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Is there anybody out there…

Written By: - Date published: 11:12 am, November 15th, 2009 - 15 comments
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OK, this has nothing to do with NZ politics, but I’m trying to stick to my resolution not to rant as usual on Sundays. Instead I’ll sometimes post on a random interesting topic – interesting to me that is, if it isn’t interesting to you there are plenty of other threads!

This article fascinated me for two reasons. First because I find the topic of extraterrestrial life inherently interesting. And second because of the way it illustrates the huge range of variation in thought and temperament within current religious thinking:

Vatican looks to heavens for signs of alien life

Four hundred years after it locked up Galileo for challenging the view that the Earth was the center of the universe, the Vatican has called in experts to study the possibility of extraterrestrial alien life and its implication for the Catholic Church. “The questions of life’s origins and of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe are very suitable and deserve serious consideration,” said the Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, an astronomer and director of the Vatican Observatory.

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. … Today top clergy, including Funes, openly endorse scientific ideas like the Big Bang theory as a 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. Earlier this year, the Vatican also sponsored a conference on evolution to mark the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.” The event snubbed proponents of alternative theories, like creationism and intelligent design, which see a higher being rather than the undirected process of natural selection behind the evolution of species.

The Catholic Church sure has come a long way in some respects. (Pity that they still have so far to come in others.) If even the Vatican can finally accept science on its merits then perhaps there is hope for us after all. On second thoughts, no, I guess not. After all, it took centuries for the church to get to this point. At the moment scientists are trying to deliver the world other messages too about sustainability and the environment. Far too many of us don’t want to hear, and we don’t have centuries to spare on this one…

15 comments on “Is there anybody out there… ”

  1. Zorr 1

    They may be finally getting the point that they locked up Galileo for all the wrong reasons but they still can’t get past their dogma to endorse wearing little rubber raincoats on your john in the interest of preventing the spread of disease and smaller family sizes. How is continuing to have familys of 5+ sustainable in a world that is already overpopulated?

    • Scribe 1.1

      Ah, Galileo and condoms. Don’t you guys get bored peddling the same tired arguments?

      Try reading a balanced account of the Galileo incident rather than the biased ramblings of people like Hitchens and Dawkins and see what conclusion you draw.

  2. Deus ex Machina 2

    Let us suppose that self-aware, intelligent life does exist elsewhere in the Universe and that, when contact is made for the first time, it denies all knowledge of any God-like Superbeing which has made an attempt to promulgate Its desires and intentions by means of a written work and/or sent Its ‘son’ among them to preach the same. Does this mean the Catholic Church:

    a) will at take it upon itself to ‘spread the Good Word’ amongst them, or

    b) will declare them not part of God’s plan, being not made in His image and clearly unworthy of His attention, or

    c) concede it might actually be a misguided minority?

  3. RedLogix 3

    Given the virtual ubiquity of life on earth, that every ecological niche with exploitable energy is populated by some form of creature, then it is a certainty that life is a commonplace throughout the universe.

    At the same time it’s worth noting that of the literally billions of forms of life on this planet, the only form to have attained an intelligence able to readily manipulate abstract ideas and symbols is us humans. And even then a study of our evolution reveals what a close run thing that was, how narrowly we slipped through the needle of extinction at least twice. Intelligent life as we conceive it may not be very common at all. On the other hand the universe, well even the Milky Way itself, is an unimaginable vast thing, that with so many opportunities to occur, its also reasonable to think that intelligence should have arisen many times.

    So the question of whether recognisably intelligent life, beings we could have meaningful communication with is rather hard to answer. One good argument is that if intelligence was common, then almost certainly there would already be forms far more technically capable than us, and they would have found us by now. This suggests that intelligence is indeed a rarity.

    If this is the case then one might even go so far as to think, preposterous as it may seem, that us humans really are the most advanced life form in the galaxy. Alternatively it could be suggested that if intelligence is common, then we are being kept in ‘quarantine’ until we are fit to join the larger polity of galactic life.

    Either way, we probably have some stuff to sort regarding life on this planet, before we start worrying too much about life elsewhere.

    • Zorr 3.1

      Or there is the other possibility. Intelligent life has arisen in other parts of the universe (amount of times doesn’t exactly matter here) but due to the lengths of time involved with the lifespan of the universe, galaxies, suns, planets and species as well as the massive distances between them that the likelihood of any two intelligent species being present in the universe and capable of making contact are immeasurably small.

      I watched an interesting presentation by the astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss (video on Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo&feature=player_embedded) where he discusses the physical nature of our universe and the evidence for it. To finish it he presents the point that due to the fact that our universe is expanding at an increasing rate we will (in the far distant future) be incapable of detecting anything past our own galaxy as the law of relativity will result in all other objects moving away from us at speeds greater than light.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.2

      Fermi Paradox

      The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations.

      The age of the universe and its vast number of stars suggest that if the Earth is typical, extraterrestrial life should be common.

      The problem with this is that the Earth isn’t typical.

      Sun-like stars are actually a minority in the galaxy – 93 percent of stars in the Milky Way are less massive, less luminous and cooler than the sun. Though the typical star in the galaxy weighs between one-tenth and half the mass of the sun, life is more likely to be found around the more unusual variety of stars like our own, the researchers found.

  4. Steve 4

    God did not make condoms. Under the Master Plan, God had Humans make condoms. Many reasons for this. One is so the family does not starve if the hunter/gatherer gets no food.
    Another reason is to prevent STD\\’s.
    Yet there is this anti condom thing. Pope can explain it I guess, cos I can’t

    • Scribe 4.1

      The Pope isn’t the only one who can explain it. Many scientists support what the Pope has had to say about how condoms can, ironically, make the problem of HIV/Aids worse.

      Take a look at South Africa. Billions of condoms have been sent there and distributed, yet they have the highest infection rates in the world. You don’t need a pope to explain that.

      Here’s a piece from a Harvard scientist, Edward C. Green:

      We liberals who work in the fields of global HIV/AIDS and family planning take terrible professional risks if we side with the pope on a divisive topic such as this. The condom has become a symbol of freedom and — along with contraception — female emancipation, so those who question condom orthodoxy are accused of being against these causes.

      […..]

      In theory, condom promotions ought to work everywhere. And intuitively, some condom use ought to be better than no use. But that’s not what the research in Africa shows.

      Why not?

      One reason is “risk compensation.” That is, when people think they’re made safe by using condoms at least some of the time, they actually engage in riskier sex.

      Another factor is that people seldom use condoms in steady relationships because doing so would imply a lack of trust. (And if condom use rates go up, it’s possible we are seeing an increase of casual or commercial sex.) However, it’s those ongoing relationships that drive Africa’s worst epidemics. In these, most HIV infections are found in general populations, not in high-risk groups such as sex workers, gay men or persons who inject drugs. And in significant proportions of African populations, people have two or more regular sex partners who overlap in time. In Botswana, which has one of the world’s highest HIV rates, 43 percent of men and 17 percent of women surveyed had two or more regular sex partners in the previous year.

      These ongoing multiple concurrent sex partnerships resemble a giant, invisible web of relationships through which HIV/AIDS spreads. A study in Malawi showed that even though the average number of sexual partners was only slightly over two, fully two-thirds of this population was interconnected through such networks of overlapping, ongoing relationships.

      So what has worked in Africa? Strategies that break up these multiple and concurrent sexual networks — or, in plain language, faithful mutual monogamy or at least reduction in numbers of partners, especially concurrent ones. “Closed” or faithful polygamy can work as well.

      In Uganda’s early, largely home-grown AIDS program, which began in 1986, the focus was on “Sticking to One Partner” or “Zero Grazing” (which meant remaining faithful within a polygamous marriage) and “Loving Faithfully.” These simple messages worked. More recently, the two countries with the highest HIV infection rates, Swaziland and Botswana, have both launched campaigns that discourage people from having multiple and concurrent sexual partners.

      Don’t misunderstand me; I am not anti-condom. All people should have full access to condoms, and condoms should always be a backup strategy for those who will not or cannot remain in a mutually faithful relationship. This was a key point in a 2004 “consensus statement” published and endorsed by some 150 global AIDS experts, including representatives the United Nations, World Health Organization and World Bank. These experts also affirmed that for sexually active adults, the first priority should be to promote mutual fidelity. Moreover, liberals and conservatives agree that condoms cannot address challenges that remain critical in Africa such as cross-generational sex, gender inequality and an end to domestic violence, rape and sexual coercion.

      Surely it’s time to start providing more evidence-based AIDS prevention in Africa.

    • Scribe 4.2

      Don’t need the Pope to explain. Try this guy — a senior research scientist at Harvard.

      Some selected quotes:

      In theory, condom promotions ought to work everywhere. And intuitively, some condom use ought to be better than no use. But that’s not what the research in Africa shows.

      […]

      So what has worked in Africa? Strategies that break up these multiple and concurrent sexual networks — or, in plain language, faithful mutual monogamy or at least reduction in numbers of partners, especially concurrent ones. “Closed” or faithful polygamy can work as well.

      In Uganda’s early, largely home-grown AIDS program, which began in 1986, the focus was on “Sticking to One Partner” or “Zero Grazing” (which meant remaining faithful within a polygamous marriage) and “Loving Faithfully.”

      Don’t misunderstand me; I am not anti-condom. All people should have full access to condoms, and condoms should always be a backup strategy for those who will not or cannot remain in a mutually faithful relationship.

      Surely it’s time to start providing more evidence-based AIDS prevention in Africa.

    • Scribe 4.3

      Don’t need the Pope to explain. Try this guy — a senior research scientist at Harvard.

      Some selected quotes:

      In theory, condom promotions ought to work everywhere. And intuitively, some condom use ought to be better than no use. But that’s not what the research in Africa shows.

      […]

      So what has worked in Africa? Strategies that break up these multiple and concurrent sexual networks — or, in plain language, faithful mutual monogamy or at least reduction in numbers of partners, especially concurrent ones. “Closed” or faithful polygamy can work as well.

      […]

      Surely it’s time to start providing more evidence-based AIDS prevention in Africa.

  5. erm 5

    OMG, Standard has transmogrified into ‘tinfoil hats R us’

  6. Marcus 6

    It’s interesting to read what the “other ideas” were that Bruno was burnt at the stake for – it seems pretty clear that his ideas about life outside this planet was probably not what got him offside with the Church. Instead I’d hazard that it was probably his support of the Arain heresy (denying the definity of Christ) which was much more of a problem to the Church. But that doesn’t quite make such a good story with which to beat the Church for being “anti-science”.
    If anyone is interested in the Church’s teaching on science, truth etc then I’d suggest reading Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Fides et Ratio” or “faith and reason”: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_15101998_fides-et-ratio_en.html
    As for the condom issue which everyone seems to be interested in, then I could suggest Paul VI’s beautiful encyclical “Humanae Vitae”. This is the Pope explaining it Steve 🙂
    God bless us all.

    • Pascal's bookie 6.1

      Instead I’d hazard that it was probably his support of the Arain heresy (denying the definity of Christ) which was much more of a problem to the Church. But that doesn’t quite make such a good story with which to beat the Church for being “anti-science’.

      I can’t help but wonder what Jesus’ DNA would have looked like, assuming his divinity. We’ve got a pretty good idea about how humans are concived and what happens when an egg is fertilised. How this would work in the virgin birth scenario remains a mystery.

      Has the Church ever looked at the theology involved here? God’s DNA would obviously be perfect and unchanging, and yet it would need to correctly line up with a human’s DNA. Interesting angels on pinhead stuff about the Fully man/ fully God doctrine…

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