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Aliens, Angels, and the Cosmos


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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