RE: [ufodiscussion] And on the eighth day . did God cr eate aliens?
- Actually a pretty good article but I have a question... What makes him think
he hasn't already been baptising half aliens??? If we are from the "fallen"
as he points out, how does he figure we are not the offspring of aliens???
And on the eighth day did God create aliens?
As the Popes astronomer, Guy Consolmagno must reconcile faith and science,
then work out what to do if ET phones Rome
By Neil Mackay
MY grandfather, a rampant atheist, liked nothing better than savaging the
priests that my devout Irish Catholic grandmother invited home in the hope
of saving his soul. After laying into them about the dubious credibility of
immaculate conceptions and self-replicating loaves and fishes, hed declaim,
with a flourish: And what the bloody hell is Genesis chapter six all about,
For those not up to speed on the Old Testament, this part of the creation
story deals with a category of creatures called the Nephilim, a non-human
race that apparently inhabited the Earth around the time Adam and Eve got
kicked out of the Garden of Eden. My grandfather would holler: What are
these things? Little green men from outer space? At which point, the
deflated priest would be led from the house as my grandmother crossed
herself in the face of her husbands wickedness. Even in the 1950s, priests
knew that aliens and the Church didnt compute. If there were
extraterrestrials out there, their existence could effectively herald the
death of God cutting the ground from beneath key biblical truths, not
least of which is the claim that humankind was made in Gods image.
Half a century on, the Catholic Church is finally getting round to asking
what it would mean for their religion if humankind were to establish the
existence of intelligent aliens. The question weighs heavily on the mind of
Guy Consolmagno. Sitting among his telescopes in Castel Gandolfo, the Popes
summer palace, Consolmagno is puzzling over whether or not the Catholic
Church could or should baptise an alien. Were such creatures discovered,
ought the Pope to consider ordaining an ET? And if the human race ever
masters interstellar travel, should missionaries be sent into outer space
Consolmagno, a 53-year-old Jesuit brother from Detroit, is the Popes
astronomer, with the run of the Vaticans observatory here at Castel
Gandolfo, in the hills outside Rome. Despite the aristocratic-sounding name
and the arcane, slightly eldritch subjects he immerses himself in, Guy
Consolmagno appears surprisingly Earth-bound: a self-confessed nerd from
MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whos into Star Trek.
Its his job to reconcile the wildest reaches of science fiction with the
flint-eyed dogma of the Holy See. Right now, hes off on a mental meander
about the Jesus Seed a brain-warping theory which speculates that,
perhaps, every planet that harbours intelligent, self-aware life may also
have had a Christ walk across its methane seas, just as Jesus supposedly did
here on Earth in Galilee. The salvation of the Betelguesians may have
happened simultaneously with the salvation of the Earthlings.
Is original sin something that affected all intelligent beings? he asks.
Is there a sort of cosmic Adam predating even life on Earth? Is Jesus
Christs redemptive sacrifice sufficient for the whole universe? Would there
be a parallel history of salvation on other planets?
Consolmagnos job is to shore up the crumbling edifice of the Church against
the acidic drip, drip, drip of rationality and science . To me there is no
clash between faith and science, he says. My religion teaches me that God
created the universe, but my science teaches me how he did it. Religion
doesnt become obsolete like a science text book. In 3000 years, people will
still be reading the Bible, but they will not be reading the science texts
That tension between science and religion is the backdrop to his lifes
work, and Consolmagno has been granted a special dispensation from the
Church to produce a book called Intelligent Life In The Universe? Catholic
Belief And The Search For Extra-Terrestrial Life. Published by the Vaticans
Catholic Truth Society, it explores an issue which could theoretically
reduce the spires and steeples of Rome to rubble.
The Roman Catholic Church has, in the past, been obliged to rue its
mistakes: the Crusades, the Inquisition, wartime acquiescence by certain
clergy with Nazism. But it was the scientific cock-ups, not the moral ones,
that really threatened the institutions authority. Having taken more than
350 years to admit its mistake in convicting Galileo of heresy for insisting
that the Earth orbited the sun, the Church seems keen to demonstrate that it
is no longer the natural haven for scientific dunces: hence, Consolmagno and
his peculiar little book.
Its Consolmagnos job to finesse any looming doctrinal difficulties that
the search for extraterrestrial intelligence may present for His Holiness
Pope Benedict XVI. For instance, if aliens were discovered, then why would
the Bible supposedly the word of God contain no information about his
non-Earthly creations? If they turn out to be green blobs or sentient
gaseous spirals, whats all that talk in the Bible of humankind being
created in Gods image? What if the aliens wanted to convert us to their
God? And do ETs go to heaven? Consolmagnos role is to scientifically,
metaphysically and theologically take the lethal sting out of such a debate;
to marry Christian faith with the possibility of discovering a talking crab
in the next galaxy.
But how does the prospect affect other faiths? According to Dr Mona
Siddiqui, senior lecturer in Islamic Studies at Glasgow University, the
discovery of aliens would merely signal that the human race had learned a
fraction more about the universe. The question wouldnt be: What does this
say about our relationship to God?, but: What does it say about us in the
God would remain, but the way we think about his creation the universe
and everything in it would change. Unless humankind finds a way to
communicate with the creator, says Siddiqui, then the mystery of God
remains, no matter what discoveries we make about intelligent life
elsewhere in the void.
Ephraim Borowski, former head of philosophy at Glasgow University and
current director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, also remains
sanguine. My gut tells me that the discovery of alien life would have no
more impact on faith than the discovery of Australia, he says. When that
land was discovered and people of different racial characteristics were
found, there was no problem in recognising them as human. If an ET was
discovered, would it be that much different?
Even if we take Genesis literally with the story of the creation of the
sun, moon and stars we are not told what was going on on those planets.
Although Judaism sees humans as the only creature gifted a soul, Borowski
has a fanciful explanation for how humanity could reconcile something
physically vastly different from ourselves a giant self-aware spider with
a gift for pottery, say with evidence that the alien creature was just as
capable of love, fear, jealousy and abstract thought as us.
If we came across an alien with whom we could enjoy a visit to the National
Gallery, he muses, then we might take the view that this creature was a
different shape to a human and so not biologically like us, but it
functioned like us or even better than us and so could be seen to have a
soul; to be effectively human.
Only the Church of Scientology waxes enthusiastic about the prospect of
extra-terrestrial life. The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland refused to
participate in a debate related to a Sabbath Day newspaper , and the Church
of Scotland was reticent in putting forward a spokesperson on the subject.
Dr Richard Holloway the controversial former primus of the Scottish
Episcopal Church insists that only a faith which has embraced modernity
could cope with the daisy-cutter level fire and brimstone that would rain
down on organised religion in the event of a flying saucer landing on the
Esplanade outside Edinburgh Castle. Christianity has dealt with dinosaurs,
Darwin and the emancipation of women, Holloway says. It gulped momentarily
and moved on. Good religion is not hermetically sealed. A religion that is
held with lightness and less intensity can adapt. It wont be stuck in time,
but move with the times. Ultimately, he believes, the discovery of aliens
would just underscore how big a mystery the universe and its creation or
creator remain to us mortals who are just passing by.
The central question posed by the discovery of aliens would be: Are they
fallen like us? If so, says Holloway, did they have their own version of
Adam and Eve? Did they have a saviour? If they arent fallen, then are they
living in some pre-Edenic paradise with no need of a saviour? The biggest
fact that plays against the belief in a benign creator, says Holloway, is
meaningless pain and suffering. If we discovered intelligent life on a
planet that believed in no God and was just as brutal as our own planet,
then that might be seen by some as the ultimate definition of a Godless
For the Vatican and Consolmagno, the theological puzzle is more tricky. As a
scientist, Consolmagno cant reject the possibility of alien life. But as a
theologian he has to perform an intellectual somersault in order to make
sure that the chance of an ET cropping up somewhere in the universe doesnt
shunt the Christian God to the outer fringes.
Consolmagno says he believes in ETs and that they too are Gods creatures
and no challenge to Romes authority. His belief is a bit like his faith: he
cant prove it, but hes certain nonetheless. I cant be sure Im right,
he says, indeed I could well be wrong, but still, I have a hunch that
sooner or later, the human race will discover that there are other
intelligent creatures out there in the universe.
At the core of Consolmagnos reconciliation between science and religion is
an almost hippy way of thinking about spirituality and the universe. He
cites the opening lines of John, Chapter One: In the beginning was the
Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the
beginning with God. All things were made through him and without him was not
anything. He interprets this as meaning that the word of God the spirit
of the essence, the meaning of God existed before anything else, and is
part of everything in the natural universe: even a giant mindworm on a
planet orbiting Alpha Centauri.
After all, we are all made of stars, Consolmagno says, quoting the US
singer, Moby. His thinking is this: just as the word of God echoes from the
beginning until now, in all of us, so the stuff that formed the first stars
remains present within the minerals from which we are all made. In
Consolmagnos worldview, God and science are one. Apart from certainty in
God the creator and Christ the saviour, he believes almost everything else
is unknowable. It means Consolmagno can maintain his faith in God, but still
believe in the Big Bang. The Lord is an infinite physicist an all-knowing
Stephen Hawking who started the whole process of life, the universe and
everything else by flicking a switch, triggering an almighty explosion some
10 billion-plus years ago and allowing his creation to unfold in accordance
with his omniscient, and highly mathematical, plan.
Consolmagno considers himself a free thinker, who wears both a dog collar
and his MIT graduation ring as evidence that he can be a fanatic and a nerd
at the same time. Hes happy to point out Biblical disparities including
the bit of Genesis about the Nephilim that vexed my grand father and say
its just silly fiction. Nor does the Bibles failure to mention dinosaurs
mean that Christians have to question the existence of T-Rex. The Bible
doesnt tell you how to programme your VCR either, but you know its there,
Consolmagnos natural audience, he says, is the devout. They are the people
who fear even thinking about science, as it might make them question their
faith. But a faith that is afraid of the truth has no faith. Part of his
mission is to show the blinkered that even the most fantastical of
scientific discoveries would, at least in his opinion, not trash the
teachings of Christ and the prophets. The discovery of extraterrestrial
life will not destroy the Church, insists Consolmagno. What it might do is
help us discard the bad ideas in religion the narrow views, the hubris,
But what about the deep-rooted paranoia evident in so many science fiction
works, that alien life, if its out there, might one day attempt to destroy
humankind? Weve seen when human cultures interact that nobody comes out
superior, Consolmagno says. What about the genocide of Native Americans
when white Europeans interacted with their culture? Hmmm, he says, it
could happen, I suppose, but the important thing is that the Native American
culture did survive.
Consolmagno, it seems, remains the eternal optimist. God is great. And for
him, the Church, in the face of everything that we know, is safe, secure and
a source of succour for the souls of us all no matter what planet were
Intelligent Life In The Universe? (Catholic Truth Society, £1.95) is out now
27 November 2005
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