Astrophysics and Metaphysics

Are there aliens out there? Nothing is more likely to grab headlines than the latest speculation about extraterrestrial life. Here, a Vatican theologian speculates and organizes a conference; there, a scientist says he’s analyzed 500 planets and is convinced that the cosmos is a cold, empty and lifeless place. Still others insist the sheer size of the universe makes it probable, even certain, that we are not alone.

There are three fallacies involved in the speculation about life beyond our planet. First is what might be called “sizeism”: the fallacious belief that because something is big, it must be important. The sizeist says, “Because the universe is so vast, it must have other life forms.” But not necessarily: The Sahara is vast — vastly uninhabitable. Size alone doesn’t indicate importance. An elephant is not more important than a human infant, and one small spring of water in the desert is far more important than the rest of the desert.

The earth is a miraculously beautiful home for the human race. The more we study the cosmos, the more we understand the amazing balance of factors in play that make life on earth so abundant. We are taught not to be geocentric because we know the earth moves around the sun — but from another perspective, perhaps a geocentric understanding of the world is not so silly. If the whole cosmos is void of intelligent life, perhaps it could be seen as one vast casket to contain the jewel that is earth. Perhaps the earth, in her delicate orbit, interacts and connects with the cosmos in a way that makes it the lynchpin and the raison d’etre of the whole universe. We all know how one seemingly insignificant detail in an intricately plotted story may be the fulcrum on which every element in the story hinges. Perhaps our tiny planet is the all-important center around which the rest of the cosmos turns.

 

The second fallacy the alien hunters fall into might be called “anthrocentrism.” This is the idea that aliens would probably look like us, with the same kind of biological structures and needs that we have. Perhaps their heads would be bigger, but they would essentially be like us — or, if not like us, then something else from our world. We imagine aliens like us because we can’t really imagine anything outside of us and our world.

This fallacy is a natural part of our limitations. We do not have the tools in our imagination toolbox to imagine anything totally separate from our world. That’s why all the monsters and aliens who inhabit our fiction are made up of things we already know — just put together in a different way.

This limitation on the imagination is linked to a more fundamental fallacy among the alien hunters, and this is a sort of crude materialism. They are looking for life as we know it here on earth, but they miss the obvious point that, if there is some sort of life out there, it will most certainly not be what we know. Their naive materialism has them sending radio signals out into space, thinking that someone might tune in. They peer into their telescopes, hoping to see a metal aircraft from another planet heading this way. Their materialism limits them to looking for life on other planets that would be like life here. They cannot dream of the possibility that life elsewhere may exist totally outside the parameters and definitions of what we call life.

Once the idea that life on other planets may not be anything at all like life here, and that the whole infrastructure and code for life may be utterly foreign to us, the quest becomes so wide open and beyond our imagining as to be impossible.

 

What the literally minded materialists don’t see is that, at this moment, the cosmos is actually burgeoning with other intelligent life forms. Furthermore, they have been in contact with the human race for eons. There is a developed understanding of them, and millions of ordinary people believe in them. They populate the universe with a superabundance that we cannot understand. I am, of course, referring to celestial angels and fallen demons.

Angels and demons are real entities, but they exist in a parallel realm to our physical universe. While our own physical cosmos of planets and solar systems might be barren, it is possible that there are far more types and species of intelligent beings in other realms than we can ever imagine. That these parallel realms exist cannot be proved or disproved using the scientific method because, by definition, the scientific method can only test things in the measurable physical realm.

In a way, the scientist who is looking for aliens who drive spaceships to earth from other planets is like the proverbial idiot who took apart a clock to find time. They are looking in the wrong place and in the wrong way. Limited by their obsession with the physical realm, they cannot imagine that what they are looking for already exists right in front of their noses, and that those of us who believe in angels and demons are okay with it.

What we need, therefore, is less astrophysics and more metaphysics. Instead of exploring outer space, we need to explore inner space; for it is within the human psyche, within the vast cosmos of the human consciousness, that we explore realms unknown and encounter creatures more wonderful and terrible than we could have imagined. Furthermore, it is from the great spiritual traditions of our race that we have mapped the territory, recorded the encounters from another realm, and analyzed and attempted to understand our commerce with this alternate cosmos.

In a way, then, the saints are like spiritual astronauts. They are the ones who boldly go where others fear to tread. They are the ones who have ventured into the great beyond and come back to tell the tale; and what they tell us is that other worlds do exist, and other beings live and move in realms beyond our imagining.

What they also tell us is that, while these beings and worlds exist, they are not to be our main occupation. We have another vocation. For us, that occupation is the daily round and the common task. We are to be down to earth because earth is our home — and this realm, ordered by time and the circuit of seasons, is where we do business for our short span of life. It is through this physical realm of time and space that we connect most effectively with all that is beyond. Within the flux of daily life and struggle, eternal connections are made. It is here that we are allied with angels, where souls are forged, and where our eventual passage to another world, populated with glorious beings, is validated and confirmed.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker

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Father Dwight Longenecker is the pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. He is the author, most recently, of Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness (Sophia Institute Press, 2020). Read more at www.dwightlongenecker.com.

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