Postmodern Conservative

ET and ME

Damon Linker, who’s taking an existentialist Straussian line, speculates that the discovery of life elsewhere in the cosmos would take out Christian belief. That belief depends on special creation. So decisive evidence that there’s nothing special about life on our planet would explode what are already our unreasonable pretensions about personal significance. Damon doesn’t believe the existence of such extraterrestrial life is particularly likely. Or, if it’s somewhere out there, we probably won’t discover it. We’re probably not even that special.

Well, I have no idea about the real existence of ETs, but the most likely outcome of our close encounter with them wouldn’t be dramatic ontological or theological transformations in our personal self-understanding.

If (as we learn in Men in Black) the intelligent life forms are screwed-up aliens (wanderers and wonderers lost in the cosmos like us), that would, if anything, strengthen our faith. (Especially if they had faith.)  Our discovery of them might confirm the superiority of Christian anthropology to its rivals.

If the ETs were pure, untroubled, benign intelligence, as Carl Sagan imagines, then there would be faith issues, I think. We might consider the possibility that they are as we would be if it weren’t for the Fall. But pure consciousness or pure minds might disconfirm the conclusion we can reach based on our experience so far. Being open to the truth about all things and technological exploration are only qualities of persons, who are neither minds nor bodies nor some simple combination of the two.

I don’t know of any “faith issue” that arises from the discovery of unconscious life somewhere else. In general, the Christian belief is that God cares for each of us persons in particular — special creation is on the personal level. That doesn’t even preclude the existence of said creatures in quite different biological forms elsewhere in the cosmos.

And we can’t forget the “personal issues” that arise in the absence of faith that cause so many scientists to hope without real evidence that there are ETs out there that can somehow save us from ourselves. If they’re out there, they’ll probably take us out to satisfy their own needs or as a security threat.

Then there’s the decisively personal view of Interstellar, which is something like if there are more advanced beings out there who can save us from our natural fate, they would have to be more evolved versions of ourselves. I think the concluding scientific details of that film are presented as a form of wish fulfillment that’s more reasonable than Sagan’s. But it’s a short hop from such musings about love and gravity to the conclusion that the logos that governs the cosmos is somehow personal.

Peter Augustine Lawler — Peter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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