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The Alien is my Brother
May 14, 2008 1:04 AM   Subscribe

Vatican's chief astronomer states that belief in alien life does not conradict faith in God. Fr. José Gabriel Funes, a Jesuit preist and chief astronomer for the Vatican, stated in an interview in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's official newspaper, that, "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."

Fr. Funes goes on to speculate that aliens might be free from original sin, as well as stating the Bible "is not a science book," and that the Big Bang theory is the most "reasonable" explanation for the creation of the universe. (The original article in Italian.)

Coincidentally, the UK's Ministry of Defence just released it's previously classified UFO files.
posted by Snyder (72 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Marklar?
posted by rokusan at 1:21 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man, it's good to be able to pick and choose when it comes to THE INERRANT, IRREFUTABLE WORD OF GOD.
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:45 AM on May 14, 2008


Man, it's good to be able to pick and choose when it comes to THE INERRANT, IRREFUTABLE WORD OF GOD.

Uh, we're talking about Catholicism, not fundamentalist Protestantism here.
posted by signalnine at 1:47 AM on May 14, 2008


Uh, I know that. Catholicism still considers the Bible to be the word of God and since God is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient (plus some other things, I forget), then that would ipso facto render the Bible inerrant and irrefutable.
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:53 AM on May 14, 2008


LOLALIENS or LOLRELIGION?
posted by WalterMitty at 2:09 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


This isn't new, but I think it's the first time this sort of thought gets the seal of approval from the higher powers. In the past this were the sort of dangerous ideas you didn't want to express in public or on paper because they violated the assumption that the earth was the center of the universe.

Giordano Bruno believed the universe was full of life too.
More recently many krazy ufologists offered theories that mixed Christ*, aliens and angels.

* I mean, there are people who believe Christ abducts people.
posted by darkripper at 2:13 AM on May 14, 2008


I just think it's interesting that the Catholic Church - an institution founded on mythology, superstition and mysticism (see also: most all religions) - has recognised itself as being so wholly irrelevant to the concerns of the modern world that they are actively pursuing niche markets of bizarro.

Please note that I do not consider the concept of extraterrestrial life "bizarre" in any sense of the world but if the church is trying to appeal to the scientific community (specifically cosmologists, astronomers, etc.), with their track record, I think they're going to have a hard slog ahead of them, so this simply reads to me as a rather sad attempt to attract the tinfoil hatters to the fold.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:23 AM on May 14, 2008


"any sense of the world" = "any sense of the word". Sigh.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:24 AM on May 14, 2008


The Catholic Church considers the Bible to be the word of God, filtered through men. It also doesn't consider the Bible to be comprehensive or complete in terms of divine revelation.

So, where in the Bible does it say that there aren't any aliens?
posted by signalnine at 2:47 AM on May 14, 2008


turgid dahlia: I don't quite see it as the Church reaching out to or trying to attract "tinfoil hatters", but as a considered logical progression to subjects not (accurately?) discussed in the historical texts (see also Heliocentrism).

Perhaps this brings a major religion a step closer to officially declaring capital-s Science to be compatible with a non-literal interpretation of their doctrine?

My hope is dampened somewhat with the acknowledgement that the 'God of the Gaps' is not a popular idea, and that the Bible is so frequently taken literally.
posted by Tzarius at 2:48 AM on May 14, 2008


Fr. Funes goes on to speculate that aliens might be free from original sin....
That explains why they don't show themselves. Why go and mess up a good thing?
posted by chillmost at 2:52 AM on May 14, 2008


Relatedly, it's important to note that this is just the Vatican astronomer responding to an interviewer's questions. This person has no authority whatsoever to speak for the RCC. So, don't get your panties all in a twist, people.
posted by signalnine at 2:53 AM on May 14, 2008


So, where in the Bible does it say that there aren't any aliens?

It doesn't need to, but that's not what I was hinting at. It doesn't say anything about quite a lot of stuff. In fact, the subjects it says nothing whatsoever about far outweigh those subjects that it does manage to touch on. It is concerned, in the end, primarily with quite horrific things. But that isn't what I'm getting at either.

To the Catholic Church the Bible (consisting of two Testaments) is, as you likely know, considered the gospel. It's like, you can't have a game of D&D without at least the Player's Handbook and the Dungeon Master's Guide (and probably a Monstrous Manual too - I guess that would be the Apocrypha), just as you cannot have Christianity without the Bible. So, taking a look at the history of the various Christ-churches, this immediately tells me that the Bible is pretty important to these people and is in fact most likely the greatest book ever written, packed to the margins with formidably good, useful, necessary stuff.

The Bible is presented by the church (discounting the countless millions of pages of interpretation, analysis, catechism, etc.) as a sort of moral and spiritual handbook, purporting to equip us wicked sinners with the tools and instruction necessary to make our way through the world, please God, and eventually enter the gates of heaven, whereupon we may look down upon those unfortunate souls boiling in hell (heaven's only real selling point, apart from eternal tedium, if that's your thing). Therefore, any reasonable god, no doubt having some sort of overall plan, would, I imagine, do his or her best to equip his (I'll just use the masculine, it's easier) flock with the intellectual and spiritual equipment necessary to confront Big Events.

Go back merely six decades, and I can think of at least two Big Events that the Words of God neglected to properly equip us for (the Holocaust and Hiroshima/Nagasaki). Sure, war is all throughout the Bible (God practically revels in it, habitually suggesting it as a productive way to spend time), but these two cataclysmic events went beyond war, I think, and well and truly entered the realm of Holy Fucking Shit This Is Getting Serious. God is suspiciously silent on these issues (But offers plenty of good advice on stoning etiquette. In the immortal words of Douglas Adams: "Move a light switch on Sunday"? That's a stonin'!).

(Of course, quite a few other sacred religious texts [in fact, all of them] prior to World War II neglected to make any mention of these literally world-changing events, which to my reasoning renders these tomes, as foundations for religions, comprehensively worthless.)

Another thing that would change the very course of history, and in fact the entire fabric of human culture, is discovery of sentient alien life. This subject does not appear in the Index for either the Old or New Testaments.

So is this a matter of God being a cheeky scamp, keeping us on our toes, so that something completely mind-blisteringly fucked up happens but afterwards we calm down and permit ourselves a wry, secret smile and think "That God!"? Or is it a matter of human fallibility, of selective deafness on behalf of the scribes, who missed the bits about genocide and nuclear weapons but managed to effectively convey the idea that God isn't so keen on either the short skirts or my, y'know, leering? If God is, as advertised, all-good and all-knowing and all-powerful, I think he would have given us a heads up and made sure his scholars didn't run out of masticated bark or vellum or whatever before they managed to transcribe the shorthand for "and yea, some Big Shit will go down, let me relate it to thee".

So where does this leave the Bible? On the remainder table at Borders, two for the price of three with a copy of the Qur'an and your choice between the Bhagvad Gita and the Torah. None of these provide me with any instruction whatsoever on how to live my life, they contain no easily-discernible historical facts, and they don't even tell particularly good stories. If I'm to base my entire metaphysical outlook on one or any or even all of these texts (and dozens of others like them) it's like, c'mon, throw me a frickin' bone here.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:45 AM on May 14, 2008 [16 favorites]


But anyway, sorry, OP, it's actually a good post, cheers.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:46 AM on May 14, 2008


STOP LISTENING TO BALTAR!
posted by zaelic at 3:50 AM on May 14, 2008 [5 favorites]


Another thing that would change the very course of history, and in fact the entire fabric of human culture, is discovery of sentient alien life. This subject does not appear in the Index for either the Old or New Testaments.

And neither did the subject of dinosaurs appear, but this discovery hasn't seemed to have had much impact on the believers.

Of course, the discovery of space aliens means that they'll have to add some space aliens next to the dinosaurs on Noah's ark, but that's no problem.
posted by three blind mice at 4:07 AM on May 14, 2008


Remember that this guy is a Jesuit, and they're the crazy dirty hippie intellectuals of the Catholic Church nowadays.
posted by notsnot at 4:11 AM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


"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."

There was a priest who arrived at this same conclusion, only he did so in the late 16th century. Of course, he took it a step further, and seeing that there was nothing special about the Earth in the infinite vastness of creation, he decided there must be nothing uniquely important about the Christian faith.

This of course, aroused the ire of Roman Inquisition, and he found himself accused of heresy. St. Bellarmine, the Cardinal Inquisitor overseeing his trial, had demanded a full recantation. During his trial, he did recant many of his heretical religious beliefs; however, he refused to recant his belief in an infinite, acentric universe, with an infinity of populated worlds. As a result, he was convicted of heresy, and on February 17th, 1600, he was taken to the Campo de’ Fiori, where he had an iron spike driven through his tongue, was stripped naked, and burned at the stake.

From the Vatican's own archives, a summary of the trial and execution of Giordano Bruno


As terrible as the church's treatment of Bruno was, it pales in comparison to the wholesale misery and death wrought by the church's campaign against family planning and reality based sexual health measures. John Paul II was the first to acknowledge the church's error, and express regret for the treatment of Giordano Bruno. It's my sincerest hope that the church doesn't last long enough to get around to apologizing for the role it played in the current overpopulation and AIDS crises.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 4:12 AM on May 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


Are you sure this wasn't a Father Guido Sarducci article in the Vatican Inquirer?
posted by amyms at 4:19 AM on May 14, 2008


Thanks, religion, for giving science permission to exist!
posted by DU at 4:24 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Uh-oh. This really makes me think they know something we don't.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:47 AM on May 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


Uh, I know that. Catholicism still considers the Bible to be the word of God and since God is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient (plus some other things, I forget), then that would ipso facto render the Bible inerrant and irrefutable.

Unless He/She/It chose a not-entirely-true message for a specific reason. The Plan, remember? Don't question the Plan!
posted by spaceman_spiff at 4:48 AM on May 14, 2008


I can't believe no one's mentioned James Blish's A Case of Conscience, which examined precisely these issues half a century ago. But I guess y'all were too busy rehashing the standard LOLXIANS snoozefest. Way to fuck up a thread, turgid dahlia.
posted by languagehat at 5:18 AM on May 14, 2008


Way to fuck up a thread, turgid dahlia.

Well by Christ, somebody's gotta do something!
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:26 AM on May 14, 2008


But anyway, while we're talking aliens and the terrestrial pious meeting within covers upon pages in the language of words, Eifelheim is a relatively interesting treatment of the subject.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:31 AM on May 14, 2008


Sooooooooo... these aliens... if they believe their planet moves around their sun, we can burn them at the stake, right?
posted by Flunkie at 5:33 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Any god that wasn't born on earth would be, by definition, an extraterrestrial intelligence. If Jehovah created the earth, he must have been a space alien.
posted by Human Flesh at 5:47 AM on May 14, 2008


It's only within the last twenty years that we've found extrasolar planets. Now we've got evidence of extrasolar planets in the hundreds. It'd be very odd if we didn't find evidence of extraterrestial life within a generation or two. Very, very odd.
posted by rdr at 5:51 AM on May 14, 2008


In addition to the mostly excellent A Case For Conscience mentioned above, Mary Doria Russell's duology The Sparrow and Children of God are good. More on Jesuits, first contact and forgiveness.
posted by khaibit at 5:56 AM on May 14, 2008


What is the alternative position: Alien life is "EVIL", spawn of the devil?
posted by stbalbach at 5:58 AM on May 14, 2008


This makes me wonder what the Success of the Long Galactic Hunt is all about.
posted by Balisong at 6:02 AM on May 14, 2008


All civilizations that have mastered intergalactic dogmatism, raise their hands.
posted by ornate insect at 6:12 AM on May 14, 2008


This is simply the Catholic Church distancing itself from the idiot fundies that deny so much science. Has far more to do with the world today than the Catholics history of murdering scientists.
posted by Goofyy at 6:17 AM on May 14, 2008


Perhaps this brings a major religion a step closer to officially declaring capital-s Science to be compatible with a non-literal interpretation of their doctrine?

The catholic church, to its credit, has a more thoughtful, reality-based position on evolution than most Kansas school boards.
posted by Mister_A at 6:35 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Relatedly, it's important to note that this is just the Vatican astronomer responding to an interviewer's questions. This person has no authority whatsoever to speak for the RCC.

Not in a doctrinal sense, but the Vatican astronomer has long been treated as the pope's main scientific advisor, and in an organization that swims in nuance as deeply as the Vatican, statements like this aren't made casually. Especially considering that Funes got the job because his predecessor was sacked by Benedict for going off the reservation in regards to evolution. IMHO, the fact that Funes is saying this is a reasonable sign that the Pope is ok with the possibility of the existence of extraterrestrial life. Not to mention that this is hardly a new issue for the Church- Jesuit archaeologist and philosopher Teilhard de Chardin discussed the theological implications of the (in his view) likely existence of alien life in 1953 (he was opposed by the Vatican during his lifetime, but their position has softened more recently). Speaking of...

Remember that this guy is a Jesuit, and they're the crazy dirty hippie intellectuals of the Catholic Church nowadays.

They're also the Church's largest religious order, so they're not exactly outcasts. Its true that there has never been a Jesuit pope, but calling the RCC anti-intellectual is somewhat blinkered.

The Bible is presented by the church (discounting the countless millions of pages of interpretation, analysis, catechism, etc.) as a sort of moral and spiritual handbook, purporting to equip us wicked sinners with the tools and instruction necessary to make our way through the world, please God, and eventually enter the gates of heaven, whereupon we may look down upon those unfortunate souls boiling in hell (heaven's only real selling point, apart from eternal tedium, if that's your thing). Therefore, any reasonable god, no doubt having some sort of overall plan, would, I imagine, do his or her best to equip his (I'll just use the masculine, it's easier) flock with the intellectual and spiritual equipment necessary to confront Big Events.

One of the Catholicism's distinguishing features is how little it relies of the Bible. I'm no theologian, but my understanding is they define three sources of knowledge about the divine: sacred scripture (the Bible), sacred tradition (the actions of the apostles), and the enlightened magisterum (which I'm not certain about, but I think it roughly means interpretation of the preceding by the clergy). Catholics place less literal weight on the Bible than any other major Christian denomination (except maybe the Church of England, which I don't know much about). Regardless, you may not find anything in the Bible to prepare you for atomic weapons/the holocaust/aliens, but I'm sure that somebody out there (who is more familiar with its contents than you) does (especially when you add the rest of Catholic doctrine as source material).
posted by gsteff at 6:38 AM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's my understanding that the Catholic Church started studying astronomy after they realized that they weren't right in the entire Galileo debacle.
posted by drezdn at 6:43 AM on May 14, 2008


This reminds me of Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World. One concept he spends a lot of time developing is the formulaic similarity between modern alien abduction accounts and medieval accounts of spirits and demons. The appearance and typical sexual/physical interactions are very similar. Apparently, humans have a hardwired fear of being taken in the night that manifests itself in predictable ways. Or, if you're on the tinfoil hat side, aliens have been abducting humans for a longgg time.

Also, the episode of South Park where the Catholic church turns out to have a sizeable alien deligation and is also run by the Great Queen Spider...
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 6:46 AM on May 14, 2008


So, anyone else think that the top of the hierarchy in the Church doesn't actually believe in God?

And regarding the Bible's discussion of aliens, please note that the Bible is full of angels and demons, prehistoric giants, etc. any of which could be considered aliens.

In other news, Einstein said that belief in God is childish, and that jews are not the chosen people.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:06 AM on May 14, 2008


This isn't the first time Vatican astronomers have spoken out on the topic, or that Metafilter has discussed it. Ignoring the LOLXTIANS stuff (which is always especially frustrating when the basic facts are wrong - Catholics are pretty damn far from a literal sola scriptura understanding of the Bible), it seems fairly clear that the Church has been paying attention to scientific developments in the last few decades (perhaps particularly the discovery of other planetary systems) and has thought through the doctrinal implications of the discovery of extraterrestrial life. This is by no means an appeal to tinfoil-hatters; the Vatican Astronomers are very solid scientists, and by and large, the Church has no problem with Science (beyond stating - in dense and tangled theological tracts - that God is at the root of it all.) Rather, science has made it increasingly clear that the existence of life in other solar systems is at least theoretically possible, and the Church wants to be prepared, should that turn out to be the case.

(And languagehat is right to bring up "A Case of Conscience." Similarly, Maria Doria Russell's "The Sparrow" and "Children of God" deal with the reaction of the Church to the discovery of life near Alpha Centauri. Good reads, and good introductions to the kind of moral reasoning the Church might apply to the discovery of extraterrestrial life.)
posted by ubersturm at 7:21 AM on May 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


Interesting confluence of extra-terrestrial discussions recently including comments by the last Shuttle Crew.

Hey, maybe there's a change management and communications program underway to prep various populations for the First Encounter.
posted by michswiss at 7:22 AM on May 14, 2008


"The aliens will contact us when they can make money by doing so." -- David Byrne
posted by neuron at 7:50 AM on May 14, 2008


good introductions to the kind of moral reasoning the Church might apply to the discovery of extraterrestrial life.

Considering history along with the present day, I figure Warhammer 40,000 has this about right. Listen not to the alien, look not upon the alien, speak not unto the alien. Burn the Heretic. Kill the Mutant. Purge the Unclean!
posted by vorfeed at 8:04 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Catholics believe in ghosts and saints and stuff, why not aliens? As a catholic myself, this is pretty cool.
posted by snsranch at 8:18 AM on May 14, 2008


I can think of at least two Big Events that the Words of God neglected to properly equip us for (the Holocaust

See: numerous incidents in the OT when entire tribes/cultures were wiped out and/or sold into slavery, as well as numerous warnings from various Prophets that the people would suffer unimaginably for turning away from the Lord.

and Hiroshima/Nagasaki).
See: the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. That wasn't just a walls of the city falling down thing, that was utter devastation. Not to mention the deadly consequences of looking directly at the "blast" for Lot's wife.

While the Bible didn't exactly pinpoint the date/location of either the Holocaust or the atomic bomb, there are pretty close analogues to them to be found in its pages.
posted by lord_wolf at 8:36 AM on May 14, 2008


Aliens: fresh fodder for missionaries.
posted by binturong at 8:40 AM on May 14, 2008


Not the first time a Jesuit posed something the church frowned on. For example Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The Society of Jesus has always been the most educated and often the most critical order of the Catholic church.
posted by elendil71 at 9:00 AM on May 14, 2008


Go back merely six decades, and I can think of at least two Big Events that the Words of God neglected to properly equip us for (the Holocaust and Hiroshima/Nagasaki).

i agree - until science and engineering came along, we weren't capable of killing millions in human death factories or nuking entire cities in a flash and we should all go back to living in the woods

(as long as we're making ridiculous arguments ...)
posted by pyramid termite at 9:05 AM on May 14, 2008


free form original sin? so did the Adam and Eve on other planets not eat the apple? Are aliens still in a state of innocence? Is there only two of them from each planet? Are they still naked? Were they made in God's image?

or is this planet somehow special? were we the only ones with such an arrangement? why again was it that we start out somehow owning a part of the sin that was the consequence of someone else's actions?

if the aliens are free of all the pesky knowledge we're burdened with, does that mean they can conquer us without having to worry about their immortal souls?

isn't there something about this in the book of Revelations?
posted by sineater at 9:18 AM on May 14, 2008


Joseph Smith addressed this question from the beginning of his religion. I don't know a ton about Mormonism, but my understanding is that they are open to the possibility of other worlds created by God. And he explained the problem of whether or not it's reasonable to believe that Jesus died for the inhabitants of the Americas before first European contact by saying that the resurrected Jesus preached here. It's a pretty reasonable conclusion... errr uh, revelation considering most Christian doctrine up to that point. So maybe Jesus preached on other planets too? Or maybe God has his own plan for each of them.

Anyone know a bit more about Mormon beliefs?
posted by gauchodaspampas at 9:39 AM on May 14, 2008


(by "this question", I mean the question in general of aliens, not any of the questions posted by sineater directly above me).
posted by gauchodaspampas at 9:41 AM on May 14, 2008


free form original sin? so did the Adam and Eve on other planets not eat the apple? Are aliens still in a state of innocence? Is there only two of them from each planet? Are they still naked? Were they made in God's image?

CS Lewis actually has a series that deals with these issues (have read the first two books).
posted by jmd82 at 10:09 AM on May 14, 2008


OMG a religionist capable of reason! Stop the presses!

What a bunch of ignorant twits the LOLXIAN crowd in this thread is. Especially turgid dahlia. The impression that science and religion are inherently at odds is total bull crap. Lots of Christians are scientists, engineers, etc.
posted by Doohickie at 10:33 AM on May 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


Case of Conscience is a stupid, ignorant book. The weirdly contrived intellectual dilemma the main character boxes himself into was completely unbelievable to me as a position that a real Jesuit (or any Christian with half a brain) would take. As this article shows, Catholics are already able to approach this question with far more sophistication and nuance than Blish's character, who supposedly lives in a future where space travel would have required Christians to think about these issues even more seriously.

Imagine a book in which an atheist character suddenly has the earth shaking revelation that "Without God, there can be no basis for morality!" It would be ridiculous, because real life atheists have already grappled with that question with great sophistication. That's exactly how dumb and ignorant Blish's book seemed to me.
posted by straight at 11:49 AM on May 14, 2008


[...] real life atheists have already grappled with that question with great sophistication.

News to me. So atheists have an answer to Hume's is-ought problem that isn't circular or hand-waving? If so, I'd like to see it.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 12:58 PM on May 14, 2008


News to me. So atheists have an answer to Hume's is-ought problem that isn't circular or hand-waving? If so, I'd like to see it.

I can't speak for any other atheists, but my own answer is simple: there is no such thing as objective morality. Just as Hume himself suggested, "oughts" (and, indeed, all morality) spring from one's own sentiments. These sentiments may or may not be based upon one's perception of the external world, but both the sentiments and the moral judgments that spring from them have no objective existence and cannot be found anywhere outside one's own brain.

Or, as Hume put it, "Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compared to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind".
posted by vorfeed at 1:48 PM on May 14, 2008


I just think it's interesting that the Catholic Church - an institution founded on mythology, superstition and mysticism (see also: most all religions) - has recognised itself as being so wholly irrelevant to the concerns of the modern world that they are actively pursuing niche markets of bizarro.

Emphasis mine. Are you familiar with Catholic social teaching? Catholics United is a group in line with that tradition.

I am not a Christian nor do I belong to any faith, but I think that the Catholic Church is the organized Christian religion most in line with progressive policies that can be achieved in the U.S. (health care, welfare, social security, public education).

And then there's birth control... but I give most Catholics credit for completely ignoring doctrine there. (I mean, c'mon you guys.)

However, calling the Catholic Church wholly irrelevant to the concerns of the modern world demonstrates ignorance. It is the largest Christian church in the world. WTF?!
posted by mrgrimm at 1:49 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


What happens if the aliens are athiests?
posted by ornate insect at 1:51 PM on May 14, 2008


Crabby Appleton writes "News to me. So atheists have an answer to Hume's is-ought problem that isn't circular or hand-waving? If so, I'd like to see it."

It's not necessary to provide a philosophical refutation to Hume, except to other philosophers. In the real world, plenty of atheists and non-theists are perfectly capable of morality without "god," and without having to refute Hume to your satisfaction.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:51 PM on May 14, 2008


oh, and without God, morality comes from collective humanity, or the hive mind.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:55 PM on May 14, 2008


krinklyfig--are you saying philosophers don't live in the real world, even Bishop Berkeley?
posted by ornate insect at 5:41 PM on May 14, 2008


This probably bears no rational analysis, but this feels like Simpsons material to me.

I look forward to a sizable proportion of the population believing in the healing power of envelope glue, or in divine forgiveness through the consumption of cucumbers, or -- space ants taking over -- so the Papacy can proclaim that they welcome our new, but completely faith-consistent, overlords.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:43 PM on May 14, 2008


straight was talking about a basis for morality. None of you has even asserted (let alone justified) a basis for your morality. Well, except that mrgrimm says it's the "hive mind". Hive mind, my ass. Be serious.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:45 PM on May 14, 2008


What happens if the aliens are athiests?

Aliens are probably the athiest atheists around.
posted by amyms at 9:25 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Any discussion of the basis for morality, introduced at this point in the thread with a rather pointless reference to Hume's Law, is going to go badly. There are many reasons to believe that we need to assume an absolute, objective morality, and other reasons to believe that this is inevitably and incoherent assumption; and the absolutist/relativist debate is entirely orthogonal to the debate about whether morality consists of real properties or subjective ones. You think the assumption of God's existence makes it easier to find a basis for morality? Here are some questions:

1) how do we know what God wants and thinks?
2) if we did know what he wants and thinks, how would we know that this right?

Concerning the 2nd question: if God is perfect, then I suppose he's automatically right. But if he's right that, e.g., killing is wrong, then presumably this means there are reasons why killing is wrong and that God understands these reasons perfectly because he is perfect. But then the explanation of why it's wrong has to involve independent reasons, so as long as we're looking for a basis for morality we're in the same boat as the atheist, trying to locate independent reasons for what is right and wrong. (Unless you think that God's opinion that lying is wrong is what makes it wrong...but then you're taking a Hobbesean position that might makes right.)

You'll notice that my second question is a variation on Hume's Law: from the fact (if it is a fact) that God exists and from the fact that he holds certain opinions, it does not follow that we should do certain things. Hume's Law is not just for atheists.
posted by creasy boy at 9:42 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


If a spacecraft landed on earth and an alien disembarked from the ship, it would be presumptuous to assume that it was the sole member of its species. Similarly, if we encounter credible evidence of a real deity, we shouldn't assume that there is only one deity in the universe.
posted by Human Flesh at 1:45 AM on May 15, 2008


What happens if the aliens are athiests?

What happens if they are Christians? How would that alter the atheist's viewpoint?
posted by Doohickie at 6:18 AM on May 15, 2008


None of you has even asserted (let alone justified) a basis for your morality.

Did you miss my comment?

At any rate, it's not as if you have bothered to refute anything anyone else has said, so I'm not sure why you expect anybody to debate you. Trust me, any atheist is quite familiar with the whole "so, what's your basis for morality, then? ... LOLLOLLL THAT DOESN'T COUNT!!!" game. Speaking for myself, I'm not all that eager to play yet another round of it with you.

In short, if you want others to "be serious", then why don't you start? All I see from you here is rude, snarky one-liners.
posted by vorfeed at 9:32 AM on May 15, 2008


vorfeed, I'm sorry you find my remarks rude. From now on, I'll try to be at least as polite as atheists typically are to theists on Metafilter, OK?

Also, I think I might have managed to derail the thread. It wasn't my intention, but I confess that I didn't think about that before I posted my original comment. The notion of "great sophistication" being attributed to atheists (on the whole) seemed so bizarre that I had to respond to it somehow.

But aside from all that, I don't really see what your problem with me could possibly be. After all, atheists are very fond of hounding theists for "proof" of all kinds of things (but mainly the existence of God). I simply ask for proof that the morality that you espouse is something to which I (and any reasonable person) should adhere. Now, for an atheist, I would assume that such proof would be either logical and/or empirical (scientific) in form. And atheists, being loath to believe anything without sufficient proof, presumably would not expect me to, either.

And as for the "LOLLOLLL THAT DOESN'T COUNT!!!" business, well, if your proof is not sufficient (i.e., is flawed in some way, is not truly a proof), then you should expect me to point that out. Just as atheists delight in pointing out that various "proofs" of the existence of God are insufficient.

As for not refuting anything others have said, well, I did refute it by pointing out that it was not addressing the question (of a basis for morality).
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:33 AM on May 15, 2008


Oh, and to answer your question, I didn't miss your comment. If there's no such thing as an objective morality, then why should I care about it? If morality is nothing but a perception in the mind, then why should I pay any more attention to it than I do to any other vague hunch I happen to have?

I seriously thought you were conceding the point.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 12:13 PM on May 15, 2008


I simply ask for proof that the morality that you espouse is something to which I (and any reasonable person) should adhere. Now, for an atheist, I would assume that such proof would be either logical and/or empirical (scientific) in form. And atheists, being loath to believe anything without sufficient proof, presumably would not expect me to, either.

Here's the problem. I never said that my morality is something to which you (and any reasonable person) should adhere. In fact, if morality is subjective, that pretty much means that the preceding is NOT true. I can argue over morality all I want to, and often do, but that doesn't mean that there's any objective basis for it.

As for the rest of it, as a simple lack of belief in god(s), atheism does not necessarily imply anything about empiricism with regards to morality. I've known a lot of atheists with a lot of different views on moral matters, including some who believed in objective morality, and we all argued over it endlessly. Nobody was ever excommunicated for failing to prove their moral system empirically... in fact, to say that this was "not expected" would be an extreme understatement! I'd say that your stated expectations have a lot more to do with your perceptions of atheism than they do with the actual article.

On preview: if morality is subjective, there is no reason to care about it... at least, not any more than there is to care about, say, pain or love. The problem with your argument is that most people care very, very much about pain and love, to the extent of structuring much of their lives around avoiding or seeking one or the other. I am not sure why anyone should expect morality to be any different. Subjectivity does not mean that something "doesn't matter" -- human history is filled with myriad examples of people killing, fighting, and dying over subjective experience.
posted by vorfeed at 12:43 PM on May 15, 2008


So I take it, vorfeed, that you do not share the indignation engendered in many atheists (including at least two in this thread) when a theist asserts that without God, you have no basis for morality. Your response to that, in essence, if I read you correctly, is "yeah, so what?". OK, that's fine, but in that case you need to realize that my remarks were not addressed to you. (I mean, if the result of the atheists' grappling with the question with great sophistication was, ultimately, "eh, so what?", then frankly I have no response.) Given the context, it's hard to know why you even bothered responding.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 1:13 PM on May 15, 2008


So I take it, vorfeed, that you do not share the indignation engendered in many atheists (including at least two in this thread) when a theist asserts that without God, you have no basis for morality.

I most certainly share that indignation! Having a subjective basis for morality is a long way from having NO basis for morality, and there's a huge difference between having a personal moral system and being amoral. When theists say this sort of thing, they are generally implying that I am immoral or amoral. That's a rather rude and offensive suggestion, not to mention somewhat ridiculous on the face of it.

(I mean, if the result of the atheists' grappling with the question with great sophistication was, ultimately, "eh, so what?", then frankly I have no response.)

"Eh, so what" does not describe my thought processes, not by a long shot. My moral system is central to my sense of being, and is the result of a lot of deep thinking on the subject, over decades. "So what" is nowhere close! Also, if you think about it, you'll see that the nonexistence of objective morals has grave implications for human societies. Again, the fact that something is subjective does NOT mean that it doesn't matter!

Given the context, it's hard to know why you even bothered responding.

Here's the context I was replying to: "So atheists have an answer to Hume's is-ought problem that isn't circular or hand-waving? If so, I'd like to see it."

I am an atheist. I have dealt with this in some sophistication. And I have an answer for the is/ought problem, one that is neither circular nor hand-waving. I bothered responding because I thought, y'know, that you'd like to see it.

But, of course, I suspect that you really meant "I'd like to see it... so I can come up with a reason why it either doesn't count or doesn't matter." You not only want a justification for morality that isn't circular or hand-waving, you want one that pleases you, and I'm afraid I can't give you that.
posted by vorfeed at 1:41 PM on May 15, 2008


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