An Easy Choice Considering How Much He Looks Like Emperor Palpatine

The Pope (via the Vatican’s head astronomer) says that believing that alien life could exist elsewhere does not conflict with the Catholic faith:

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

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

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

It looks like science fiction’s secret plan to place copies of The Sparrow randomly around the Vatican finally paid off!

45 Comments on “An Easy Choice Considering How Much He Looks Like Emperor Palpatine”

  1. I prefer James Blish for alien-Catholic evangelism.

    That said, this isn’t particularly new. As with evolution, the catechism instructs that mankind is to be guided by reason and that reason will direct you to belief. Now, even as a Catholic, I recognize the notion that reason should direct you to accept the central message of the Church is not an easy pill to swallow – many things I am required to believe are completely absurd – but nothing says that scientific inquiry about the order of the universe is in anyway against the Church nor its results to be gratefully accepted. (There’s a different rationale for why certain stem-cell research is verbotten, but nothing that says — not nothing that has ever said — that aliens can’t be hanging out on Delta Pavonis III.

  2. I was going to recommend James Blish as well. But you might also want to look towards how many secret copies of Walter M. Miller’s work have been smuggled into Vatican City…

    More recommendations: See books by one Brother Guy Consolmagno, e.g., Brother Astronomer and God’s Mechanics: How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion (also his co-authored Turn Left at Orion is a dang fine amateur astronomy introduction).

    Another news flash (not): The Catholic view on evolution. Doesn’t look like we (Catholics) will be opening a local branch of the Creation Museum at the Vatican.

  3. Indeed, the Catholic Church appears to be generally science-positive these days, which is something to appreciate.

  4. I lifted an eyebrow at the word ‘developed’. It sounds very much like ‘evolved’.
    Did the Vatican also accept the Evolution theory?

  5. Philbert, my understanding is that the Catholic Church does not have a beef with evolutionary theory.

  6. This is nothing new — Brother Guy Consolmagno has written about this in his books.

    And Philbert, the Catholic Church has supported evolution for a while (the joke, when Kansas attempted their anti-evolution policy in schools, was that the Catholic schools in the state would be the only ones teaching evolution).

  7. I get weak in the knees when someone mentions “The Sparrow.” If it makes just one person go out and read the book, it’s a good day to be alive.

  8. I get the feeling that Mr. Scalzi has had that photo tucked away for quite a while just waiting for an opportunity to use the “Palpatine” caption. Good stuff!

  9. If I may, the Church’s position on evolution is essentially this: God doesn’t play tricks on man; if scientific inquiry and reason show evolution, it is correct (and I have met very few priests in my day who don’t accept modern evolutionary theory, although there are some to be sure, but I bet it is less than in the general population). Where the catechism insists upon something other than pure Darwinism is an acceptance that the human soul was specially created by God.

    Again, it can get touchy when one tinkers with human life and bodily integrity, but I think that’s quite a separate issue.

    [Hope this is somewhat enlightening, there’s a lot to condemn about my Church, but its position on science mostly is not one of them]

  10. CS Lewis used this very premise some seventy years ago in ‘Out of the Silent Planet.’

  11. I recall many years ago reading some article by Arthur C. Clarke where he touched on creationism and cited a quotation from the Pope supporting evolution. This would have been one of the 20th century popes before John Paul I.

  12. Said Cardinal Binks:

    “Senators, Cello Fardinals, mesa propose we given the Holy Father emergency powers…”

    Followed by Pope Benedict, saying:

    “I reluctantly accept my new task. I love democracy, and I promise to lay down my new powers as soon as the crisis has passed or I’m thrown down an energy shaft by a cynernetically enhanced asthmatic who over two decades behind on his child support payments, whichever comes first.”

    Armor-clad clone priests will be deployed to alleviate that whole pedophile priest problem in short order.

    Christopher Lee will get his ass kicked by a whiny teenager.

    James Bond will return.

  13. I always feel like The Sparrow is kind of a trap. I mean, sure it’s all sunshine and rainbows at the beginning, and then they land on the planet and the plot goes to hell. Which is a shame, because “Jesuits! In space!” always struck the same giddy chord in my mind as “Jews in space!” did.

    That being said, I’ll just chime in with the people who point out that there’s plenty to like about the Catholic Church’s position on policy. I know that a lot of organizations like to slam another organization’s entire policy (in a lot of realms) based on one thing they don’t like, but I’ve never had a problem admitting that i liked some of the Catholic’s positions while despising others.

    I just wish they’d let me have my stem-cell organs and bionic enhancements so that I could leap small buildings in a single bound and lift buses and whatnot.

  14. @14: sorry, Scott, but Kryptonian heritage is still the only way to get there.

  15. I guess I’m going to have to put my plans of world domination to rest until I find out if this reincarnation thing is real, then. Rats, I was looking forwards to being a super villain, too.

  16. John,

    Is there a policy on spoilers for novels under discussion in comments?

  17. Yeah, if they’re just a year or two old. I think in the case of The Sparrow, which has been out for 12 years, the statute of spoiler limitations has expired.

  18. Still, it looks like a big step forward for the Catholic Church to say something like “developed”.

    Although, let’s not forget that the guy being cited is the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory. Jesuits have always been borderline heretics as far as I know.

    I’d like to hear Emperor Palpatine, I mean the Pope say something like that.

    {man, I hate Star Wars}

  19. @19:

    On internets, “Man I hate Star Wars” is actually a more incendiary comment than “Man I hate Catholics”

  20. So Giordano Bruno, Dominican priest and cosmologist burnt at the stake in 1600 for holding similar views, was only 408 years ahead of his time, then.

  21. @21:
    The Catholic Church is the most adaptative institution in the history of mankind. That’s why it is still around today.

  22. As a Catholic, I am totally perplexed by the appearance of this news item in so many non-Catholic blogs. What’s so fascinating or surprising about it? I think it maybe speaks to a huge gulf in understanding between what the Church is really about, and what people think it’s about. By the way, there are tons of apologists out there, but if anyone ever wants to know the Church’s official position on anything, they have an extremely comprehensive site at, and as well, the entire catechism is online. The catechism is sort of like the “bible” of the Catholic church.

    Uh, I mean…ahem…we do read the actual bible…you know…

  23. I believe Pope Pius XII wrote approvingly of evolutionary theory. At least, that is the earliest Pope I know of (1939-52). So, basically, this is a non-story. And I can’t believe that people continue to believe the myth that the Catholic Church is fundamentally anti-science. I mean, sure, they take certain ethical positions on the use of science very seriously, but looking at the history of the Catholic Church and its most prominent thinkers, I conclude that science flourishes under its auspices. For the most part.

  24. I like that the catholic church is open to the possiblities of extraterrestrial beings, and science, for that matter. It makes you warm up to its numerous conservatisms that you might find out afterwards. I think it’s sort of a hook-y thing.
    Just love the picture, goes with the message. All ye intra- and extra terrestrials, join uzz…

  25. @Paul Barnes That whole use a condom and go to hell so don’t even use one to prevent the spread of AIDS thing provides a pretty big counterexample as does the official position on stem cell research. And, yes, some very high level Jesuits are able to make peace between their faith and some aspects of science. But a lot of the rank and file members aren’t and are pretty anti-science. That’s what makes stories like this interesting and worth talking about . They contradict what a lot of people think they know about the theology. To include many Catholics.

    You also only have to look as far as the Mother Teresa beatification story and all the hoopla around various purported sightings of the Virgin Mary to find some pretty wacky beliefs. Not to mention the whole soul thing. While they aren’t really anti-science on big, mostly theoretical issues that, to a very large degree don’t really affect most people in their day to day lives. They do hold a lot of beliefs and encourage a lot of practices that aren’t supported by the data. And that’s fairly anti-science.

  26. @sng 27:
    Your premise is flawed. The Church has beliefs different from yours where there is a lack of data. This does not equal anti-science.

    Also, the whole anti-condom thing is a canard. The Church does have a comprehensive plan to combat the spread of AIDS. It’s called monogamy. Let me be the first to say that it won’t work. However, it isn’t the use of the condom that’s damning. It’s the sex outside of marriage part. The science is perfectly valid. If every person had one and only one sexual partner, the transmission of STDs would plummet dramatically. That’s a scientific fact. Again, it won’t happen. But The Church’s science is not wrong on the cause and effect of STDs.

  27. @Brett L

    No, at the core of the Catholic church is a set of beliefs for which it is not possible to gather data and to which they will happily tell you logic and human reason don’t apply. I hold no such beliefs and will happily admit to not knowing many things. At their very core is the idea that their beliefs, that have no objective basis, explain all things. That’s the difference.

    Are you denying that the Catholic church treats barrier based contraception as a sin? Because Humanae Vitae is still very much in force. In a theoretical case of sex outside of marriage both the sex act and the use of contraception would be a sin and within marriage the use of a condom would be a sin. So by well established Catholic doctrine a married couple in which one member has AIDS would be damned for using a condom.

    Are you saying that high ranking members of the Catholic church don’t deny that condoms are useless against AIDS? Because both Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo and Archbishop of Nairobi Raphael Ndingi Nzeki both disagree with you. And that’s a clear case of them denying well established data. To quote the Cardinal “”The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the ‘net’ that is formed by the condom,” So according to him a condom can’t prevent pregnancy or AIDS. To my way of thinking that’s a fairly anti-science stance. And to quote the Archbishop “Aids…has grown so fast because of the availability of condoms,” which is in direct contrast with the results of every scientific study on the matter. Notice how whenever the Cardinal speaks about AIDS and condoms he implies that they are not impervious to the virus? Yes, there is a failure rate of about ten percent but it is also very clearly not due to the condoms being permeable. For him to imply this is, at best, intellectually dishonest and certainly seems anti-science to me.

    To be fair they do stress monogamy but you can’t be seriously suggesting that they don’t forbid the use of contraception and spread lies about the risk of using condoms that are in conflict with well established data. So given all that and the articles below how is it a canard?

  28. sng:

    So, again, if the whole plan was followed, spread of AIDS and other STDs would or would not drop precipitously, according to the science? That The Church argues that there is a morality beyond the data is undeniable, and I believe a good thing. Even if I don’t always agree with the policy.

    But your statement was that using a condom was a sin. The condom use is not the sin. The sin is engaging in the pleasure of intercourse whilst trying to avoid the responsibility of the common outcome. So every form of technological birth control is forbidden under the doctrine. To single out the condom is setting up a straw man.

    I think its a poor example of “anti-scientific”. It contains a lot more rhetoric than example.

    As one who uses condoms, I’m not stating my agreement with the policy, just disagreeing that this is the best or even a good example of Catholic anti-scientism.

  29. So we agree that they forbid birth control. Good.

    Yes, if everybody gave up everything but strict monogamous sex with one partner it would decrease the spread of STDs. That’s a highly practical and workable plan that goes hand in hand with what we know about human nature. Oh wait. No it isn’t. Sticking to these ideas in the face of the overwhelming evidence that it’s not going to work certainly doesn’t indicate an evidence based view of the world. And from a scientific standpoint that’s very worrisome.

    Now speak to the very specific examples I provided of statements from high ranking catholic officials about the effectiveness of condom use and the impact that condom use has on the spread of STDs. To include the very specific statements by the cardinal that condoms do -nothing-, even for pregnancy. And the statement by the archbishop that the availability of condoms increases the rate of spread of AIDS. And please include your thoughts on how those statements are consistent with an evidence based and scientific view of the world.

  30. Well, looking at how Earth turned out, why wouldn’t God have a second shot at the old Creation trick?

    They may be scary ‘aliens’ to us; but to him they’re just Plan B :)

  31. Yeah, this guy is going to be gone in no time.

    “Just as there are multiple forms of life on earth, so there could exist intelligent beings in outer space created by God. And some aliens could even be free from original sin, he speculates.”

    There’s no way they’re going to let -that- slide. The theological implications are simply far too widespread and radical.

  32. #36: to my best knowledge, biology teaches that humans descend from single cell organism that evolves through series of complexations, through becoming mutli cellular and becoming mammals modified and classified as homo sapiens. There is no discussion of soul. Soul is assumed nonexistent, as is a single cell bacteria is souless. Or the discussion of soul is entirely absent, perhaps, as one might say, aptly. The study of life seems to go on well without an observation of a soul or even its proven discovery. One could say a single cell amoeba is perfectly capable of taking nourishment, growing and reproducing in the way it does, in other words, “living,” without an observed component of a soul.
    I believe Christian outlook on the theory of evoution-especially when it regards humans- does take a little different stance. It believes that small modifications of parts of the physical body are possible and likely—say the backbone and skull shape evolving to what it may be now from a cromanon’s– but humans do not come from a single cell organism or, even a monkey. They are an idependent specie on all their own. And a soul is something unique to humans, the creature made in God’s own image. I’d look up on the book from the philosophy of biology course i took way back, I think I remember them discussing it, but they are put away in a moving box…

  33. While expanding on this concept is way, way about my pay grade, the Catholic Church holds to a concept that the soul is tied to the unique rationality of man as species. St. Thomas Aquanis, following the flawed embryology of Aristotle, believed ensoulment occurred 40 or 60 days after conception, depending on gender.

    Having said all that, if people are more concerned about a dog than a human, I question their ability to reason.

  34. Sigh….I should add that my last sentence should be a refutation of the likes of Peter Singer.

  35. Just a comment on condoms and monogamy, not related to STDs…Catholic doctrine still forbids the use of birth control even if the couple has a dozen children…sex is for procreation, not recreation, even if you limit yourself to one partner.

  36. I wonder about Man being created in God’s own image vs. Evolution Theory being somewhat approved by the Catholic Church.

    Also, please remember that the Catholic Church adapts to current social realities and thus keeps itself alive. I believe that’s why we see some degree of respect for science coming from personalities within the organization nowadays. You will always have this hard-to-swallow contradictions in current doctrine because the Cathecism is slow to adapt to current views held by the majority of people and because they have to hold some degree of cohesion with the past Truths they have been dispensing for centuries.

    Excuse my English-as-a-second language please.

  37. Teri @ 37: I’m not an expert, but I’ve been a Christian all my life and have never heard of that view before. The (mainline-to-liberal Protestant) churches I’ve been part of have simply taken the stance that evolution is something explained by science, humanity’s relationship to God is explored by the stories and poetry of the Bible. I’ve never had anyone get on their high horse about animals being excluded from having souls either. Why bother? It doesn’t make a good sermon and it makes people sad when their pets die, which is one of the only times I can think of when the topic would come up.

    I’m sure there are people who hold the views you mentioned (name any idea and someone’s out there believing it), but it doesn’t seem widespread enough to refer to as “the Christian view of evolution.”

  38. #43: You’re riiiiight! The one I described is of more than one Christian views on evolutions. Thank you for pointing it out. Obviously I was speaking of the view I considered to complement the modern evolutionary theory well, rather than compete with it. It was murky anyway, because it’s been long since I thought about the issue. but your post did make me look up some stuff on the web…

    Can A Christian believe in evolution? A Yes Response

    The Creationism/Evolution Continuum

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