Thursday, October 6, 2011

Missing Something

According to an article in The Guardian religion is losing its cachet in both England and America, much to the delight of atheists who believe that secularization is good for the world, and that humankind will be far better off once liberated from the stifling shackles of belief in God.

The article goes on to find proof of religion's waning influence in the marked increase in the number of divorces and the growing numbers of children born out of wedlock.

These people seem to have themselves been born bereft of a sense of irony.

God and Extra-Terrestrials

Kris forwards an article for by Clara Moskowitz which raises an interesting question. The article is titled If Extraterrestrials Exist What About God?, and in it Moskowitz wonders how Christianity could reconcile the discovery with their doctrines of the incarnation and atonement:
The discovery of intelligent aliens would be mind-blowing in many respects, but it could present a special dilemma for the world's religions, theologians pondering interstellar travel concepts said Saturday.

Christians, in particular, might take the news hardest, because the Christian belief system does not easily allow for other intelligent beings in the universe, Christian thinkers said at the 100 Year Starship Symposium, a meeting sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to discuss issues surrounding traveling to other stars.

In other words, "Did Jesus die for Klingons too?" as philosophy professor Christian Weidemann of Germany's Ruhr-University Bochum titled his talk at a panel on the philosophical and religious considerations of visiting other worlds.

According to Christianity, an historic event some 2,000 years ago was supposed to save the whole of creation," Weidemann said. "You can grasp the conflict."

Here's how the debate goes: If the whole of creation includes 125 billion galaxies with hundreds of billions of stars in each, as astronomers think, then what if some of these stars have planets with advanced civilizations, too? Why would Jesus Christ have come to Earth, of all the inhabited planets in the universe, to save Earthlings and abandon the rest of God's creatures?
There are several things which might be said about this. First, despite the column's title the article itself has nothing to do with how the discovery of ETs would affect belief in the existence of God.

The article is really an attempt to show that the discovery of life, especially intelligent life, on other planets would be a serious problem not for theism but for Christian theism, but I don't know why it would.

Christians believe that God took on human flesh in order to save sinners on earth. What he chose to do about other beings in other worlds, or whether they even needed redemption, we have no way of knowing. All that matters to Christians is that he came to save us.

Perhaps, the New Testament image of the shepherd leaving the flock to seek out the one lost sheep has some significance here. It could be that the flock is comprised of beings throughout the universe (personally, I have my doubts about life forms elsewhere in the cosmos) and that mankind on earth is the one lost sheep. Who knows?

Weidemann doesn't think this very likely, however:
The principle of mediocrity — the idea that [our world] is most likely typical unless you have evidence to the contrary — casts doubt on this, he pointed out. "If there are extraterrestrial intelligent beings at all, it is safe to assume that most of them are sinners too," Weidemann said. "If so, did Jesus save them too? My position is no. If so, our position among intelligent beings in the universe would be very exceptional."
On what does he base his doubt? Apparently, he thinks it improbable that God would have done what He did on earth more than once:
Another possibility is that God incarnated multiple times, sending a version of Himself down to save each inhabited planet separately. However, based on the best guesses of how many civilizations we might expect to exist in the universe, and how long planets and civilizations are expected to survive, God's incarnations would have had to be in about 250 places simultaneously at any given time, assuming each incarnation took about 30 years, Weidemann calculated.

If God truly became corporeal and took human form when Jesus Christ was born, this wouldn't have been possible, Weidemann said.
I don't know why Weidemann thinks that an omnipresent, omnipotent Being, unbounded by space and time, couldn't manifest himself simultaneously in more than one place. If quantum particles can do it why couldn't the Creator of those particles do it?

Moreover, why could it not be, as Christians have traditionally believed, that the atonement of Christ in Jerusalem 2000 years ago redeemed the entire creation, not just earth?

If ETs are ever discovered, I don't think it would be a problem for Christianity, much less a dilemma. Rather it'd be a stunning revelation, one that would have great potential for helping us understand more about how the Creator acts in his creation.

So Far, So Fast

If you're interested in politics and/or you're curious as to how Barack Obama could have fallen so far so fast from the lofty heights he commanded in 2008 to the low estate he occupies today in the public's esteem I commend to you an excellent essay in the Weekly Standard by Noemie Emery. This essay is not a partisan hit job. It's an objective, dispassionate assessment of where Mr. Obama's weaknesses lie and how they conspired to bring him and his party to the brink of a generation of political exile.

Emery opens with this:
For a success, Barack Obama is a very bad politician, the worst politician to win the presidency by an electoral landslide, to never lose a major election, or to rise to the presidency from a state legislature in little more than four years. He has gone from sterling campaigner to put-upon leader; from the new FDR to the next Jimmy Carter; from being the orator who could hold millions spellbound to the man who moves no one at all. The man who promised everything is delivering nothing. Journalists who wept when he won the election now grind their teeth in despair. Maureen Dowd admits he isn’t the one for whom even he had been waiting. The gap between sizzle and steak never seemed so large or alarming, and inquiring minds want to know what went wrong.

Did the prince (assuming he was one) turn into a frog? Did he use all his luck up in winning his office? Did he, once in power, see his governing skills fade away? The answers to these things are no, yes, and no. The record suggests that he was never a prince (merely a fantasy); that his luck went away once his free ride had ended; and that he had few political, that is, governing, skills to begin with, a fact that is now more than clear. In three areas at least, he appears to be lacking. Let us walk back and see what they are.
I think that Mr. Obama's current predicament is not so much a result of a lack of political skill, although Emery makes a strong case for that, but more a result of the fact that many Americans are becoming aware that Mr. Obama is much further to the left on the ideological spectrum than they realized he was when they voted for him in 2008.

At any rate, Emery's essay is an excellent piece of political analysis. Give it a read.