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Vatican Astronomer Comments On Extraterrestrials 1312

An anonymous reader writes "There's an Astrobiology.net interview up with a Vatican astronomer, Guy Consolmagno, who also curates one of the world's largest meteorite collections. On the possibility of a non-terrestrial lifeform, he says initially 'I don't know', followed by three scenarios. First, he argues: 'We find an intelligent civilization and there's no way in creation we can communicate with them because they're so alien to us. We can't talk to dolphins now. In which case, we'll never know.' Secondly, he suggests: 'We find the intelligent civilization. We can communicate.' As agents of free-will, the aliens are self-aware of good and evil, thus convertible to some terrestrial religion. Thirdly: 'We find a dozen civilizations out there, and a bunch of Jehovah's witnesses go up and convert them all.' The question of whether an alien civilization might convert Earth to their religion, or become a religion unto themselves, is left unconsidered. This compares to the many reasons people give for hosting a SETI@home client, including that ET contact would unite humanity, challenge religion, or all of the above."
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Vatican Astronomer Comments On Extraterrestrials

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:41AM (#9136933)
    We discover intelligent life up there immeasurably superior to ourselves and they become our new gods.
    • Re:Or how about (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Volmarias ( 705460 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:49AM (#9136970) Homepage Journal
      Despite the funny rating on this post, it probably is the truth. People will "interpret" the bible to mean that extraterrestrials are really angels; they're servants of God that guided us through the ages. Unfortunately, it is certain that there will be a bunch of loonies who also feel that extraterrestrials are obviously demons; man was made in God's image, after all. These are simply tests from above to see how we will adapt.
      • Re:Or how about (Score:5, Interesting)

        by kamapuaa ( 555446 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:57AM (#9137019) Homepage
        The Western notion of God means the being is all-powerful, morally perfect, and the creator of the universe. It's difficult to believe people would start bowing down, like it was C3PO with the Ewoks...

        There's already a lot of people who believe in Grey Aliens, but I haven't heard of people interpreting these Greys to be Christian angels or demons.

        • Re:Or how about (Score:5, Insightful)

          by krymsin01 ( 700838 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:05AM (#9137045) Homepage Journal
          That's funny, I have [thewatcherfiles.com], several [alien-ufos.com] times. [mt.net]

          Then again, if you go looking for them you'll find someone who believes anything you can come up with.
          • by daveashcroft ( 321122 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @06:37AM (#9137373)
            Ahhhhhhh, i get it.....youre talking about scientology! All hail Xenu the intergalactic soul collector - just see Operation Clambake [http]

            I wonder how long it will take the scientology monkeys to order slashdot to delete this post.
            • Re:Or how about (Score:4, Informative)

              by the_mad_poster ( 640772 ) <shattoc@adelphia.com> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:43AM (#9138041) Homepage Journal

              Most people here, these days, probably don't even remember the squabble [slashdot.org] over the scientology post.

              Thing is, however, the reader posted a chunk of copyrighted text (who the hell copyrights their own religion?) and the scientologists used the DMCA to cut it down.

              You, on the other hand, merely pointed out that the scientologists are, in yours, and mine, and pretty much all sane people's opinions, a bunch of babbling loons.

              If anyone from the church of scientology would like to contact me and try to argue against my opinion, my e-mail address is available with this post (a package deal!). Feel free. I need a good laugh.

              • Re:Or how about (Score:4, Insightful)

                by Pseudonym ( 62607 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @09:12AM (#9138314)
                Thing is, however, the reader posted a chunk of copyrighted text (who the hell copyrights their own religion?) and the scientologists used the DMCA to cut it down.

                Most religions would fall over backwards for the chance to teach you about what they believe. Scientologists would rather that you didn't know what they believe, but want you to join anyway. And people think this is a real religion?!

              • by Jesrad ( 716567 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @12:08PM (#9140424) Journal
                You, on the other hand, merely pointed out that the scientologists are, in yours, and mine, and pretty much all sane people's opinions, a bunch of babbling loons.

                Hey, I resent this ! We, discordians, are the real bunch of babbling loons, not those scientoschmientologists.
        • Re:Or how about (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Katravax ( 21568 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @06:24AM (#9137329)
          You obviously haven't been reading Christian publications. It's a belief among many Christians, that "aliens" are fallen angels and/or demons. There are plenty of web sites, radio shows, and speeches given on the subject. The same things written about fallen angels thousands of years ago (kidnapping, cross-breeding, trading technology for access) is supposedly the same things the "aliens" are doing even now. If you beleive in both, it's an easy parallel to make.
        • The question of whether an alien civilization might convert Earth to their religion, or become a religion unto themselves, is left unconsidered.

          I heard about a religion a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The priests of this religion wore plain brown robes and carried sabers made out of light. They were (supposed to be) good and kind and helped fight evil.

          I've never even met this alien civilization and I already want to convert to Jedi. :-)
      • by TheLoneCabbage ( 323135 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @06:57AM (#9137484) Homepage
        Just because we are (inevitably) steeped in Christian culture does not meen that every religion (here on earth) conforms to the same basic models.

        In the given question of how religions would respond to this 'new' reality, I think would fair quite nicely. Budism and Hinduism would have little if any problem with this, and would probably brag about their general philosophy of univeralism. Jews would find some 2,000 year old comment, saying that they always knew this. Muslims would most likely be outraged. Aithiests would have an absolute fit, when they translated the alien pledge of aliegence. And the Georga school board may finally allow the teaching of evolution (that the Aliens came from apes).

        The basic need for faith, in something, by far exceeds the need to keep ones world view intelectualy honest.

        And maybe that's a good thing.

        ps. Even if *WHEN* we discover ET, that doesn't prove or disprove anything other than ETs do exist, and really prefer M&Ms over Reeces-Peeces.

    • by ninja0 ( 764532 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:52AM (#9136988)
      More fun would be if we discover intelligent life immeasurably inferior to ourselves and we become their new gods :)
      • Re:Or how about (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Micro$will ( 592938 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:19AM (#9137118) Homepage Journal
        McCoy: Just once, I'd like to beam down on some planet and say. "Behold, for I am the arch angel Gabriel!"
        Spock: I fail to see the humor in that doctor.

        Something even more amusing would be the discovery of aliens that take offence to the fact we don't believe in their god and start blowing us up. Oh wait, that happens right here...
        • Re:Or how about (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ratamacue ( 593855 )
          Or we could go on a blood-ridden crusade for empire, leaving behind an endless stream of destruction and innocent deaths, which enrages the victims who start to believe that in the name of revenge, they posess the "right" to attack innocent people too. Oh wait, that's happening right here.
    • Re:Or how about (Score:5, Informative)

      by Eggplant62 ( 120514 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @07:13AM (#9137580)
      We discover intelligent life up there immeasurably superior to ourselves and they become our new gods.

      This material's been done.

      Since the calendars have been fucked around by the Conspiracy, 1998 hasn't arrived yet and the space critters from Planet X are yet to arrive (or "Bob" fucked up and transcribed 8991 as 1998, the year of the Rupture). However, once they do, they're only concern is to take this planet as the valuable resource it really is. They rescue all the Subgenii and whisk them off the planet to have sex with space goddesses with three pussies and fifteen tits, and destroy all the Pinks infesting

      Anyway, that's what it says in The Book of the Subgenius. You decide.

      Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.
  • I doubt it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ckwop ( 707653 ) * <Simon.Johnson@gmail.com> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:42AM (#9136939) Homepage

    As agents of free-will, the aliens are self-aware of good and evil, thus convertible to some terrestrial religion

    Even if Aliens know the difference between right and wrong but they might not be able to understand the concept of god. Even if the did understand god I doubt you could convert a space faring race to any of our religions in their current form. It makes the earth too special and they'd probably wouldn't take kindly to that. I do suspect religion will transform in to a 'many games of chess' set-up. Adam and Eve was Earth's story. Kalcknor and voltak was Vulcan's story etc etc.


    • Re:I doubt it (Score:4, Insightful)

      by rodgerd ( 402 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:11AM (#9137073) Homepage
      If they do know the difference between good and evil, it's unlikely they'd convert to most Earth religions. Too much of a track record re: killing unbelievers.
    • Is it that likely? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by zoney_ie ( 740061 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:12AM (#9137078)
      Looking at it from the point of view of someone who is a Christian, it is hard to see how Aliens would be like us. Either:

      They've never screwed up like we did and had the 'Fall' - so they have no concept of good or evil - in which case I doubt any meeting would be allowed to occur. My other problem with this is that the Bible, and the world around us, suggests that creation has also been affected by our mistake. There's far too much in nature that "isn't right" as people say.


      They have had their own equivalent of the fall, and are just like us, the kind of Aliens you don't want to meet (think we'd avoid war in that scenario?). Considering the unique role of Jesus Christ, this would also be unlikely to be allowed by God.

      I guess there's a third scenario too. The Bible isn't particularly specific on where angels and demons are (though they do business on Earth already). It is possible that some supposed UFO or alien encounters are a result of this. It's not entirely impossible, especially considering the apocalyptic sections of the Bible, that as part of some end times scenario, people beleive that we have encountered aliens (with the reality being more sinister).

      Personally, the distance to our nearest stars, which may not even support life, looks suspiciously like a "buffer zone".

      I'm sure that to those who do not beleive in any of the Bible, or in God, or Jesus, this sounds like nonsense. Hopefully its interesting though, and won't be modded down simply by those disagreeing. Also it would be interesting the different opinion that other beleivers have, not necessarily agreeing I'm sure!
      • by LittleBigLui ( 304739 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @06:02AM (#9137265) Homepage Journal
        Considering the unique role of Jesus Christ, this would also be unlikely to be allowed by God.

        Hmm. So Jesus died for our sins but didn't die for their sins, and they didn't have their own Jesus either? This can only mean that god loves us so much more than he loves them.

        I don't have to tell you what that kind of thinking usually leads to, do I? (hints: crusades, 9/11, war, torture, genocide, holocaust, terrorism)
        • by smchris ( 464899 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @07:40AM (#9137714)
          So Jesus died for our sins but didn't die for their sins, and they didn't have their own Jesus either?

          They'd have angels too. They're called Vorlons.
      • by kale77in ( 703316 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @06:30AM (#9137349) Homepage

        There is, of course, an existing tradition of Christian thought on extraterrestrial life.

        C.S. Lewis' Cosmic Trilogy is probably the best known example: Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra took H.G. Wells as its point of departure and speculated upon other world in which the corruption and redemption of humanity and nature had followed different courses. (I never got far into Vol. 3, so I can't recommend it.) Probably both are in a library near you.

        Going back a little farther, the poetry of the Catholic writer Alice Meynell (1847-1922) touched on a few of these themes, e.g. in 'Christ in the Universe':

        Nor, in our little day
        May his devices with the heavens be guessed,
        His pilgrimage to thread the Milky Way
        Or his bestowals there be manifest.

        But in the eternities,
        Doubtless we shall compare together, hear
        A million alien Gospels, in what guise,
        He trod the Pleiades, the Lyre, the Bear.

        Meynell's works are available online.

      • what if (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tanveer1979 ( 530624 )
        There is no god and the aliens know it for sure and can prove it also
        • Re:what if (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jsebrech ( 525647 )
          what if ... there is no god and the aliens know it for sure and can prove it also

          Then they will be considered tools of the devil, and most earthbound religions will move us towards war with them.

          To someone who believes religion forms the very essence of who they are. Most of the true believers can not be dissuaded from believing regardless of how strong your argument against God is. But ofcourse that is the whole point of faith, it is belief beyond reason.

          Humanity hasn't stopped fighting religious wars
      • by kalidasa ( 577403 ) * on Thursday May 13, 2004 @07:06AM (#9137541) Journal
        The Mormons had a solution to this problem: they imagine that Jesus visited North America, too. The "no fall" explanation is used in Lewis's books, particularly *Perelandra*. I'm afraid that the fundamental problem here is that those who imagine any kind of theodicy didn't have a grand enough vision of the scale of the universe: Christian theology (specifically the concept of the Incarnation) really wasn't designed to cope with a planet with separated hemispheres, let alone planetary systems separated by trillions of miles. You have to imagine either that there is no other life in the universe, or that only Earth Fell, or that the whole Universe Fell, but God figured that Earth (and specifically the Middle East) was the most important place to fix the problem and that it was ok for generations of millions of men and women (and maybe trillions or quadrillions of alien intelligences) who lived and died in a Fallen state, but without knowledge of Christ, and died after the Harrowing of Hell, to be denied the face of God because of the problems of interstellar geography.
        • by mec ( 14700 ) <mec@shout.net> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @09:16AM (#9138351) Journal
          And suppose we contact some alien civilizations; and some humans send them one of our Bibles; and the aliens say: "yeah! the same Savior came to our planet, too!"

          Evidence works both ways, you know.

          Personally, I'm an atheist, but I acknowledge that my atheism is falsifiable.

          It's easy to point at other people's beliefs and say "look! they are gonna have such a crisis of belief when we expand our circle of knowledge!" But intellectual honesty and humility compels me to consider: what kind of evidence would make me change my mind about atheism?
    • Re:I doubt it (Score:3, Interesting)

      Or perhaps more likely an alens concept of good and evil would be totally different to our. Just look at the variation throughout our own history. In plenty of cultures in the past animal or human sacrifice have been considered holy (good) acts whereas by todays moral compass they are obviously heinous acts. Good and evil is a relative term defined entirely by social contract. What is the chance extra-terrestrial beings would have the same morality as we do?
    • Re:I doubt it (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:30AM (#9137163)
      Even if Aliens know the difference between right and wrong but they might not be able to understand the concept of god. Even if the did understand god I doubt you could convert a space faring race to any of our religions in their current form. It makes the earth too special and they'd probably wouldn't take kindly to that.

      Beyond the fact that Christians don't mind that Jesus was Jewish, there is other contrary evidence to that right here on earth... Christianity, fundamentally, is an extension to Judaism that says "you jews have gone off course and gotten things wrong." Islam says to Christianity, "well, BOTH you and the Jews have gone off course." In either case, the new religion on the block says to the old, "we're kind of like you, only you've messed up so much that God sent us to get the truth straight again."

      Given this, it would truly be ironic if some aliens came down and proclaimed that they were true Christians (or Jews, or Buddists, or any other group you care to go with), but that the whole lot of us had gotten Christ, Moses, Mohammad or Buddha all wrong. They would basically be calling us heretics within our own religions. We've done that enough on or own, so why should we assume that somebody else wouldn't?
    • Re:I doubt it (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tony Hoyle ( 11698 )
      ref. CS Lewis, who thought of that exact problem many years ago.

      IIRC it goes something like this (it's a while since I've read any of his work so feel free to correct me):

      1. There may be many worlds with created life
      2. Each one of those worlds may not have fallen
      3. For those that did (maybe all did) are there many saviours? One per planet? Or did the same story play out through the universe identically?

      He also postulated the theory that our world is the only 'broken' one and even wrote a work of fictio
  • Wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by benjamindees ( 441808 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:44AM (#9136950) Homepage
    And this is in the 'science' section.
    And it's nothing but a bunch of speculation about how to convert aliens to christianity.
    My head is about to explode.
  • Good and evil (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:45AM (#9136958)
    Even if any aliens were to have a concept of good and evil there's no reason why they would see things the way we do. Just look at how it is on Earth: there are people who genuinely believe it is 'good' to do things that many now believe are profoundly evil. Take the Spanish Inquisition, for example: they really believed that it was the right thing to torture suspects - give a sinner hell here, so they don't suffer so much in the next world.

    In fact, I don't think there is anybody that considers himself 'evil', no matter what.
    • In fact, I don't think there is anybody that considers himself 'evil', no matter what.

      A Google Search for the phrase "I am evil" yields 13,600 hits.

    • Take the Spanish Inquisition, for example: they really believed that it was the right thing to torture suspects

      Now I know what Donald Rumsfeld is fond of in Spainish cultural heritage.

      In fact, I don't think there is anybody that considers himself 'evil', no matter what.

      Just check the science fiction & fantasy fandom. How many fans of "Star Wars" identify themselves with the Empire, Darth Vader, Moff Tarkin, Darth Maul, stormtroopers or "lesser evils" like Bobba Fett? How many "Harry Potter" fans
  • by goatan ( 673464 ) <ian.hearn@rpa.gsi.gov.uk> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:49AM (#9136972) Journal
    Interplanetry Mormons or quantum presbytaryans
  • by writertype ( 541679 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:50AM (#9136977)
    ...what about religion?

    Seriously, if some advanced race landed on Earth, at least some cult/faction/group would characterize them as gods. What I find interesting is the practical viewpoint of the Vatican astronomer; new scientific discovery does not eliminate the need for a God, it just redefines the boundaries between humanity and the Other.

    I also think that a chance encounter with aliens would certainly polarize the creationists. Did God create the Earth in seven days? OK, what about Gamma Epsilon 7? The Catholic Church has had many, many faults, (hello, Galileo) but IMO the modern Church is much more accepting of scientific theories than, say, fundamentalist Christians.
    • I think the most problematic issue for the dogmatic, certainly judeo-christian and probably islamic is the concept that god create mankind in his own image. But there is a simple answer for them and that is that god also create the beasts for mankind to exploit. The aliens would just be beasts in this context. Intelligence is no bar for falling into the beast category (and exploit isn't judgmental, just a corollary fro "use")
  • by Sayonara ( 633825 ) <sayonara,info&gmail,com> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:51AM (#9136984)
    The fact that we can't communicate with dolphins will not have any bearing on whether or not we can communicate with an alien race - that's a logical fallacy.

    We can't communicate with dolphins because we have no common frames of reference of any sort. Were we to contact an alien race however, it's implied just by that scenario existing that we have something in common with them; whether it be a similar understanding of electromagnetics, a written language, or even just the concept of extraspecies communication.
    • by Beautyon ( 214567 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:10AM (#9137066) Homepage
      that's a logical fallacy.

      Or a "straw man argument". Dolphins are not even aliens.

      Whilst we are on the subject, this [bbc.co.uk] story has been shooting around the world; some very interesting infra-red footage [] shot by the Mexican Airforce shows...make up your own mind. The footage was shot by drug interdiction aircraft on patrol for smugglers.
    • by DZign ( 200479 ) <averhe.gmail@com> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:13AM (#9137088) Homepage
      We can't communicate with dolphins because we didn't have the need to do so.

      If we knew they were trying to tell us a message and they actually tried to get the message across, resources would be made free so we
      could communicate with them..

      Communication is 2 ways, you have to make sure
      you understand what they say, and they must also
      make an effort to be understood and repeat if

      What about cats ? Do they say we can't communicate with cats ?
      Sorry, I do communicate with my cats.

      I don't know everything they say, and they don't
      understand everything I say (I hope :-)
      but if they want to send me a message
      (need food/attention/to be alone/go outside/..)
      they get the message to me.
      And if they do something they shouldn't, I also
      make sure they get the message..
      So yes to me that's communicating.

      And now I'm thinking about it, yes, some
      people can communicate with dolphins.
      Dolphin trainers do train them and I assume
      they will also learn to interpret the reactions
      of the dolphins. They won't understand everything,
      and we speak our own languages to communicate
      (dolphins won't speak and we won't squeek),
      but there is some limited communication.
      • I'm a linguist who spends a fair bit of time thinking about these sorts of things (I have a cat, of course!), and I just wanted to say that your post was very well-written and raises a few questions that I enjoy thinking about.

        Your first point, that we haven't ever needed to communicate with dolphins and vice versa is a very good one that many professional linguists really don't get. Communication only comes about when it is an advantage to both parties.

        One thing that is important here I think is to cle

        • by Galvatron ( 115029 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @07:12AM (#9137577)
          Bingo. I'm not a linguist, but I think what you say about communication vs. language is important. I'd take it even a step further: for there to be meaningful communication between intelligent species, we have to be able to exchange abstract concepts (at least beyond your examples of "good cat" and "bad cat"), mainly because the cat would be unable to comprehend them. What I've read about dolphins suggests that they are no more intelligent than, say, chimps, and our inabillity to communicate with them is not causing us to miss out on any deep philisophical insights.

          As an aside, if you think that cats are impressive, try owning a dog sometime. Both I and one of my brothers go to college, and yet when my mother says one of our names, the dog immediately stands up and wags her tail. This is after not seeing us for months. Yes, household pets are quite adept at recognizing words, but can they string those words together to form more elaborate concepts? I would argue no. In the example of my dog, she can relate names to individuals (when we are actually present, saying "go to [name]" will produce the correct response), but she can't understand that a name can refer to someone who is not present. She certainly understands "would you like to go for a walk?" but can't understand "walk" in any context that does not involve taking her outside. Likewise with your cat, would it be able to understand it if you said something else was good or bad? Probably not.

        • by thogard ( 43403 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @07:14AM (#9137587) Homepage
          I think the common frame of reference is very important. With pets we tend to learn what they are after but it only works for the common things. We can tell the difference between them wanting out and them wanting food but maybe not between them wanting food and wanting water. For the pet, they may have a different frame of reference than we do but the position of their food and water dishes are close enough that we may not pick up a suttle difference in their message. They also may see the world much differentlly than we do. For example, my new pet [ratemykitten.com] is 3 mos old and is starting to learn that she's not allowed on the table however from her point of view, that only applies if shes jumping up on the table, not down to it. I think I have taught her not to jump on the table but in her mind, I may have taught her not to jump up from the kitchen chairs.
      • "We can't communicate with dolphins because we didn't have the need to do so."

        So long, and thanks for all the fish!
  • Threat (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BenBenBen ( 249969 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:53AM (#9136997)
    He also seems to miss out the option whereby we atract the attention of "agents of free will" who have already discovered evil. Am I right in thinking that currently it's illegal to attempt to communicate with an ET without UN approval, or something? In case they wander over and rape our planet/enslave us all/demand McNeal.
  • by writertype ( 541679 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:54AM (#9136999)
    Given the miniscule population of the city, he may be in fact the astronomer of the Vatican.

  • by tyrione ( 134248 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:59AM (#9137028) Homepage
    Asking the Vatican about Religion.

    Mistake No. 2
    Thinking a dying Pantheon would interest already Illuminated Extra Terrestrials.
  • by Phidoux ( 705500 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:00AM (#9137031) Homepage
    ... that getting rid of our Jehovah's Witnesses is a good idea but the potential of a hostile alien reaction is probably very good. Just imagine if we were invaded with the alien version of Jehovah's Witnesses... Aaggggghhhhhhh!!!
  • Mars Attacks (Score:3, Insightful)

    by malia8888 ( 646496 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:02AM (#9137035)
    Also, Whitley Strieber has just come out with a new book, "Confirmation", which features an interview, in which Monsignor Balducci makes additional striking comments about the extraterrestrials as probably superior spiritual beings.

    One doesn't have to go back in history to see how worlds that collide have one side winning while the other side becomes victims of genocide. The warlike Caribs met the peaceful Arawaks in the Caribbean. The Caribs promptly enslaved and if I remember pretty well wiped them out. The "white man's" encounter with Native Americans led to the decimation of their culture and the annexation of their lands. We (white civilization) also introduced them to a form of biological warfare in the form of smallpox bacteria in blankets.

    I personally hope that any alien life form will just pass us by. Why would their motives be any more benign than history has shown us time and time again by other peoples who in one way or another were superior? As far as SETI is concerned, it makes me cringe. My hope is that we keep a low profile and this blue marble is overlooked by any alien life form.

  • by kevinatilusa ( 620125 ) <kcostell@NOSpAm.gmail.com> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:03AM (#9137039)
    ...or at least it's not how I interpret it.

    When the Astronomer is talking about the second scenario, he sees the critical description of that scenario as that "there are other Words in other languages to other cultures". According to Christian Theology (as quoted by him from the opening lines of the book of John), the Word of God existed before humanity did. In other words, the aliens we encounter will have already experienced God, that "need to overcome evil in the world".

    He doesn't necessarily think that he's going to be converting them in this scenario. As I see it, he thinks that they will have already encountered some form of Christianity, perhaps in a form completely different from the one seen here on Earth, and that Christians may be able to learn from their encounters with (what he believes is) the same God.
  • Atheism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by arfuni ( 775132 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:03AM (#9137040) Homepage
    I should hope that a species more advanced than us wouldn't fall for creationist stories without a lick of proof. Okay, mod me down as flame bait... but if creationism wasn't so ingrained into our culture and upbringing every one of our religions would sound absolutely ludicrous.
  • by daina ( 651638 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:05AM (#9137044)
    Slashdot seems to be now the only media outlet not covering the UFO story coming out of Mexico. I submitted it yesterday, and it was rejected. I'm not trying to slip this through the back door, but come on, even Wired and Fark have this now. I'd really like to know what Slashdotters think about this.

    See the video [thesandiegochannel.com]. Check out Wired [wired.com].

    The video looks pretty convincing, and according to AP and Reuters, the Mexican military is standing behind the story.

    The detailed information is at Rense [rense.com].

    The interesting thing is that the Mexican plane was a drug interdiction aircraft with advanced radar and forward-looking infrared. It was designed precisely for the task of finding, intercepting and identifying unidentified aircraft, and it sounds like the data was handled in a way that would meet legal evidentiary standards (for obvious reasons: it was designed to convict drug smugglers).

    Maybe the Vatican missed a fourth option: they're already here.

  • Parallels (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ArbiterOne ( 715233 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:07AM (#9137054) Homepage
    From the Vatican? This made me think it was going to be a religious commentary on the possibility of ETs. This is addressed very well in a book called "The Hercules Text", (kind of old).
    The premise of the argument was, if ETs exist, there must be immortal ETs, if you subscribe to Roman Catholic religion. I.E. : The reason we are not immortal is that we failed the "test": we ate the apple!
    Therefore, somewhere out there there must be people who passed it, or the test is "spurious".
    Therefore there must be immortal aliens, or the test is invalid, and therefore the Redeemer is invalid.
    That's just the argument in the book.
  • Arrogance (Score:3, Insightful)

    by caitsith01 ( 606117 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:08AM (#9137057) Journal
    The arrogance of these statements is quite startling, and reflects the typically dogmatic view of the Vatican (although I guess being dogmatic is basically what they're supposed to do - Jesus says 'don't use condoms'!).

    For one thing, suggesting that we might convert aliens to Christianity is pretty much akin to suggesting that less well developed parts of the world might have had a chance to convert western explorers to their local animalist or totemist belief system. To take it even further, it might be like suggesting that an advanced primate like a Gorilla would have a chance of converting a human to its belief system (presumably based around sitting in a jungle doing nothing). Any race able to contact us or travel to get here is likely to be far more ethically and morally advanced that we are - it will, after all, have survived the equivalent of a nuclear age of technology without annihilating itself, and must therefore have a high degree of moral thinking.
  • Whoa whoa whoa! (Score:5, Informative)

    by the_skywise ( 189793 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:20AM (#9137126)
    First off, the summary puts words in his mouth: "As agents of free-will, the aliens are self-aware of good and evil, thus convertible to some terrestrial religion."
    He doesn't even IMPLY that.

    What he SAYS is that if we can communicate intelligently with the aliens the question becomes, are religious concepts of right and wrong UNIVERSAL, and if so would their concepts match ours? He hopes so.

    Later on, he states: "The other thing that happens is that each side learns from the other, inevitably. And the sense of acculturation continually goes on. It went on when the missionaries from Italy showed up in Ireland. Irish sensibilities became part of the Christian milieu. German sensibilities. Russian sensibilities. Every culture has added something to the mix, and brought something out of the mix. It's inevitable. You can't pretend that it's a one-way street. Even if you wanted it to be a one-way street, it wouldn't be."

    He also answered the reverse question (Aliens converting us):

    "We can't even convert ourselves"

  • by master_p ( 608214 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:30AM (#9137166)
    The discovery of extra-terrestrials will be the biggest event after the discovery of fire...and the only thing the Vatican can think about it is how to convert the extra-terrestrials to christianity ?

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha...they are insane!

    I would really like it if extra-terrestrials existed, only to make churches go crazy!
  • by PsiPsiStar ( 95676 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:31AM (#9137167)
    Perhaps 'first contact' will spark a re-enacment of how so-called 'tribal' religions came to be replaced, violently or non violently by 'great religions.' (the Aiwa (sp?) in Japan were mostly replaced by the Japanese, the Hopi were replaced by Christians. Muslims spread over N. Africa replacing whatever proto-voodo gods were native there (I don't know) etc.)

    The theme is this - religions for small, racially similar groups of people are replaced by religions for larger, less racially similar groups of people. Religion helps justify this takeover.

    Great religions often deal more with conversion than tribal religions.

    I wonder if this trend will apply to extra-terrestrial religions. Will such religions tend to be converting religions? Will Extra terrestrials have eliminated the notion of 'race' from their religion and culture?

    If so, will such a culture focus on genetically assimilating creatures along with religious and cultural conversion?

    Considering how universal Nietzche's 'Will to Power' is likely to be, I sometimes wonder if aliens will be like Nazis, but with forcible genetic engineering rather than gas chambers.

    Furthermore, since religion and nationalism have always been strongly linked, what kind of religion will a space-faring race have, considering that they will be the first intelligent creatures who aren't bounded by nations and territory as we know it.

    I think living in space will have a profound impact on nationality, and thus religion, because it will eliminate the notion of fixed land, which is the basis of nationality. If sattelites can become self-supporting it will allow people to redefine how they organize themselves and choose citizenship.
    • by kalidasa ( 577403 ) * on Thursday May 13, 2004 @07:39AM (#9137706) Journal

      (the Aiwa (sp?) in Japan were mostly replaced by the Japanese, the Hopi were replaced by Christians. Muslims spread over N. Africa replacing whatever proto-voodo gods were native there (I don't know) etc.)

      1. The Ainu.

      2. There are still Hopi. Also, a lot of Native Americans were converted to Christianity. A LOT. Nowhere near as many as were wiped out by disease (often the disease wave moved slightly ahead of the colonization wave, carried by explorers and native American travelers who had contact with colonizers), or killed in conflict with colonizers (or internecine conflicts aggravated by the presence of colonizers), and not all of them, but enough to make it an interesting case study for first contact situations.

      3. In most areas, Islam displaced modern religions, not "proto-Voodoo". North Africa was basically Christian, with some outlying "pagan" areas (what we would call polytheists): for instance, keep in mind that St. Augustine lived in Carthage in what today is Tunisia. The city of Cyrene in what is today Libya was an important Greek city with a Christian population. The Egyptians were mostly Christians - today we call the "indigenous" Egyptians Copts (Boutros-Boutros Ghali, for instance), and they are Christians. There were various other traditional religions in trans-Saharan Africa (e.g., in what is now Nigeria) that might have contributed to the cultural background of Santeria, but they weren't as simple as many outside observers would imagine.

      In Arabia (don't call it Saudi Arabia until the 20th century) and Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), you've got Christians and Zoroastrians as well as "pagans," in Bactria (Afghanistan) you've got Buddhists, in India you have mostly Hindus with some Buddhists, in Persia you have mostly Zoroastrians, and in Russia (before the Horde) you have various kinds of animists. In China you have Confucianists, Taoists, Buddhists, Nestorian Christians, and a bunch of other religious communities before Islam is introduced (I imagine it reached China through "evangelism" before the Khanate); only the first three had significant effects after the Yuan. (Indeed, I think the Yuan basically "converted" - this is not as meaningful a term outside Western religions as it is within - to Confucianism, but I'm no expert on Chinese history.

      I think the concept of a nation being tied to a territory may be original and tribal, but in modern times it is an outgrowth of "modern" European nation-state theory, and is already under assault. Yes, I think that interplanetary (and if possible interstellar) colonization will have dramatic effects on nationality and religion, and these are interesting speculations; but keep in mind that ethnicity and religion (which often go hand in hand) are rather inertial concepts, and are quite capable of surviving even as great a shock as extraterrestrial contact or interstellar diaspora.

  • What If? (Score:5, Funny)

    by smackdotcom ( 136408 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:49AM (#9137233)

    There's much dismissal of the notion of aliens taking our religion seriously. And I tend to agree. But it does make for a fun "what if" scenario.

    What if the aliens did take to our religious beliefs? What if the Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons did manage to convert them? Either scenario would be particularly entertaining, since presumably the aliens would then undertake the same activities as the human Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons on Earth, to the limits that their biologies would allow. Hell, I'd look forward to them coming to my door. I would be able to forgive all the other shortcomings of the 'future' (lack of flying cars, rocketpacks, etc.) if every now I could open my door to find a couple of small grey aliens in white shirts and black ties, earnest looks on their faces, asking me about my thoughts on God. I'd still slam the door in their faces, of course, but I'd have a little "Well, whaddya know?" smile on my face as I did so.

    Indeed, conversion to any branch of Christianity would provide endless entertainment, since we would have yet another party laying claim to Jerusalem as the holiest city. Or perhaps we could one day look forward to a "Passion" remake, complete with an alien Jesus dragging the cross? I wonder, would the Christian aliens still nurse a mild resentment of the Jews? Or would aliens be more likely to become Jews themselves, able to accept the idea of God but not a human Messiah? Man, would that ever get some people going. Osama bin Laden would just shit himself.

    Of course, they may not go for a mainstream religion. Maybe they'll become convinced that the ultimate arbiter of religious truth is some dude leading a cult somewhere in the wilds of Montana. Maybe they'd all become Branch Davidians, or some equivalent thereof.

    Mind you, the alternative to us converting them is even more fun. I personally would go to church--or whatever you would call it--every week, if the purpose were to worship some whacked-out alien god. All hail the Great Slug of the Cosmos, perhaps. Hell, I'll even worship Kah'less if I get to play with a Bat'leth.

    Thinking about this sort of stuff is more fun than a box full of puppies.
  • by G. W. Bush Junior ( 606245 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @06:17AM (#9137306) Journal
    We find the intelligent civilization. We can communicate.' As agents of free-will, the aliens are self-aware of good and evil, thus convertible to some terrestrial religion
    Odds are that if they are aware of good and evil and advanced enough to be space-faring then they will probably have higher moral standards than anything christianity has to provide...
    High moral standards are what makes cooperation possible. Tolerance of differences is probably neccesary, and that certainly isn't taught by christianity.
    Or maybe im just projecting my own standards onto aliens... but the christian concept of moral seems to be pretty low compared to what humanism can provide.
  • Never mind Religion (Score:4, Interesting)

    by medazinol ( 540033 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @06:33AM (#9137355)
    "Convertible to some form of terrestrial religion". Yeah right...

    Forget about religion, how about cultural assimilation?

    Read this exerpt from the Brookings report from 1960 comissioned from NASA about finding extraterrestrial life, it will make you think twice. Perhaps this is why the goverment is hiding the truth that "they" are already here. Oh and don't forget to see that Mexico video, just another iron in the fire so to speak.

    Proposed Studies On The Implications Of
    Peaceful Space Activities For Human Affairs


    Brookings Institution, 1960
    Report To The 87th Congress, Union Calendar 79
    Report Number 242


    National Aeronautics And Space Administration

    The general public

    1.As with other matters not central to day-to-day living, the
    public, considered as a whole, is probably only selectively
    attentive to and knowledgeable about space activities. The
    relationship between the impact of events on indifferent or only
    occasionally interested people and their attitudes and values is
    but partly understood and needs further study.

    2.It has been alleged that the "public" is optimistic about
    space activities. If this is so and if the optimism is
    widespread, the present support it generates for the space
    program may not be lasting if the difficulties inherent in space
    efforts have not been appreciated enough to make the failure of
    specific projects understandable. The resulting disillusionment
    may be a serious factor in reducing public support as space
    efforts become more grandiose, the consequences of payoff more
    exciting, and the losses from failure more dramatic. On the other
    hand, this optimism, if it exists, may produce a state of mind
    tolerant of failures. The factors affecting optimism, realism,
    and tolerance of frustration need more study as an aid in
    preparing for this situation. The roles of the promoter spokesman
    and the mass media in encouraging expectations of great and
    imminent accomplishments are integral to this problem area and
    would benefit from research.

    3.The conviction that space activities will broaden man's
    horizons are presently based on the perspectives and special
    interests of a relatively few people in western societies. The
    claim may be justified, but there is need for research to assist
    understanding of the conditions under which innovations broaden
    or narrow perspectives in various cultures. For example,
    sufficient emphasis on space as the proper expression of man's
    highest aspirations may result in the evolution of a broadly
    based belief that this is so. But whether or not this is likely
    to be the case cannot now be decided in view of our limited
    understanding of how new ideas disseminate through societies. If
    and as horizons were broadened as a result of space activities,
    other aspirations would compete with them for attention and
    resources, and continuous study would be required to evaluate the
    appropriate position of space in this competition.

    4.Though intelligent or semi-intelligent life conceivably
    exists elsewhere in our solar system, if intelligent
    extraterrestrial life is discovered in the next twenty years, it
    will very probably be by radio telescope from other solar
    systems. Evidences of its existence might also be found in
    artifacts left on the moon or other planets. The consequences for
    attitudes and values are unpredictable, but would vary profoundly
    in different cultures and between groups within complex
    societies; a crucial factor would be the nature of the
    communication between us and the other beings. Whether or not
    earth would be inspired to an all-out space effort by such a
    discovery is moot: societies sure of their own place in the
    universe have disintegrated when confronted by a superior
    society, and others have survived even though changed. Clearly,
    the better we can come to understand the factors involved i
  • by WCMI92 ( 592436 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @07:13AM (#9137584) Homepage
    Those who think they can disprove God by finding alien life better think again.

    There is NO REASON whatsoever to believe that Earth is the only creation, or even this universe. I happen to be Roman Catholic. The discovery of aliens would not shake my religious foundation one bit.

    I see science not as competition for religion, but as complimentary. When we discover how things work, we discover more about God.

    I have no problem accepting evolution as the PROCEESS that was used, for example.

    I don't like the extremists on either side on this debate. On one side, you have the atheists, who think science can replace religion. Then, on the other side, you religious nutcases who think the Earth is only 5,000 years old, who scream BLASPHEMY! at you when you mention Mars is closer than it's been in 600,000 years.

    But those types of nutcases aren't Roman Catholic, but they are a lot of my neighbors here in Easern Kentucky ;)

    We should be seeking to discover other life for many reasons, none of which have to do with proving or disproving God. Either task is impossible, BTW.
  • by cmichaelpatrick ( 732214 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @07:52AM (#9137775)
    Based on the information I've read, chances are fairly good that the first life we encounter will be bacteriological, not something as sophisticated as Mankind.
  • by mnmlst ( 599134 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:29AM (#9137951) Homepage Journal

    ...This story is a TROLL.

    I am reminded of a story by Arthur C. Clarke. Two IBM programmers are brought out to Sri Lanka to work in a monastery at the top of a mountain. The monks believe that if all the nearly infinite names of God are recited, the universe will come to an end. Their job is to write a program that will be run on a mainframe at the monastery to try and generate all those names. Someone out there probably knows the name of this short story.

    BTW, one of the posts near the top of this discussion is correct. The Roman Catholic Church (my flavor of Christianity) is now very much at ease with the results of all the scientific discoveries of the past few centuries. One of our fundamentalist friends is a "Young Earth Creationist". Sorry, but I gotta laugh when told that humans and dinosaurs walked the Earth together. All the animals were vegetarians (even T-Rex) until Adam and Eve shared that apple/pomegranate. Huh?

    Dear Fellow Slashdotters, most of the world's religions are fine with scientific discovery. The great "undiscovered country" out there is the focus of most religions. What are humans capable of when their mind, body and spirit are all completely aligned on their spritual "North Star"? What matters is not material things but things like love, hope, joy, justice and so on. Mother Teresa (already beatified, now awaiting canonization- Sainthood. Similar to a certification from Verisign finally completing for the tech-obsessed) spoke of the spiritual poverty of Americans as compared with the spiritual wealth of the poor of Calcutta. Religion does not need these routine bashings on Slashdot. I have found most of it is good for helping keep the neighbor's kids from trying to break into my house. Without it, I am certain that mere Earthly laws and law enforcement will leave us much poorer in every way. Since the tyranny of the ACLU and atheists was unleashed by the Warren Court, we have seen what happens when God is driven out of America at every turn. As a lifelong historian, I truly believe that America was better off when it wasn't trying to force religion out of the public sphere at every turn. I would be fine with seeing crosses, stars of David, crescents, and Buddha statues all over America. Let the government referee the occasional conflict instead of suppressing them unevenly which is the current game. Studying anything BUT our major legacy of faith, Christianity, is fine for public educational facilities now.(e.g. universities down to elementary shcools) The anti-Chrisitan crowd that has been extending its reach through government is totally fine with promoting every religion but Chrisitanity. The Founding Fathers wisely chose not to establish state religions, (unlike Europe where tax dollars go straight to state religions) but their separation of Church and State was trying to protect BOTH. The protection of the State should not come at the expense of one particular practice of faith. If it must be paid, it should be paid evenly by Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and so on. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Everyone has made a religious choice since exposure to religion is inescapable. If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. -Rush

  • On Communication (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Paulrothrock ( 685079 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @09:08AM (#9138260) Homepage Journal
    The reason we can't communicate with dolphins is that our existences are fundamentally different. Our language evolved in part because of the physics of sound in air, along with the structure of our mouths. Dolphin "language" evolved in the water with the unique dolphin anatomy. This means that, unlike human language, they can't be heard properly by either species which hampers efforts to translate it.

    So if an alien species looks like us (has a mouth that serves respiratory and ingestion functions, a tongue) they probably evolved in similar circumstances and therefore have a basis for understanding.

    But an incredibly different species could be extremely intelligent but we wouldn't be able to communicate (verbally, maybe even electronically) with them because their medium for thought transmission evolved in a completely different manner

    Imagine a species that used special appendages to communicate, kind of like sign language. We wouldn't know where to begin because we don't have those appendages, and it would look like a bunch of flailing to us.

  • by Ugmo ( 36922 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @11:27AM (#9139933)
    The Vatican Astronomer in question has a Bachelor's and Master's from MIT and a Doctorate from the University of Arizona. He's definitely no dummy. Maybe Slashdot could interview him.

    he studies meteorites. I wonder what research notes look like:

    Observed high proportion of Carbon to Iron in meteor type X.
    Question: Why is this so?
    Answer: God made it that way.

    Next question...

  • by patiwat ( 126496 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @03:38PM (#9143133)
    The problem of the 'plurality of worlds' isn't new to the Church. In the introduction to James Blish's "A Case of Conscience" (1958, Winner of the Hugo Award), the author notes:

    I was gratified to receive also several letters from theologians who knew the present Church position on the problem of the 'plurality of worlds', as most of my correspondents obviously did not ...

    I will quote Mr Gerald Heard, who has summarized the position best of all:

    If there are many planets inhabited by sentient creatures, as most astronomers (including Jesuits) now suspect, then each one of such planets (solar or non-solar) must fall into one of three categories:

    (a) Inhabited by sentient creatures, but without souls; so to be treated with compassion but extra-evangelically.
    (b) Inhabited by sentient creatures with fallen souls, through an original but not inevitable ancetral sin; so to be evangelized with urgent missionary charity.
    (c) Inhabited by sentient soul-endowed creatures that have not fallen, who therefore
    (1) inhabit an unfallen, sinless paradisal world;
    (2) who therefore we must contact not to propagandize, but in order that we may learn from them the conditions (about which we can only speculate) of creatures living in perpetual grace, endowed with all the virtues in perfection, and both immortal and in complete happiness for always possessed of and with the knowledge of God.

    Of course, the aliens that are the subject of Blish's book fall into none of these scenarios...

Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you. -- Thomas Jefferson