I’d like to thank RRRGroup of the UFO Iconoclasts blog for bringing a recent (2000) document to my attention. The document concerns the SETI program and the implications for humanity should SETI succeed in making contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life. It is roughly 200 pages and is entitled, When SETI Succeeds: The Impact of High-Information Contact. The document was part of “The Humanity 3000 Knowledge Workshop and published by the Foundation for the Future. Academic luminaries from various disciplines, such as Brian Fagan (anthropology, UC-Santa Barbara), and Michio Kaku (CUNY), are on its board. I’ve posted the document HERE.
The document is worth reading in its entirely by all those who think seriously about ET contact and its implications (positive and negative) for humanity. Of particular interest to me in regard to this blog were two portions: (1) the short statement by physicist Paul Davies on “Transformations in Spirituality and Religion” (which is actually similar to something else I’ve seen published elsewhere and earlier); and (2) a more lengthy section entitled, “Roman Catholic Views of Extraterrestrial Intelligence” by Douglas A Vakoch. I’ll take discuss the Davies material here and the other in a subsequent blog post.
NOTE: I’ve criticized Davies before for muddled theological thinking, and this short statement does nothing to change my opinion. He ought to stick to physics, but at least he’s talking about the subject matter, which is more than I can say about most practicing Christians. For that he deserves kudos. My criticisms have come in a lecture I’ve given a number of times: “Can Christianity Accommodate and ET Reality?” Readers can click HERE for a video of my PowerPoint lecture — it’s just the slides, not the lecture.
Davies opens his comments with this statement:
Most surveys show that theologians and ministers of religion take a relaxed view of the possibility of extraterrestrials. They do not regard the prospect of contact as threatening to their belief systems. However, they are being dishonest. All the major world religions are strongly geocentric, indeed homocentric. Christianity is particularly vulnerable because of the unique position of Jesus Christ as God incarnate. Christians believe that Christ died specifically to save humankind. He did not die to save “little green men.”
Davies is right and wrong here. I’d agree that the major religions are geocentric, and that most theologians are being coy about the implications of ETI (ET intelligence). But his statement assumes that that Christianity’s teaching about the atonement somehow needs to include ETs, that some sort of doctrinal adjustment would have to be made in response to ETI. He’s wrong, largely because he (habitually it seems) equates spirituality with intelligence. The issue of the atonement concerns neither. Davies’ wording also implies that Christians might feel the need to view the incarnation differently, or that perhaps Christians might turn to viewing the ETs as gods, or on a par with God or Christ. Perhaps some who call themselves Christians might do one or more of these things, but anyone with an ounce of theological knowledge as it relates to Christianity wouldn’t feel compelled to do any of them. But maybe that’s a problem, since the Church these days isn’t exactly bulging with people who think carefully about their faith (or even want to).
Another statement shows the odd sort of way Davies defines spirituality and assumes that Christianity would follow suit:
It is reasonable to suppose that in advanced communities, genetic engineering would have been used to eliminate strongly criminal and antisocial behavior. In making contact with extraterrestrials, we would most likely be dealing with beings who are far in advance of us not only technologically and scientifically, but also, in the general sense, spiritually. Are we to suppose that humans are theologically favoured over and above these “saintly” beings?
Davies here equates the elimination of antisocial or criminal behavior with spirituality. That isn’t terribly coherent. So . . . the nicer or more law-abiding someone is the more spiritual they are? The notion that the absence of negative behavior makes one saintly is also specious. In Christian theology, holiness (“saintliness”) and spirituality have to do with submission to (really, love for) God. One can be sociable and have no criminal record and be completely indifferent to spiritual things-even the least common denominator Davies (and Oprah) are talking about. For Davies and Oprah (!), spirituality apparently means thinking about the cosmos and our place in it, or entertaining “big picture” questions that are not focused on the mundane aspects of life (and being nice and staying out of jail). I’d say those items are just one component of spirituality. Christian spirituality is much broader. The focus is God/Christ. Its aim to live in accord with the teachings of Jesus, and be submissive to those teachings-including the DOCTRINES that Jesus taught the apostles and they in turn disseminated. Davies and Oprah theology say nothing about doctrine, no doubt because doctrine distinguishes and separates Christians from other religions, say Islam or Buddhism.
Davies shows his (Christian) theological unfamiliarity in his next statement as well:
The alternative–that God became incarnate on planet after planet–not only has an air of absurd theatricality to it, it is also a heresy in Catholicism. Even if contact is unsuccessful, the mere possibility of the existence of “saintly” extraterrestrials will eventually force a radical rethinking of Christian theology, and could cause a split in the Church towards support for SETI.
I’d agree that the idea that Jesus needs to be incarnated, die, and be resurrected on every planet is absolutely silly. Had Davies any acquaintance with the New Testament, though, he’d never offer such nonsense. The atonement is aimed at humans and humans only. Why? Because only humans fell from grace in Eden. Angels are intelligent (and social, and I don’t recall any being in jail in the New Testament) and certainly “spiritual” but were not included in the atonement, even when some of them turned evil. Why not? Same reason as I just noted. In Christian theology, only humanity is under the curse and has moral guilt from the fall needing to be reversed by faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. Everything else in creation suffers residual effects of the fall (the loss of paradise), but has no moral guilt.
If you watch the PowerPoint video you’ll note that I address the idea Davies interjects. It was actually an argument developed by the famous deist and founding father, Thomas Paine. It was as bogus then as it is now. ET, if he is real, would not be under the fall, have no need of a savior, and, with the rest of a creation suffering the effects of a fall, reap the benefits of a renewed creation. This is basic biblical theology. Consider Colossians 1:13-20 –
13 He [God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son [Jesus], 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
I want to close this by giving Davies some credit. He makes one profound statement, which has nothing to do with Christianity. It’s something I’ve been saying a long time, too:
In my view, atheists can consistently believe in extraterrestrial beings only if they accept the panspermia hypothesis, since that combines the assumption of life forming purely by chance against enormous odds, with its widespread prevalence in the universe . . . If life were discovered elsewhere, even at the level of bacteria, establishing a panspermia mechanism would become a key priority for atheists.
Anyone who has seen the recent Ben Stein movie, EXPELLED, would recall the scene where Richard Dawkins notes that, even if intelligent design were real, it would only be because of extraterrestrial designers, not God.
Nice to see someone else saw that coming.