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Vatican Debates Possibility of Alien Life 721

Posted by Soulskill
from the vulcan-jesus-raises-an-eyebrow dept.
Pickens writes "The Telegraph reports that the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences is holding its first ever conference on alien life, the discovery of which would have profound implications for the Catholic Church. For centuries, theologians have argued over what the existence of life elsewhere in the universe would mean for the Church. Among other things, extremely alien-looking aliens would be hard to fit with the idea that God 'made man in his own image' and Jesus Christ's role as savior would be confused; would other worlds have their own Christ-figures, or would Earth's Christ be universal? Just as the Church eventually made accommodations after Copernicus and Galileo showed that the Earth was not the center of the universe, and when it belatedly accepted the truth of Darwin's theory of evolution, Catholic leaders say that alien life can be aligned with the Bible's teachings. 'Just as a multiplicity of creatures exists on Earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God,' says Father Jose Funes, a Jesuit astronomer at the Vatican Observatory and one of the organizers of the conference. Others do not agree. 'If you look back at the history of Christian debate on this, it divides into two camps. There are those that believe that it is human destiny to bring salvation to the aliens, and those who believe in multiple incarnations,' says Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist. 'The multiple incarnations is a heresy in Catholicism.'"
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Vatican Debates Possibility of Alien Life

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 14, 2009 @09:16AM (#30096820)

    The hypothesis that no deity of any kind exists solves the problem in an unbeatably elegant fashion.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by xch13fx (1463819)
      I don't think it is elegant at all. What is elegant are all the amazing bio-machines that have been built here on earth. When you can make something as efficient and reliable as a human heart, or a computer as complex as the human brain you can be as arrogant as you want. Until then I'm gonna have to believe we were designed like we were on purpose.
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by sznupi (719324)

      It isn't that funny though.

      For entertainment, ask any worshippper of Abrahamic religion about the size and shape of God's penis (or Penis? ;p ) and see how they struggle with the concept of their deity having such "unclean" part.

      Also, ask them how existence of woman fits in (hint that their god might be a hermaphrodite)

    • take 500 random humans, put them on a desert island in isolation, and in a couple of dozen generations they will have an advanced religious mythology, definitely involving demigods if not a monotheism (and a couple of nonbelievers for good measure)

      repeat this experiment, and you will get a different religious mythology, but you will still have a religious mythology

      if you had a magic wand, and you waved it, and christianity, islam, judaism, hinduism, sikhism, etc. were magically stamped out, new religions wo

  • by sakdoctor (1087155) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @09:17AM (#30096824) Homepage

    We need money to build an interstellar cruiser. Now, this space ship will be able to travel through a wormhole and deliver the message and guh-glory of Jesus Christ to those godless aliens.
    S-send your money now. Amen.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 14, 2009 @09:31AM (#30096888)

      As a Catholic, I have a bit of a problem with this being filed under "humor". Yes, yes, most religious questions are a big joke to /. editors and posters (Cf. parent), but when institutions look as these low-level problems they frequently have
      a) a faction that gets it really wrong and embarasses the institution; and
      b) a faction that gets it right (or close) and enriches the institution

      "what are the ramifications if there are nonhuman beings who experience conscience and guilt?" is a fascinating question, just like

      "what are the ramifications if the earth goes 'round the sun"

      "what are the ramifications if indigenous people are fully human and have as much God-given dignity as Western Europeans?"

      etc.

    • by nurb432 (527695)

      Sort of like that old mini bus the church has down the street that they take to mexico during the summer?

  • Is it just me (Score:3, Insightful)

    by IrquiM (471313) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @09:19AM (#30096830) Homepage

    or is this just a "cover our own backs" maneuver to avoid what happened with Galileo, Copernicus and others? Those cases weren't exactly the best publicity they've had.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      or is this just a "cover our own backs" maneuver to avoid what happened with Galileo, Copernicus and others?

      No, because the universe is so fucking huge that the probability of aliens visiting Earth or humans visiting Rsdflkjasd is zero.

      There is extraterrestrial life - it's just that nobody will ever get to confirm it.

      I think Vatican is just trying to get some attention. Ever since the good pope died, nobody truly cared about them. The panzer pope just feels... vile.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by lena_10326 (1100441)

        No, because the universe is so fucking huge that the probability of aliens visiting Earth or humans visiting Rsdflkjasd is zero.

        And if near instantaneous travel is discovered? Technology in 2000 years will be unrecognizable to us. I wouldn't make that bet. Also, maybe we've been visited but we weren't interesting or habitable for visitors. Assume visitors would only be interested if we have technology. Human technology of any value we appreciate has only been in existence for a very narrow slice of time--se

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by geminidomino (614729) *

          And if near instantaneous travel is discovered?

          Given that *any* manifestation of the technology to do that would require harnessing massively amazingly awesome amounts of energy, if by some miracle it is discovered, I'm pretty sure it will be used to vaporize every creature on this rock before we go to an alien planet and GPs assertion holds on us going to Wwerqwdsrf.

          OTOH, I'm pretty sure we were visited. Once. Those guys went back and made sure everyone in all nearby galaxies knows that we're the Alabama of the quadrant. Now they just watch us from beh

    • by Schiphol (1168667)
      It doesn't need to be all driven by dishonesty. There may be also the sheer intellectual interest in knowing what follows from a body of doctrine once you add an extra ingredient. It's surely idle -for non-believers, I mean- but it may be an honest piece of harmless fun.
    • by KingSkippus (799657) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @09:55AM (#30097058) Homepage Journal

      This is one of the fundamental problems with modern religions.

      When religion and scientific evidence are in direct conflict with each other, enlightened people accept the scientific evidence. Enlightened religious people accept the scientific evidence and try to find ways to resolve it so that their religion remains logically consistent. (Yes, sometimes jumping through hoops to do so, but at least they don't look at scientists as some kind of evil tricksters or conspirators.)

      The dumb ones, though, continue to argue against the scientific evidence not because of any particular keen insight, but because of what they think they know about an invisible guy who reigns supreme and, for the most part, what a two-thousand-year-old book that was written in an ancient language by ancient people and interpreted through various political and theological lenses says.

      And, of course, most modern religions (and in particular, most modern people pushing it) are out there trying to convince people that if you question their interpretation of the "facts," that you'll burn in hell for eternity.

      The church shouldn't even be having this argument. Science points towards an almost certainty of intelligent alien life out there, even if we never meet it face-to-face. They need to resign themselves to the fact that it exists, and adjust their thought accordingly. A biblical reference to the "four corners of the earth" doesn't mean that the earth literally has four corners (i.e. it's flat). A biblical reference to God making man in his own image doesn't mean that the god they worship literally looks like we do.

      Duh.

      As for the whole Christ thing, well, I'm guessing that alien cultures probably have their own religions, and some of them are probably even more interesting than ours. If we ever do have the pleasure of meeting some of them, we'll probably do what we've done throughout our entire history of existence. Figure out some way to meld them together to make ourselves feel better about ourselves and go on with life.

    • For all the so called negative press religion gets, it sure seems to be on the increase. Make of that what you will.
  • by swamp boy (151038) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @09:20AM (#30096836)

    Normal folks think of aliens as being extraterrestrial. In this case, it's probably a study of non-Catholics.

  • The alien god (Score:2, Interesting)

    by el_jake (22335)
    God is an alien - no doubt - cause no human has laid eyes upon him. That should stop the debate.
  • by walmass (67905) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @09:30AM (#30096886)
    Vatican, the UN and the USAF already has been in contact with the aliens; this conference is just to prep the world for the breaking news.

    If you don't believe me, check out V on ABC (in the USA)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MtViewGuy (197597)

      It's not as ridiculous as you think because if you're an intelligent alien life form and you want to eventually reveal yourself publicly to the world, who would you want to contact first? Besides political leaders and military leaders, it has to be the highest religious authorities because such a revelation would cause a gigantic shock in the belief system of the locals living on that planet. As such, I would not be surprised if the extraterrestrials may have been quietly communicating with the likes of the

  • The catholic church could deal with the multiple species thing where other species look different, from other planets, by simple acknowledge that God has many forms and can take the form of many different species which represents different aspects and characteristics of god. God can be seen as life itself , the consciouisness and soul in all living things, the world arises from this infinite consciousness from its infinite potential to create reality. So in a sense we are living in our own collective dream.

  • by turbidostato (878842) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @09:36AM (#30096922)

    Current Catholic theology is the result of about 1500 years where some of the most powerful minds of occident contributed to build a quite solid intellectual building. It might be based on nonsenses but still it's internal coherence and its resistance to foreign attacks is quite good.

    "extremely alien-looking aliens would be hard to fit with the idea that God 'made man in his own image'"

    Surely it would be a problem for those too literalist (the ones that really believe the universe was built in six days, Noah's ark, Metusellah living 600 years, etc.) but for Catholics, God's image has nothing to be with having two arms or five and two heads or breathing liquid methane; it's about self identity and the thought of our own transcendence so probably any intelligent alien (non self-concious non-intelligent alien life pose no problem) would still fit the definition.

    "Jesus Christ's role as savior would be confused"

    Minor problem: Rome would say that each intelligent species would take its own path towards or against salvation and that's all. Regarding the heaven chores (angels and all that stuff) they are both real things and methapores of the relationship with divinity and you are done.

    "would other worlds have their own Christ-figures, or would Earth's Christ be universal?"

    Both stanzas are true at the same time. Literally that would be no problem for Catholic church, after all its God is one and three at the same time; logically it's still not a big problem: the path to redemption (or the lack of) would be tied to the local History of those aliens; they either don't need redeption (rationally that could be the case, of course I don't think Rome would accept that; they would be out of job), or they found their own path or they came to know about us so they can learn about Christ and share our own redemption (they know *now* that Christ did die for them to so their souls can be saved etc.).

    "says Father Jose Funes, a Jesuit astronomer "

    Of course, it had to be a Jesuit. Quite clever folks, those Jesuits.

    "The multiple incarnations is a heresy in Catholicism"

    Yes. But since God is uber-everything (almighty, omniscient...) it's easy to acomodate the idea that there are a lot of different ways for a mere mortal to be made in God's image (and even real reincarnations might be accepted by Catholics if aliens are involved; they'd just say that it's no "real" incarnation but kind of larval state: just as a worm and a butterfly seem very different but they still are the same individual you might incarnate on an alien or the other way around and still being accepted as being the same individual -that wouldn't be too hard a problem for Catholics: Christ showed us there was live beyond human death, etc.).

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

      God's image has nothing to be with having two arms

      Then Michaelangelo has some 'splaining to do.

    • by lwsimon (724555) <lyndsy@lyndsysimon.com> on Saturday November 14, 2009 @10:16AM (#30097202) Homepage Journal

      Being raised Catholic, I questioned the idea of alien life. My priest got a little bit exasperated at times, but he sat and explained the catechism to me, and there is no problem with accepting aliens. Further, the Church would not necessarily even want or need to convert them, regardless of their religion.

      Christianity holds that man fell from grace in the Garden of Eden, where he was tricked into consuming fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, against God's commandment. If He created an alien species, then they may have never been exposed to the concept, or they may have followed His commandment. Having never fallen from grace, they would have no need for a savior, and therefore no Jesus Christ.

      As the parent said - the premises may be flawed, but Catholic Catechism is quite internally consistent.

    • God has no image.... (Score:3, Informative)

      by mario_grgic (515333)

      Since he has no body, so what is meant by "created in his image" is more to do with our sentience, consciousness and knowledge of good and evil. This is how we are like him. Kind of like if we were to create a sentient program, who is "in our image" but looks like a computer.

  • Why are they wasting time with this, do they know something the general pubic hasn't been told yet?

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

      Why are they wasting time with this

      The Catholic Church is planning a big product tie-in with District 9.

      On Sunday, there will be a code printed on each host that's good for a download of a special limited edition trailer.

  • I've encountered people who think that the discovery of intelligent alien life would completely upset the apple cart of Christianity, "proving" that it was all a bunch of hogwash. But it wouldn't. There's nothing anywhere in Genesis that says that there are no other "people", and it's not as if this would be the first time that a New World was discovered. To be sure, there'd be some challenging theological questions to wrestle with, such as whether the Original Sin of Eve tainted their world, or some anc

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

      the discovery of intelligent alien life would completely upset the apple cart of Christianity, "proving" that it was all a bunch of hogwash.

      It's a little late.

  • "Just as a multiplicity of creatures exists on Earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God."

    I am agnostic, and I have no problem with this line of reasoning. The presence of aliens neither proves nor disproves the existence of God, from a philosophical point of view. The 'smart' religion is the adaptable one. If you want to keep your followers and expand your base, you need to keep your belief systems up-to-date. This is a very smart thing for the Catholic church to do. Now

  • The Catholics should start with dolphins, who are arguably as intelligent as humans, but not tool users, and alien in their thought processes and communications mode. Frankly chimps are close enough to at least spark a debate.

    And what of lawyers and politicians? Do they *have* souls? Is it possible?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mog007 (677810)

      Dolphins are no where near as intelligent as humans. The second smartest animals on earth would be both species of chimp.

  • Third group (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by argent (18001)

    If you look back at the history of Christian debate on this, it divides into two camps. There are those that believe that it is human destiny to bring salvation to the aliens, and those who believe in multiple incarnations

    What about the possibility that alien species have not Fallen or suffered from Original Sin?

  • by Shag (3737) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @09:49AM (#30097020) Homepage

    It's been 425 years since Bruno argued in De l'Infinito, Universo e Mondi [altervista.org] (Italian; use Google translate) that the universe was infinite and contained innumerable stars, with countless planets around them, some containing life.

    He was pretty far ahead of his time... far enough ahead that in 1600 the Church had him burned at the stake. Good to see they're getting round to considering his ideas, albeit a little bit belatedly.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bjackson1 (953136)

      Except, of course, he wasn't burned at the stake for anything to do with an infinite universe or aliens... From what I can read on Wikipedia it had to do with public heresy none of which seem directly related to anything scientific. Also, the Catholic Church did not execute them, the secular authorities did, against the advice of the Church.

      I'm not saying it's a particurally glorious moment in the history of the Church, but a march against science isn't what it was.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

        A march against reason is a march against science. And, wow, you must not be reading the same Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] as I am. It is very clear that the church was the murderer, and after seven years of holding him captive and threatening him, they then used the state as the gun.

        Fuck the church. It should be destroyed like it destroyed so many countless innocents.

  • If they tought that God were almighty and everywhere, they could still think that, just put up several orders of magnitude how much powerful must be. And, of course, stop thinking on it as an human form.

    Or go to Clarke's law for religion, any sufficiently powerful entity is indistinguishable from God and redefine that we had just one, not "the" god in universal scale.

    Or just think.

    Religion is a good tool, but dont have to be the truth.
  • ...That I read the title as "Vulcan Debates Possibility of Alien Life?"
  • Argh! Can't... find... anything... to... say... that's... more... funny... than what they're already saying!

    The holy book heads' battle with science a.k.a. lucency a.k.a. anti-brainwash a.k.a. non-bullshit is much akin to a talking monkey trying to explain the passing of seasons as somehow being ultimately tied to the taste of bananas.

    They're just so funny!

    Except, of course, when they go postal with the crusading, and the suicide bombing, and the child molestation, and the... Ah well, maybe it's not so funn

  • Keep It Simple (Score:4, Insightful)

    by b4upoo (166390) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @10:11AM (#30097180)

    The Catholics need not confront alien life issues at all. The idea that God's truth had to be delivered to the population of this world in such a way that they could understand and make use of it is sufficient. Can any of us imagine a Holy book being delivered two thousand years ago that babbled about relativity, the Higg"s Boson or multi dimensional universes?
                  We can trust that the message has been delivered to others in a format that they can both understand and make use of.

    • Re:Keep It Simple (Score:5, Interesting)

      by KGBear (71109) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @10:36AM (#30097360) Homepage
      Or maybe someone on this other planet 2,000 thousand years ago compiled a bunch of thousand-year-old stories and attributed the result to the creator of the Universe. Then over the next 500 years or so a group of people schemed to get to the top of their society by carefully editing the stories, leaving out whole books of it and only including what they could use. Then they controlled their world for the next 1,000 years or so by using careful doses of applying the resulting book and torturing and killing people who disagreed with them. Then some people finally started waking up and learning to think for themselves and maybe the original people who were oppressed by the holders of the book have now ascended to the top of the societal pyramid and are terrified of not having oppressors and tyrants telling them what to do, so they vote and influence policy to try and force everybody under the rule of that original book again, which in the meantime has lost all of its meaning and can be interpreted to mean anything at all. Just saying. This is just the kind of thing that could happen on an alien world in a bad Sci Fi plot, isn't it?
  • by popo (107611) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @11:01AM (#30097546) Homepage

    Christians, please be aware that the intergalactic god, Zul-9 is the "one and only God". The alien crusaders are coming to spread the Word of the Great God Zul-9, and they want your churches, cathedrals and your women.

    And if you silly Christians want "proof" that Zul-9 is the only God, then you can read it for yourself in the Biblio Galactica -- where it's written in clear, concise Zorgox "There is no God but Zul-9. All other gods are His sexual playthings -- until he eats them like crumpets with his afternoon tea."

    Any evidence that the Cathoilc church attempts to put forward in an effort to discredit Zul-9 are words of the Devil (The evil "Byxaplaximax") and are but mere examples of obfuscation used by the Forces of Evil to cloud the One True Word of Zul-9. (It is common knowledge that the entire Bible was penned by an incredibly drunk Byxaplaximax in a weak effort to stifle Zul-9.)

    To any Catholics who suddenly believe that their god may have created life elsewhere in the Universe, Zul-9 has proclaimed the following words: "Jesus H. Christ, stop trying to change up your stodgy little screed to encompass new scientific data which clearly disproves your stodgy little screed. There is no god but me, and you should know that because I've already buggered and devoured your god and he needed salt." (From the Book of the Book of St. Pogax-7).

    And if there are any Catholics who cling to their religion in spite of the overwhelming evidence that they are uneducated monkeys, Zul-9 would like to remind these unbelievers that they have to "have faith".

It is the quality rather than the quantity that matters. - Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. - A.D. 65)

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