraterrestrials, and arguments from evil,” Bard College at Simon’s Rock Associate Professor of Philosophy Sam Ruhmkorff argues that evidence for extraterrestrial life strengthens four arguments from evil, a philosophical debate that the existence of evil is incompatible with the existence of God. The paper appears in Religious Studies, an international journal devoted to the problems of the philosophy of religion and published by Cambridge University Press.

Sam draws on the Copernican Principle, which was devised by astrophysicist Richard Gott, to advance the notion that when nothing is known, it is still possible to make predictions of probability. Since Earth is one planet among a vast universe, if extraterrestrial life exists, “it is very likely that there are evils in the universe significantly worse than the worst evils on Earth, as well as goods significantly better than the best goods on Earth,” Sam writes. From a probability standpoint, the worst evil in the universe is likely significantly more evil than the worst evil on Earth.

Extending the arguments from evil, Sam argues that the existence of evil extraterrestrials implies that the existence of a perfect God—a God that could protect humans from harm, hunger, illness, and violence—is less likely. He also addresses objections such as: evil is not evidence against the existence of God or a perfect being’s existence is not strengthened by the likelihood of worse evils.

Sam argues that the existence of intelligent life on other planets has significant implications for how bad things could get in the universe, especially with the advanced discoveries of more Earth-like exoplanets and our increasing ability to look for microscopic life in habitable zones in the Earth’s solar system.

“If life develops frequently on habitable planets, there will likely be many intelligent extraterrestrials in the universe, and almost certainly greater horrors and goods than those we already know about,” Sam concludes, and with it, implications as to whether God exists.

Sam’s paper has also been accepted and will be published next year in Think, a popular philosophy journal by Cambridge University Press. The central aim of this journal is to provide to a wide audience—undergraduates, students in further education, and the general public—highly accessible and engaging writing by philosophers pre-eminent in their fields.

Outside of teaching philosophy, Sam shares his research pursuits on the philosophy of science and philosophy of religion on his personal website, where you can read The Copernican principle, intelligent extraterrestrials, and arguments from evil in its entirety.