Cosmology and Theology – Part 2: Is your theology ready for other worlds?

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I am an enthusiast for the insight of the reformation – the principle that finding truth in faith is about continually returning to the source – back to the Scriptures endorsed by Jesus – and asking afresh, “Have I read that right?!” The trauma of the Reformation is testimony to how difficult that dynamic can be. The history of Christian thought is scattered with moments where a paradigm shift in society at large has sent believers back to the texts with fresh eyes, to come away wondering, “Why did we not see that possibility before?!”

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Astro-physicists C20th Albert Einstein and C13th Bishop Robert Grossteste

For instance, the discovery of the properties of light as primordial to the functioning of the universe recast our notion of the first moment of creation. It relegated time to the realm of contingency and put the language of God squarely back into scientific conversation. For C20th believers it was a mind-bending intellectual journey. Yet seven centuries before Einstein, the bishop and astro-physicist Robert Grossteste promoted the same conclusion 700 years before. From a thoughtful reading of Genesis 1:1-3 Robert Grossteste would say we should have known – or at least been readier to re-think.

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Jefferson Davis

The slow, slow move away from the American slave trade was a world-view shift forced upon an unwilling many in the churches who saw white supremacy as intrinsic to God’s order for human society. Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederate States) wrote, “Slavery was established by decree of Almighty God…It is sanctioned in the Bible.” Once the paradigm had shifted, many believers may well have returned to Galatians 3.28 with fresh eyes, wondering why we didn’t see it before! At least we should have been readier to re-think.

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For another example the suggestion of continental drift scandalized many orthodox Christians when it was first mooted in the C16th by Abraham Ortelius. Conventional orthodoxy was not much more amenable to the idea of plate tectonics when Antonio Snider Pellegrini developed the theory further in the C19th, nor yet when Alfred Wegener championed the cause in the early C20th.

Even today’s Bible translators shy away from a plain translation of Genesis 11.1 which strictly states that the “land” used to be “one” and originally had only one “shoreline”. The story, about the fragmenting of society and the multiplying of languages, provides translators with purely contextual reasons to choose “people” rather than “land” and “language” rather than “lip/shoreline.” However in the first instance there is only a very imprecise precedent for such a rendering of the Hebrew word, and in the latter translation there is no precedent at all!

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In reality it is the translators’ a priori assumption about geological history that has decided the common translation. A plain translation of the words affirms the now-accepted understanding of continental drift – thus raising the possibility of either a dramatically more recent geological timeline for tectonic movements, or a dramatically more ancient timeline for the human race. Or both! Plate tectonics has rightly sent us back to the work of our translators to ask, “Have we read that right?!”

The perpetual process of re-reading and re-thinking tests our readiness to be believers in reform – ecclesia semper reformanda. We are all creatures of habit. Few of us can be wholly comfortable with our universe changing! How ready is any one of us to wake up in a different world to the one we fell asleep in?!

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This brings us to the question of other worlds. Is your theology large enough to allow for a busier universe than the one we have known to date?! I ask because over the last decade there has been an acceleration of unusual disclosures around the world,from government agencies and other significant sources.

From the 1940s until the last decade, all around the world government agencies around the world employed people whose jobs were to collate accounts of phenomena, such as UFO’s and close encounters where an extra-terrestrial explanations were the most obvious explanation. All had the same remit; to publicize cases which could be easily debunked and classify all those that couldn’t. From around the turn of the new millennium, all these offices around the world were vacated.

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What happened next took me surprise. Because from 2008 onwards, a significant proportion of those former officials were permitted to set up an independent international body dedicated to campaigning publicly for the total disclosure of all government and military UFO files.

The result of that campaign was also surprising. From 2008 to 2013 a huge volume of previously classified government material was released – case files detailing phenomena, publicly witnessed, filmed, examined by military and civil authorities; cases where an ET explanation was simply unavoidable. All these case are now in the public domain – and with no official debunking. Given the clarity of the materials now disclosed we can only imagine what further reaching information might remain to be disclosed.

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President Truman c.1947

To date the USA has not participated in this international disclosure. America still enforces the National Security Act signed by President Truman in 1947 specifically to classify all UFO investigation following the incident that year at Roswell, New Mexico. Before the Roswell incident investigations of UFO phenomena were undertaken in the public arena and were commented on openly by military and government alike.

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Project Mercury Astronaut Gordon Cooper

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Apollo 14 Astronaut Edgar Alan Mitchell

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Professor John Mack – Harvard Medical School

Also beginning around 2008 statements supporting ET contact began to be made by a great number of public figures without the previous longstanding pattern of official debunking and denigration. The era of threats and violent gag orders, such as were suffered by the original Roswell witnesses, appeared to be put in the past.

Voices that have spoken freely include former intelligence operatives, military personnel, surgeons (echoing the work of Harvard Professor John Mack) eyewitnesses, commercial and military airline pilots and, significantly, NASA personnel. Over the years NASA personnel who have publicly testified to ET contact include Mercury astronauts Gordon Cooper, Scott Carpenter, and Donald Slayton; and Apollo astronauts Eugene Cernan, Buzz Aldrin, Dr Brian O Leary, Edgar Alan Mitchell, Lt Col Onizuka; and recently Leroy Chiao, the former commander of the International Space Station.

In short the last decade has made available to the public a great array of intelligent, authoritative, credible people testifying to ET contact and collaboration – including figures as eminent as the current Russian Prime Minister Medvedev – who has spoken at least twice on camera on the subject.

In the video grabs below Medvedev endorses the content of a Russian documentary, titled “Men in Black” (not the Hollywood spoof) which reports both ET contact and collaboration.

This is very different to the world I grew up in – in which UFO and ET testimony was (by government policy) only ever heard from unreliable witnesses or was only of phenomena easily explainable by other means. Put simply we were taught to laugh at those willing to speak publicly, at great cost to themselves, about their experiences. People who testified were ridiculed and lost their jobs simply by speaking about what they had witnessed and experienced. This was especially true of commercial airline pilots. So this sudden pattern-change a decade ago caught my attention.

The following 3 videos present Dr Edgar Alan Mitchell – a great man, the 6th man to walk on the moon – on the need for official disclosure of ET files.

In the next video former Minister of Defence for Canada, Paul Hellyer, speaks openly about the need for government disclosure of ET contact and available technologies:

Then in 2009, during his brief tenure as Pope, Benedict XVI called upon the Pontiffical Academy of Sciences to convene an international colloquium specifically to discuss the theological ramifications of contact with extra-terrestrial civilizations.

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Fr Jose Gabriel Funes

This internationally publicized event followed a sudden sequence of statements and interviews which began the year before in May 2008, issued by senior Vatican theologian, Fr Jose Gabriel Funes. Fr Funes is the Director of the Vatican Observatory.

The gist of these statements was that Christian believers need to be ready “to love our extra terrestrial brothers and sisters.” That these statements were made under so conservative a Pope, by such an authoritative Papal spokesperson, signaled a sudden, and surprising departure for the Vatican.

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Gary McKinnon

In 2011 came a very public spat between US and UK governments over demands made by the USA for the extradition of a computer hacker, Gary McKinnon. McKinnon had evinced data, images and text from NASA computers which appeared to indicate a level of ET contact and collaboration.

The matter was discussed publicly in parliament (you can watch it on YouTube!) and the British Government responded with a refusal to extradite Gary McKinnon to the USA where he faced a potential 60 years in jail. In fact Britain quickly passed a bill through parliament which changed the UK’s extradition laws with the USA in order to protect Gary McKinnon. The very public handling of this conflict – without any official reference being made to implications of the data itself – was, to say the very least, curious!

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Theresa May MP as British Home Secretary in 2012, discussing the need to change British law in order to swiftly block Gary McKinnon’s extradition

The above are facts. They are easily confirmed. They are all matters in the public domain. All would seem to point in the same direction. A certain level of disclosure has been agreed across many nations and some officials and government related personnel permitted to participate in the public conversation. Even without similar disclosure in the USA, similar  liberty is being exercised by similar levels of personnel in the USA too.

This unusual succession of events in the last few years has completely reversed my previous views. They strongly suggest to me that we believers may need – as Fr Funes intimated – to be ready sooner rather than later to make room in our theology for E.T.

In a cryptic public remark in a speech marking the 25th anniversary of the first moon landing, the reclusive Apollo 11 Astronaut Neil Armstrong issued a call to the next generation to peel away “truth’s protective layers”. Given the material already in the public domain, one has to ask what will further disclosures bring to light?

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Apollo Astronaut Neil Armstrong

 (Click here for that speech.)

What would disclosure of ET contact and collaboration do to our cosmology? In the light of a more populous universe, how would we then read the Adam and Eve narratives? What would shift in our understanding of the Incarnation and the Cross? What would change in our vision of heaven and of human society? Would we return to Psalm 8.3-4, or Genesis 6.2 or John 10.16 to ask, “Why didn’t we see that possibility before?”

You might want to ask me, “But, Paul, why is it important?” Because, like Fr Funes, I would not want to see fellow Christians blind-sided by new information they can’t find room for in their theology.

We can see on reflection that a faith is an impoverished faith if it can be blown out of the water by the revelation of a spherical planet, or a solar system with the sun at the centre, or a planet whose land masses move, or a climate that can shift, or a society of racial and gender equity! In the C21st I hope that my Christian brothers and sisters have a faith that is thoughtful enough to be ready – in the way Gabriel Funes encourages – to accommodate new revelations about the universe. If there are further material disclosures to come I just wouldn’t want believers to be blind-sided by them.

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Of course I may be wrong in my expectations on this topic. You may read the last decade of disclosure and declassification differently, and draw different conclusions. But in the end, whatever our current suppositions, our Christian faith is something more than a canon of propositions and conclusions.

Orthodox faith is, ultimately, not about having a thought system replete with orthodox conclusions. It is essentially about having in Holy Scripture an orthodox source to be sent back to, time and again to ask afresh, “Have we been reading this right!” That is the renewal of our minds (Romans 12.1ff) that transforms our world. That is the business of being ecclesia semper reformanda.

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For further reading…

Christian thought has many times been at the cutting edge of significant paradigm shifts in the past. For a fascinating view of the historic interplay between science and faith let me recommend Margaret Wertheim’s illuminating work: Pythagoras’ Trousers: God, Physics and the Gender Wars.

 

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