Aliens Elephants and Angels

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed a seemingly profound, but ultimately silly discussion which is prevalent within popular. It’s called the Fermi Paradox and it goes like this: “There are billions of stars out there like the sun. Therefore, statistically there must be billions of planets like earth where intelligent life has developed. Given the vast amount of time and the vast number of possible “other earths” there must be other intelligent life forms who have invented space travel. So where are they?

The stupidity of such arguments is only compounded by the seriousness with which the argument is taken. First there is the problem of what I call size-ism. The materialist is awe struck by the vast size of the universe and the vast amounts of time he believes in. His awe before these vast quantities of time and space is rather like a religion. We all want something big to worship and the materialist, who doesn’t have anything to worship, is in awesome wonder at the bigness of time and space.

However, why should we be impressed simply by size? We do not think an elephant is better than an infant just because it is bigger. The Sahara is big, but it is full of sand and nobody lives there. Antarctica is bigger than Austria, but it is not better because it is bigger. So the cosmos is vast, so what? There may be other intelligent life forms out there, but there is no evidence so far. Furthermore, vast size and statistical musings based on that size do not really mean doodly squat. A supposition based on statistics is still just a supposition. The evidence would suggest that the earth is like an oasis in the Sahara. Just because the Sahara is vast and supports one oasis does not mean there must be another oasis in the Sahara.

There are other assumptions in this way of thinking which are astoundingly small minded, and they are compounded by the fact that those discussing these things invariably think they are being open minded and “thinking outside the box.” Their suppositions are based on the assumption that space and time are all fixed according to the material perceptions of our own space and time. In other words, these materialists are assuming that the rest of the cosmos functions according to the rules of space and time which operate in our own dimension of physicality. This may not be true at all. Their perception of the vastness of the cosmos is determined by their own mortality. For mortals time is limited because their lives are limited. In other words time is limited for mortals because they are mortal.

However, once a person has left this physical and mortal existence time, as we know it, does not exist. I am no physicist, but I believe that distance and space is also determined by time, for distance can only be measured by the time it would take to get there. I hope those who know more about such things will correct me, but wouldn’t it be right to at least surmise that if there were no constraints of time there would also be no such thing as space? If distance is the time it takes to get somewhere, and if there is no such thing as time and we lived in an eternal ‘now’ wouldn’t the seeming vast-ness of space also disappear? I don’t know, but I do suggest that the vast ness of space and time may be an illusion based on our mortality and limited vision.

That brings us to the subject of aliens and spaceships. The Fermi Paradox suggests that there should be other civilizations on other planets that have developed technologies like ours. What! to suggest that other beings (if they exist) would be so primitive as that? To imagine that they would be so crude as to make metal containers to hurl themselves through the sky? Why not imagine that if there are other intelligences out there, that they might transport themselves and communicate in ways that are unimaginably more sophisticated than us? What if they are able to transport themselves by their advanced mental powers? What if they are able to communicate instantly across vast spaces by mere thought? What if they exist in a complex, harmonious and beautiful relationship with one another and with the whole of creation? What if they are advanced beings who exist within the music of love and service to all things? The Christian church has believed in a simple and ordinary way in the existence of such aliens from the beginning. We call them angels.

Finally, those who ponder Fermi’s Paradox would, presumably, shudder at the idea that a theory of the cosmos might be geocentric, or earth centered– yet their perspective, philosophically speaking, is completely geocentric. Their perception of the universe is conditioned by their geocentric understanding of the fixed nature of space and time. Their perception of other intelligent beings is based on their understanding of themselves. (“Aliens must be like us, but a little bit different”) Their perception of alien technologies is based on ours. (“They must have developed rockets too!”) In other words, the Fermi Paradox is completely geocentric and anthropocentric in its assumptions.

My problem is not that their view is geocentric, but that it is not geocentric enough. Until proven wrong, I’m quite happy to believe in a geocentric universe. Oh yes, I know that our solar system is not geocentric, but do we know that the cosmos is not geocentric? What if  the entire cosmos circled around this one solar system of ours–if not physically, but at least metaphysically? Do we think this is impossible simply because our planet and our solar system seems small?

Seemingly insignificant single events change history. A minor aristocrat is murdered in an out of the way European city and two cataclysmic world wars take place. An angry friar nails theological arguments to a church door and an entire bloody revolution tumbles onward out of control. A boy decides to get drunk and a girl gets pregnant and a tyrant who rules the world is born.

Those who ponder the Fermi Paradox wonder at the vastness of all things and believe it is important. I ponder at the smallness of all things and know they are important. Individuals change history. Small decisions matter. The Divine is in the detail. I am more interested therefore in what is small rather than what is great in size. Consequently, I am excited by the idea that the earth is, in fact, the center of the universe and that the vast realms of the cosmos surround her and regard her with tender protection and the awe struck wonder with which we might behold a newborn baby.

It could be that this earth is the staging ground for all that matters in the cosmos. It may well be that this planet is the battleground where the cosmic battle between good and evil reaches it’s climax. Crucial battles must take place somewhere. What if the war in heaven is completed here on this field of war? And what if you and I are soldiers in that cosmic and eternally important battle?


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  • Tom in South Jersey

    I’m not sure that the Bible precludes intelligent life on other planets. In fact The Lord said that His Father’s house has many mansions. The odds are that with countless galaxies that there must be life as we know it someplace else. Now one issue is indeed, as you mention, time. Other civilizations might have developed and gone extinct a million years ago while we were busy playing stick ball with stones. Or they might not leave their caves until we are long gone.

    If you want to mess your mind up try reading about dark matter, quantum physics or string theory. It’s all very mind boggling at times. To me as they begin to uncover the foundations of our universe the science just proves the existence of God as The Word has revealed Him. As Psalm 19 states, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.

  • Will

    The old story is that most scientists say that the more you know the more you realize how little you know. I guess some scientists can have some theories that are not easily tested. Perhaps our descendents will find the answers in 20, 000 years. In the meam time, nothing wrong with pondering.

  • Arnobius of Sicca

    I figure the odds of life are either 0% or 100% depending on whether or not God chose to create life elsewhere.

    Since I do not know whether or not God created intelligent life elsewhere, I tend to be “agnostic” on the subject of alien life — unless we actually encounter such life, we can never know if it does not exist or if we just have not found it yet, so I don’t see how anyone can say such life does exist or does not exist.

  • David N

    On the other hand, I am reminded of the following extract from the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, in its definition of the Universe:

    Population: None. Although you might see people from time to time, they are most likely products of your imagination. Simple mathematics tells us that the population of the Universe must be zero. Why? Well given that the volume of the universe is infinite there must be an infinite number of worlds. But not all of them are populated; therefore only a finite number are. Any finite number divided by infinity is zero, therefore the average population of the Universe is zero, and so the total population must be zero.

  • Joe

    Father, mathematically your thoughts on distance and time are spot on. Distance (or displacement) is the product of rate and time (d=rt). So since distance is directly proportional to time, as time approaches zero, distance also approaches zero. Put simply, no time means no distance. Cheers!

  • mike cliffson

    Methinks some of your -today’s -physics is a bit wonky- no matter, as I write , maybe , or in a hundred years, tomorrow’s physical understanding-of the same material universe ! – will leave the lot of us looking like perfect circlers , as twere, or whatever.
    One thing however about today’s accounts : NOTHING is infinite. “Vast” falls short, Everything: , numbers of galaxies, numbers of stars, the size of the universe, is magnitudes grander than a century ago (only one galaxy then, actually) has been coming up as BOUNDED. And having an approximately known age. This despite so many – honest-scienbtists hoping otherwise ! And even so, apparently the possible number of neural combinations in a bogstandard brain is greater than the calculated number of electrons in the whole universe. Pro tem, , what marvels may our kids and their kids learn at school? that might, for a while again, bring infinity back physically.
    But since these (presently underestood as) limits and the same Goldilocks considerations (that fuel intelligent designers) mean that with today’s knowledge life is too complex and special for the universe to be, especially, old, enough to provide randomly you will meet- it’s not only Hawkins!- more and more the wholly fairy-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden variation of fermi: That there “must “be an infinite number of paralell universes , so that by THEIR logic , there MUST be one at least -ours – which is goldilocks , all becuase there CAN’t be a creator and”we” can’t even wait to see if present scientific advances won’t delay the question.
    Pathetic, fun tho the IDEA of paralell universes is. These people spent not enough of their teens reading everything, inc.Science fiction.

  • Richard

    Fermi’s paradox was developed as a means of saying that there are billions of planets so there but be million of aliens out there but because no one has contacted us we must be the only ones. It was not developed to prove there was a lot of life. Oddly enough Enrico Fermi was a staunch believer that we were not alone in the cosmos.

    Also I am always amazed that when this discussion comes up most people think in earth terms, earth physics and well……….like earthlings. Why would an alien race need to develop rockets, just because we did does not mean other races would have done the same. Maybe they would have developed antigravity machines right off the bat or maybe they developed electromagnetic energy without ever using fossil fues.

    Einstein imposed a speed limit on the universe which most people have bought into, you can rest assured that that speed limit will be broken many times over by earthlings and maybe an alien race never imposed a speed limit on their potential abilities. On a side not NASA discovered portals in 2012 which transport magnetic fields between the earth and the sun, they believe they can now findout when and where these fields open up. Einstein’s speed limit may look like driving on the freeway at 10 mph in a few short years. Take a look at

    The creation, development and evolution of an alien species may be so vastly different from what we understand that anything is possible.

    One last note (I am a catholic and devoutly believe in the creator) if there are many, maybe thousands of planets with different alien species does that mean that Jesus died on the cross on each one of these planets or God only send his son to earth to save mankind!

  • Maolsheachlann O Ceallaigh

    A science fiction story I have sometimes contemplated; we make contact with extra-terrestrial life, and while they have no interest at all in our science and very little interest in our art or other accomplishments, they are (to the horror and disgust of scientific rationalists) utterly enthralled by the story of Christ, which has no parallel in their world/s.

  • Anne

    The subject of time in eternity is interesting. God lives in the eternal now, but then he always was and always will be, he is existence itself. We, however, had a beginning. Time is marked by change. So even though time in eternity will not be as it is in this mortal life, there must be some measure of time. How else do we explain Purgatory? You go, you do your time and you leave… Maybe if you have the time and the inclination, you could write an article on this?

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I’ll think about it :-) Interesting question

  • Michael

    ” We all want something big to worship and the materialist, who doesn’t have anything to worship, is in awesome wonder at the bigness of time and space.”

    Not only do some of us not want something big to worship, some of us don’t need it either.
    “It could be that this earth is the staging ground for all that matters in the cosmos. It may well be that this planet is the battleground where the cosmic battle between good and evil reaches it’s climax.” Science, since Copernicus, has been a continually moving of humanity from the center of creation to the peripheral. We are one species, that has existed for perhaps 100,000 years on a non descript planet around an ordinary star is one arm of a 100 billion star galaxy that is one galaxy among 100 billion. But we want importance, we want to be central, we want meaning. And we’re too proud to accept otherwise.

    It’s a large, cold, empty universe and as far as anyone knows we are alone in it. It’s time to put our myriad beliefs in Gods aside and work to help each other by doing meaningful actions rather than expect a God to give us purpose and importance.

  • Samuel

    The best book I’ve ever read on the subject was “Rare Earth” by Peter Ward. It argues from a purely scientific perspective that we may be the only life in the universe. I’ve never been able to wrap myself around the quest for life on other planets myself. Our rather sad history of how we handle the discovery of new peoples shows that (if finding ourselves the superior race) we then proceed to dehumanize the natives (in this case the “natives” would truly be non-human) then exploit them and their resources. Who’s to say in this instance though that we’d be the “superior” being? While all this makes for a few interesting thoughts, I think that currently our focus should be more on ending world hunger, sustainable agriculture, as well as proper management of natural resources. This is what I believe the gospel instructs us to do if taken to heart.

  • Darren

    ”I am no physicist, but I believe that distance and space is also determined by time, for distance can only be measured by the time it would take to get there. I hope those who know more about such things will correct me…”

    To take you at your word…

    The claim that space depends in some manner upon motion or time is false.

    One can imagine a particle moving through a distance with a certain velocity, and requiring an amount of time to complete the trip. Dividing the journey into segments of equal duration, say ten equal slices, the space remains constant, the energy of the system, equal to the velocity multiplied by the mass, also remains constant, yet the motion is divided along with the time.

    Examining a single slice of duration, one tenth of the whole, we can further divide this into tenths. And then again, and then again, thousands, millions of times if need be, until we approach zero time.

    Time has stopped, motion has stopped, change has stopped, since these are all time dependent, but space, mass, and energy are all unchanged.

    Really, it is simpler even that that. Grandma’s house may be sixty miles away, and it may take me sixty minutes on the highway to get from here to there, but those sixty miles do actually exist, as independent real things. They do not get bigger if I drive slower. They do not disappear if I choose not to drive at all.

    Astronomical distances are no different, just larger. We could measure them with a ruler if we wanted, but it is more convenient to use timed radio waves.

    One measurement that is widely used, and quite independent of time, is parallax, the difference in angle between two observations, to compute distances. This is how the distance from the Earth to the Sun was originally derived, and it is used today for the 100,000 or so closest stars.

  • Michael

    Space and time are not distinct, according to relativity. They appear as separate entities and speeds low compared to the speed of light but as one approaches the speed of light time and space ( as well as mass) display some fascinating interconnections.

    Also Darren, your Zeno paradox example of dividing up time bay tents repeatedly was handled by infinite series in math.

  • Christian

    “It’s time to put our myriad beliefs in Gods aside and work to help each other by doing meaningful actions rather than expect a God to give us purpose and importance.”

    Have you ever read Ecclesiastes? I mean, I know it’s from the Bible, but it’s worth a read. Solomon kicks off by proclaiming everything meaningless and examines different areas of life before concluding that everything is indeed meaningless. Obviously, Solomon was one of those Judeo-Christian theistic types, so he did believe in the existence of a God and gained his purpose in life from what he believed about God.

    Out of curiosity, what sort of meaningful actions are you thinking of? Feeding people? Clothing them? Working toward world peace? Okay, but the universe will render every human that ever exists into a corpse. In your metaphysics, to do anything at all is a completely useless struggle in the face of entropy.

    I appreciate y’all secular humanist types because, as Chesterton would put it, you have “a flag in the world”. Unlike nihilists, you still believe that there’s something worth doing, worth working toward, worth fighting for. I like that. Feel free to embrace a metaphysics that’s actually able to grant your desires and actions some kind of meanings. (Preferably Catholicism, but honestly, anything would be a better start than secular humanism.)

  • Darren

    Yes, thus the term space-time.

    Relativity establishes that space and time are less constant than we believe, and related, but not that they are contingent upon each other in the manner that “zero time = zero space” would require. One might be tempted to think in terms of a singularity, where time and space are compressed, but singularities are just those points where the model breaks down into incoherence. Even then, time dilates, stretching as it where, but in no manner stopping except as perceived by an external observer. Approaching relativist velocities, time again dilates, as space compresses and mass increases with the accumulated energy, but the time effect is only from the point of view a ‘stationary’ observer.

    Not Zeno’s paradox, despite resemblances, but calculus. As time approaches zero, time dependent functions may approach zero or infinity, depending upon the location of the time element in the equation, but time independent functions remain constant: space, energy, mass.

    Fr. Longenecker seems to be after describing God’s realm “outside” of time and pondering a similar outside of space. Space and time being only intelligible from the standpoint of being ‘inside’ the universe, I am not sure such a connection is needed: a timeless, non-material realm would seem to imply non-dimensionality as well.

    My comment addressed only the laws within the universe itself. It is a regrettable, and common, misperception engendered, I suspect, by the term “light-year” that cosmic distances are somehow related to the time it would require to traverse them. Were we to use parsec instead, with its basis on nothing more than simple geometry, I suspect this misunderstanding would be less common.

  • Darren

    You are absolutely correct to point out that they are connected, though, BTW.

    Not conversant with infinite series, but really Zeno’s paradox only needs Newtonian mechanics, IMO, to solve. The key is that motion remains constant, irrespective of the time function. Thus, as time approaches zero, the velocity, being motion over time, approaches infinity at the same rate.

    This is counter-intuitive, and I have a habit of flipping my terms, motion .vs. velocity myself, as the human brain seems to work more along Aristotelian mechanics lines than Newtonian (and forget relativistic!).

  • Darren


    Doh! Of course, I was using infinite series and not even realizing it. Thanks for the refresher.

  • Michael

    Light year and parsec are both a measure of distance and are functionally equivalent (not numerically of course). In a Quantum world however one can’t have zero time because of Heisenburg’s uncertainty principle relating time and energy. (

  • Darren

    An excellent point about the uncertainty; this is a different formulation than I am familiar with, though after reviewing the linked page I am not sure how uncertainty in the simultaneous measurement of time and energy leads to the conclusion that there can be no zero time. It would seem to result in any absolutely certain measurement of time, which zero would have to be, to result in complete uncertainty as regards to energy, no more.

    My point about light years .vs. parsecs is that, yes, they are equivalent, to a scientist or one versed in science, but to the scientific laity, the inclusion of the “year” in the name engenders a great deal of confusion – perhaps you have never run across someone who seems to think a light year is also a unit of time… :)

    My hope had been that those who might be confused by relatively abstract (and modern) concepts like red-shift and standard candles might be more comfortable and better able to grasp cosmic distances established solely by good ole’ Pythagorean geometry.