Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Alien is my Brother

A Superior of a certain London community, who is also a "trekkie",will be delighted.

The Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, was quoted as saying the vastness of the universe means it is possible there could be other forms of life outside Earth, even intelligent ones.

"How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?" Funes said. "Just as we consider earthly creatures as 'a brother,' and 'sister,' why should we not talk about an 'extraterrestrial brother'? It would still be part of creation."

In the interview by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Funes said that such a notion "doesn't contradict our faith" because aliens would still be God's creatures. Ruling out the existence of aliens would be like "putting limits" on God's creative freedom, he said.

The interview, headlined "The extraterrestrial is my brother," covered a variety of topics including the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and science, and the theological implications of the existence of alien life.

Funes said science, especially astronomy, does not contradict religion, touching on a theme of Pope Benedict XVI, who has made exploring the relationship between faith and reason a key aspect of his papacy.

The Bible "is not a science book," Funes said, adding that he believes the Big Bang theory is the most "reasonable" explanation for the creation of the universe. The theory says the universe began billions of years ago in the explosion of a single, super-dense point that contained all matter.

But he said he continues to believe that "God is the creator of the universe and that we are not the result of chance."

10 comments:

pelerin said...

This raises a very difficult question. If we are to accept aliens as our brothers (including Mr Auberginehead depicted) then does that mean if one day we are invaded by hostile aliens, we must NOT attempt to kill them even if they come to destroy our world?

Does the commandment extend to life forms from other planets?

I remember reading somewhere that a priest had come to the conclusion that aliens would not need to be converted as they would not have been subjected to original sin. In other words would they then be perfect beings.

Regarding Mr Auberginehead - how could we tell whether he was another being ie a brother or merely a rather intelligent vegetable?

Incidentally I think I prefer Mr Auberginehead to the Mr Potatoheads from the video doing the rounds of the catholic blogoshpere!

michael petek said...

I'd venture this: If extraterrestrials had a rational nature like ours we would have to treat them as equals and as capax Dei and eligible for baptism. If they came to destroy our world we would be entitled to fight them as enemies, just like an earthly enemy who comes to destroy our country.

Whether aliens are subject to original sin or not depends on the fact of having been descended from a federal head equivalent to Adam, but even if their Adam had not sinned this would not mean that they were all perfect beings.

If Adam had not sinned, then surely sin could have entered the world only when one of his descendants had sinned personally, and would have been transmitted by inheritance only to the progeny of that descendant.

What I think we have to keep clear in our minds is that only one Incarnation is necessary and sufficient to redeem the cosmos and elevate it to a supernatural destiny.

That happened on our Earth and specifically in Israel. It seems to imply that we earthlings are the Chosen People relative to extraterrestrials just as the Jews are the Chosen People relative to the Gentiles.

As for Mr Auberginehead, I wouldn't hold out much hope for friendly relations with him. Sigourney Weaver's been chasing him with a flamethrower ever since as an embryo he burst through John Hurt's ribcage in the motion picture Alien.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

I love the aubergine head. I've always thought that eggplant was slightly sinister.

lizard said...

Even if extraterrestrials have rational nature like ours, this will not necessarily make them our brothers. Intelligent or rational nature, ostensible consciousness etc etc DO NOT necessarily do something (or someone) the image of God.

Imagine a very powerful computer which could talk with you in a manner indistinguishable from a normal intelligent and rational man (it is already possible with the current technology). Could you call this computer your brother? Would you believe the notion of sin is at al applicable to this 'brother'? Would you believe this computer has an immortal soul?

Now consider a chimpanzee. Do you believe chimpanzees have immortal soul and are subject to sin? Research evidenced that they are quite rational, intelligent, have a form of consciousness and capable to learn a simplified form of human language (e.g. ASL) and successfully communicate. Should we posit that they have the soul and are subject to sin SOLELY BECAUSE OF THESE CAPACITIES? Is chimpanzee (or bonobo, which actually more similar to Homo sapiens in many respects) are our brothers?

Elements of consciousness may be found in many animal species. Would we consider dogs as brothers too?

Personality too is found in nonhuman animals (my own research was devoted to this). For example, guppy, a small aquarium fish, have personality dimensions very similar to extraversion and neuroticism in humans. Guppies and other fish are quite intelligent and have some form of rationality (e.g. they have transitive inference which was previously believed to develop quite late in humnans). Are guppies too our brothers? Do guppies or, say, trouts sin?

Moral values are also not specific to humans. Many animals have some forms of moral taboos.

We believe that human beings are made as an image of God. But what constitute this image? Certainly this is not intelligence and rationality, consciousness etc alone. This is a complicated problem which requires a deep theological and scientific analysis.

However, one (and perhaps most important) crucial characteristic is that humans have immortal soul. We humans have vocation for immortality. Other rational agents do not have this vocation, notwistanding how rational are they.

The concepts of the soul and immortality are metaphysical and religious. They are based on revelation, not on natural ability of our rational mind (and are therefore NOT subjects of scientific analysis).

Perhaps, we may admit the principal existence of various forms of rational extraterreatrial life. But they are probably not much different from other forms of rational life we already know to exist on our own planet. They may even be more intelligent than humans. Which may be an outcome of organic evolution (yes, ultimately created by God). [Parenthetically, on this planet we already have a species which might be considered superior to us in certain respect: there exist a species of electric mormyrid fish which have the index of cephalisation (basically, the ratio of the brain size to the body size) exceeding that in humans (this would be considered impossible about 20 years ago). These fish live in turbid water and use aberrations of the weak electric field they produce to locate objects and orient in a kind of the sixth sense, which requires extremely large cognitive capacity, albeit limited to only this context.]

However, I very much doubt that these highly intelligent creatures have immortal soul and that their ultimate aim and mission is to be with God forever.

But in some sense, we already know that there exist certain intelligent and rational forms of extraterrestrial life (in the sense that they do not belong to our physical world) which have such fundamental property as immortality. These are angels and daemons.

Personally, I do not know what Fr. Funes actually said and what he intended to say. But it seems he (1) just noted that possible existence of extraterreestrial life does not contradict the doctrine and (2) called possible extraterrestrials brothers, BUT in the same sense as other creatures living on our own planet. In this sense, they are really brothers and sisters. But perhaps not in the sense as 'brothers and sisters in Christ'.

Probably, his argumants were again exaggerated and unduly extended. It seems that the whole sensation from the Vatican, which was once again picked up widely in the media, seems to be a consequence of fundamental ignorance with the primary aim to just make a new big stir (as it was with the now notorious coverage of the Regensburgh address of Pope Benedict).

Henry said...

This picture is an interesting take on Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1527-1593, the Italian painter famous for his portraits composed of fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books; he painted representations of these objects so that they formed a likeness of the portrait subject.

Ttony said...

My mother was taught in the 1930s, by Benedictine nuns, that if there was intelligent life out there, then the Church would be obliged to take the message of Christ to it: anything created which has the rational capacity to listen to and accept God's Word has the right to be fully accepted as a follower of Christ.

michael petek said...

Lizard, there's a world of difference between even the most powerful supercomputer and a rational soul.

A rational intellect handles concepts, a computer handles only symbols my means of matter and electricity and has no spiritual nature.

And no, chimpanzees have no rational and immortal soul, and the evidence for this is that they do not communicate intelligibly. They have an animal soul and the consciousness proper to it.

An animal is not a person because it has no rational nature, though it is an individual substance.

The existence of the soul - the life principle of an organism - is not supernatural. Unaided reason verifies the existence of a vegetative soul in a living plant, a sensory soul in a living animal and a rational soul in a living human being.

Henry - Actually, the picture is an interesting take on HR Giger.

pelerin said...

I agree with Henry not michael petek. After all Archimboldo lived long before the Swiss chap and the latter was no doubt influenced by Archimboldo.

There are many similarities between this wonderful vege alien and the vegetable composites in the Italian artist's paintings.

lizard said...

To michael petek...

Of course, I completely agree that there is a huge difference between the rational soul of HUMAN BEING and all kinds of supercomputers as well as animals.

I did not want to say that the existence of the soul is supernatural. What I wanted to say is that the soul is a metaphysical rather than scientific concept. In terms of St. Thomas soul is the life principle, the form of the agent. The human soul is absolutely special: (1) it has spiritual nature and (2) it is immortal.

However, the observed rationality of an agent does not provide any evidence for its spiritual nature and immortality. Evidence for both of them are based solely on revelation. From the Scripture we know that God created human being in His own image, in a very special way, provided humans with grace etc etc.

We have no revelation that God has created any other rational agents (on earth or any other planet) in a comparable way. Even though we know that He created many animal species (which may display quite rational behaviour).

So any rational agents which may be found on other planets (notwithstanding the degree of rationality observed in them) have to be considered not much different from animal species we have on the Earth. In this case it will be senseless to take the message of Christ to them.

Unaided reason (science) does provide evidence for various forms of rationality (but not spirituality) present in many animal species. Chimpanzees DO communicate intelligibly. Animals have proper souls which may have various degrees of rationality.

Incidentally, unaided reason (science) have demonstrated that human behaviour is in many respects IRrational.

michael petek said...

Lizard, "spiritual" and "rational" as attributes of the soul are interchangeable and mean the same thing.

You say that chimpanzees communicate rationally, but I've never observed any of them doing so except in those old PG Tips tea adverts.

I've never been approached by a chimpanzee curious to learn about the Catholic faith. An extraterrestrial might well ask me to take him to my leader, and might also be specific about wanting an audience with the man in white who lives in Rome.