Monday, January 16, 2012

Aliens and the Bible

My nine-year-old daughter suggested that the fact that aliens aren't mentioned in the Bible gave us good reason to think there aren't any aliens. I countered that dolphins aren't mentioned in the Bible either. My daughter noted that kangaroos aren't either, but she thought that aliens were the sort of thing that, if they existed, the Bible would mention them. I thought there was something to that idea, but perhaps only a weaker claim can be made: the fact that the Bible doesn't mention aliens gives us a good reason to think that humans aren't going to meet up with them in this life. For if we are going to meet up with them, we would need the sort of ethical guidance that we expect from Scripture.

I don't think this is a very powerful argument against the claim that there will be human-alien contact. After all, as long as the aliens appear to be rational beings subject to moral constraints we have good reason to think that they are in the image and likeness of God just as much as we are, and we can apply Scriptural principles. But I do think, nonetheless, that the silence of Scripture is some evidence against humans meeting up with aliens in this life.

Note added later: I definitely should have included Tradition alongside Scripture. See the comments.


Scott said...

"the fact that the Bible doesn't mention aliens gives us a good reason to think that humans aren't going to meet up with them in this life. For if we are going to meet up with them, we would need the sort of ethical guidance that we expect from Scripture."

I thought the catholic response would be different than the response you give. I thought you would have said something like this:

If we meet up with aliens, then the Pope, or the council of bishops, will figure out what we should do. That will give us the ethical guidance we need.

I am curious. Why didn't you give that response? Why, as a catholic, is it important to have Scripture address such issues when the judgment of the Pope/council of bishops is taken to have the same authority as Scripture?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I definitely should have included Tradition along with Scripture.

But still the Catholic view is that revelation proper has been completed: it is encompassed in Scripture and Tradition. The Magisterium interprets this Scripture and Tradition, but if the information is not implicitly there in Scripture and Tradition, then it's just not there.

But I suppose it is not implausible to think that there may be implicit principles on what to do, which the Magisterium will know how to apply.

Scott said...

Interesting. What, then, is the body of Tradition that together with Scripture constitutes completed revelation proper? I assumed that the judgments of the Pope or the council of bishops were what counted as Tradition. But if that isn't it, what on the Catholic view is?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Good questions.

Well, the Tradition is passed down. So everything in the Tradition has to follow from the teaching (broadly construed, as including teaching through praxis and liturgy) of the Apostles. The Tradition is, I suppose, the body of propositions that follows from the definitive teaching of the Apostles.

When the magisterium definitively teaches on faith or morals, the magisterium is pronouncing (with divine protection) that some doctrine is found explicitly or implicitly in Scripture and Tradition.

Anonymous said...

Tradition on the Catholic view is also broader than is often realized, since it includes both the canon of the Bible, along with the scriptures themselves. St. Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 actually calls his oral teaching together with his letters (in Greek 'Epistles') Parousia (translated: Tradition).

Obviously though, Catholic vocabulary typically makes some distinction between Scripture and Tradition. It might be best thought of as something like the following: The Scriptures are one thing, and what the Scriptures 'Actually teach' is Tradition. In other words, when one clever heretic finds some way to interpret every verse of the Bible such that she takes the Bible not to teach the Trinity, the Catholic will simply say that the Trinity is part of the Tradition (by which the Catholic means that that is what the Scriptures actually teach, regardless of mis-interpretations). This can be just as easily applied to purgatory, Mary, or anything else you like. The only danger here is that Tradition includes some things which are beyond the scope of propositions, such as the Tradition of celebrating God and Christ with the prayer called 'Eucharist' or sometimes called 'the Mass' or 'Divine Liturgy'.

Anonymous said...

Pardon me, I meant to say Paradosis in place of Perousia - very different Greek words.