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Aliens, Angels, and the Cosmos

Fermi

Are you familiar with the Fermi Paradox? It goes something like this: “There are billions of stars out there like the sun. Therefore, statistically there must be billions of planets like earth where intelligent life has developed. Given the vast amount of time, and the vast number of possible 'other earths,' there must be other intelligent life forms who have invented space travel. Yet while this seems extremely probable, we haven't encountered any."

There are several problems with this proposed paradox. First is what I call size-ism. The materialist is awestruck by the vast size of the universe, by the bigness of time and space. However, why should we be impressed simply by size? We do not think an elephant is better than an infant just because it is bigger. The Sahara is big, but it is full of sand and nobody lives there. Antarctica is bigger than Austria, but it is not better because it is bigger. The cosmos is vast--so what? There may be other intelligent life forms out there, but there is no evidence so far. The evidence would suggest that the earth is like an oasis in the Sahara. Just because the Sahara is vast and supports one oasis does not mean there must be another oasis in the Sahara.

Then there's the subject of aliens and spaceships. The Fermi Paradox suggests that there should be civilizations on other planets that have developed technologies like ours. But why suggest that other beings (if they exist) would be so primitive, to imagine they would be so crude as to make metal containers to hurl themselves through the sky? Why not imagine that they might transport themselves and communicate in ways that are unimaginably more sophisticated than ours? What if they are able to transport themselves by their advanced mental powers? What if they are able to communicate instantly across vast spaces by mere thought? What if they exist in a complex, harmonious, and beautiful relationship with one another and with the whole of creation? What if they are advanced beings who exist within the music of love and service to all things? For Catholics, this is not a hypothetical. The Church has always believed in the existence of such aliens from the beginning. We call them angels.

Finally, those who ponder Fermi’s Paradox would, presumably, shudder at the idea that a theory of the cosmos might be geocentric, or earth centered– yet their perspective, philosophically speaking, is completely geocentric. Their perception of the universe is conditioned by their geocentric understanding of space and time. Their perception of other intelligent beings is based on their understanding of themselves. (“Aliens must be like us, but a little bit different”) Their perception of alien technologies is based on ours. (“They must have developed rockets too!”) In other words, the Fermi Paradox is completely geocentric and anthropocentric in its assumptions.

My problem is not that their view is geocentric, but that it is not geocentric enough. Until proven wrong, I’m quite happy to believe in a geocentric universe. Oh yes, I know that our solar system is not geocentric, but do we know that the cosmos, at a metaphysical level, is not geocentric? What if  the entire cosmos circled around this one solar system of ours–if not physically, then at least metaphysically? Do we think this is impossible simply because our planet and our solar system seems small?

Seemingly insignificant events change history. A minor aristocrat is murdered in an out of the way European city and two cataclysmic world wars take place. An angry friar nails theological arguments to a church door and an entire bloody revolution tumbles onward out of control. A boy decides to get drunk and a girl gets pregnant and a tyrant who rules the world is born.

Those who ponder the Fermi Paradox wonder at the vastness of all things and believe it is important. I ponder at the smallness of all things and know they are important. Individuals change history. Small decisions matter. The Divine is in the detail. I am more interested therefore in what is small rather than what is great in size. Consequently, I am excited by the idea that the earth is, in fact, the center of the universe and that the vast realms of the cosmos surround her and regard her with the tender protection and awestruck wonder with which we behold a newborn baby.

It could be that this earth is the staging ground for all that matters in the cosmos. It may well be that this planet is the battleground where the cosmic war between good and evil reaches its climax. Crucial battles must take place somewhere. What if the war in heaven is completed here on this field of battle? And what if you and I are soldiers in that cosmic and eternally important battle?
 
 
(Image credit: Wait But Why)

Fr. Dwight Longenecker

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Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England. He was brought up in an Evangelical home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the fundamentalist Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and then in 1995, he and his family were received into the Catholic Church. For the next ten years he worked as a freelance writer, contributing to more than fifty magazines, papers and journals in Britain, Ireland and the USA. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. Fr. Dwight is the author of many books including The Quest for the Creed (Crossroads, 2012); More Christianity: Finding the Fullness of the Faith (Ignatius, 2010); and Catholicism Pure and Simple (Stauffer Books, 2012). Connect with his website DwightLongenecker.com, or his Patheos blog, Standing On My Heard.

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  • Sqrat

    There are some good reasons for thinking that, while primitive forms of life may be relatively common out there in the galaxy, planets on which advanced industrial civilizations eventually evolve may be freakishly rare. When they occur, such civilizations may not last very long.

    On the other hand, the UFOlogists tell us that Father Longenecker is dead wrong, that we have indeed encountered intelligent aliens, and that such aliens are visiting our world all the time. The evidence they provide for such a claim seem to me to be as compelling as the evidence for the existence of the God of the Old and New Testaments -- that is, not very compelling at all.

    I commend Father Longenecker for his justifiable skepticism about the risk of being subject to anal probing by the Greys, but would suggest that he ought to be equally skeptical about some other things as well.

  • Maybe there are angels who communicate directly with thoughts. How do the messages travel? What is the medium of thought? How would we detect the transmission of these messages? Those seem to be the important questions for me.

    As for the end of it:

    It could be that this earth is the staging ground for all that matters in the cosmos. It may well be that this planet is the battleground where the cosmic war between good and evil reaches its climax

    It all seems too provincial. Look at all that's out there! Why would God bother with the earth?

    What if the war in heaven is completed here on this field of battle? And what if you and I are soldiers in that cosmic and eternally important battle?

    What if I'm a secret agent whose memories have been wiped, and the secret Soviet empire is closing in on me? What if I have the secret information to once and for all defeat the Russian terror? What if I'm someone very important, like Napoleon? These sort of "what if's" seem to border the "what if's" of the mentally ill. It's not entirely the same, but this line of Longenecker's reminds me of something Chesterton said near the beginning of Orthodoxy.

    Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums. - Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter II

    • Fr.Sean

      you know, i could be wrong on this, but i think one of the connections he was trying to make is this; while pondering the possibility if extraterrestrial life i think Fr.longenecker might be trying to adjust the possibility of pondering for other life just a little. There is a refrence to Lucifer in Isaiah where he was once referred to as one who emulates the light of God or something to that effect. There isn't a whole lot written about angels or fallen angels, but just that they had me their choice. but i have wondered from time to time if Angels were in fact intelligent life on another planet who had to make decisions much the same way we have. Now that their decisions have been made they simply exist in the spiritual realm. But if angels and demons exist i do think their decisions (reminicent of the story of Adam and Eve) were probably not a brief as it is conveyed in the bible. Thus it is possible they were intelligent life on another planet and i suppose would still have some form of a connection with us. i'm not trying to "prove" anything, just an interesting possibility i guess. (like the beginning of ezekiel). by the way, when you mentioned how they might communicate with us, if they exist one would have to adjust modes of communication, thus it would be in the spiritual realm, through prayer, listening, and learning to appreciate silence, which is usually where we hear the spirit speak. "by waiting and calm, you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies" (also from isaiah)

      • Sqrat

        "Lucifer" was a Latin translation of a Hebrew word meaning "the morning star," AKA the planet Venus.

        • Fr.Sean

          Hi Sqrat,
          That's interesting. i wonder what the etymology of the word is in hebrew?

          • Sqrat

            I can't speak to the etymology of the Hebrew word, but the Wikipedia article "Lucifer" is worth a look.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Hey, there Paul. As I understand it, the physics requires that if the universe were less massive it would long ago have spread out into a premature heat death, while if it were more massive it would have recoiled from gravitational attraction and collapsed. So to produce a single inhabited world would pretty much require a universe of the mass we seem to observe. There may of course be other inhabited worlds, but the size of the universe does not demonstrate this.

      • David Nickol

        So to produce a single inhabited world would pretty much require a universe of the mass we seem to observe. There may of course be other inhabited worlds, but the size of the universe does not demonstrate this.

        But the size of the universe—and I believe I can say this without fear of being contradicted—is whatever it is. When it was believed that the "universe" consisted of "the world," the chance that there was intelligent life elsewhere was zero. When it was believed the universe basically consisted of the Milky Way, the chance that there was life elsewhere greatly increased. When it was discovered that nebulae were actually other galaxies, the chances increased dramatically. If there is a multiverse, the odds increase dramatically again.

        Of course, for people who believe life can't begin unless God starts it, then life on earth may be the only life there is. Or it could be that the odds against life arising spontaneously are so astronomical, the estimated 10^24 planets in our universe weren't enough for life to arise twice. But still, the size of the universe is a factor.

        • Sqrat

          But the size of the universe—and I believe I can say this without fear of being contradicted—is whatever it is.

          True, but the size of the universe is different from what it once was, and is very different from what it will be. When the universe was very much smaller than it was, I would say that the probability that it included any life was zero. If the universe becomes much, much larger than it currently is, I would say that the probability that it will include any life will return to zero.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          When it was believed that the "universe" consisted of "the world,"

          The Old Saxon word werold meant by AD1200 "all of existence, the universe". It's later use to refer to a single planet was a contraction of meaning. We can see the same thing happening to the Latinate "universe" which means "the totality of everything existing", contracting to "a space-time continuum" and the linguistic absurdity of "multiverse" now means what "kosmos," "world," and "universe" once meant.
          ++++++
          for people who believe life can't begin unless God starts it, then life on earth may be the only life there is.

          You are thinking of God as an efficient cause within the world.

          Size-wise, the only contention is that the universe would have to be as as massive as it is whether there was one living planet or billions of them. That is, size is not an argument for the existence of other living beings elsewhere. This doesn't mean there aren't any, either; but at present one would need religious motives for believing in them.

          • Howard

            I agree with your criticism of "multiverse", although I do find it interesting how closely it parallels the cosmology of the "Wood Between the Worlds" in C.S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew. A bigger problem with ideas like the "multiverse" is that the separation from observation and experiment is nearly complete. It is an idea deduced from superstring theory -- an idea which certainly appears to be mathematically inconsistent and (even if that problem is solved) for which no one has yet been able to even suggest an experiment that would rule out competing theories. In fact, superstring theory has as one of its components supersymmetry (which is why it is superstring theory), and so far there is no experimental evidence for even this broader class of theories.

      • I am not confident about your first statement:

        [To] produce a single inhabited world would pretty much require a universe of the mass we seem to observe.

        There seem to be a fairly wide range of densities of the post-inflation universe for which the universe could have lasted a long time, and for which there might be life (just naively playing with the Friedman Equations, it seems like densities six times greater allow for billions of years old universes). It is possible that even for a fairly short-lived universe, there could be life (a cute paper by Abraham Loeb, http://arxiv.org/abs/1312.0613 ).

        Your second statement, though:

        There may of course be other inhabited worlds, but the size of the universe does not demonstrate this.

        I completely agree with that. That's why we need to keep looking.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          There seem to be a fairly wide range of densities of the post-inflation
          universe for which the universe could have lasted a long time

          Ye Olde Statistician knows about ranges of uncertainty. A point estimate is not in prospect. But I suspect none of the masses "big enough but not too massive" would qualify as "kinda small."

          • I'm not sure what your comment means. Specifically:

            But I suspect none of the masses "big enough but not too massive" would qualify as "kinda small."

            What are you trying to say here? Kinda small compared to what?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The range of values for the mass of the universe (presumably based on a model of some sort, rather than actual weighing on a scale (ROFL)) is unlikely to include a universe small enough that "Look how big the universe is compared to li'l ol' us" would not come up. IOW, it is still the case that one needs an enormous universe to create a living world, whether there is only one such world or many.

            I think we're in agreement that references to the size of the universe are irrelevant.

      • Howard

        This type of talk makes me uncomfortable. Although physics has progressed quite dramatically, the fact is that we really only understand "baryonic matter", which is only about 4.6% of the total mass-energy of the universe -- and decreasing, because (we think) new dark energy is being produced. (Yes, this does violate the conservation of mass-energy, and no, that's not as big a problem as it seems, because on cosmological scales the universe is not time-invariant.) We don't fully understand either the stuff that is in the universe or the rules that govern how that stuff behaves, and we deduce both the same way -- by observation and experiment. It's not as though we know the laws with perfect certainty as though they came down from Mount Sinai, and therefore we know, for example, that the size of the universe must be at least "yay big" for there to be intelligent life. If we had discovered that the size of the universe were only, say, 1 light year, we would not have concluded that there was a contradiction -- we would have used this observation to deduce physical laws different from the ones which actual observations have led us to deduce.

    • Ray Vorkin

      These sort of "what if's" seem to border the "what if's",

      as in the wild imaginings, of down the rabbit hole in Alice In Wonderland.

  • jakael02

    Good article, short, to-the-point, and interesting.

    • Can you tell me the point, because I honestly don't understand.

      • jakael02

        For me, it was just another way to potentially understand our world when we feel so small in the scope of the cosmos.

        • We are small in the cosmos. Not compared to an electron, yes compared to a quasar. It scales both ways. Do you feel bad in some way when the scale of the cosmos is pointed out to you? I never do. It always feels really neat to me.

          • jakael02

            When I ponder the scale of the cosmos, theological hurdles come to mind. The universe is so large, it's difficult to imagine we are alone. Star Wars comes to mind too, since I was a big player of the MMO and movie series. :)

          • Howard

            I just enjoy lording it over the electrons and reminding them how insignificant they are. Tremble before my size and mass, subatomic particles!

  • mgcruss

    "The cosmos is vast--so what? "

    I suspect many of those at the Vatican Observatory don't share Father's indifference to the size of the universe, but since he makes his living as a parish Priest and not an astronomer, he certainly doesn't have to be a 'size-ist' if he doesn't want to be. But I think that articles like this hurt rather than help reasonable dialogue between believers and non-believers.

  • teo

    I have wondered. Since we were able to discover the entire em spectrum and use it then many aliens had to do the same. Many had to do so thousands or a million years ago. So where is their chatter??

    • This is a great question. There are a variety of reasons we may not be able to hear the chatter, and we may have already heard it and don't recognize it. i found this answer helpful (from Amateur Astronomer David Woolley):
      http://www.faqs.org/faqs/astronomy/faq/part6/section-12.html

      • jakael02

        So from your knowledge, is their anything scientists are doing that stands a decent chance of getting a response, assuming life is out there? I don't know much about that stuff.

        • You ask a hard question.

          SETI has the home project, where they listen to the signals that could be chatter and look for patterns. So far, they haven't found anything. There are very imaginative ideas, for example we could search for Dyson spheres or partial Dyson spheres using occultation. People have suggested projects to send signals, but it could take thousands of years before we would see the fruits of that effort, if at all. There are many ideas, and quite a few people are looking for intelligent life. The bigger focus in Astronomy right now is on finding any life. Maybe there's life on Mars or Titan or under the icy crust of Enceladus. The James Webb Space Telescope will search for spectroscopic signatures of possible life, such as molecular oxygen, in the atmospheres of extrasolar planets.

          The hard part is finding out what chance any of this has. There was an article on Strange Notions not too long ago, about Bayes's theorem, and lots of people complained about it, but I thought it wasn't such a bad article. The author, William Briggs, believes that it is not possible to give statistics without context, and I generally agree. It is very difficult to say what the chances are when you only have one data point. Earth is the only data point we have so far in the search for life.

          I think it's worth trying (that's a biased opinion; I'm paid to help look for life on other planets). But I can't say what chance there is of finding life, even if lots of it is out there.

          • jakael02

            That is interesting. The James Webb telescope sounds cool & I'm excited to follow that when it goes into business. I'm actually surprised that they have not found traces of life on Mars. I expected to see small stuff there from long ago. They are digging into a sea of ice from 20 million years ago in Antarctica, if I recall correctly, which would be cool if they find life that's been uncontacted since then.

            Off topic, but quickly, do you believe alien life has already contacted us?

      • Ye Olde Statistician
        • I did enjoy it! I think the blog post hit on many of the possible explanations. There's at least one good science fiction novel left to be written for each of those 21 listed possibilities.

          That post continues the tradition of great science fiction writers speculating about the question of intelligent alien life:

          “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” - Arthur C Clark.

    • Howard

      The main theory is that shortly after developing the ability to broadcast in the radio spectrum, they developed "reality shows", which are known to get worse and worse as time goes on. Once a civilization has its own version of "Keeping up with the Kardashians", its doom is unavoidable. So you might have 4.5 billion years to evolve a civilization capable of making radio broadcasts, but that civilization is only able to transmit for a little over a century.

    • Michael Murray

      Indeed its all the same problem. Where is the radio chatter ? Where are the space ships ? Where are the von Neumann probes ?

      One possibility is that even though planets are common intelligent life is a lot rarer than we think. See for example the rare earth hypothesis

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_Earth_hypothesis

      The history of life on earth suggest that developing multi-cellular life is tough. It seems that life on earth is roughly 3.8 billion years old but multi-cellular is only 2 billion years old.

  • M J

    Great! not to mention UFO sightings, were never recorded until the 20th century... thanks for your help in my emails as well.. Peace

    • What does that have to do with it. Do you get his point? I do not.

      • M J

        Yes, I get his point, and no, the ufo sighting comment was just lagniappe "a little something extra"..... His point is simple. The universe is big, but that does not mean anything, and we could still very much be the reason it is all made.

        • I don't see why anyone would dispute that, but it has nothing to do with Fermis paradox.

          • M J

            I never heard of it, I had to research it quickly, and from what I gather, of course though, all from the internet... is he is right, if you know something, fill me in.... I found this: The apparent size and age of the universe suggest that many
            technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations ought to exist.

            However, this hypothesis seems inconsistent with the lack of observational evidence to support it.

          • You are correct, so at least one of the assumptions about probability is wrong. One that is not up for much debate is the size of this universe. The guesses about how likely life is to evolve, become intelligent, create advanced technology, manifest in a way that we would recognize, be able to communicate and want to communicate must be wrong. At least one of these is less likely than would mean we would have heard from these civilizations. All of these are arbitrary guesses.

            But I don't see what any of this has to do with a god or our species being the purpose of the cosmos. If the universe were riddled with intelligent which we communicate, we could still be the purpose of it, just as the fact that our star is one of thousands of billions on an arm of a spiral galaxy among thousands of billions in a cluster of galaxies and so on, does not mean we are not the purpose.

            So what?

          • M J

            Thanks.

  • David Nickol

    First is what I call size-ism. The materialist is awestruck by the vast size of the universe, by the bigness of time and space. However, why should we be impressed simply by size?

    First, it is definitely not just materialists who are awestruck by "the bigness of time and space." Almost anyone who attempts to comprehend just how vast just the visible universe is, or who ponders how long 13.8 billion years really is, is going to be awestruck.

    The charge of "size-ism" when it comes to the origin and development of life is basically foolish. For those who believe in evolution (and it is the only scientific theory regarding the development of life) the number of planets that have existed and do exist, and the amount of time they have existed, makes a great deal of difference. If the origin and development of life is a random event, then the more opportunities for that event to happen, the more likely it is to happen multiple times. If your odds for winning the lottery with a single ticket are a million to one, and you buy a million (different) tickets, you are certain to win.

    We do not think an elephant is better than an infant just because it is bigger. The Sahara is big, but it is full of sand and nobody lives there. Antarctica is bigger than Austria, but it is not better because it is bigger.

    The above are all perfectly irrelevant examples. No one says a bigger universe is a better universe. The argument is that the bigger the universe is (or more precisely, the larger the number of planets) the more opportunity there is for life to arise multiple times. When Hubble discovered that "nebulas" were actually galaxies, and that the universe was much larger than had been previously imagine, nobody said that the universe was better than had been thought.

    The Church has always believed in the existence of such aliens from the beginning. We call them angels.

    Angels (if they exist) cannot be classified as alien life forms. Let's be serious, shall we?

    What if the war in heaven is completed here on this field of battle? And what if you and I are soldiers in that cosmic and eternally important battle?

    Is this Catholic orthodoxy? What war in heaven? And I thought it was maintained that Jesus, by his death and resurrection, had conquered Satan.

  • Again, I really cannot discern the author's point. Is he saying angels are just animals that evolved on other planets and can communicate with us in strange ways, if so why call them angels?

    Is he saying anything more than in his subjective view the earth is really important?

    Seriously, what is being communicated to atheists here?

    • jakael02

      Regarding angels, I think the author is saying a Christian should not be surprised if/when we encounter intelligent life because Christians have always believed in angels which are intelligent life in a spirit form. An angel is an office, not a species; so angels could comprise of multitudes of spirit species.

      Not sure what is being communicated to atheists here; that I did not understand either. The article felt more theist focused.

  • David Nickol

    Just because the Sahara is vast and supports one oasis does not mean there must be another oasis in the Sahara.

    This is an ill-chosen example, since there happen to be many oases in the Sahara.

  • Paula

    I think C. S. Lewis' trilogy "Out of the Silent Planet" offers an eloquent and nuanced treatment of the possibility of alien life from a Christian perspective. As for the grandeur of the universe: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands" (Psalm 19:2).

    • Yes! Why couldn't the article have been this?

    • If you read Fr. Longenecker's last paragraph, it is perfectly consonant with what Lewis wrote.

      • Paula

        Hi Duhem,

        I did indeed read Fr. Longenecker's last paragraph. I made no mention of whether his argument is "perfectly consonant" (or otherwise) with Lewis' take because my only claim is that Lewis' treatment of the question is eloquent and nuanced. With respect to the other paragraphs in Fr. Longenecker's article, I'm inclined to agree with mgcruss' comment above.

  • Ray Vorkin

    I think that Tracy if probably relieved that her follow up article re Still Birth in Arabia has not yet been posted.

    s

  • David Nickol

    Estimates are going to vary widely, but I have seen estimates that between 100 and 200 billion galaxies exist in "our" universe, and that the total number of planets in the universe may be 10^24. Suppose (for the sake of calculating conveniently) that the chances of intelligent life arising were 1 in every billion galaxies or 1 in every 10^23 planets. There would be about 100 to 200 intelligent races in the universe, but the odds of any one of them crossing paths with any other (either "in person" or by some kind of transmissions) would be "astronomically" small.

    While I tend to believe there must be other intelligent life in the universe, even if intelligent life (or any life) is confined to Earth in no way proves there is a God and Earth is in some way or another the center of the universe.

    Time to post the great Pogo cartoon on this topic again!

    • Michael Murray

      Unless they use self-replicating probes (Von Neumann probes)

      It has been theorized[by whom?] that a self-replicating starship utilizing relatively conventional theoretical methods of interstellar travel (i.e., no exotic faster-than-light propulsion such as "warp drive", and speeds limited to an "average cruising speed" of 0.1c.) could spread throughout a galaxy the size of the Milky Way in as little as half a million years.[2]

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Neumann_probe#Von_Neumann_probes

      Then they should be everywhere !

      EDIT: Sorry you are talking about the Universe and I was thinking galaxy. Von-Neumann probes are going to take a long time to cross between galaxies so I think your point remains.

  • Mike O’Leary

    I don't believe that searching outward and looking inward is an either/or proposition. Father Longenecker noted that he's focused on the small instead of the large. That's fine, but there is no need to dismiss those who see the vastness before them and want to understand it in every way possible.

    As he noted things that seem small may have great effects. The problem I have is I can draw a line between Archduke Ferdinand, World War I, and the war's effects on the world today. Such a line is not so easily drawn regarding the smallness the father is concentrating on. We can't state the earth is the possible center of the metaphysical universe without showing such a universe exists. I can just as easily speculate that two layabouts from San Dimas will eventually make music that will bring forth a utopian society (provided they pass their history exam).

  • Michael Murray

    I wonder if this article is attempting to answer the kind of attitude we see in this quote from Richard Feynman.

    “It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil - which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.”

    I don't see how the Fermi Paradox fits into this. But for those who haven't heard of it before the wikipedia page is interesting.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox

    Personally I find this completely unrelated to the question whether I should believe in gods. There was a regular poster here Peter who was very keen on the idea that the universes was designed for intelligent life. I'm surprised he hasn't turned up again.

  • Doug Shaver

    There are several problems with this proposed paradox. First is what I call size-ism. The materialist is awestruck by the vast size of the universe, by the bigness of time and space.

    Our feelings of awe are irrelevant to the argument. There are at least a hundred billion stars in our galaxy. In some contexts, that is a vast number. In other contexts, it is a tiny number. Those contexts don't matter if we're interested in the probability that intelligent life has arisen on some world other than our own. In that particular context, the statement "There are at least 100 billion stars in our galaxy" is a simple statement of fact. We might regard the fact as awesome or we might not, but it's still a fact. And, conjoined with certain other apparent facts plus the laws of probability, we can infer something about the likelihood of there being other civilizations more technologically advanced than our own.

    However, why should we be impressed simply by size?

    The argument is not about impressions. It's about mathematics.

    We do not think an elephant is better than an infant just because it is bigger.

    Fermi's paradox has nothing to do with anything being better than something else. It has to do with what we should reasonably expect to have observed.

    There may be other intelligent life forms out there, but there is no evidence so far.

    That lack of evidence is what makes Fermi's paradox a paradox.

    But why suggest that other beings (if they exist) would be so primitive, to imagine they would be so crude as to make metal containers to hurl themselves through the sky?

    The argument depends on no assumption of primitiveness. It assumes only that there is nothing special about our own capabilities.

    Why not imagine that they might transport themselves and communicate in ways that are unimaginably more sophisticated than ours?

    The human ability to imagine things is very useful, but imagination cannot turn speculation into fact.

    For Catholics, this is not a hypothetical. The Church has always believed in the existence of such aliens from the beginning. We call them angels.

    Go ahead and believe it. Scientists cannot treat your sectarian dogmas as if they were data.

    but do we know that the cosmos, at a metaphysical level, is not geocentric?

    Not speaking for anyone else here, but I don't claim to know that. I don't claim to have any metaphysical knowledge at all, because I see no reason to believe that there is any reality beyond, or transcendent to, the observable universe.

    Do we think this is impossible simply because our planet and our solar system seems small?

    I am not denying the possibility of anything you believe. I am denying only that you have given me any good reason to believe it myself.

    It could be that this earth is the staging ground for all that matters in the cosmos.

    Yes, it could be. Now tell me why I should think it actually is.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      I see no reason to believe that there is any reality beyond, or transcendent to, the observable universe.
      Well, except for "probabilities."

      Of course, there are no probabilities absent a model and no way to estimate them absent evidence. Pr(X|M,E). So it would be useful to know what "laws of probability" you have in mind, what model you are applying, and what evidence you are using to estimate the parameters of the model. Lacking that, it all just boils down to "Golly, thet that universe sure does look big. I cain't imagine that that ain't no other folks out thar."

      • Doug Shaver

        So it would be useful to know what "laws of probability" you have in mind, what model you are applying, and what evidence you are using to estimate the parameters of the model.

        Show me a probabilistic argument for something, and if I think there is a problem with it, I'll tell you what I think the problem is.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Nice somersault! But it was yourself who wrote:

          And, conjoined with certain other apparent facts plus the laws of probability, we can infer something about the likelihood of there being
          other civilizations...

          I was simply curious what "laws of probability" those might be.

          • Doug Shaver

            They're the same laws you would learn in any introductory textbook on probability. Here is a brief overview:
            http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/sloan-school-of-management/15-063-communicating-with-data-summer-2003/lecture-notes/lecture3.pdf

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            So all that is now required is to show how these apply! As for example, the Bayesian dependency or the independence of events. Or for that matter, even how an "event" and the "event space" are to be defined.

          • Doug Shaver

            So all that is now required is to show how these apply!

            Yes. If we're talking about a specific proposition, we need to justify the way we apply the laws of probability to that particular proposition.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Yes. If we're talking about a specific proposition

            Why the dancing? You wrote:

            "There are at least 100 billion stars in our galaxy" is a simple statement of fact. ... And, conjoined with certain other apparent facts plus the laws of probability, we can infer something about the likelihood of there being other civilizations more technologically advanced than our own.

            So I naturally wondered which "laws" of probability would apply and how.

          • Doug Shaver

            Why the dancing?

            What's the problem? Have I said something you actually disagree with?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Not that I know of. I have only been asking how you propose to apply the "laws of probability" to the question of "advances" alien civilizations. Suppose I were to say that "Advanced alien civilizations exist because quantum theory." You would surely be curious as to how this was possible. If you were to ask and I kept dodging you would rightly suspect that I had been engaging in a bit of handwavium.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't need to propose anything. It's already been done. That's the reason Fermi came up with his paradox.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            That's circular. It's a "paradox" only if you posit some probability beforehand. And if those probabilities come from the Dirac prayer, they have no foundation whatsoever. I had thought you had some additional insight. Sorry.

          • Doug Shaver

            Show us the circle. It isn't there just because you claim to see it. Demonstrate how at least one premise presupposes the conclusion.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            What circle? I simply point out that in the Dirac prayer, there are a bunch of made-up "probabilities" multiplied together as if they were independent events. If you make up these probabilities you get a figure that suggests we should have heard from some aliens by now. We have not heard from any aliens. Therefore (I would say) the model is wrong, but others say it is a "paradox."
            IOW: P→Q + ¬Q is only a paradox if you assume P must be true.

          • Doug Shaver

            One of my English teachers in high school gave us, as the definition of paradox, "an apparent contradiction." I intuited that the word "apparent" was crucial, and nothing I have since learned has suggested otherwise.

            Of course, if a model predicts something contrary to observation, then there is something wrong with the model. But to know there is a problem is not to identify the problem. Certain possible sources of error, however, are pretty easily ruled out. It is not likely that we have made a mistake in formulating the laws of probability, and it is trivially easy to check whether anyone has misapplied them in this particular case or has made a calculation error.

            The cosmic silence therefore implies two possibilities. One is that there is something extremely unusual about us or about our history as an intelligent species. The other, which supposes that our history is usual, is that we're bound to face a future that we're not going to like.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I always thought a paradox was two physicians. Go figure.

            It is not likely that we have made a mistake in formulating the laws of probability, and it is trivially easy to check whether anyone has misapplied them in this particular case or has made a calculation error.

            This rattles the cockles of my statistical soul. What is a "calculation error" when the numbers are utterly made up? How is it easy to determine whether any of the terms in the model represent dependent or independent probabilities? How in fact does one determine that all the relevant terms have been accounted for? For example: the Earth has a relatively large moon for its size, one that creates tidal pools that have served as "escalators" for life to transition from sea to land. Where does the probability of such a moon occur in the "equation"? Might there be other "escalators"? If so, what are their joint probabilities? And so on. Way too many people think probability is simply a matter of mechanical calculation, or that it is a branch of mathematics.

            http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2012/11/illegal-aliens.html

          • Doug Shaver

            What is a "calculation error" when the numbers are utterly made up?

            I can give you an example. Suppose I make up a guess that the probability of A is 0.6 and the probability of B is 0.4. If they are independent, then the probability of their disjunction is the sum of their individual probabilities. If I calculate that sum to be 0.64, then I've made a calculation error.

            How is it easy to determine whether any of the terms in the model represent dependent or independent probabilities? How in fact does one determine that all the relevant terms have been accounted for?

            With great difficulty, I should think. So what? Is there some principle according to which we must avoid any attempt to solve difficult problems?

            Way too many people think probability is simply a matter of mechanical calculation

            For just about any intellectual mistake you can suggest, way too many people think it.

            or that it is a branch of mathematics.

            But it is that. If you mean it is not only that, then I won't disagree. Sometimes it's also a branch of epistemology.

          • Michael Murray

            Presumably some of these difficult issues around whether life is rare for reasons like tidal pools or common for other reasons can be settled by more observation. Look at the dramatic change to our understanding of extrasolar planets in the last half a century. When I was a kid none were known. There have been plans for telescopes that can analysis extrasolar planetary atmospheres and maybe even see seasonal changes. If it turns out that simple life is observed to be common then that's the the answer. On the other hand if all the earth like planets we observe look like Mars then simple life is hard to get started.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Yes, but what does it mean to crunch the numbers correctly when the numbers are made up? (I should have been more clear on this.) What does if mean to do so incorrectly? Nothing, in either case.

            Is there some principle according to which we must avoid any attempt to solve difficult problems?

            No, but my principle is sort of against making up bogus numbers and running them under the mask of an equation, just as if it were really-truly scientificalistic.

          • Doug Shaver

            Yes, but what does it mean to crunch the numbers correctly when the numbers are made up?

            I don't believe they're just made up. That's your obsession, not mine.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I don't believe they're just made up.

            Here are four terms in the Drake equation:
            fℓ is the fraction of planets with the potency for life that actually go on to develop life at some point

            fi is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life

            fc is the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space

            L is the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space

            Please let me know where the "probabilities" for these numbers come from. What empirical data was used to estimate them?

          • Doug Shaver

            Here are four terms in the Drake equation . . . . Please let me know where the "probabilities" for these numbers come from

            Why me? I haven't yet suggested any probabilities.

            I do remember reading an article about 40 years ago in which estimates were offered and defended, but I wasn't taking notes while reading it.

            What empirical data was used to estimate them?

            When you find someone who offers a specific estimate, you can ask them.

            But let's think a moment about your first three terms.

            fℓ is the fraction of planets with the potency for life that actually go on to develop life at some point

            We know that this fraction cannot be zero, because the event has actually occurred. That is an empirical datum. At least one planet in the universe with conditions suitable for life did develop life. If we had no other data at all, we would be justified in thinking that fℓ might be pretty close to unity. Of course, we'd have to strongly emphasize "might be"; after all, our sample size is only n = 1. But one datum is not no data.

            fi is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life

            We know of one planet that did develop life, and it did develop intelligent life, so this fraction, too, might be close to unity.

            fc is the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space

            Again: It did happen, on the only world we know of on which it possibly could have happened.

            Now of course, we cannot put much confidence in anything we extrapolate from a sample of one. But it is not the case that we are entirely ignorant about the conditions necessary for life to arise on a world where conditions are suitable, and for that life to evolve intelligence, and for intelligent life to develop technology that would make its presence remotely detectable. We can study the one world on which these things have happened, and we can get some notion of the conditions that were necessary and sufficient for it to have happened.

          • Gary

            A single data point only demonstrates that the probability is not zero, which means only that life is possible. So the probability is somewhere between not-zero and one. Anyone who provides a number in that range is making it up. You don't believe they are "just made up", but that is what they are. "Close to Unity" is ridiculous.

          • Doug Shaver

            You don't believe they are "just made up"

            Right, I don't believe that. The reason I don't believe it is that it is intentionally pejorative. It implies that whoever suggests a particular value cannot have any reason for preferring it to any other value. But reasons have been offered. When they are, the appropriate counterargument is "Those reasons are inadequate," not "You're just making things up."

            "Close to Unity" is ridiculous.

            It would have been ridiculous for me to have said "It is close to unity," but that is not what I said.

          • Gary

            You went from "not zero" to "might be close to unity". There are an infinite number of probabilities between those two. The only thing we know is "not zero". Anything else is a fabrication.

          • Doug Shaver

            I said both "not zero" and "might be close to unity." I did not infer one from the other. As long as there is uncertainty, "might be" is true until "cannot be" is proven.

            There are an infinite number of probabilities between those two.

            There are an infinite number of possibilities. A calculated probability can only be one of them. Any probability calculation, even the outcome of a coin toss, rests on certain assumptions. If you want to dispute the result of the calculation, you have to dispute at least one of the assumptions on which it is based. To justify your claim that any estimate of the probability of extraterrestrial civilizations is indistinguishable from pure guesswork, you need to argue that no assumption at all can have any justification.

          • Gary

            What is your justification for "If we had no other data at all, we would be justified in thinking that fℓ might be pretty close to unity."

          • Doug Shaver

            My justification is the meaning of "might be." If I draw a marble from a 55-gallon barrel full of marbles, and if the one I draw is black, then I know that the barrel might be full of black marbles, if I have no other information about the color distribution of the marbles in the barrel.

          • Gary

            It just as well "might be" the only black marble.

          • Doug Shaver

            If by "just as well" you mean "equally probable," I think a Bayesian analysis would suggest otherwise.

          • Gary

            Single data point. Bayes analysis. Close to unity. Got it.

          • Doug Shaver

            Do you know something about Bayes that would contradict anything I've said?

          • Gary

            Please explain how anything statistical, Bayes or otherwise, lets you claim that fℓ, fi, or fc, or the statement "the next marble will be black" "might be close to unity".

          • Michael Murray

            Sounds a bit like likelihood theory

            http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Likelihood_function

          • Gary

            What theories may or may not apply, statistically or otherwise, cannot be determined until you know the nature of the data to which you wish to apply them, how that data was collected, what those data points ("the numbers") actually are, etc. Otherwise, NINO (nonsense in, nonsense out).
            Or we might also say PMDCB ("purple monkey dishwasher cuz Bayes")

          • Doug Shaver

            That is not what I said, so I don't need to explain it.

            I've already given you my justification for saying "might be close to unity." You said I would be equally justified in saying it might be zero. I then brought Bayes in because Bayes shows you are mistaken about that equality.

          • Gary

            Neither Bayes, nor any other statistical analysis, shows "it" (whichever you are referring to by that) "might be close to unity". Obviously fℓ, fi, and fc are not zero, no one said they were. The statement "fℓ might be close to unity" is as probable as "fℓ might be close to 0.05". Your justification was to play a silly game with the word "might". Then you pull out Bayes. But what is on display is Dunning Kruger.

          • Doug Shaver

            Obviously fℓ, fi, and fc are not zero, no one said they were.

            Nor did I accuse anyone of saying they were. You did say they were as likely to be near zero as to be near unity. That is what I am disputing.

          • Gary

            Your previous post said "You said I would be equally justified in saying it might be zero." whereas I said no such thing. When I point that out, you claim no one said they were.

            There is as much basis for saying "near zero" as there is for saying "might be near unity", because there is no basis for either claim. All we know is, they are not zero. As has already been pointed out by others, you are making numbers up. You can have the last word if you like, DK folks like that.

          • Doug Shaver

            I have nothing further at this time.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            That is a bad analogy. There must be one planet that supports intelligent life, otherwise we would not be having this conversation. So, if the first black marble is earth, it was not chosen through a random process.
            For right now, I don't think there is anything that we can say about the probability distribution. Our sample is not random, as every planet that we can observe is within our section of the galaxy.
            Regardless, not sure how any of this makes earth the "metaphysical center" of the universe.

          • Doug Shaver

            So, if the first black marble is earth, it was not chosen through a random process.

            Not a problem, actually. Bayes's theorem can deal with nonrandom sampling.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Not a problem, actually. Bayes's theorem can deal with nonrandom sampling.

            As long as you have a probability distribution? Please give an example.
            But that wasn't really my point. Any observation that we can make from earth on any of the probabilities will be biased. This whole discussion presupposes intelligent life (us), so the chain of events that led to us could have been very very unlikely.

          • Doug Shaver

            the chain of events that led to us could have been very very unlikely.

            Yes, they could have been. There is much uncertainty. The relevant principles are called laws of probability for a reason.

          • Gary

            YOS, I cannot find any reference online to "Dirac prayer". Perhaps you could post about that at tofspot for us?

            Also, would you agree that the "Fermi paradox" could be stated something like "In the Drake equation, why does N seem to be observed as zero."

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Typo: I meant to type "Drake prayer", a tongue-in-cheekery reference to the Drake "equation." I shall go back and correct it.

            Your rephrase seems okay; though I would call it a paradox only insofar as you took the Drake "equation" seriously.

          • Gary

            Thank you, shucks, I hoped you had something juicy and relatively unknown about Dirac! He is still interesting reading though.
            Good point: if I recall correctly, the Fermi thingie was originally the "Fermi Question", literally "So where are they?" while he was a guest at an observatory. It is only a paradox if you were expecting "them" to be more in evidence.

          • Michael Murray

            If you know p the probability that a star has orbiting it a planet with an advanced civilisation on it and you know N the number of stars then the expected number of advanced civilisations is Np.

            But you know that.

            Of course we don't know p. We have a gut feeling it can't be as low as 1/N because that is really small. But personally I'm not convinced.

  • Peter

    The notion that the earth is the centre of the universe and that mankind is unique does, in my opinion, do more disservice than service to the Church. Simply put, the science is against it and, consequently, this belief becomes consigned to the same falsifiable bottom draw as the creationist belief that the earth is only 6000 years old.

    The main scientific argument at present is that the universe we observe is but a tiny fraction of the overall universe. Why would the Creator make our planet and its inhabitants the central and unique point of sentience in the universe if we, who are supposed to be the reason the universe's existence, are only able to observe a tiny fraction of it? It does not make sense.

    It makes much more sense, and this is becoming more likely as we increasingly discover the cosmos around us, that the universe brimming either with life or with the potential for life, and consequently, in the aeons to come, with the potential for widespread sentient life like ourselves.

    This is sublimely consistent with the notion of a loving Creator who desires to populate the cosmos with creatures in his own image and likeness, not physical of course, because that would depend on local conditions, but spiritual and intellectual.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      > The science is against it.

      Correct me if I'm wrong but according to big bang cosmology, depending on how you look at it, either there is no center of the universe or every galaxy is the center of the universe, since they are all moving away from each other. Given the latter, science is not exactly against the notion that we are somehow central.

      Theologically, if we are made in the image of God, and are ends in ourselves, then each one of us is, in a sense, the center of the universe.

      • Peter

        Of course there is no spatial centre to the three-dimensional universe, just as there is no geographical centre to the two-dimensional surface of a sphere like the earth.

        If we are deemed to be unique in the universe then we would be truly central, not in a geographical sense but in the sense that we would be pre-eminent, representing the most complex arrangement of matter in the cosmos, capable of self-awareness and of comprehending the world around us.

        What the science is against is the likelihood that we are alone, or that we will be in the future, which would render us no longer unique and pre-eminent and therefore no longer central.

  • A question for Fr. Longenecker (and others): in 2009 Fr. Jose Funes, Director of the Vatican Observatory, gave an interview in which he declared

    “As there are various creatures on Earth, there could be other beings, even intelligent beings, created by God. This doesn’t contradict our faith because we can’t put limits to the creative freedom of God.”

    see
    http://thedivulgers.com/2012/04/the-vatican-aliens-are-our-brothers/

    Would Yoda have a soul? I've read much science-fiction in which there Church attempts to give the message to intelligent life; in one story (by David Bishop), there is even a cephalopod bishop. Did Jesus Christ suffer and die only for humans, and as in C.S. Lewis's trilogy, are there intelligent beings who have not undergone the Fall?

    Just wondering.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      From the Aristotelian/Thomistic perspective, every living thing has a soul. The question is, what kind?

      So if Yoda were real, he would have a soul. And obviously it is a rational soul, like ours. In addition, he has some power higher than we do, because he can control "the force."

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      According to Augustine, "human" includes all beings with a rational soul. This metaphysical human is distinct from a biological human.

      • David Nickol

        Are you saying that the invaders in, say, War of the Worlds were "humans" of another species?

        If computer science ever manages to create true artificial intelligence, will the computer, network of computers, or whatever the physical component of the intelligence is, have a rational soul and be human?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          1) Don't know. Consider the possibility that animals lacking rationality may still through imagination develop tools and toys. Ain't that a kicker?
          2) We'll cross the AI bridge when we come to it. My initial inclination is skepticism that an artifact can ever possess reason. Computers can't even do math.

          But, granting the assumptions sec. arg., the answers would be "yes."

          Consider some medieval legends:
          http://m-francis.livejournal.com/78828.html

    • LT

      I think Christ suffered and died only for humans because they we are the race which fell due to the free choice of its progenitors. There may be other beings who aren't of the human race who have rational souls like ours and are destined to be with Him too. I think the question is open as to whether they would need Christ's atonement because they wouldn't have descended from the fallen parents, although that fall did "break" all of creation. Also, I must ask whether rationality also includes free will, because intellect *and* will are God's image and what distinguishes us. Even if Yoda, space aliens, or whoever else are extremely intelligent, if they are unable to freely choose the "good", they have no status above other animals in God's plan.

      • Sqrat

        Also, I must ask whether rationality also includes free will, because intellect *and* will are God's image and what distinguishes us. Even if Yoda, space aliens, or whoever else are extremely intelligent, if they are unable to freely choose the "good", they have no status above other animals in God's plan.

        What do you mean by free will?

        • LT

          Its hard for me to put into words but to me it means we can use our intellect to know what our options are and what their consequences are. That gives an initial freedom to do more things simply because we are aware that those options are even there. Also, knowing the options, we can look outside of ourselves, see how our choices affect others, align with what we know or learn are objective goods and evils, and let those factors affect our choices, even if it makes a greater burden on self. I am sure others could do a much better job than me at describing it!

      • Thanks lt...your comment shows much insight.

  • In the original version he calls Fermi's paradox stupid and silly, that materialists' wonder at the vastness of the universe is due to us not having anything to worship.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2013/02/aliens-elephants-and-angels.html

  • Howard

    Actually, regarding "size-ism", a much bigger problem is that people simply cannot imagine how big the distance to other stars is, though we can represent it with numbers. We know that the moon is a long way from earth, and (from where I live) California is a long way away, so maybe the moon is 10 times as far away as California. We know that Mars is farther away than the moon, but we hear people talking about sending people to Mars, so maybe Mars is ten times farther away than the moon. We know that the stars are much farther away than Mars, so maybe they are 100 times as far away as Mars. Each one of these hunches significantly underestimates the difference -- the last one especially.

    Here's a better way of getting a feel for the distance. Suppose you wanted to send a probe with a mass of one metric ton to Alpha Centauri (the nearest bright star other than the sun) with a trip taking only about 43 years. You are going to use a rocket because you have to conserve momentum, but this is not a chemical rocket. It will shoot hydrogen gas out the nozzle at a speed relative to the rocket of about 40,000 m/s -- the thermal velocity of hydrogen at 20 million Kelvin, which is the upper range for estimates of the temperature at the core of the sun. You will have to get the rocket up to 10% the speed of light, but fortunately, that is still non-relativistic, so the calculations could be made by a sophomore. How much hydrogen would be required? The answer, sadly, is more than 50 times the mass of the whole Solar System.

    The problem is that you have to carry with you all the hydrogen you will need as reaction mass. This makes it an even bigger problem if you want to slow from 10% the speed of light back to rest, so that you can actually visit Alpha Centauri. In that case, the mass of hydrogen needed to go to Alpha Centauri and stop within 43 years is about one hundred trillion times the estimated mass of the entire universe. That means "no".

    The situation is not as bad if the velocity of the reaction mass is increased or if you are willing to wait centuries or millenia instead of decades. Of course, if you're planning on setting up an actual colony, you will need the equivalent of a small city, since you're going to need to make your own food, air, and probably water, and the tools to make the machines that make those things, and the tools to make those tools, etc. (Even if you think a planet is "Earth-like", you might want to read "War of the Worlds" to avoid making the mistake of the Martians. In fact, a better place to settle would be more like real-world Mars -- sterile, but not too far from life-supporting.)

    • LT

      My initial concern was of why would God create a universe spaced out so far that we cannot ever experience parts of it. Then I realized that just as there are things too far in distance for us to get to, there are also things too far in time for us to get to. I have no chance to experience what's in creation 200 years from now, yet that is not a concern for me. After all, I have no reason to think of time differently than distance, length, or any other measurement since they are all integrated properties of matter anyway, right? I don't know how this relates (pardon the pun) to the discussion at hand but I just thought it interesting.

      • Howard

        I look at it the other way. I know, for instance, that I will never climb Mt. Everest or Lechuguilla Cave, but it is enough to know that they are there. And I am even glad that there are wonders that I will not only never see, but never know about. Some I can imagine, some I would never think to imagine. Isn't it better to live in a universe so rich in wonder?

        • LT

          I like that - thanks!

  • Ray Vorkin

    Fermi Paradox Documentary.....Worth watching.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZBU4D9mpEc

  • Looking at the mandate of this site I thought I would make some comments from. My perspective as an atheist. The issues raised here have nothing to do with my position on the existence of any gods.

    If and when theistic apologists claim that humans are the purpose of this world and that it was designed specifically for humans, I will point out that the vast vast vast majority of the cosmos is lethal to humans and this seems inconsistent with a design purposed to humans. The response is that the could be other purposes for the vast emptiness and history of the cosmos. There could there might not, if you are claiming there is such an alternative purpose, you need to establish this. Otherwise, these other purposes are just as likely as the whole thing being the matrix.

    In interesting issue arises if the apologist suggests that the scale of the cosmos is a function of the natural laws required to have a universe that doesn't fly apart or crunch under its own gravity. In others words, if God had to design it like this so that just one planet developed on which human life could exist. This is a fine argument, but it has consequences. It prevents you from relying on the fine tuning argument. God's creation need not have uniform natural laws. He can sustain it through his own power and order the behaviour of matter through his own will. Indeed the Ptolemaic model cannot work under the laws as we know them, but they could if God wanted it to be that way. If God is constrained by limits that require the constants of nature to be a certain way to allow life to exist, he could not have tuned them or designed them.

    But in terms of the geocentric nature of the cosmos. I don't see it, objectively. To me, this planet and our species is the most important thing. So I am geocentric in that sense.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Brian, one Catholic claim is that God created the universe to reveal his glory.

      I don't think it is hard to make the argument that the cosmos is pretty freaking amazing, from the big bang through the emergence of life.

      The problem is that even though the glory of God is there, inherent in everything, nothing would see it until human beings (or rational beings of any sort) came along. Human beings can see and confess the glory of God revealed in creation. This is a sense in which we are central, at least on earth.

      • This is a possible explanation for the size of the universe, but it is a stretch. Most humans pretty much get that feeling looking up at the nights sky even under a Ptolemaic worldview. Certainly knowing more about what these things are, how big, how old, how far way adds to it, but it is not as if our ancestors a thousand years ago looked at the world and thought it a dull and humdrum creation. We would have thought a universe a trillionth the size would be equally glorious.

        Not to mention that the vast vast majority of it is space and some kind of dark matter.

  • rocky

    I have encountered many Christian (Catholic and Protestant) faithful who do not see a contradiction between flying saucers visiting earth (in the here and now) and their own ardent beliefs. Now, I am not saying there is no "extra-terrestrial" life, but rather like Fr. Sean (below) or Fr. Longnecker himself, we know there is - the angelic realm. In fact I have even had similar musings as to what the ultimate role of redeemed humanity could be in a universe "peopled" by an incredibly diverse angelic realm and perhaps even some sort of unredeemed creation - if the latter is even theologically possible.

    Hey I am the first one standing in line to see the latest science fiction movie. And maybe that's okay if its kept in perspective and the script is clever and its not overtly or subvertly (covertly?) anti-faith, though I think at some level many are subvertly so.

    It is, however, a puzzle that people of the faith might think it true or even possible that we are being visited by extra-terrestrials (non-angelic) who are watching us and maybe even probing us and who knows what else. Because it is my observation that this UFO phenomenon is causing grave mischief in the arena of faith. Too many use UFO's and ancient astronauts (with help from the vast universe concept) as a reason to not believe in the one true reality (the Cross) and a reason to hope not in Him but in something else - little green (or grey) men. And I would even venture this is a delusion meant to do just that.

  • mriehm

    My belief is that it is too difficult for intelligent life to spread throughout the universe, or the galaxy, or even the solar system. While intelligent extra-terrestrial beings almost certainly exist, physical barriers - such as the speed of light; propulsion systems based on Newton's third law; interstellar travel hazards; and the distance between habitable planets - cannot be reliably overcome.

    The Wikipedia page on the Fermi paradox mentions this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox#They_do_exist.2C_but_we_see_no_evidence.

  • John_QPublic

    Bravo! Be sure to catch the movie "The Principle". Lawrence Krauss, George Ellis, Michio Kaku, Julian Barbour, Bernard Carr, and others are interviewed on these exact questions, and you will not believe their answers!

    https://www.facebook.com/theprinciplemovie?fref=ts

    • David Nickol

      Copernicus and Galileo were wrong! The sun is the center of the universe!

      We are laughing at you.

      From Wikipedia: "The film is narrated by Kate Mulgrew and features scientists such as Lawrence M. Krauss and Michio Kaku. Mulgrew and many of the scientists who were interviewed have since repudiated the ideas advanced in the film and have alleged that their involvement was the result of being misled by the filmmaker."