Thursday, May 15, 2014

Baptizing Aliens, etc.

I don't know if Carl Sagan really said it or not because I haven't been able to find the source of it, more on that in a minute, but I got into an argument at one of the allegedly leftist blogs over someone saying that he said it.   The alleged quote was, to the effect, that as soon as extraterrestrial life was contacted, it would be the death of religion.   Which, if it were true, would be one of the long series of predictions that this or that would be the end of religious belief.   The end of religious belief is the topic of so many prophecies and precognitions from a group that is, officially against both, it is remarkable how obsessed those guys and gals are with trying to convince themselves that their atheist millennium is just around the next corner.

As I recall the argument, the sentiment that the existence of extraterrestrial life would be proof, positive that religion was the bunk was shared by a number of others,  I would guess it was at Eschaton where that is something of the house religion.   But what, I asked, if the extraterrestrial life, presumably much more technically advanced than we are - they'd be the ones coming here since we definitely can't get there - were religious?   Which doesn't seem to be a possibility they accounted for in their speculations since they obviously don't believe it's possible to be religious and smart.    I proposed that some form of extraterrestrial life could have faculties of thought that made what is unavailable to us in a form that can be processed by us with OUR science as obvious as two resulting when you add one and one.

My recollection is that the other participants in the argument didn't like the idea but, since we haven't had the first bit of evidence that "other life" is there, it's not something they could really argue with.   Of course, if I'd wanted to be really mean I could have pointed out that their "extraterrestrials" were entirely the result of their imaginations, just as all of those that their hero,  Carl Sagan, was want to invent were his imaginary friends.     Unlike any real "other life" they were limited by what those guys could and desired them to be.  In that they are like many of the more anthropomorphic gods of the kind that atheists love to believe are the sum total of human conceptions of God.   They didn't want their extraterrestrials to be religious so they merely assumed they were atheists - just as so many online atheists seem to want their Copernicus or Galileo to have been atheists when they certainly were Christians and Catholics.   And they certainly don't want the God we believe in to be those things that God was described as being as early as the book of Exodus, inconceivable to human imagination, infinitely beyond our powers of conception.

Though I can imagine what they said,  having read their group-think so often, I haven't bothered to go look at the atheists response to the story that Pope Francis said that if an extraterrestrial asked him to be baptized that he would baptize them.
So here's how Francis tried to illustrate that point on Monday, with a much more modern example:

That was unthinkable. If – for example - tomorrow an expedition of Martians came, and some of them came to us, here... Martians, right? Green, with that long nose and big ears, just like children paint them... And one says, 'But I want to be baptized!' What would happen?"

What would happen? They'd get baptized, that's what would happen. He goes on:

"When the Lord shows us the way, who are we to say, 'No, Lord, it is not prudent! No, lets do it this way'... Who are we to close doors? In the early Church, even today, there is the ministry of the ostiary [usher]. And what did the ostiary do? He opened the door, received the people, allowed them to pass. But it was never the ministry of the closed door, never."

The Vatican's astronomer — the same one who dismissed 'Intelligent Design' as 'bad theology' — said in 2010 that he'd baptize an alien because "any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul." But, again, only if they request it. So glad that's settled. Now all we have to do is wait.

The first thing that jumped out at me in that story was that in both the Pope's and Fr. Guy Consolmagno, the astronomer said was that the decision to baptize an alien would be the decision of the alien to be baptized.   So, as we can see, these two Catholic clergymen could conceive of one having free will that may or may not be in line with their own beliefs.   As I've gone over here so often recently, many of the sciency atheists don't believe that such freedom of thought is even possible.   The Catholic's imagination of extraterrestrials that have free will that we are bound to respect, that they are free to choose and that their inherent dignity as a fellow being created by God would compel them to include them within the Christian religion strikes me as enormously more generous than the atheist imagination of them.

The second thing that struck me was Consolmagno saying that "any entity ... has a soul" which contradicts what we were taught in catechism where we were told that only human beings have a soul.   I never believed that, I couldn't believe that animals didn't have souls.   Some of my recent reading seems to indicate that idea came from Descarte and, ironically, today, was part of his conception of living beings as machines, something that is insisted on, these days, most stridently by atheists.  Only the atheists want those ghosts out of their machine entirely.


In looking for that quote from Sagan I was struck by how, contrary to the presentation of him as being something of a pacifist in the atheist war against religion, he was continually and stridently, arrogantly and dismissively hostile to religion.  That was true even as he was presenting his Cosmos and it, apparently, became more true after that.   He coupled his dismissal of religion with a ridiculously romantic presentation of what science is, how scientists behave* and the inevitably beneficial results of science.   I think that, now that the mantle of Sagan has descended on Neil Degrasse Tyson, he's doing pretty much the same thing, only with a bit more of care being taken to preserve deniability that his anti-religious goal isn't really there.  You don't have to be a creationist to notice the real goal of the Seth Macfarlane, Ann Druyan, NDT Cosmos is not really the promotion of science so much as it is a promotion of scientism and the hostility to Christianity and other religions that has been a feature of all of their work in the past.


It really is important to the neo-atheist effort that religion has to, in each and every case, be the villain.  As I noticed in the discussion of a recent Salon piece asserting that gay marriage was not in conflict with The Bible, it was obvious that the atheists, who seemed to have more to say on it than anyone else,  couldn't stand the idea that The Bible wasn't in conflict with marriage equality.  It was obvious that they cared entirely less about gay rights than they did about their hatred of Christianity and other religion.  And that is what motivates the kind of atheists who make hatred of religion one of their central activities, the kind of atheists we hear from.   They don't care nearly as much about science as they do their hatred of religion.  On a practical level, that makes them unreliable allies in the struggle for rights and progress, the reason that they are always trying to distract us from the real goals with their divisive and futile war against religion.

*  This quote, given to a CSICOP gathering was rather hilariously hypocritical, considering what happened during CSICOP's one and only bungled scientific investigation.

In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.

Considering that Sagan was there as the sTARBABY scandal happened, a witness to how CSICOP's  co-founder, Paul Kurtz and his fellow "fellows and councilors" George Abell and Marvin Zelen massively screwed up and covered up, conducting a campaign of slander and expulsion against Dennis Rawlins, the guy who understood the problem AND WHO WARNED  Kurtz, Abell and Zelen that they were screwing up and, when they lied about what they were doing, tried to set the record straight.  Obvioulsy, Kurtz, Abell and Zelen didn't welcome being told they were wrong.   They continued to behave badly, with the full knowledge of and acquiescence of the CSICOP "fellows and councilors" for a number of years, as you can read in the first link in this paragraph.

Rawlins pointed out that Sagan, a member of CSICOP would have certainly understood the problem and would have been a better person to address it, at the time.  So  Sagan saying that, to that group, which kicked Rawlins out over his crime of scientific honesty, several years after the scandal was known to him and to them was extremely hypocritical.  As a general statement it is so absurdly romantic about the way that scientists act, especially in protection of the basis of their scientific and professional reputations, as ready to use dishonest means to suppress anything that endangers them as any other profession, that it's amazing that Sagan could have had the gall to say it.   To say it to the very people who brought about the scandal by a witness to it is jaw-dropping hypocrisy.


  1. Didn't Sagan write at least the basic idea (if not the screenplay) for "Contact"? That weird pseudo-science pseudo-technological attempt at raising (or at least contacting) the "spirits" of the dead?

    I know Arthur Clarke tried to explain Satanic imagery with his aliens in "Childhood's End" whose visage somehow echoed backward through history (I always stumbled over that idea, and couldn't figure out how images could go backwards into history, especially if the past no longer existed. It had to mean time was eternal, which meant reality could encompass eternality, which meant....). And "Childhood's End" had rather obvious inferences of setting aside 'childish things' like religion.

    Not to mention "The Star," which I still think is Clarke's slap at LeMaitre, the Jesuit priest/cosmologist (as is the protagonist of Clarke's story). And don't get me started on "2001."

    Why do the most ardent atheists worry so about religion? Could it be a matter of identity, rather like the most ardent homophobes usually turn out to have same-sex lovers? It's a curious bit of psychology, their obsession with denouncing their ideas of what religion is. Ideas which, as you point out, are usually so cramped and diminished.

    1. It is a puzzle, isn't it, why so many atheists are so OC over religion. Perhaps they are anxious because their disbelief isn't as sure as they like to think it is and they overreact in the same way that some religious fundamentalists do, knowing that if they doubt part of their program they are in danger of losing it all. Liberal belief is so much more secure in its doubting than fundamentalism is in its rigid insistence. I never really believed until I doubted and realized I'd never know in this life time.

      There is a story that, when he was dying, Somerset Maugham sent for A. J. Ayer to reassure him that there was no God and no afterlife and Ayer went and gave him that assurance. Perhaps Maugham feared getting his book of life panned. Only, when he got really old, Ayer choked on a piece of fish and had a near death experience. When he was revived he told the doctor treating him that he'd see the Supreme Being while he wasn't breathing. Though he recanted later, saying that he hoped that there was no afterlife, the doctor has confirmed that's what he said. Ayer, later called it "a red light for governing the universe" . His wife's comment was that "Freddie" was so much more pleasant after he'd died than he was before.

    2. Dare one say humility will do that for you?

  2. I remember reading that scientists weren't really that impressed with Sagan's work as a scientist.

    Reading that quote about how science is self-correcting and every scientist a mild-mannered gentleman, I have to say it doesn't seem Sagan ever did any real scientific work.

    There's simply no way human beings engaged in any enterprise they care deeply about (or don't care that much about, for that matter) could display so little ego in the process.

    It's a child's view. Naive, romantic, and childish.

    1. I looked at some of his "exobiology" stuff and it came to me what a convenient form of science it was, all speculation without a single example of "other life" to have your work compared to and next to no chance of any coming your way. String theory has nothing on it in that regard.