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Confronting aliens: A believer on the existence of extra-terrestrials

ALIEN

Beckie | CC BY 2.0

Russell E. Saltzman - published on 02/25/18

Could we sit down with them and exchange notions of science and divinity?

Is intelligent life in the universe common — or do we live alone in the universe on this small, small planet? For most astronomers and cosmologists the answer, always confident, is that there must be intelligent life elsewhere. It is almost an issue of faith, presented of course as science.

Certainly if you follow the movies, we are neither alone nor spiritually bereft. Alien contact in much science fiction will change us, save us, fish us out of our humanity.  

If I were asked this week for a science fiction screenplay, I think it would be more adventurous to assume there are no aliens lurking about, nobody ready to intervene in the human story from Out There. I wonder what it would mean to find that we are not only alone, but utterly alone.

There is science suggesting exactly that, but it doesn’t make a very good movie. My guess is cosmologists and movie makers would find this too depressing. Nearly every cosmologist wants something — somebody — Out There. They want intelligent life elsewhere, everywhere, because otherwise we are home alone in a very big and a very lonely universe. We want company.

In a world that has lost the idea of a God whose presence fills the void of space, hope has shifted to Somebody Else Out There, even if it is alien flesh and alien blood. It is simply too, too demoralizing to think that when we look out to the night sky there is no one looking back, or sending us coded messages our radio telescopes will detect. 

Isn’t it supremely conceited for anyone to believe that this earth — located on a back alley arm of an average galaxy — should be the sole center of thinking life? That our earth is the only earth producing the only signs of intelligence in the universe, coming from this planet, this solar system, this galaxy, this one universe?

Finding conscious intelligence, incidentally, would finally put to rest the religionist’s ultimate conceit of special creation, the idea that we are special to a Creator, or that there even is a creator in the very first place. 

Theologians call this conceit the “scandal of particularity.” This is the observation that when God wishes to make himself known, he does not deal with the cosmos in a standard, predictable way, but in a particular way, and sometimes so peculiar that it seems designed to offend. 

The offense is that God uses particular times and particular places, and above all particular persons to touch the whole of his creation. For all of God’s particularity, however, he does not seem especially choosey in his choices. That particularity, so Christians argue, settles down to another insignificant back alley in the current history: a little town and a young girl, a nothing and a nobody.  

The scandal becomes even more particular because, Christians say, God transformed the entire course of the universe through that young girl in that little town, when Quirinius was governor and Augustus was emperor.

All done, argues the author of Hebrews, so that the entirety of creation comes to “reflect the glory of God and bears the very stamp of God’s nature, upholding the universe by the power of his Word” (1:3).

You know, on second thought, my sci-fi screen play would feature aliens, lots of aliens, all seeking the same truths of the universe as we. They would be astounded by the coincidence of numbers and values so precise that if the values were changed but a fraction of a fraction, the universe itself could not, would not exist.

The aliens I’m thinking of would regard all that as evidence of, well, in a word, a Word. Materialistic earthlings absolutely would confound and bewilder them, their tentacles going all a-flutter in perplexity. 

So my aliens would visit here to meet with our physicists and cosmologists, and our philosophers and ethicists, to see what sense we’ve made out of the numbers set plainly before us, to know what conclusions we’ve drawn from the evidence of our eyes, whether we seek Who or What “put the fire in the equations,” and perhaps to offer remedial instruction if we have not.

I know. Sounds like a dull film, aliens and earthlings sitting around exchanging notions of science and divinity and the connections between them. But at least my aliens wouldn’t say anything stupid like “Take us to your leader” or “Give us your women.”

But maybe they’d ask, “Where can we worship?”


TYSON AND COLBERT

Read more:
Neil deGrasse Tyson concurs: Catholicism is the science-friendly religion

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