Faith, Science, and Aliens

Vatican astronomer seeks universal truths from many sides.

Last week, the Pope’s astronomer took over UVa-Wise, prompting students to think about love, ethics, planets, and most importantly, aliens.

Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ, director of the Vatican Observatory, president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation and co-author of the book “Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?” was on campus March 30 and 31 talking with students, faculty and staff and sharing his experience and insight.

While on campus, Consolmagno met with the Philosophy Club, ate lunch with students and faculty and received a tour of the observatory at UVa-Wise, led by Dr. Lucian Undreiu and several students. All this led to his lecture at the David J. Prior Convocation Center on March 31.

After showing a quick video about what he does at the observatory and why the Vatican even has an observatory, Consolmagno explained where the idea for the book, which he co-authored with Paul Mueller, came from. Consolmagno was asked by a reporter one time if he would baptize an alien, to which he replied, “Only if they asked.”

From there, Consolmagno discussed the intersections of science and religion and why we ask such big questions about the universe.

“Religion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality,” Consolmagno said “By the same token, science needs religion to know what questions to ask.”

Consolmagno examined how mankind’s views of God as a creationist, theories of Einstein and laws of physics and astronomy. He showed all the effort that goes in to discovering planets and observing astronomical events, showing how humans have learned so much yet still understand so little.

Consolmagno challenged the audience to think about how they would react to an alien encounter, what that would mean for faith and whether it would even affect their faith.

He showed how nothing in the Bible or Christian tradition shows that God is meant only for humans, or that the salvation story in Christianity would even have to apply to extraterrestrials.

“There is nothing in our tradition that says God is only interested in human beings,” Consolmagno said. “Why would they have to be subject to our salvation story and savior? Why does every race have to have the same salvation story?”

Brother Consolmagno included several jokes in his discussion, ranging from intelligent tuna on Jupiter’s moon Europa to the controversy over Pluto’s ranking as a planet. He also mixed film and literature from the works of Thomas Paine, J.R.R. Tolkien and Alice Meynell along with cartoons and science fiction movies.

Consolmagno also said scripture is not meant to be read as science.

“I’ve wrote science books,” Consolmagno rebutted. “And believe me, they’re no Bible. Scripture is not a science book.”

Consolmagno didn’t focus entirely on science, however. He also spoke of love, sin and the moral issues that we all face. He questioned the audience on how they would interact with humans and where their compassion would end. “Would you help an extraterrestrial, or let them help you? Would you die for an extraterrestrial, or let them die for you? Love includes. If that’s true of human love, it has to be true of God’s love.”

Brother Guy Consolmagno’s lecture was part of the Colgate Darden Lecture Series at UVa-Wise and caused a stir of excitement from students, even before his lecture.

Chi Rho, the Episcopal ministry at UVa-Wise, hosted a dinner before the event to discuss the relationship between science and faith. They were joined by guest speaker Rev. Canon Connor Gwin, from Roanoke, Virginia.

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