Saturday, May 17, 2008

God, Extra Terrestrials & The Vatican

An official announcement in the Pope's paper of record, world famous L'Osservatore Romano, has science fiction aficionados and fervent worshipers in God's universal Church not only in hyperdrive that UFO's are worthy of discussion, but mindwarping up to, if a life form is on board from deep in outer space, they too are the inspired Divine work of God. Heads are exploding all over the universe and in the Geek/Faith blogosphere. Alien implications in this throw open the doors to testing beliefs, examining Faith and unbinding an awesome God from just spending an emotional investment on the two legged praying monotheistic masses on the third rock from the Sun. Scientists already know there are hundreds of extrasolar planets or galaxies in the universe with the potential or the recently discovered elsewhere in space common molecule, methane, to replicate Earth's atmosphere and sustain forms of life. It never meant that development in those other areas followed anything near Earth's evolutionary path documented by Darwin.
It has also made for some lively discussions between liberal and
conservative theologians. Rev. Christopher Corbally, vice director of
the Vatican Observatory, said he has been bombarded with e-mail from
colleagues pondering whether God could have created more than one world
and whether other beings could be granted redemption via a Christ-like

If God created human beings in his own image, how could there be others
who don't look like us? Little green men, Corbally noted, certainly do
not fit the popular image of God.

"It's a fun way to catch people's imagination," he said jubilantly.
"How wonderful it would be to have other life beyond our own world,
because it would show how God's creation just flows out without abandon.

"We are always trying to restrict God's creativity, putting theological
difficulties in the way. But I don't think God bothers with theological

Gene Roddenberry, the originator of all things Star Trek, wrote and produced with the iron rule that alien forms must always walk upright on two legs, limiting imaginative ET species that may have other means of mobility or visages. He wanted the concept to tie in some measurable way to what was familiar on Earth. From the papal throne came edicts that led to Crusades, royal excommunications, burning of witches, the Inquisitions and the trials for heresy in denying the Catholic Churches belief system.

It took, a now enshrined outside the Uffizi in Italian marble, Galileo over 400 years to get his good name back on the bright side of the flat Earth believers and the Church after his trial for daring to mention the Earth's rotation was part of an orbit around the Sun, not the other way around. Now smash those two belief systems together in a particle accelerator and you have the Church is okey-dokey with alien life forms from another planet no matter what type of cosmic car they have souped up or the color of their beings as we all came from the same God. Top it off with the Vatican having its own Observatory with savvy scientist priests searching the Heavens and making scientific peer reviewed contributions. Science and the papacy making efforts and progress towards common cause after scientific Battles of the Millenniums is truly a new paradigm requiring its own field of study. Cue the Twilight Zone Music...

Now the Pope's Jesuit astronomer is the lead guy, Father Jose Gabriel Funes, with adamant conviction that science is utterly compatible with the Church. The kicker is that this observation and explanation have been part of the Church's opinions on ET phenomena for a good while. That next science panel at a Vatican conference on science and the cosmos ought to be a doozy worthy of must-see TV. Charles Darwin's seminal Origin of Species will celebrate 150 years of existence and the Vatican is hosting a Rome conference on evolutionary theory. Wrap your head around that one and get a serious supply of popcorn because the Church is re-looking at the challenges of evolutionary theory and some fundamental beliefs in creationism.

In his L’Osservatore interview, Fr. Funes echoed that, declaring that “As there exist many creatures on earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God. This doesn’t contradict our faith because we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God.”

In asking whether little green men might be guilty of original sin, we are obviously in the realm of “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.” But the theologian astronomers don’t blink. Fr. Funes said he was sure that, if aliens needed redemption, they “in some way, would have the chance to enjoy God’s mercy.” Consolmagno was more explicit: there’s no problem in getting the Son of God to every planet with ETs because, as Christians accept every Sunday during the Holy Eucharist, “Christ is truly, physically present in a million places, and sacrificed a million times, every day at every sacrifice of the Mass.”

There have been some world class donnybrooks over evolution. Trials of the twentieth Century and the absolute uproar over the unscientific intelligent design weirdness plus a notorious anti-science bent from the Catholic Church in the past. It is mindbogglingly interesting to see the Vatican tread with papal soft shoes where no Pope and the priests has gone before. It makes one really wonder what is buried in the Vatican Archives as Extra Terrestrials leaped into the discussions and collective consciousness of philosophers and the imaginative centuries ago. The Middle Ages was, in part, about making people conform or die to the autocratic patriarchal theology of the times while what is considered modern now marries space aliens to one of the largest Faith traditions on the planet. We do indeed, live in interesting times.

Get up to Earth speed on the bones of the evolutionary science and the opposition in these great books. For alien perspectives look to the best of Science Fiction. In paperback, The Origin of Species from Charles Darwin, the Pulitzer Prize winning Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion from Edward J. Larson, from Edward Humes, the highly praised Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion and the Battle for America's Soul plus from the Catholic perspective and a decade old respected treatise, Did Darwin Get it Right? Catholics and the Theory of Evolution from George S. Johnston.

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