- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Image (October 7, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0804136955
- ISBN-13: 978-0804136952
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?: . . . and Other Questions from the Astronomers' In-box at the Vatican Observatory
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From the Publisher
How did you come up with the concept for this book?
Guy: We really only came to understand, ourselves, what this book was all about by actually writing it.
Paul: Guy and I found ourselves talking a lot, over the last few years, about the peculiar frustration we’d been feeling with the kinds of questions that we get asked here at the Vatican Observatory – questions that people send by e-mail, or ask us when we give public talks. For Guy, that frustration was a long-term thing, since he’s been at the Observatory for 18 years. For me it was a new thing, since I arrived at the Observatory just four years ago, in 2010.
Guy: Some of the questions we kept being asked seemed to be a little “off”. At first, I was tempted to just dismiss them. (Baptizing aliens? Oh, come on…)
Paul: Don’t get us wrong — we’re delighted that people are interested in the Observatory and its work, and we think it’s great that people want to ask us important questions about science and faith. But more often than not, the questions that we get seem to presuppose that there’s some sort of opposition between science and faith. The questions are often posed in such a way that we can’t give an answer without “taking sides” between science and faith. But Guy and I have no interest in “taking sides” — from our perspective, there is no opposition or inconsistency between science and faith.
Guy: The fact that people kept asking such questions made me realize that there must be something serious and real behind them… if only I could put my finger on what that was. Maybe those questions had hidden assumptions that weren’t quite right. But how could we tease out those assumptions?
Paul: Gradually we realized that the way for us to respond was to start out with the questions that people were asking us. But instead of trying to give answers, we should first try to sharpen and deepen those questions. If we could bring to light some of the assumptions and presuppositions hidden behind the question, then maybe we’d be able to re-pose the questions in a better way. Maybe we’d be able to come up with similar-but-different questions which wouldn’t so much demand an answer as invite people to ponder and to go deeper.
What made you decide to write it as a dialogue?
Paul: Writing the book in dialogue form, as a conversation, left us free to consider questions from various angles, in an informal way.
Guy: At first we tried to smooth it all out into one narrative, but that just drained the life out of what we were saying. Finally, we realized we were speaking in two different voices, we were each telling stories based on our own personal histories.
Paul: And the dialogue format meant that Guy and I would not have to agree with each other all the time!
What is one of the strangest questions you’ve been asked during your career as a Vatican astronomer?
Paul: Once when I was getting a haircut here in Italy, the barber asked me whether the Pope talks with aliens at the Observatory! But you know, lots of strange questions come up in barbershops.
Guy: Someone wanted to know if I was really in touch with aliens. When I told him I was not, he replied, “Ha! I knew you wouldn’t tell me the truth!” What’s sad are all the people like him who don’t ask questions but who are sure they already know the answers. Unfortunately, the more certain they are, the more likely it’s nonsense. Over the years, some people have e-mailed me offering long, detailed proofs that everything we know about religion is wrong, or everything we know about science is wrong. Others have sent me detailed descriptions of their own interactions with aliens. I really feel for those people; they are in need of the sort of help that no one can give them over the internet.
What was your initial reaction when Pope Francis discussed the possibility of baptizing Martians?
Guy: I had to laugh. I knew what he was driving at, of course; but I also knew how some people would immediately take it in the wrong direction, as if he were saying we should actually be baptizing Martians. Sure enough, pretty soon there were all sorts of rumors on the internet that a Papal announcement about aliens was imminent!
Paul: Of course that was not the Pope’s intention. His main topic was the controversy in early Christianity, as to whether people had to become Jews first before they could be baptized as Christians. The early Christians ultimately came to realize that the message of Christ is universal – it is open to all people, not just to the Jews. So the point that Pope Francis was making was mainly about the universality of the Christian message, not about Martians. He was using the question about baptizing Martians to illustrate how difficult and strange the question of the universality of the Christian faith was for the early Church.
From Publishers Weekly
Who knew that the Vatican owned an observatory run by Jesuit scientists? Consolmagno, an astronomer who studied at MIT, and Mueller, with a doctorate in the history and philosophy of science from the University of Chicago, are brilliant scientists and theologians, and they both possess a slightly irreverent and refreshing sense of humor. The authors attempt to highlight how the perceived conflict between religion and science is severely overblown. To do this they employ a dialogue format, which works for a while but ultimately becomes tired. The content, however, is absolutely enlightening. Some of the topics the authors tackle include the Galileo controversy, an explanation for the star of Bethlehem, and the discrepancies between the book of Genesis and the big bang theory. Heady stuff for sure, but the casual writing style makes for an enjoyable learning experience. An excellent primer for anyone remotely interest in building a bridge between religious faith and scientific investigation.
"I can’t think of two people better suited to address some essential questions about science that Christians get asked (and ask themselves) on a regular basis. How can you reconcile the Big Bang theory with the belief in God as the Creator of the universe? Is the Catholic Church really against science? Can a scientific person be a believer? Can a believer look to science for answers that religion cannot provide? And what really happened with Galileo? These two talented Jesuit scientists answer these and many more of the most persistent questions about science and religion, in this fascinating, inviting, and frankly necessary new book."
—James Martin, SJ, author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything
About the Author
BROTHER GUY CONSOLMAGNO, SJ was born in Detroit, Michigan, earned undergraduate and masters' degrees in Earth and Planetary Sciences from MIT (in 1974 and 1975), and a Ph. D. in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona in 1978. He worked as a post-doctoral fellow and lecturer at Harvard University's Department of Astronomy, and MIT's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences; served in the US Peace Corps, teaching physics at the University of Nairobi; and was a physics professor at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, before entering the Jesuits as a brother in 1989. At the Vatican Observatory since 1993, his research explores connections between meteorites, asteroids, and the evolution of small solar system bodies.
FATHER PAUL R. MUELLER, SJ is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio. He attended a Jesuit high school and earned a degree in physics at Boston University before entering the Society of Jesus in 1982. As part of his Jesuit training, he earned masters degrees in both philosophy and theology, along the way developing an interest in religion-science issues. After being ordained a priest in 1993, he attended the University of Chicago, where he completed a third masters degree (in physics) and a doctorate in the history and philosophy of science through the interdisciplinary program in Conceptual Historical Studies of Science.
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