Brother Guy Consolmagno and Father Paul Mueller have written a new book: “Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?: . . . and Other Questions from the Astronomers’ In-box at the Vatican Observatory”
Br. Guy provided me with the following from the book’s introduction:
Guy: Would you baptize an extraterrestrial?
That is one of the questions people ask us all the time here at the Vatican Observatory . . . along with questions about the Star of Bethlehem, the beginning and end of the universe, Galileo, Pluto, black holes, killer asteroids, and all the other topics astronomers always get asked about.
What is it about questions of this sort that raises such interest—and sometimes suspicion and fear—among so many people? Let’s face it, most people know we’re not likely to be running into any ETs anytime soon; nor is the exact nature of the Star of Bethlehem essential to any catechism or creed. But people care. They keep asking us. Why?
This book is about what’s behind those questions.
Paul: And this book is about what it’s like when science encounters faith on friendly, mutually respectful terms.
Do you think we should reject any results of modern science that seem to disagree with the Bible? Do you think that the Bible has greater authority than science, and that biblical faith should always get the last word over science? If so, this might not be the book for you. (But read on!)
Do you think we should reject anything in the Bible that seems to be at odds with modern science? Do you think that science has greater authority than the Bible, and that science should always get the last word over biblical faith? If so, this might not be the book for you. (But read on!)
Do you think that both science and faith should be taken seriously, but you struggle with how to hold science and faith together, with integrity? Do you find yourself tending to keep science and faith isolated from each other, in separate, watertight compartments, but you wish that science and faith didn’t have to “take turns” in your life? Then this book is for you. Read on!
Guy: The two of us writing this book are members of the research staff at the Vatican Observatory, the official astronomical research institute of the Catholic Church.
Paul: Our primary work is research. But since all of us at the Vatican Observatory are Jesuit priests or brothers, we are also in frequent contact with members of the general public—people who have questions and comments about science and faith, people who want to tell us about some discovery they’ve made or about some theory they’ve devised. And also people who just want to talk. We get a lot of e-mail!
Guy: I have more than seven hundred such e-mails in my files from the last five years. Some of the messages are a bit off-the-wall. But all of them come from people who want to take science and faith seriously, and many of our correspondents are people having trouble figuring out how to hold the two together with integrity and consistency.
This book is structured around a half dozen particular questions we’ve been asked time and again—questions that are interesting in themselves but that also tend to presuppose a conflict of some sort between science and religion.
We start with the question of Genesis versus the Big Bang, and we discuss how science and religion can have different but complementary ways of looking at the same issue. Then we discuss how scientific theories and ideas change and evolve over time—for example, we describe what happened recently when astronomers debated the status of Pluto as a planet. And we ask how religion can or should respond when science evolves and changes. To see how that might work—and what happened when it didn’t work well—we examine the case of Galileo’s encounter with the Church.
People of faith generally believe that God is somehow active in the world. We talk about how that can that be, in a universe that seems to be regulated and governed by inexorable scientific laws. People of faith often believe that we are somehow important in God’s eyes. We discuss how can that be, in a universe that is vast and ancient beyond human imagining . . . and that seems doomed to come to an inglorious end, eventually.
And, yes, as the title of the book promises, we also talk about whether we would baptize an alien: what could the message of Christ mean in a universe of countless planets and, for all we know, countless other races of intelligent beings?
Paul: So how do science and religion actually relate to each other? Do they have to operate in separate, watertight compartments? Is one of them supposed to complement and serve the other? Or is it possible to look at their similarities, differences, and connections not in terms of some preconceived notion of what should be the case, but by seeing how science and faith actually do—or don’t—work together? The conversation we have in this book reflects how science and faith can talk to each other.
Bob: I started collecting meteorites over three decades ago. Brother Guy got me interested in the Science of Meteorites after attending one of his lectures at a Science Fiction Convention. In 2011, my wife asked me to give a lecture about meteorites in her classroom; I had to do a LOT of research.
This led to me writing my Asteroids lecture in 2013. Brother Guy and Rik Hill got an annoying number of emails from me when I was doing that research.
Brother Guy spent a wonderful evening at our home on 15 Nov. 2014. We grilled burgers and brats, and had Vernor’s ginger ale, Vlasic pickles, and apple crisp. We chatted with him for hours about all manner of things – his new book, the Vatican Observatory, our kids. We also found out that until age six, he lived in the same neighborhood as my wife, Connie!
Video: ‘Would you baptize an Extraterrestrial?’ A public lecture by Brother Guy Consolmagno