ET and the Faith

No. Not Entertainment Tonight. ET. The Extraterrestrial. You know. Vulcans. Klingons. Horrible mucusy blobs and Platonic demigods of enlightenment. Squamous fungoid and rugose eldritch horrors who lie dreaming and awaiting their chance to drive mankind insane in a hideous dark apocalypse. Cool, post-theistic technocrats offering us the way of salvation via tachyon emission generators and leotard-clan United Federation conflict resolution counseling.

It is one of the articles of atheist eschatological faith that, as we move out to the stars, we are sure to encounter Aliens[TM] who, however strange and mysterious they will be, will absolutely certainly and without question do one thing: they will shatter forever the Christian faith with its smug certainty that we are alone and we are so awesomely great that God loves us humans (the only creatures in God’s image and likeness as we arrogantly believe). Christianity will never recover from that devastating blow. This is their faith and they are proud to profess it.

Ahem.  Remedial reading recommendation: Lewis’ “Religion and Rocketry“?

Relatedly, as I point out here, what atheists seem to always forget is that Christianity already has, right from the start, had a theology that incorporates the reality of non-human created intelligent beings into its world view.  We call them “angels” and their rebellious counterparts, “demons”.  The eschatological faith of many atheists is that when ET is found, he will come in glory to confirm the atheist in his worldview by chuckling and saying, “Ah yes! Religion!  We left that behind centuries ago.”  Then the Righteous will be taken up in glory in a fiery chari… I mean spacecraft while the unrighteous will depart into everlasting shame reserved for theocratic fascists and their minions.  In short, atheism owes a lot more to Christianity than it seems to realize.

Here’s reality: If God has seen fit to create life on other worlds that is organic (assuming he will use carbon and not silicon or some other molecule as the workhorse for alien biochemistry) the faith has no objection that I can see, since it already has no problem with God creating angels.  It is not our job to tell God what he can and cannot so.  And if that life is capable of reason then it is what medievals would have called “human”.

No. Really. If you are not familiar with novelist Michael Flynn (who has forgotten more about medieval science, technology, theology, culture, and philosophy than most of us will ever know) I recommend this essay, as well as his brilliant novel Eifelheim.  The notion that medievals were simply superstitious rubes is one of the great fictions modernity tells itself in its stupid pride.

And, of course, the immense confidence (the proper word is “faith) that atheists have that ET will vindicate atheism seems to me like having immense confidence that, if you go far enough away, 2+2 will not equal 4.  Thomas’ arguments for the existence of God hold water even on a planet full of Vulcans.  I personally suspect that there is other intelligent life out there, but I have lots of confidence we will never meet it, nor they us.  If we do, I think it would be hilarious if, as in Lewis’ Space Trilogy, ET turned out to be a devout worshipper of the Blessed Trinity, envious of us humans that Maleldil took on our nature.  I also do not envy the human ambassador to Klaatu when he lands on the White House lawn, emerges from the spacecraft and says, “I am a pilgrim!  Our planetary angels revealed to us 2000 of your earth years ago that Maleldil had visited your world in the flesh!  What did your species do to welcome him?”

The atheist faith that vindication of the atheist faith will come from a heavenly visitation is one of the funniest and most content-free eschatologies in the world.  At least Christians can point to a Jesus who actually existed (yes, I’m aware of the Jesus Truther fringe that denies this elementary fact).  But what have atheists got to show as reasons to believe ET exists, much less will vindicate atheism? It is pure myth.  And it is, moreover, borrowed from Christian eschatology lock, stock, and barrel, as is so much of atheism.

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  • Dr. Eric

    Isn’t this the plot of Promethius? (I didn’t actually see the movie nor do I plan to, so don’t feel bad for spoiling it for me.)

    • Tim in Cleveland

      Much like extraterrestrial life, the existence of a plot in Ridley Scott’s “Promethius” remains uncertain. The internets are still searching for one though.

  • deiseach

    St. Thomas Aquinas, as in so much else, was considering this type of question back in the 13th century. Granted, he wasn’t talking about aliens as such, but the principle remains: man is made in the image of God not because we have two eyes and five fingers on each hand, but because we have a rational soul and intellectual nature.

    Therefore, if a species of methane-breathing organisms with three pairs of eyes on stalks and tentacles is discovered, as long as they have the nature of the intellect and can be considered to have a rational soul, then he, she or it is just as much made in the image of God as the rest of us.

    Seriously, if a rocketship full of extraterrestrials landed in the morning, I get the impression St. Thomas would be thrilled at the opportunity to talk to them.

    • Pavel Chichikov

      I think you are thinking in the right direction.

  • Sean P. Dailey

    You would like Eifelheim, Deiseach.

  • Sheila

    “I also do not envy the human ambassador to Klaatu when he lands on the White House lawn, emerges from the spacecraft and says, “I am a pilgrim! Our planetary angels revealed to us 2000 of your earth years ago that Maleldil had visited your world in the flesh! What did your species do to welcome him?””


    Every science fiction (and fantasy) novel has to have its own metaphysics. I wish I found more that drew on the Catholic stuff. I mean besides Babylon 5. :D

    • CJ

      “I mean besides Babylon 5. ”

      I thought it was awesome that JMS did such a great job with Christian themes in B5, being that he’s a Christian-turned-athiest. I got the impression from reading his interactions with fans that he wasn’t the bitter sort of ex-Christian one encounters all to often.

  • EMS

    I firmly believe that if there are aliens out there they are also believers of the Trinity and the rest of our faith. How could they not be? Either God is revealed to all of His creation wherever He placed them, or, and this is downright terrifying, if they do exist on other worlds, He left it to US to reveal God to them. Christ did say preach to all nations. He might have meant all Worlds!

  • MikeTheGeek assuming that any such beings haven’t chosen even more badly than we have. I don’t know of any theological reason to believe they might not have fully embraced evil. The Independence Day scenario is just as valid (or invalid) as the Galactic Federation of Light scenario.

    St. Thomas might have been thrilled to speak to them, but I suspect he would have been smart enough to send a graduate student.

    • Dante Aligheri

      It’s possible, I suppose. In fact, I’d imagine (and I think C.S. Lewis wrote something to this effect) the only intelligent life we’ll meet will those who have fallen in some way. Those who did not probably exist in a resurrected, glorified, “angelomorphic” state and know about us already just as Lewis’ Martians or L’Engle’s unusual bestiary did. They’d probably have nothing to do with us.

      L’Engle, I think, had some very moving images with regards to this question, too, even if some of her theology is a bit radical.

  • Pavel Chichikov

    Does Mark Shea believe we will never meet *them*, because *they* might cause problems for apologists. The whole world glorifies God.

    There’s the hypothesis of other beings in other star systems. But that is too entirely comfortable an hypothesis. Too familiar.

    Do we know what the Implicate Order (See David Bohm) might be producing?


    The cosmos is a poem
    Shakespeare’s sonnets do not praise
    Their metric scheme

    Nor does a stream of photons
    Praise the Light
    But we who see it praise it

    Little hawk
    That hides among the branches
    All the birds have fled

    For what have you been fledged?
    Mystery of light
    That has made this lovely thing

    March 14, 2013

    • Mark Shea

      Did you read what I wrote?

    • Willl

      Mark believes we will not meet “them” because YE CANNA CHANGE THE LAWS OF PHYSICS.

      • Pavel Chichikov

        We don’t know all the laws of physics.

        But even without superluminal travel there is at least one obvious possible way of traveling between star systems. A moment’s reflection should bring one to mind.

        But it would be risky to assume that everything out there is not in here.

  • Willl

    The Koran is quite definite that there are other hnau — the jann — and they adhere to various religions.
    So an encounter with aliens would not work to shake Islam. Some Moslems would set out to make them into “believing jann”. While Salafi fanatics might proceed to assault them for not being the right KIND of Moslems, as they do most human Moslems. (While elements of St. Blog’s would probably foam at the mouth over the conversion being attempted at all, because Islam is Bad without qualification.)

    • Dante Aligheri

      Michael Flynn wrote a beautiful short story about Muslim space explorers who made first contact called “The Clapping Hands of God.”

  • Dante Aligheri

    Here’s my question. Might the Incarnation happen more than once? Contra C.S. Lewis and Ray Bradbury (He wrote an excellent story, by the way, of spherical and gaseous Martians who were sinless; an Anglican bishop tried to make an icon of Jesus using a spherical object with a candle inside), I’m not so certain that it could. However, sometimes I imagine in my more fanciful moments that the glorified Word Incarnate might have visited other worlds following the Ascension since then He became “all in all,” just as He harrowed Hades. If He can harrow Hades, why couldn’t He visit other worlds or even universes/branes just as He visited St. Paul?

    • A Philosopher

      Aquinas (in Summa Theologica III, Question 3 Article 7) makes clear his view that the Incarnation can be repeated. (In ST III.4.1, he argues that only human nature can be assumed in incarnation. That wouldn’t be a problem for “aliens”, since the relevant definition of “human” covers them (assuming they are fallen). But in any case, Aquinas’ argument here is a rather weak “fitness” argument.)

      I would think that the most elegant versions of Christian theology would have the Incarnation eschatologically universalized. Kind of a “Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” scenario, only (hopefully) less creepy.

      • Dante Aligheri

        Actually, now that I think about it, since the Word took on human nature in the Incarnation forever – even after the Ascension – I doubt He could ever become incarnated again. I read up on your “Palmer Eldritch” scenario. I’m still not sure how that fits with a Christian theology of Incarnation. Unless you mean that Christ becomes incarnate in some way everywhere (so that He “becomes the planet,” i.e., being present in all soulish creatures) that really is the essence of Christianity in the first place with the Spirit giving participation in the Trinity. But I’m not sure that’s what you meant.

        I agree that the plot was downright creepy.

  • Pavel Chichikov

    I don’t know why you think we will never meet *them.* Or *they* us. Angels aside.
    I agree that there is no reason why meeting *them* should disprove Faith.

    If I recall correctly, you have come some way since thinking that if there is perhaps life off-planet it is likely to be microscopic.

    Personally, I think it likely that life in other star systems is only a small percentage of life *out there*. much as life on the surface of this planet is probably a small percentage of the biomass – the rest being microbial sub-surface.

    I think we are resting on a vast sub-sea of life which expresses itself in many ways, mostly non-reductive.

    As for inter-stellar travel, even a brief consideration should suggest a perfectly feasible method of sub-luminal travel which would bring *them* here.

  • Richard Bell

    The Church has been thinking about ET for some time. In 1277, the bishop of Paris declared it to be anathema to teach that, despite the lack of evidence of Him doing so, God could not create other rational beings on other planets.