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The Problem of Scale

Posted By: Logos - Alexis

The Problem of Scale - 02/12/13 07:25 PM

Friends,

Lately I've been thinking about "the problem of scale": the issue that arises from the Incarnation and humanity's seemingly special place in God's plan given the immensity of the universe and the possibility of other sentient life elsewhere in the cosmos either now, or previously, or in the future.

Let's assume for just a minute that there is other sentient life out there, somewhere. Yes, let's just assume it. I think it's a safe assumption, and I'm also sure it's a safe assumption that some of you believe it's highly unlikely. But that's not the debate I'm looking for...

So - assuming there is, some questions immediately arise in relation to the Fall and the Incarnation. First, as many of you Easterners well know, the consequences of the Fall have been viewed by many in the Church for a very long time as having consequences for the rest of nature. That's why there's death, decay, infirmity, sickness, etc. Did the effects of our Fall end here on Earth, or were the consequences felt throughout the universe? Would other sentient life have been affected by our Fall?

Secondly, if we're not the only thinking, rational beings to have ever existed, did those other sentient beings experience a Fall from grace and into sin like our own? And what effect would their Fall have on us?

Much of the above is theoretical, but interesting to ponder nonetheless. However, real problems (to my mind) start to rear their head when one considers that our religion teaches unquestionably that God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, has immutably linked Himself to our species; he is both God and Man. Apparently, if there are any other sentient beings out there who had a Fall like our own, that event didn't necessitate a divine savior who took on their nature, which leaves one wondering, why?

It also presents the problem that, if others are out there, they would have to get used to a God who's intimately linked to Man; He in fact has human nature. From an alien's perspective, just think about that: assuming beings from other planets found us as freaky as we like to imagine extraterrestrials, that's asking quite a lot to take in. It would be rather like us having to adapt to a God who's incarnated Himself as a Klingon. Not exactly endearing, not exactly likely to provoke within our souls the affection and appreciation that one naturally feels for a God who became "like us" and to whom, in some small way, we can relate since he has raised and united our nature to Divinity in Himself.

If you find this all a little too "out there" for your tastes, are you then satisfied to say that to be a believing Christian and to believe in the possibility of sentient extraterrestrial life are mutually exclusive positions?

But one could simplify: let's assume there's rational beings elsewhere in the universe, Fall or no Fall. Assuming God would want to reveal Himself in some way to them (and to think otherwise would seem contrary to everything we believe about God and why He embarked on the exercise of creation - most obviously He desires and deserves the worship of His creatures whom He fashioned for this purpose). Depending on the degree He wishes to reveal Himself, He would possibly reveal that one Person of the Trinity is a God-Man.

Alexis
Posted By: Slavipodvizhnik

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/12/13 08:16 PM

The concept of alien sentient life is just another way the evil one has decided to attempt to influence and manipulate human beings. It is simply the “same old” demonic and occult experiences translated into the modern age, replete with science fiction and other “conditioning” that has made us prepared for it (e.g. evolution). Fallen man is looking to the sky or to a more highly-evolved being to swoop down from the heavens and solve all of our problems, just like the ancient pagans. This modern version has simply been updated and even supported (or promoted) by the anti-Christian world and society that longs for such encounters.
Posted By: Logos - Alexis

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/12/13 10:15 PM

Slavipodvizhnik,

Sure, I don't disagree. I'm not sure how that's relevant to this discussion, however.

Alexis
Posted By: Paul B

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/13/13 01:52 AM

Alexis,
These thoughts have entered my mind, especially when I was younger and more influenced by science fiction.

I really think that our God is the God of ALL creation and that in His love, mercy and infinite wisdom will find a way to enable salvation to whoever he has created and given souls. And if other life with souls have not fallen, then there is no problem. Should humanity be so fortunate.

And I have been content and at peace with this conclusion.

Fr Deacon Paul
Posted By: Logos - Alexis

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/13/13 04:14 PM

Fr. Dcn.,

Thanks - I myself am not nor have ever been particularly interested in science fiction. Can't tell you the last time I read a science fiction novel or essay. My thoughts are a result not of an interest in science fiction, but of a consideration of the immensity of the universe.

Unfortunately I don't find the answer or non-answer you provide to be of very much consolation. The question still remains how other life with souls would have to comprehend and love a God who is, to put it crudely, "part Klingon," as it were. At least from their perspective.

And if there were no Fall, either in our history or that of any other sentient being, it brings the question which (surprisingly) I don't know if I've ever even considered: is life before the Fall, life without a Fall at all, the same as/as good as complete union with God in Heaven? How could it be?

Alexis
Posted By: Logos - Alexis

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/13/13 04:23 PM

Look, the fact of the matter is, given that Christian belief is hinged on the understanding that God is Divine, except the Second Person of the Trinity Who's both Divine and Human, one is left with the impression that for any other sentient life in the universe, either there was no Fall, or, if there was one, their subsequent salvation was not/is not/will not be accomplished by a divine incarnation. I say "left with the impression" rather than "forced into the conclusion" because, I suppose, it is possible that God the Son is, in addition to being fully divine and fully human, also fully [insert alien species here]. I don't think an ecumenical council has ever denied that possibility. But such an idea would be repulsive and offensive to many Christians, naturally. And, to get back to my point, I would imagine any other sentient life in the universe would find the idea of God being fully human as well as divine to be troubling. But these are the questions that must be considered, unless one is content to say that to be a believing Christian one has to dispense with the possibility that there is other intelligent life with souls out there - something I am not willing to do since I find it both unreasonable and indicative of a tendency to just dodge the question.

Alexis
Posted By: Roman Interloper

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/13/13 07:21 PM

The concept of a God who is Divine and human and...klingon...is, admittedly, beyond my capacity to puzzle over. The matter of "scale", however, that is to say of the enormity of God and the universe, does perpetually vex me, I have to confess.

When I ponder the vastness of this planet...and then of this galaxy...and then of this universe...and finally of a God who holds all of this infinity in the palm of his hand, so to speak, it leaves me overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion. I consider my absolute nothingness, my meaninglessness, in relation to Him and to the universe and to all of humanity that exists alongside of me, that existed before me, and that will come after me, and I find myself unable to process it. For this reason I find contemplative prayer a no-go. I just can't seem to successfully process the concept of God.

I am furthermore unable to process the concept of becoming "like" this unfathomable God, as we are, in fact, commanded to become. I consistently feel as though I were an ant who is being told to jump a hurdle that is 100,000 miles high...and that if I can't manage it, I'm doomed.

The enormity of God and the expectations placed upon us mere mortals to be "perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" is daunting and, in my case, frequently (I should say 'consistently')deflating. "Do the impossible or else" is how it all seems to translate in my mixed up head.

But why should a God so enormous as infinity expect so much of a speck of dust like me? And why should the consequences of failure be so eternally terrible? I struggle with this to the point of...well, as I say, exhaustion.
Posted By: Logos - Alexis

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/13/13 10:49 PM

Roman Interloper,

I suppose we all have our vexations; the one you describe is not one of mine. We are supposed to strive to be perfect, but naturally will fall far short. Our Blessed Lady being a notable exception, and even still, remaining sinless is not the same thing as being God!

Alexis
Posted By: Booth

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/14/13 12:50 AM


If memory serves, in "City of God" Augustine discusses the possibility that there are other "races" on the far parts of the earth, as heard from travelers' tales - wolf-headed men, other mythical creatures, and of all things ... pygmies.

He concludes that all rational embodied beings on Earth, if they really exist, peculiar as they may look, are somehow sons of Adam - humans of the one blood of Adam. The mechanism of differentiation is unimportant.

Considering pygmies turned out to be real (if not wolf-men), I am willing to extend the possibility that there are sons of Adam on other planets. I wouldn't lay money on it, but then, the ancients weren't even sure the other side of the earth was inhabited. And without even exploring natural explanations, there is nothing stopping God from plucking a handful of folks up and placing them somewhere else.

That said, there is also the possibility that this age will last long enough that God made Space for our exploration. Or He could have made Space for an unfallen humanity, and it now sits squandered. Or a million other things folks smarter than lowly me could think of.

Fun to wonder about!
Posted By: Booth

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/14/13 12:55 AM

Originally Posted by Roman Interloper
But why should a God so enormous as infinity expect so much of a speck of dust like me? And why should the consequences of failure be so eternally terrible? I struggle with this to the point of...well, as I say, exhaustion.


If He forgot about you for a single instant, you would cease to exist. So you must be important.

Also, did not someone say that it is better for the moon to fall from the sky than one small sin be committed? If so, then the Divine Lover holds your relationship with Him as something much more important than mere Jupiter.
Posted By: jjp

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/14/13 05:39 AM

1. You would enjoy CS Lewis' Perelandra trilogy.

2. If we assume for a moment that the Earth is held in space by resting on an infinite stack of invisible turtles, assuming that, what does this tell us about God??

3. Humanity has a unique dignity in all creation, being made in His image. Remember this fact when contemplating other forms of life.
Posted By: Logos - Alexis

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/14/13 05:38 PM

Thanks for the responses, all - I still hold out hope for a thorough engagement of my questions, though. wink

Alexis
Posted By: Roman Interloper

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/14/13 06:25 PM

Originally Posted by Booth
If He forgot about you for a single instant, you would cease to exist. So you must be important.


That sounds nice, but there are bottle caps lodged under railroad tracks that He hasn't forgotten about, either.

Quote
Also, did not someone say that it is better for the moon to fall from the sky than one small sin be committed?


Well, that's not too much pressure.
Posted By: desertman

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/15/13 01:05 AM

Originally Posted by Roman Interloper


I am furthermore unable to process the concept of becoming "like" this unfathomable God, as we are, in fact, commanded to become. I consistently feel as though I were an ant who is being told to jump a hurdle that is 100,000 miles high...and that if I can't manage it, I'm doomed.

The enormity of God and the expectations placed upon us mere mortals to be "perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" is daunting and, in my case, frequently (I should say 'consistently')deflating. "Do the impossible or else" is how it all seems to translate in my mixed up head.

But why should a God so enormous as infinity expect so much of a speck of dust like me? And why should the consequences of failure be so eternally terrible? I struggle with this to the point of...well, as I say, exhaustion.


I don't think He "expects" this of us like a task-master, but He deeply desires it for us because that's what He created us to be. It's His longing for us to claim our inheritance as His children, and the warnings against not doing so are because there is an enemy who longs to have us as well. It's the same way you might threaten your own small child if you saw him running toward a busy highway.
We can't do anything without grace, so it's just a matter of preparing the soul to receive the grace through the sacraments, prayer, fasting, asceticism, etc.
Posted By: desertman

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/15/13 01:34 AM

Originally Posted by Logos - Alexis
Look, the fact of the matter is, given that Christian belief is hinged on the understanding that God is Divine, except the Second Person of the Trinity Who's both Divine and Human, one is left with the impression that for any other sentient life in the universe, either there was no Fall, or, if there was one, their subsequent salvation was not/is not/will not be accomplished by a divine incarnation. I say "left with the impression" rather than "forced into the conclusion" because, I suppose, it is possible that God the Son is, in addition to being fully divine and fully human, also fully [insert alien species here]. I don't think an ecumenical council has ever denied that possibility. But such an idea would be repulsive and offensive to many Christians, naturally. And, to get back to my point, I would imagine any other sentient life in the universe would find the idea of God being fully human as well as divine to be troubling. But these are the questions that must be considered, unless one is content to say that to be a believing Christian one has to dispense with the possibility that there is other intelligent life with souls out there - something I am not willing to do since I find it both unreasonable and indicative of a tendency to just dodge the question.

Alexis


For some reason this is reminding me of a story from the Desert Fathers:

Quote
"Excuse me, charitable Father, for the Lord's sake. I am very troubled, because I have read a dogmatic book, and I see my heart in turmoil. I am afraid to admit this to you, yet I cannot keep silent because of my thoughts. Therefore, what you command I will do.

Reply:
Since the devil wishes to thrust you into useless reflections, say what is worrying you. And may God give him no entrance.

Tell me if the saints will rise in the body that we have now, with bones and nerves, or in a body that is ethereal and smooth?
...Now please sort this out for me, for the love of the Lord, to prevent the enemy from leading me astray, lest I fall through ignorance into his wicked traps. I am shaken on all sides because of my fooishness. I should have kept to your holy words and from the start I should have forbidden myself to seek into things which bring great peril to the soul. Pray for me, Father, that I may get hold of myself and labor in weeping for my sins.

Brother, I have already written to you that it is the devil who has sown in you this inappropriate intellectual preoccupation. It is now the season for you to weep and carry out penthos for your sins...
Now at last leave this nonsense, and do not follow the demons and their teachings. With one blow they raise you up, and with another they cast you down. Humble yourself therefore before God...
"
(Quoted from the book "Penthos", by Irenee Hausherr, SJ)

By posting that I didn't mean it as a criticism, but it just reminded me of this passage.
Posted By: Dr. Eric

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/15/13 05:47 AM

You are assuming:
1. There are other beings out there who are sentient
2. That they have souls
3. That they have actually fallen
4. That they aren't human

That's a pretty tall order and highly speculative.

If there are other forms of life, they are probably microscopic critters that don't have souls and don't need a Savior.

My money says that giant universe out there is nothing but an enormous machine to keep us alive. (Anthropic Principle)
Posted By: Logos - Alexis

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/15/13 03:49 PM

Quote
You are assuming:
1. There are other beings out there who are sentient
2. That they have souls
3. That they have actually fallen
4. That they aren't human


1. Yes, I am assuming that - that was the premise of the entire discussion, if you would refer back to my original post.

2. Yes - that would be an assumption. Not terribly out there.

3. I think I mentioned a few posts back we could dispense with whether or not they have fallen, and still there are issues. So, let's say they haven't fallen. How to relate to a God that has incarnated Himself into alien (from their perspective, i.e. human) form, inextricably bound up in His identity now and forever with an alien race.

4. Yes, that would be another assumption that I don't think is a tall order or highly speculative in the least. To speculate that some species in galaxies far away from ours is human is ridiculous on its face.

Quote
If there are other forms of life, they are probably microscopic critters that don't have souls and don't need a Savior.


What leads you to think that?

Posted By: Logos - Alexis

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/15/13 04:06 PM

Desertman,

I appreciate your input, and I don't feel like you're criticizing me.

I'd say that my line of inquiry versus the line of inquiry in the Desert Fathers story are distinguishable in important ways and therefore are not apt for comparison. First, the line of inquiry in the story relates to something about which we cannot possible know, beyond revealed Church teaching, about what bodies God will choose for us at the Resurrection. There's no reason, or science, or evidence, or proof to help us out in determining that, and the arguments for or against us rising with bodies that are "ethereal and smooth" is completely within the realm of theological debate, much like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin (though arguably not quite as trivial). The mystery and miracle of the future Resurrection of us all is mind-blowing enough, much less what forms we'll take.

In that sense I would say it's a useless reflection, indeed.

My line of questioning, on the contrary, draws from readily verifiable facts, like the vastness of the universe, the likelihood of thousands of earth-like planets in existence, the age of the universe, evidence of water having existed on Mars (only the next planet away), the elements and circumstances we believe at the present time are needed for life and the prevalence of those elements in the universe, etc. ad nauseam. Therefore I don't find it to be a useless or inappropriate life of questioning because the fact is what I am getting at is something is subject to scientific and rational proof (even if we can't verify it for hundreds or thousands of years).

Evidence and rationality makes all the difference in determining whether a line of questioning is useless or not.

Is our God a God of reason or is He not? Is the Faith never contradicted by reason, or are we supposed to eschew reason when questions aren't easily answered? I believe we all know the answer, so I'm not sure what this debate is about.
Posted By: desertman

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/15/13 05:21 PM

Alexis,

Thanks for the reply smile
I guess when I first read the question it did strike me as being one that would be unanswerable through reason or rational thinking, but maybe I'm wrong. It just seems to me that there are extreme limits to what reason and rational thought can comprehend when it comes to profound mysteries of God which have already been revealed, let alone those not revealed and about which the Scriptures or the Fathers say nothing. That was my first impression after reading the question.

That's just my opinion and I gotta admit that my own rational mind is not exactly operating at a very high level. wink
So please, carry on!
Posted By: Anthony

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/20/13 12:19 AM

If there are intelligent beings on other planets, I believe Christ would be their Savior as well. Jesus Christ was incarnated as a Jewish man, not a Roman woman, but he is still the Savior of all races and nationalities on Earth male and female. In that light, I never understood why it is a theological quandary for some if there were alien beings out there.
Posted By: desertman

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/20/13 07:19 PM

Alexis,

Please forgive me if my posts came across as negative. That wasn't what I intended at all. It seems like I end up regretting 90% of the things I say on the internet. They just always seem to come out the wrong way. blush
Posted By: Otsheylnik

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/20/13 11:38 PM

I think this thread is marked by a number of questionable assumptions, and tainted by a western, overly taxonomical and geographic approach to creation.

The question is actually not whether we are the only rational life, but whether we are the only creatures made in God's image. The west tends to use the fact that we are sentient as evidence for this, just as it used to use evidence that the sun rotated around our planet as evidence of it's special status. This says more about relying about the perils of secular knowledge as a basis for theology than it does about truth, because secular knowledge can change.

To me, whether there is or isn't other "rational" life (whatever that even means) is totally irrelevant to the fact that we are made in God's image and have a special place in creation. That message transcends geography and biology, so it matters not a jot whether that creation encompasses one planet or a million, or one sentient species or a hundred.
Posted By: Dr. Eric

Re: The Problem of Scale - 02/22/13 10:35 PM

Originally Posted by Logos - Alexis


3. I think I mentioned a few posts back we could dispense with whether or not they have fallen, and still there are issues. So, let's say they haven't fallen. How to relate to a God that has incarnated Himself into alien (from their perspective, i.e. human) form, inextricably bound up in His identity now and forever with an alien race.

What leads you to think that (alien life forms are likely microscopic)?



I would say that these "un-fallen" beings relate themselves to a God who has incarnated Himself to an alien form the same way that the angels do. They worship a God who has become a human and did not become an angel.

Second question's answer: "Anthropic Principle" I think that most likely the rest of the universe is unpopulated or is populated by microbes as the universe is a giant machine to keep man alive.
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