Saturday, 18 September 2010

A Vatican astronomer and aliens

Guy Consolmagno, SJ, who is an astronomer at the Vatican Onservatory, is visiting Britain to speak at the British Science Festival today (Saturday). He spoke to the press beforehand.

Alok Jha in The Guardian: Pope’s astronomer says he would baptise an alien if it asked him.

Richard Alleyne in the Telegraph: Pope Benedict XVI’s astronomer: the Catholic Church welcomes aliens.

James Dacey on the Institute of Physics blog: Pope’s astronomer hits the bar.

Vicky Davidson in The Big issue in Scotland: God’s Astronomer.

Clive Cookson in the Financial Times: Pope’s astronomer would welcome alien life.

John von Radowitz in The Sydney Morning Herald Smart aliens ‘would be God’s children’.

David Derbyshire in the Mail Online: I’d love to baptise ET, says Vatican’s stargazer.

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 18 September 2010 at 11:19am BST | TrackBack
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I think Bradbury had it right in "Christus Apollo" - God will have become all sorts of strange Flesh.

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Saturday, 18 September 2010 at 12:17pm BST

The only extra terrestial life are the angels and the fallen angels. They can fantasise all they want , but they will find no extra-terrestial life.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Saturday, 18 September 2010 at 2:07pm BST

What next ? Acceptance of gays, protestants, animists --atheists- wymin even ?!

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Saturday, 18 September 2010 at 2:54pm BST

RIW angels? You mean winged people flying between the palace in the sky and earth???

Posted by: bobinswpa on Saturday, 18 September 2010 at 9:32pm BST

I'm curious, RIW - is this just your own hunch, or are you basing it on something more authoritative?

Posted by: BillyD on Saturday, 18 September 2010 at 10:45pm BST

RIW:

And you know this how (and why)? Is there some papal infallible statement on it?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Sunday, 19 September 2010 at 2:03am BST

Unless, of course, the alien was divorced or used contraception.

Posted by: Ashpenaz on Sunday, 19 September 2010 at 2:20am BST

"The only extra terrestial life are the angels and the fallen angels. They can fantasise all they want , but they will find no extra-terrestial life."

And you know this how? Sounds to me a bit like the sun revolves around the earth because the Bible tells us so ...

God's expansive and gracious creativity just on this planet argues for a celestial largesse!

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Sunday, 19 September 2010 at 3:30am BST

"they will find no extra-terrestial life"

Hate to burst your (geo-centric? http://www.geocentrism.com/) bubble, RIW, but I believe we've already FOUND life "extra-terrestrially"---on Mars?

[What are your astro-physisist bonafides for making such a claim, anyway? O_o]

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 19 September 2010 at 4:37am BST

RIW, there are hundreds of millions of galaxies with hundreds of millions of stars in each. To believe that we are the only inhabited planet assumes an arrogance that is unbelievable. It would mean that, if you are a believer, that God saw fit to place sentient beings on only one planet. Such a conceit would mean we humans are placing ourselves a little higher than the angels.
We may never find extra-terrestrial intelligent life, or come into contact with it. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
I strongly believe it does exist, but that space is so vast, that civilizations may never come into contact with each other.

Posted by: peterpi on Sunday, 19 September 2010 at 5:17am BST

Nice try RIW, I see you're trying to join the fray on this string by throwing out some far-fetch fantasy! Always fun to have a good time learning to look at ourselves and laugh....you can do that can't you?

And agree wholeheartedly Peterpi, to assume we're the only ones worthy of God's attention is just plain out-of-control conceit. There is intelligent life out there....that's why they've avoided us!!!!!

Posted by: evensongjunkie on Sunday, 19 September 2010 at 6:26pm BST

What happens if aliens only procreate with other aliens of the same gender? Or if aliens only have one gender? Will they need to remain celibate? And what happens if the aliens are machines (the most likely form of alien to emerge from advanced technology and survive the times and ditances of interstellar space)? Is there a place in heaven for the robotic consciousness? I think he needs to do a bit more work on the whole subject. And were aliens also made in God's own image? Would an alien, one day,be allowed to become Pope?

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Sunday, 19 September 2010 at 7:17pm BST

I'm rereading Pilgrimage by the Christian Sci-fi writer Zenna Henderson. She creates a race of aliens who live in exile on earth after escaping the destruction of their home planet. They refer to God as "The Presence" and it's clear from the context that this is their way of referring to the Christian God. The problem in the book is that most people hate them because they're different and they have to hide themselves and their unique abilities from outsiders. I'm amazed at how well this book addresses many of the issues we're looking at today.

Posted by: Ashpenaz on Sunday, 19 September 2010 at 7:25pm BST

"Unless, of course, the alien was divorced or used contraception. "

All aliens are gay.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 19 September 2010 at 8:49pm BST

I may be wrong..but according to the infallible word of Scripture...the creation order is God, angels and men...and that the earth is the unique creation of God , for his purpose of populating Heaven. I believe the earth is the centre of God's creation if no so the centre of the Universe.

Interestingly there is a growing movement of geocentrists..however I am not committed to that view.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Sunday, 19 September 2010 at 9:10pm BST

"but I believe we've already FOUND life "extra-terrestrially"---on Mars?"

Wow, I must have missed a memo...

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Sunday, 19 September 2010 at 9:19pm BST

I'm curious, RIW - is this just your own hunch, or are you basing it on something more authoritative?

Posted by: BillyD on Saturday, 18 September 2010 at 10:45pm BST

Come on, Billy. What could be more authoratative ?

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Sunday, 19 September 2010 at 9:38pm BST

Perhaps RIW will have answered by the time this is posted. I don't know what his answer will be, but a brief glimpse at Google turns up all sorts of people who make it a point of religious faith not to believe in extraterrestrial life. It mostly seems to be a fundamentalist attempt to defend Genesis, as it were: there can't be extraterrestrial life, because evolution is a lie and Genesis 1 doesn't mention a special creation anywhere except Earth.

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Sunday, 19 September 2010 at 11:37pm BST

People forget that when the aliens make contact, they will require us to join their religions. After all, with eight legs, four arms and surround vision for dark and light, and having cracked simultaneous destination-arrival travel, we shall be much the inferior.

Posted by: Pluralist on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 4:57am BST

RIW
even you don't take Scripture absolutely literally, so maybe we have a little leeway for interpretation here.

The bible and all its stories relate to human beings and to earth, and God was incarnated as man to redeem mankind and to deal with the sin of Adam.
That people at the time may have thought there is no-one else in the universe and that their thinking was therefore geocentric can be assumed. So talk of redeeming the "universe" with man at its centre and as pinnacle of creation can reasonably only have referred to earth.

The sins dealt with through crucifixion and resurrection are all human sins, they are all psychological faults we recognise in us. It would be presumptuous to say that all possible forms of alien life have erred in the same way and have the same basic psychological make-up as human beings. That’s more from the world of Star Wars than based on any credible analysis of potential other life-forms.
There was one famous film where the life form was the water itself – I forget what it was about and what it was called, but it certainly was nothing that could be considered to be in the least like us.

So even if there are aliens, we should not be so anthropocentric to assume that their possible fall and their ultimate redemption are in any way linked to ours.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 10:12am BST

RIW:

Since the Bible is the story of MAN's redemption, the existence of other intelligent life is clearly irrelevant, hence its absence from the story. To use that as evidence for the non-existence of aliens, is rather like using the non-mention of Europe in "Tom Sawyer" to prove that Mark Twain didn't know of it.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 11:15am BST

"...but according to the infallible word of Scripture..."

RIW, you realize that you're privileging your own view of what the Bible says over the Vatican's, don't you?

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 11:19am BST

I thought scriptural infallibility was a Protestant hang-up, not de fide for an RC - which is why the RC church has never had the problems with evolution which some of the Reformation churches have encountered. You live and learn....

Posted by: mynsterpreost (= David Rowett) on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 11:32am BST

Robert, 'flat-earth' (or earth-only cosmology) arguments are typical of the closed-minded attitudes of those whose personal security is wrapt in what religionist, or indeed atheist, gurus can provide in the way of doubtful, but comfortable, certainties.

Even Rome, by virtue of its own planetarium, shows an interest in scientific observation - which is always open to new discoveries - where once its 'certainties' precluded the idea of cosmic reality (e,g, Galileo).

People who Move from one Christian denomination to another - just to find 'certainty' on problems of God's relationship to human beings which suit one's own prejudices, is hardly the best reason for migration. One may find that the goalposts can be moved - by the very faith community we have come to rely on. The one time Byzantine *certainties* of the Roman Magisterium have already been decimated by Vatican II - despite desperate efforts by the Roman Curia to put the clock back.

"In God alone I put my trust" is a good maxim.

Further reformation - according to Vatican II's 'ecclesia semper reformanda' call by Pope John XXIII and the Young Turks of Vatican II - may yet be put in train - despite the Curia.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 12:03pm BST

In "Paradise Lost" John Milton surmises that there may be other planets with other life. It's long enough ago that I taught the poem that I can't recall precisely where that is. At least once, that surmise outraged a fundamentalist student.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 1:41pm BST

As with evolution, I think 'fundamentalists', though they say very silly things, better intuit the size of the theological challenge posed by possible extra-terrestrial life or the multiverse and such matters. It's a matter of perspective and scale. It's also a matter of the claimed uniqueness of salvation through Jesus (by definition, thus far, restricted to 'homo sapiens'). The Vatican astronomer's desire to baptise an alien reminds me of Keith Ward's desire to baptise a computer - once computers attain consciousness - as they may. One should be glad there are Christians who think, because they are precious few.

Posted by: john on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 2:23pm BST

Bill Dilworth, you missed the memo about finding simple life on Mars because the original news stories were from about 15 years ago. They concerned claims by some scientists about finding alleged microscopic fossils of bacterial life in an ancient meteorite discovered in Antarctica that is believed to have been blasted from Mars. Since then, other scientists have shown that the alleged fossils that were found in the meteorite could have been the result of natural physical and chemical processes, none of which processes require life.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ALH_84001

But at the time, the local newspaper asked a fundamentalist Christian minister about life on other planets, and his reply, apropos of RIW, was that, since the Bible didn't explicitly mention life on other planets, he believed it didn't exist. The Bible also does not explicitly mention bicycles, bangers and mash, or Anglicans, but I think it can be conclusively shown they exist.
RIW, of course the Bible puts humans at the center of the Universe: Humans ultimately wrote it.
I repeat my earlier assertion: To believe that we are the only intelligent life in the Universe, and to especially believe that God only cares about the inhabitants of this one planet floating around one modest star in one modest galaxy is arrogant beyond belief.

Posted by: peterpi on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 3:21pm BST

According to the entry on 'science' in the Oxford Companion to Christian Thought, the 19th century English scientist William Whewell was lambasted by colleagues for suggesting that man was alone in the universe; the existence of extraterrestrial life was then seen as an inherently Christian conclusion.

Posted by: Richard on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 3:43pm BST

RIW's position is the salvation of the Anglican Communion. The Bible doesn't mention the Americas or the Pacific Ocean, so the decision of the inhabitants of those areas to ordain homosexuals and women is a non-issue. We're fictional beings to begin with, so what we do can't affect anyone over there in the real world.

Posted by: Steve Lusk on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 5:09pm BST

When does the thought of life on other planets and spheres make me, for one, feel less alien ? It is a joyous thought. As is, for me, the thought of evolutionary processes at work now, bring ing who knows what into the future ?

Some of the creatures from the various god-planets can be disconcerting, oppressive, entertaining, colourful, thrilling and inspiring by turns !

I won't 'divulge' here the effects upon my demeanour of say, the Vatican, the Southern Baptists or the Mormons - but so many make one's mind go zing !

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 5:52pm BST

Rightwing believers need aliens like a fish needs a bicycle?

Posted by: drdanfee on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 6:58pm BST

"People forget that when the aliens make contact, they will require us to join their religions."

If our contact parallels other contacts through our own history, they certainly will, Pluralist.

I've seen several science fiction novels that deal with the theme of evangelizing other planets (eg. The Sparrow) - does anyone know of one that deals with Earth as a potential mission field for aliens?

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 7:56pm BST

On a closely related matter, I am glad to see that Keith Ward has responded to Stephen Hawking. http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=100242

Ward, unlike the Pope or Tom Wright, is a serious theologian who never stops thinking. He is also an Anglican. After all the spurious razzmatazz of the Pope's visit (which, I admit, has depressed me), we should never forget that Anglicans have better theologians and that in the end this is very important, because it marks precisely the difference between a closed and always circular system and an open and generous system which maintains tradition to the extent that it can be maintained but also goes forward fearlessly taking account of those things which must be taken account of if theism is to be maintained.

Posted by: john on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 8:05pm BST

I would like to hear the other side of the argument and wish i could attend the following:

http://www.galileowaswrong.com/galileowaswrong/

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 8:46pm BST

FWIW, peterpi (and I in NO way claim to be authoritative on this subject---or any other, for that matter! }-p), I was thinking of the discoveries of the Mars rovers---which I believe are characterized of "highly consistent with", though not conclusive for, life (yes, *simple* life. Not sentient . . . as far as we know! ;-D)

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 20 September 2010 at 8:52pm BST

Robert (RIW), I suspect you are a Protestant, biblical fundamentalist who loves the liturgy. Your views, generally, do not reflect the devout Roman Catholics I know; they are quite conservative on most issues.

When you crossed the Tiber, I doubt you realized what a diverse group the cradle-yet-conservative are in the Western world. Great faith requires a bit of awe about God's creation. You will be accepted by the Church if you show a bit of intelligent disagreement - after all, the Church isn't particularly consistent. God's love, however, is so.

Posted by: Lynn on Tuesday, 21 September 2010 at 3:38am BST

Scripture is not infallible.

Only a completely faithless idiot would believe it was.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Tuesday, 21 September 2010 at 4:45am BST

I thiknk what depresses me about gatherings like the geocentrist conference is that so much time and effort is going in to such a dead-end pursuit - just like all the 'young earth' nonsense. I think the Rule of Benedict would disapprove strongly of that sort of mania! 'Quid geocentrismus cum Christo?' as Alcuin might have said...:-)

Posted by: Mynsterpreost (=david rowett) on Tuesday, 21 September 2010 at 10:32am BST

Seems to me that C.S. Lewis once dealt with the question of extra-terrestrial life. One of the interesting issues was, does the Fall apply to those on other planets?

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Tuesday, 21 September 2010 at 10:42am BST

'I would like to hear the other side of the argument'

Hmm, this faux-reasonable dialectical style which I find in polemical literature concerns me. In a different context, we wouldn't have much time for listening to 'the other side of the argument' re domestic violence, or people trafficking, would we?

In this sort of faux-sciencey polemic, the 'other side of the argument' rarely proceeds from a scientific perspective (as in, say, the steady-state universe vs the Big Bang debate of a few decades ago) but rather from a dogmatic one masquerading as science. Would anyone try and do the Young Earth thing if it were not for the uber-conservative reading of bits of Genesis? I doubt it.

When (say) 'the other side of the argument' comes from an assembly within a proper educational institution (as opposed to a location 'near Notre Dame', which I take as being a disingenuous attempt to filch some of ND's gravitas) I might take it seriously. RIW has perhaps revealed more than he intended about his methodological bias. Then again, what should I know, I'm a reductionist liberal schismatic, or so they tell me....

Posted by: Mynsterpreost (=david rowett) on Tuesday, 21 September 2010 at 11:25am BST

Cynthia, the reference to life on other worlds is found in Book VII of Paradise Lost:

"Witness this new-made world, another Heaven
From Heaven-gate not far, founded in view
On the clear hyaline, the glassy sea;
Of amplitude almost immense, with stars
Numerous, and every star perhaps a world
Of destined habitation; but thou knowest
Their seasons: among these the seat of Men,
Earth, with her nether ocean circumfused,
Their pleasant dwelling-place."

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Tuesday, 21 September 2010 at 1:18pm BST

The Astronomer at the Vatican and the controversial editor of the Vatican newspaper have no magisterial authority within the Catholic church.

I will not believe that there is extra-terrestial life ( other than the Heavenly host) until I am shown it.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Tuesday, 21 September 2010 at 6:12pm BST

"I will not believe that there is extra-terrestial life ( other than the Heavenly host) until I am shown it."

You mean until the Pope tells you that you must believe it.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 21 September 2010 at 7:29pm BST

Robert:

Do you similarly not believe in the existence of sub-atomic particles? Or anything else that your own senses cannot detect? Is ultra-violet light non-existent? Is sound above or below the register of human hearing non-existent? I presume you have never actually seen a virus...what causes you to catch a cold then?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Tuesday, 21 September 2010 at 7:50pm BST

From RIW's link to the website, "Galileo was wrong":
"'Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right' is one of the most unique and penetrating books you will ever read. Now complete in Volumes I and II, authors Robert Sungenis and Robert Bennett take you on a tour of science and history the likes of which you would have never believed possible ..."

That last sentence I can believe wholeheartedly, though not in the manner the authors intend, LOL

Actually, RIW, I almost agree with you in one way: I will not believe sentient extra-terrestrial life has ever visited Earth until an alien walks up to me and says "Klaatu barada nikto!"

Posted by: peterpi on Tuesday, 21 September 2010 at 8:21pm BST

"I will not believe that there is extra-terrestial life ( other than the Heavenly host) until I am shown it."

eppur si vive:-)

Posted by: Mynsterpreost (=david rowett) on Tuesday, 21 September 2010 at 8:29pm BST

"I will not believe that there is extra-terrestial life ( other than the Heavenly host) until I am shown it." - Robert I williams -

Shucks! Another "Saint Thomas". Jesus must still be frustrated by the "I won't believe unless I see it with my own eyes" crowd. Not very Catholic, and totally against the ethic of the 'magisterium'.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 22 September 2010 at 12:42am BST

Bill Dilworth - thanks for the PL quotation.

On the matter of extra-terrestrial life: all I have to do is look at the pictures from the Hubble to know that the creation is vaster and more complex than we can take in. I'd say the odds are that the Creator has delighted in creation of life in other places in that vastness. What artist paints only one picture? What poet writes but one peom?

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Wednesday, 22 September 2010 at 6:11pm BST

RIW, can you point us to the magisterial _denial_ of the possibility of life on other worlds? Or is this merely a pious opinion? Are you claiming that the Vatican astronomer is speculating in contradiction to church teaching? Or simply expressing an opinion with which you disagree.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Wednesday, 22 September 2010 at 8:37pm BST

Re: Richard above on Whewell. William Whewell was an intensely active scientist, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge (Newton's college some 200 yers before), and author of multi-volume works on the scientific method. His "Of the Plurality of Worlds" (1853) started a debate within Britain on the subject. His argument was more from prudence than anything else: that the current status of knowledge did not allow one to conclude that ET life existed. (He also added the argument that, if ET life had existed, it was likely extinct elsewhere, given the age of the universe and the likely path of all species.)

This figure of the Anglican establishment was opposed by David Brewster, a physicist and leader in the Free Church of Scotland. This evangelical expressed his views in More Worlds Than One: The Creed of the Philospher and the Hope of the Christian (1854), the upshot of which was that God's creative poswer was to be found throughout the universe. As extravagant as Whewell was cautious, Brewster thought that every star had planets, and every planet and star was inhabited, including the planets, sun, and moon of our own system. Against Whewell's essentially empty universe, Brewster posed one that was overwhelmingly full.

Both works have recently been republished.

Both men were committed Christians within their respective communions.

Posted by: Christopher (P.) on Thursday, 23 September 2010 at 1:11pm BST

I'm a reductionist liberal schismatic, or so they tell me.... Mynsterpreost (=david rowett).

You didn't say that to me so I have been predisposed not to believe it, so I didn't and haven't. I even believe and follow the Pope when he talks about himself and what he does and why. At least, that is always the starting point, to believe what someone tells you. Researchers should always start there.

Apparently the religion of the creatures with eight legs, four arms and surround vision is based on the original gobolob being very clumsy as a punishment from the creator, and the Son of Gobolob bumped into all sorts all of his life including being used as a battering ram at the end so that others would have obstacle free lives. Although they keep bumping into things, the Gobolob-centrics keep claiming that they walk perfectly well and all it takes is to have more faith in the Son of Gobolob to have fewer bruises.

Posted by: Pluralist on Friday, 24 September 2010 at 6:34pm BST

The creation of earth and the heavens is a specific action of God. He creates humans, endowing them with a Soul, made in His own image.

This is a unique creation and plenty of Scriptures affirm this.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Saturday, 25 September 2010 at 2:10pm BST

RIW:

"...creation of earth and the heavens..."

Do you then hold to a literalist view of the cosmos? That the earth was created before the sun?

Even if you do not, isn't possible that the details in Genesis are such as they are because the lessons are aimed at humans? Does the concentration on the creation of one set of beings negate the possibility of the creation of others? Genesis does not mention non-animal or -vegetable forms such as viruses...do viruses therefore not exist?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Sunday, 26 September 2010 at 2:24am BST

"This is a unique creation and plenty of Scriptures affirm this."

So the uniqueness of this creation rules out the possibility of others? Does your uniqueness as a human being nullify the possibility that others are unique, as well?

Anyway, how very telling that you appeal not to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, but to your own interpretation of the Bible, on the subject of life on other planets. Are you sure you made it all the way across the Tiber? ;-)

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Sunday, 26 September 2010 at 6:01pm BST

Biblical literalism has - traditionally - been held to be error by the Roman denomination.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Wednesday, 29 September 2010 at 11:53am BST
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