UFOs, ET, the UK, and the Vatican

By Phil Plait | May 14, 2008 1:17 pm

I’m getting approximately eleventy bazillion emails about two news items: one is that the Vatican is welcoming our new alien overlords (if they exist), and that the UK has released lots of UFO files.

On the first, I’m not sure what to think. Given that it took the Vatican four centuries to fess up that just maybe possibly Galileo was right, I’m not so sure I care what they think about aliens. On the other hand, this is in direct disagreement with the oh-so-logical proclamations of creationists (in a nutshell — haha — special creation precludes life elsewhere), so maybe this will provide some fun schadenfreude.

As far as the UFO thingy goes, I’d go through the files and look for unexplained cases, but golly, my toenails need cleaning right now.

Seriously, my thoughts on this are on record. I’d actually be interested in seeing some of the more odd UFO cases, but I don’t want to plow through hundreds of cow mutilation stories at the moment. If anyone finds any good ones, link to ’em in the comments.


Comments (43)

  1. Christopher Ferro

    I find it interesting that while many people fault the Catholic Church for being too tradition laden and old to even lift it’s own head off the ground, that when it comes to science, it’s relatively progressive.

    And it should be noted that this information from the Vatican isn’t some “new” revelation, or divine edict on aliens the Pope just received. It is just a clarification. I can remember having many conversations through the years with my parents, pastors and others about the notion of aliens, and it was always presented to me that there was no problem fitting “them” (whoever “they” turn out to be) into the Catholic view of creation.


  2. Norman

    Sorry but your underestimating the silly-ness of the ID crowd.
    A few years ago the Vatican declared Evolution OK with the Bible
    that has not stopped the IDiots.
    Aliens?? Why they are just another form of Elefant and are not truely HUMAN and NOT the center of the cosmos, oops, sorry there is no Cosmos its an invention of Satan to tempt our faith.

    NEVER underestimate the power of Human stupidity!!!

    I always thank no one special that I’m a Tullurian.

  3. Roy McMillion

    To be fair, the Vatican holds slightly different views than AIG.

    “John Paul said:

    Today, almost half a century after publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory. ”


  4. Papabear

    The catholic church actually has SOME fairly rational views when it comes to science stuff compared to some other “christian” religions. They said years ago that there was no problem with evolution, because if evolution is really the way things work then thats how God wanted it to work. Now many of its members are completely ignorant, but this is the kind of viewpoint I assumed ID people were pushing when I first heard of it years ago. I don’t know what was originally intended, but the ID movement is doing more harm to religion in General than science ever could.

    If you believe in God then there isn’t a scientific discovery that is going to change your mind, or prove that God doesn’t exist. If you REALLY believe in God you don’t need proof. That’s why its called a leap of faith, but that doesn’t mean you have to be completely ignorant to the wonderful things science gives us.

  5. BMcP

    I like to think there is intelligent alien life out there, cannot prove that but I still like to believe there is.

    If there is, I hope that somehow before I pass on that we find actual evidence of alien intelligent life, heck I will be happy with just evidence of alien life period.

  6. MedTek(sandra)

    “There is nothing to indicate that ufology (the study of UFOs) is anything but claptrap and no evidence at all of ‘alien space craft,'” read the briefing, prepared by the ministry for Lord Strabolgi, then government chief whip.

    In other words, the UK released this stuff to show how seriously they don’t take this stuff.

  7. Lurker #753

    @Christopher Ferro:
    “when it comes to science, it’s relatively progressive”

    I know, aren’t they just cute? I mean, aw, look! They’ve reached the 20th Century in astronomy! (Shame they’re still pre-Enlightenment on just about everything else).

    Now, if only reality could break through on stuff like equality of women, HIV and contraception….

  8. Yeah, we can thank some Catholics for important steps in the understanding of cosmology (Big Bang theory) and genetics (heredity for trait selection a la Mendel). The big thing about this announcement is that it offers the possibility that aliens could possibly be in a state of grace. Anyone who’s read [i]A Question of Conscience[/i] can understand the intellectual ramifications of such things.

    Silly, yes, but an amusing, harmless silly. Not like the new Seven Mortal Sins, which aren’t based in theology [i]at all[/i] and thus don’t have seven modern virtues to go with them. Never mind that the modern mortal sins all fall under the extant ones…

    The Vatican is getting more and more irrelevant as time progresses, and now it’s just making noise for press.

  9. Dusty59

    I don’t think I want to spend a lot of time reading or pondering cow-mutilation stories–
    let alone what might constitute a “good” cow mutilation story.

  10. Mark T.

    The whole “Oh em gee the Catholic Church took 400 years to believe Galileo” meme scientists have is largely misinformed. The Church acted against him (in what was largely a slap on the wrist) for proclaiming he knew how to interpret scriptures better than the Church, not for his scientific work.

    In fact, for most of his life, Galileo enjoyed the favor and the patronage of the Catholic Church.

    And as several previous commenters mentioned, the Catholic Church is one of the few Christian churches that embrace most scientific discoveries and theories, including evolution. In fact, as a celebration of 150 years since the Origin of Species was published, the Vatican is holding a big conference next year.

  11. Amy

    The Centipede: I think you mean “A Case of Conscience” (By James Blish).

  12. !AstralProjectile

    Snip from AIG (The stupdity still burns!!!)

    By AiG-US Executive Director Ken Ham

    According to a recent report, Noah’s Flood actually occurred on Mars—not Earth!

    Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? But a recent New York Times article1 based on research that scientists have been conducting about the planet Mars suggested, in essence, exactly that!


  13. justcorbly

    I never saw any mutilated cows in the UK, but I once had bad thoughts about cows when I managed to get my car wedged inside a herd of cattle following The Slowest Tractor In The World on a single-lane road down in Devon. They were close enough to polish the door panels, but at least none of ’em took to licking the windows. Same thing’s happened with sheep, but they’re cuter.

    As for UFO’s… Why would anyone stop here? If intelligent life is common, creatures able to zip across interstellar space from Point A to Point B would be no more likely to stop on this planet than would somone flying from New York to San Francisco feel compelled to stop for a visit in Lower GasPump, Nebraska. On the other hand, if intelligent life is rare, well…

  14. I’m with BMcP. If indeed we are the only life in the universe, then it’s a colossal waste of space.

    Just a short note about the Church and science: Many of the cathedrals built during the Middle Ages had a solar observatory built into them. It consisted of an opening high in the roof, which let a spot of sunlight travel across the floor, which was marked out so they could track the progression of the Sun throughout the year.

    Their ill treatment of Galileo was more political than theological. At the time, there was a big war going on in Europe, and the Pope didn’t want to get on the wrong side. And as Mark T pointed out, it was mostly because he was an arrogant bastard that thought he could tell them where to get off. (Incidentally, there’s no contradiction between “arrogant bastard” and “great scientist”.)

    More than that, Galileo had no concrete proof of his case. Lots of circumstantial evidence, and his theory fit the facts a lot better, but the concrete evidence didn’t turn up until many years later.

    Here’s one of the Vatican astronomers (splits his time between Rome and Tucson):

    Guy Consolmagno

    Does he sound like a Bible-thumping fanatic?

    MedTek: Nice try. They released the files to get the nutcases off their backs. Have you looked at any of them? What I see so far is nothing but raw data.

  15. Doc

    Uh, wait … if Noah’s flood was on Mars, then how did the ark get to Earth? If he really believes that then I’m very very afraid.

  16. Kevin

    @ Doc .. they floated the ark on the back of all the huge turtles that were floating, which everyone knows holds up the earth. Silly person.

    And someone correct me if I’m wrong (and I’m sure someone will) but – and I will admit I don’t delve into this much – I haven’t seen any ID’ers who are Catholics.

    As to mutilated cows… heck, more hamburgers for us!!!

  17. Zwitterion

    Wait a minute, the article says the Vatican has a chief astronomer?

  18. Technodawg

    “Given that it took the Vatican four centuries to fess up that just maybe possibly Galileo was right”

    LOL… Misinformation ahoy!

    Phil is to church history what intelligent design is to biology.

  19. David

    “Wait a minute, the article says the Vatican has a chief astronomer?”

    Yes, the Vatican has an astronomer, and operates an obervatory in Arizona, as well as their original observatory near Rome. Believe it or not, they contribute to Dark Matter and universe expansion research. I’m not sure how far that contribution goes, but it is interesting.

  20. EJ

    Whenever the Galileo thing comes up, you’ve got the church apologists pointing out that the real controversy was over the way Galileo published his results, rather than the substance of his theory.

    Which to me just illustrates that Galileo was a lot more revolutionary than a lot of people realize – it wasn’t just that he had some particular theory or other, but he was one of the first European scientists of any significance to publicly repudiate the idea that the church should have any role in vetting and promulgating scientific discoveries.

  21. davidlpf

    If the Vatican and Dawkins can agree on evolution and you are fighting being taught in schools take a guess who is wrong.

    Galileo could have been arrogant but we can not really know, but sometimes you have to be arrogant to get your point across. Also, it still moves.

  22. Christopher Ferro

    Wow, Lurker #753, it took longer than I thought for someone to trot out that old hat.

    My comment was on the astronomy anyway, not one’s ill formed opinions on Church doctrine.

    And, oh, by the way, much of the Vatican’s research on astronomy is fairly cutting edge and relevant, particulary pertaining to dark matter and dark energy research.

    Excuse me while I laugh myself to dinner.


  23. That the Vatican has an observatory, and has had for centuries, shows it is not out in left field when it comes to science. Galileo also was not prosecuted for his teachings on astronomy (http://blogs.pioneerlocal.com/religion/). I think it is great that, given the probability of other intelligent life in the universe, people of faith are talking about the implications.

  24. My favorite quote from the Vatican Accepts Aliens story:

    “‘How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?’ Funes said. ‘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.'”

    …which necessarily leads to the movie poster of “Brother from Another Planet”

  25. MedTek(sandra)

    I find it a bit strange that nobody seems to be noticing/celebrating the UK government’s dismissal of UFOs. I imagine if the skeptics are missing it, so will the general public.


  26. xf

    @davidlpf: everyone knows that Catholics are going to hell anyway. No wonder they believe in scientific heresies.

    seriously, the Church of Rome has had the benefit of many of the world’s greatest minds for enough centuries now that they’ve mostly graduated from the Dark Ages. how many of us went to Catholic universities?

  27. Nathan Myers

    The Vatican had better read pretty carefully the text of the Crosspatch Decision before it starts proselytizing aliens.

  28. Do you have any “interesting” opinion about the subject:

    I don’t think so…

    How can you watch the stars ??
    just light….gaz… and particles ??

    Perhaps life ?
    perhaps “more advanced creatures” ??
    Open your mind bro…

  29. Mark Hansen

    Not too far, lest your brains leak out. Phil, along with many others including myself, would probably love to hear that intelligent life (or any life at all) beyond our little mud ball had been discovered.

    His, to you, uninteresting opinion is based on facts. So if you’re looking for an “interesting” opinion, go to an aliens-among-us site or a government-conspiracy site. Or better yet, do some real research and find those aliens. SETI@home might be a start.

  30. Bonogamy

    Opens door, sees Kang and Kodos:

    Oh, great, MORMONS!

  31. Kevin,

    And someone correct me if I’m wrong (and I’m sure someone will) but – and I will admit I don’t delve into this much – I haven’t seen any ID’ers who are Catholics.

    Good prediction. Granny O’Liar from Uncommonly Dense is Catholic.

  32. davidlpf

    Xf, I actually attended St Mary’s university in Halifax, which had on Jesuit there in the astronomy and physics department. He has moved on to Toronto now.

  33. Brango

    The link to the answers in genesis explanation of aliens is totally hillarious, a permanent bookmark!

    Even as you read it, you can see the pretexts forming and the reality and logic twisting getting itself ready to wrap itself around the facts.

    You can just see the author sitting down to write it, “Okay, so what have we got… the bible says this, so lets start applying it… oh, crap… that doesn’t work… maybe if I tried this… yes, that’s got it… oh, yeah that changes another bit… bugger this will never fit… oh, yeah good idea Farquar, it’s not a contradiction, it’s just the reader looking at it the wrong way, perfect!”

  34. Jabberwok

    Toenails? I understand the cow mutilations were mostly in A)the midwest and B)that 1990s B Movie which made the connection.
    The MOD files would presumab;y have some of the original viewings of Blue or red “sprites” -the apparently relatavistic meteorological flashes of ionization from high altitude, which WOULD be interesting

  35. Jeremy

    The only thing I could think about when reading the Vatican article is how much Father Funes statement resembles Cardinal Glicks line in the great movie Dogma. “Mistakes were made, but one can hardly blame the current church…”

  36. Gebo

    Anyone remember Giordano Bruno? In 1600, Giordano Bruno – a priest – was burnt at the stake as a heretic by the Roman Inquisition because, amongst other things, Bruno had posed the idea that the stars were all suns, each with their own planets, and some of those planets could be the home of other creatures and intelligent beings! Now it seems that the Vatican admits that Bruno, just like Galileo, could have been right after all.

    But I like the fact that catholicism nowadays accepts modern science, unlike the ID people.

  37. Disinfo Agent

    It seems the Catholic Church is damned it if does and damned if it doesn’t. When it questions science, it’s being obscurantist (OMG, it’s the Galileo trial all over again!) When it supports science, it’s being inconsistent (OMG, what hypocrites!)

    To be sure, they can blame themselves in large part for that, but it’s still amusing to see the blatant Protestant bias at work.

  38. Francis O'Donovan

    given your quest to find the truth and stop misinformation, I would ask that you be careful about falling into the trap of following the media’s portrayal of “Vatican” news.
    If I say that the Vatican says something, it should mean that the Pope or his representative had made an official statement on church teachings or a Vatican City related topic. But the media today use this phraseology whenever anyone related to the Catholic Church in Vatican City says something that is newsworthy.
    For example, a priest working there says something about aliens. Or a bishop says something about updating the Seven Deadly Sins. And all of a sudden, the Catholic Church has made an official proclamation.
    I work as an astronomer at a government facility, but if I make a press statement, the media don’t say “US Government says …”. So why do the media warp everything coming from the Vatican?

  39. Fr. Roderick put up an english translation from the original Itialian of at least part of the interview.


  40. Amy:

    Yup, sorry. Memfart.

  41. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    And as several previous commenters mentioned, the Catholic Church is one of the few Christian churches that embrace most scientific discoveries and theories, including evolution.

    Well, as Lurker reminds us, this religion doesn’t accept best science on preventing STD or poverty. Nor does it accept evolution, but seems to promote some variant of the ubiquitous theistic evolution.

    That covers a lot of ground of course, from that humans were inevitable, or evolution was actively guided, or evolution was frontloaded. (Usually not in the genes à la ID, but in the environment in early big bang.) Neither of which is the parsimonious non-teleological natural theory, nor stand up to falsification – in fact, can easily be debunked.

    Excuse me while I laugh myself to dinner.

    If that is your answer to this religions rejection of best science as Lurker exemplified, on say STD prevention, I can assure you that others find it no laughing matter.


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