Klaatu Meet Benedict—The Vatican Contemplates the Meaning of Space Aliens


A Case of Conscience

The Vatican held a conference last week on the scientific, philosophical, and religious implications of the existence of extraterrestrial life. The head of the Vatican's Observatory, Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, convened the meeting. The AP reports: 

Thirty scientists, including non-Catholics, from the U.S., France, Britain, Switzerland, Italy and Chile attended the conference, called to explore among other issues "whether sentient life forms exist on other worlds."

Funes set the stage for the conference a year ago when he discussed the possibility of alien life in an interview given prominence in the Vatican's daily newspaper.

The Church of Rome's views have shifted radically through the centuries since Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1600 for speculating, among other ideas, that other worlds could be inhabited.

Scientists have discovered hundreds of planets outside our solar system — including 32 new ones announced recently by the European Space Agency. Impey said the discovery of alien life may be only a few years away.

"If biology is not unique to the Earth, or life elsewhere differs bio-chemically from our version, or we ever make contact with an intelligent species in the vastness of space, the implications for our self-image will be profound," he said.

This is not the first time the Vatican has explored the issue of extraterrestrials: In 2005, its observatory brought together top researchers in the field for similar discussions.

In the interview last year, Funes told Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that believing the universe may host aliens, even intelligent ones, does not contradict a faith in God.

"How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?" Funes said in that interview.

"Just as there is a multitude of creatures on Earth, there could be other beings, even intelligent ones, created by God. This does not contradict our faith, because we cannot put limits on God's creative freedom."

Funes maintained that if intelligent beings were discovered, they would also be considered "part of creation."

The religious implications of the existence of intelligent life have been explored in a variety of science fiction novels. For example, Christian apologist C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy uses Venus and Mars as backdrops for considering what would have happened had Eve resisted temptation in the earthly Garden of Eden. Probably my favorite in this genre is James Blish's A Case of Conscience (1958). A Jesuit priest travels to the planet Lithia which is inhabited by a race of beings whose society is characterized by peace, logic, and understanding in the complete absence of any belief in God. The priest comes to believe that such a happy race of aliens must be a snare and delusion of Satan. Naturally, bad things happen.

Ultimately, the chief theological question for believers would be whether their deity had arranged for a separate salvation (whatever that is) of intelligent aliens or should they be proselytized?

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  1. All this because of the “V” reboot?

    I mean, it’s better than OK, but it’s not that good.

  2. Didn’t this just happen on the ‘V’ remake?

  3. I heard the most attended panel was “Statutory Rape Law and Underage Extra-Terrestials: Can We Rape Them Legally?”


    2. I thought Polanski was in jail?

      1. Diana was not unresponsive.

    3. I’m still giggling like a schoolgirl over this remark. Thanks MNG!

  4. Ultimately, the chief theological question for believers would be whether their deity had arranged for a separate salvation (whatever that is) of intelligent aliens or should they be proselytized?

    Not sure if that would be “the chief theological question”… CS Lewis addressed it in his trilogy though and his conclusion was yes, there would be a seperate salvation, however the same God (gods)…

    1. In one of his essays, he came to a much more vague conclusion.

      In other words, he thought it was something that would need to be determined.

      Or, even, they might not be fallen and thus not in need of salvation.

      1. The Seeing Eye is the essay I referred to. He saw 4 possibilities:

        1. An unfallen race
        2. A fallen race that had their own means of salvation
        3. A fallen race without a means of salvation – in his opinion, this is no different than meeting any “new tribe of savages”.
        4. A diabolical race with no sprak of goodness – “incurably perverted”.

  5. I enjoyed Waiting For the Galactic Bus

    1. Wait. Someone else has read that?!?

      Picked it up off the discount rack while my library was packed for a move once. I also like it.

  6. Isn’t this more of a decision for the Space Pope to make?

  7. This does not contradict our faith, because we cannot put limits on God’s creative freedom

    Indeed, this has always been the thinking Christian’s way out. Define “creation” as Everything, and there are no contradictions in the dogma. Except for that pesky anthropomorphic Creator. Baby steps, Christians. You’ll get there in another thousand years.

  8. I hate to be vague but I recall a SF story someone wrote about a priest who kept looking for the savior, getting closer and closer on world after world, always just missing him. I’m sorry, it’s been at least 20 years since I read it.

    1. It’s called “The Man.” It’s also included in the S is for Space collection. One of the first S/F short stories that I can remember reading, incidentally. When I was six, I think. Maybe five.

      By the way, it wasn’t a priest. It was a starship captain who went from cynical to WTF when he realized he’d just missed Jesus.

  9. That’s Ray Bradbury. I don’t remember what it’s called. It’s in The Illustrated Man.

    Also, fuck space.

    1. My “also” above going with this comment.

  10. Christian “apologist”? Was that dig really necessary?

    1. It’s not a dig. Apologetics is the branch of Christian theology dealing with answering objections to Christianity.

      1. What’s interesting to me is that apologetics is common among Catholics, Lutherans, and other denominations, but almost completely absent among evangelicals. Why? As near as I can guess it’s because the latter insists on blind faith.

        1. Not quite true. Josh McDowell, author of the apologetic text “Evidence that Demands a Verdict,” is an evangelical.

    2. apologist is a technical term for someone who tries to defend a doctrine; a Mormon apologist would try to find proof that Jews migrated to the new world &c. The term itself carries no overtones as to the truth of the doctrine.

      It’s not a dig, is what I’m getting at.

      1. C.S. Lewis was a christian apologist. A damn fine one I might add.

      2. Propaganda is a similar word. It was coined by the Vatican to mean information used to propagate the faith. Only later did it come to have its modern sinister meaning.

  11. Much of R.A. Lafferty’s output is relevant here–he was a conservative Catholic who wrote the damnedest science fiction tall tales you’ll ever read–but “Name of the Snake” in particular, about a missionary who lights on a world where the seven deadly sins no longer exist, and yet there is still something undeniable devilish about the place. (It’s also an excellent metaphorical battering of utopian government.)

  12. So…what if the aliens are slightly more technologically advanced than we are, have their own religion, and expect us to convert to it?

    1. Such cultures are common in science fiction.

    2. Very true, but when I ask people this, they invariably wave it away dismissively, as if it’s an absurd question.

      1. Happened when the European christians ran into the Arabs.

        Whats the difference?

        1. explain please the angle you’re coming from.

          1. What angle?

            At one time a bunch of european christians ran into a bunch of “aliens” in a far off land who were slightly more technologically advanced and had a different religion and expected them to convert. They were called Arabs. Or Moors. Or well, you get the idea.

            1. By angle, I meant who was more advanced with the expectation of conversion. That’s all.

        2. Huh? I don’t remember that the Crusaders were big on forced conversions. Nor were the French in Algeria, Tunisia, or Syria. Or the British in Iraq, Transjordan, Palestine, Aden, Oman, or the Trucial States.

  13. “such a happy race of aliens must be a snare and delusion of Satan”

    That’s the favorite retort of Born-Agains when presented with logic. If it makes sense and contradicts Scripture, it must be a Satanic trick. Dinosaurs were Satan’s magnum opus.

  14. Funes maintained that if intelligent beings were discovered, they would also be considered “part of creation.”

    Earthling, you may “consider” us however you wish. It makes no difference to your self-inflicted destiny.

  15. Isn’t there only one “a” in Klatu? I think we have to ask Gort.

    1. Wrong.

      Klaatu barada nikto.

  16. A priest, a rabbi, and an imam walk into Mos Eisley…

  17. bartender says “we don’t serve your kind.”

  18. bartender says “what is this, a joke?”

  19. bartender says “get the fuck out of here.”

  20. bartender says “looks like you just blew a seal.”

    1. Just fix the damn thing and keep my private life out of it, OK, pal?

  21. Wouldn’t it be cool if such controversies would lead to self destruction of all religions on earth, and then we would not meet any aliens ever?

  22. I stand firm in my belief that we will find sentient, space-faring religious civilizations, ala Warhammer 40k.

    Of course we have a good 38 centuries left to go. By then, we’ll all be paying heed to the Immortal Emperor of Mankind.

      1. He has not yet put on the sand trout. He can still be stopped.

        1. Ha! He’s not able to do that. He’s like the opposite of the Kwisatz Haderach, the one who can be many places at once. He’s the Ersatz Hackysack, the one who can’t be anyplace that makes sense.

  23. Well, this saves me the effort of posting this over at Urkobold, like I was planning to do.

    Damn your quick fingers, Bailey!

  24. This does not contradict our faith, because we cannot put limits on God’s creative freedom.”

    Of course it doesn’t exactly contradict it because, as noted, one can just redefine what God created so it is unfalsifiable. But it does highlight the stark absence of anything interesting about the “world” God created in the Bible.

    If the Bible truly is the word of God and not just the collected story-telling of ignorant nomads with not the tiniest fraction of the knowledge of the universe we have now, you’d expect some mention of things then unknown to man. Perhaps just a hint of other planets and, in the present case, even other beings (hell, even other continents would have been impressive). Couldn’t He have troubled himself to describe in a bit more detail how after creating the Earth he went on to finish up the galaxy and then, after a brief rest, got started on the other 100-billion or so? Even if he didin’t want to be so specific, how about just something indicating the vastness of existence instead of simply telling them only about how he made what they could already see for themselves?

    On the other hand, if it were just some story-telling handed down among ignorant tribesman, rather than the word of God, one would expect to see no details of anything then unknown or unknowable to man.

    So the eventual finding of life on other planets won’t so much be a contradiction of the uncontradictable, as it is further evidence of the complete and utter poverty of insight to our origins and existence and place in “creation” that is this supposed word of God.

    1. even other beings

      Other beings are mentioned all over the place. They were non-corporeal, but that doesnt make them any less beings.

      1. Sure, but I don’t think that’s relevant to the overall point.

        1. I wasnt replying to the overall point.

  25. Avoid the cruciform implant.

    1. awesome book!!

  26. Can’t they just dust off and reuse all the papal edicts issued upon discovery of Native Americans?

    1. No, because those edicts were all based on the premise that the Native Americans were human, and assumption that can’t necessarily be made about extraterrestrials.

  27. what is Scientology’s take on this

    (Oh, and don’t forget to pay your taxes.)

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