Turing Test Easter Egg

Contestants in the Ideological Turing Test adopted a lot of different strategies, but I don’t know if anyone else was using mine. My college friends rib me a lot about my Mass attendance and apologetic readings; when I explain a bit of my theology readings, I often get sarcastic “When are you converting already?” So, when I sat down to write my Christian answers, I decided to give them a preview. Instead of imitating others and inventing a persona, I tried to answer quasi-honestly, giving the answers I would give if I had just decided the balance of proof lay on the Christian side. You can take a look back to get a sense of alternate-universe Leah, but the topic of today’s post is what I had to leave out of those answers.

As is often the case, I was in a sci-fi frame of mind when I tried to tackle the four Christian answers in the Ideological Turing Test, so, when I thought about the second question (What evidence or experience (if any) would cause you to stop believing in God?), I starting thinking about extraterrestrial, sentient life.  Doesn’t everyone?

I tried to imagine how I would react, if I were a Christian, to news of extraterrestrial, sentient life.  If they had a religion much like Christianity, if they had had their own Incarnation, that would be a lot to assimilate, but would also feel like strong evidence for my universal faith.  But if they hadn’t…

What if they had no knowledge of Christianity’s tenets?  What if they worshiped a brawling pantheon, Nature personified, or nothing at all?  What if they were from Krikkit?

I could imagine answers to these questions.  They might have been isolated up til now, but now Homo sapiens had the privilege and responsibility of bearing to them the Light of the World, the Word made Flesh.  Presumably they were in the position of the Gentiles, they were without sacraments or experience of God but had moral law written on their hearts for a guide.  Now, interstellar travel would bring them into the fullness of life with God.  The timing and mechanism of their awakening might appear arbitrary or unfair, but that was only our perspective from inside time.

I could think of these answers because they, or their variants are usually applied to questions about isolated tribes or, oh, anyone who died before the Incarnation (or who lived outside the light cone of the original evangelists).  If, as a Christian, I found the extraterrestrial hypothetical faith-shaking, I don’t see how I would withstand its parallel here on earth, so I had to cut it out of my good-faith, if-I-were-a-Christian answers.

No One Won The 'Underappreciated' Round of the 2015 ITT
The Judges Lose The Ritual Round of the ITT
It's Hard To Be A Priest In America, Spread Thinner Than Ever
Winner on the Tradition Round of the 2015 ITT
About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011 and lives in Washington DC. She works as a news writer for FiveThirtyEight by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06204114144456815104 Michael Haycock

    This is something I want to explore someday in a semi-scifi novel I want to write :)

  • Joe

    "Eifelheim" is just such a novel. It takes place in 12 century Germany. Its by Michael Flynn. It's really cool to read how the main character a very learned priest deals with the aliens philosopicaly and theologicaly. It was nominated for a Hugo Award

  • http://whatloveteaches.blogspot.com Slow Learner

    Seconded recommendation for Eifelheim. Great book; though it's actually set in the mid 14th century, just prior to the arrival of the Black Death.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Michael, you've always got a willing beta-reader in me!I've heard recommendations for Eifelheim a couple times, but it's not in the DC library catalogue, much to my disappointment.

  • http://www.soulsprawl.com Matt DeStefano

    @ MichaelSign me up to read that as well! I was hoping that movies like District 9 or other alien movies might explore that topic, even if it was very briefly… but to no avail!

  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com/ Brian Green

    Aliens! A GTU professor has done research on how Christians and other religious folks (and non-religious too) would respond to ETs, and the data was presented to the Royal Society. It made a very minor media splash. I also blogged about it, but then jumped off into questions about whether morality progresses and whether we are doomed to extinction.http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/gtu-professor-in-the-news-ted-peters-and-et/My post links to all the relevant reports and so-on. The basic findings were that Christians and other religious folks would not be upset by ETs, though non-religious folks think they would be.The interesting question he did not get into was the specifics of the ET's beliefs, which could, of course, change the outcome. There's also an SF book about a Jesuit who goes to evangelize aliens, but I can't remember much about it.

  • Iota

    Leah,You may want to read this (click). Unfortunately, I can't find free access to the official version of the full interview.

  • Iota
  • Joe

    Brian GreenThe book you are referring to is Called "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell It also has a sequel called "Children of God" I read the first one but not the second. The "Sparrow" is pretty good but mostly deals with cultural differences between the missionaries and the aliens. The book is set in the future so it was also interesting to see how the author thought current internal church politics would play out. I imagine the second book gets more into the religious issues.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01920357855016976985 croncor

    I've thought about this problem in the past. It's not that perturbing to me, since I don't really believe in extra-terrestrial intelligent life, but if there is any I do really enjoy Madeleine L'Engel's "Time Quartet".

  • Joe

    It really would be a mind blower if there was an alien race with an incarnation similar to ours. I can wrap my head around God wanting to redeem another race via an incarnation, but it would be a real trip to venerate both Our Lady and Their Lady as mothers of God

  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com/ Brian Green

    Religion and aliens are just so much fun together that I have to comment again.First, Joe, thanks for remembering the name of the book and the author.Second, assuming we someday meet aliens the first Christian question might be something like "did they have their own incarnation." I don't know the answer (duh), but what if they did, seems like a huge plus for Christianity's believability right? But what really intrigues me is the possibility of a false positive through convergent cultural evolution. Bracketing the existence of God, how likely is a false positive incarnation? Totally indeterminable, but nonzero. Such a religion evolved on earth. So a similar one could evolve spontaneously and naturalistically elsewhere. Aliens, I think, cannot be mentally very different from humans. Most people will think that sounds crazy, but think about all the other intelligent animals on Earth. Elephants, all the great apes, dolphins and corvids all have mirror self-recognition and yet not technology. There are some very specific brain adaptations that make a technological culture possible. They include some of the same things that make religion possible. So they will probably have religions, and likely not one but many. The idea of gods incarnating is not exclusive to Christianity even on Earth, so the aliens would probably have some religions with that idea. And if they had similar social conditions to Earth they could probably end up with a Christianity-analogue. So, once again, all bracketing the question of God, a false-positive would be extremely interesting, at least I think so.On a completely different note, the later books in the Ender's Game series had Catholic missionaries to aliens. I think Catholics often get in those stories because the Church has already contacted a "New World" once before. And I think people know it didn't go as well as it could have, so they like to re-imagine the scenario. Maybe.

  • http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com/ Brian Green

    Just to clarify, of the animals I listed above, some do use tools and even make tools. They have extremely low technology. So when I say they do not have technology I am overstating my point. I really mean that they are millions of years of brainpower away from spears and rudimentary clothing. They lack the hand-eye coordination, the conceptual ability, the sociality or inclination to easily learn things, the sense that objects can have fixed purposes, and so on. Animals do use tools and even have technological cultural traditions. But not like we do.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11111405959451703182 PhysicistDave

    Leah,The earliest (published in 1958) Jesuit-meets-aliens book I know of is James Blish’s A Case of Conscience: it addresses some interesting theological questions (e.g., What if an alien race did not undergo the Fall?).Blish’s Black Easter and Day After Judgment are also interesting and provide a novel take on the “God cannot not exist” thesis”: what happens if God goes on strike?Of course, some of us consider all theology to be sf!Dave

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01920357855016976985 croncor

    I just remembered C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, 1938; Perelandra, 1943; That Hideous Strength, 1945). They're great, and if you haven't read them you should! The first two in particular deal with the idea of un-fallen alien species. The third is just generally awesome.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01210899232931814200 JC

    With all the recommendations for reading so far–and many of these I've read and enjoyed–I almost feel bad about giving another. C.S. Lewis wrote a short essay, "Religion and Rocketry," in which he attempts to address extraterrestrials as a (potential) theological/philosophical problem.