Friday, February 21, 2020

New publication announcement!

My short story, "What Lies Beneath the Waves", was published yesterday in With Painted Words, an online magazine with an unusual modus operandi: "every month a new image is chosen as a prompt and, for that month, all submissions must have used it as their inspiration – no matter how slight, vague or metaphorical it is there must be some form of link between the image and the work." The prompt for January 2020 was a couple of brightly covered starfish beneath rippling waves. During January, I took part in Wendy Pratt's daily poetry prompt course, on the theme of Beginnings and Endings. Despite being a poetry course, short flash fic was also encouraged, and the prompt one day was to write a story about a childhood game gone wrong. This story is not the sort I usually write, but I enjoyed the double challenge – to write a story inspired by the image and to write to a specific topic/brief.

The best part about the starfish image is that it also inspired my daughter – I explained to her what I was doing, and she too wanted to write a story inspired by that picture. It turned into a joint effort, and we have Big Plans afoot for it. Watch this space!

I'm definitely going to be writing more for WPW.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Resolution Read, Week 8: Are Aliens Incompatible with Christian Salvation?

So last week I read up on whether Aquinas would baptise aliens. Following in that theme, this week I'm reading:

Christian Weidemann, "Christian Soteriology and Extraterrestrial Intelligence", Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 67, nos. 11/2 (2014): 418-425.

Per the abstract, this article is going to argue that the classical Christian doctrine of salvation is incompatible with the belief in non-human, extraterrestrial intelligence. This is a stronger claim than Lazzari's that we considered last week, which was simply that because Christ's incarnation as a human is a specifically human thing, if aliens do not share our human essence/nature, then human baptism would do nothing for them, leaving open the possibility that there are other ways that non-human intelligent beings could be saved. I'm curious to see why Weidemann thinks that the possibility of human salvation by itself is enough to exclude the existence of non-human extra-terrestrial intelligences. (In particular, I'm interested to see how he excludes aliens but not angels.)

Weidemann quotes Thomas Paine, "to believe that God created a plurality of [inhabited] worlds...renders the Christian system of faith at once little and ridiculous" (p. 418), and now I want to write a paper called "On the Plurality of Inhabited Worlds". I wonder if Paine is where Lewis got his title from? Anyway, Paine argues that there are other inhabited worlds, and hence Christianity is "ridiculous". I wonder if Weidemann is going to modus tollen's Paine's argument, and go from the non-ridiculousness of Christianity to our sole existence in the universe. We'll see. First, let's look at Paine's argument.

Paine's argument is the following dilemma: If there are multiple inhabited worlds in the universe, then either God was incarnated on in one, or he was incarnated in all of them. (The case in which he is incarnated into some, but not all, ends up being functionally equivalent to the first one). In the first case, Paine argues that it would be "a strange conceit" to think that out of all the inhabited worlds out there, either ours was the only one that had a fall event or, if multiple ones did, ours is the only one where Christ became incarnate. What makes us so special? In the second case, assuming that multiple worlds had fall events, then Christ would "have nothing to do than travel from world to world in an endless succession of deaths with scarcely a momentary interval of life" (p. 418). Both of these options, Paine believes, gives rise to absurdity.

But this overlooks a genuine third alternative, which we saw in my previous post -- there is more than one way that God could choose to save a fallen alien species. Maybe some get incarnations. Maybe some are gifted grace. Maybe others get something so far beyond our ken we cannot even articulate it. Now, this may itself raise the question of "why does he choose to do it one way here and another way there?" and answering that question may yet also lead us to absurdity, but it is important to point out that Paine reaches his conclusion too quickly.

In pursuit of his conclusion, Weidemann next turns to the orthodoxy expressed at the council of Chalcedon, namely, that Christ is both "truly God and truly man". He says he will argue that people who take this doctrine seriously should be concerned that the existence of non-human aliens "would undercut (their) religious beliefs" (p. 418). This...worries me. First, I hope he's not about to say that being truly God and truly man excludes Christ from being, e.g., truly Martian too. (It would be hard to see how omnipotence would not allow for Christ to have a plurality of natures.) Second, I hope he's not about to say that the Chalcedonian orthodoxy, because it is "still binding for the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and for more traditional forms of Protestantism" (p. 418) is thereby true.

I was right when I hypothesized above that Weidemann would modus tollens's Paine's modus ponens. In the first stage of his argument, he gives "a ten step argument for the claim that God's salvation extends to extraterrestrial intelligent beings" (p. 419). I won't quote the argument here, but merely comment on the various steps.

The first step that I find interesting is his invoking of the Principle of Mediocrity (a principle which finds a warm, welcoming spot in my heart): If there are many intelligent species in the universe, humans most likely to not occupy any special position w.r.t. moral goodness, intelligence, technology, etc. Therefore, if we fell, it's highly probable that it wasn't because we're special in any particular way (e.g., highly susceptible to sin), but because all intelligent species are liable to sin. The rest of the steps all seem pretty reasonable to me, though the connection between many of them is one of probability rather than necessity. Still, given what I've said in my previous post, I'm happy with the idea that there are multitudinous extraterrestrial beings God wants to -- and hence does -- save. I am pleased to see that Weidemann explicitly admits the possibility that different types of reconciliations exist for different types of intelligent beings (p. 419); so far, so good.

The next step of the argument is to show that if we accept the first part, namely that God does save myriad other intelligent beings, "adopting a Christian soteriology will lead to one of three equally unacceptable consequences" (p. 420):

  1. Extraterrestrials sinners are reconciled by the incarnation on Earth.
  2. Extraterrestrials are reconciled by incarnation elsewhere.
  3. Extraterrestrials are reconciled by some other means.

I think Lazzari has successfully dispensed with possibility (1), if we adopt a Thomistic metaphysics. Thus, I'll be concentrating on why Weidemann thinks (2) and (3) are "unacceptable".

Why can't extraterrestrials be saved through their own personal incarnation? Weidemann appeals to the uniqueness of Christ's death: "We know, however, that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him" (Romans 6:9). Well, this isn't quite uniqueness, but rather finality -- all we can take from the Romans verse is that once Christ has died on earth, he will not die again. But let's ignore the possibility that he had numerous other deaths that happened previously, and did not result in him having dominion over death. Suppose that he's right, that once Christ has died once, he cannot die again, and hence any other incarnation event is excluded. The problem is that if we accept this, we must accept that there is some special or unique status that humans have such that when Christ is incarnated as a human, this gives him the power of dominion over death. If we accept this, we must reject the Principle of Mediocrity: For then humanity/human nature is not mediocre at all, but extremely distinctive!

I'd also like to suggest a possibility that Weidemann doesn't appear to have considered: Given that God is omnitemporal, why couldn't Christ have been raised from the dead simultaneously in all incarnations, and that it is this manifold incarnation, death, and resurrection that gives him the ultimate power over death, such that he will never die any more? So I think (2) is still a live option, though Weidemann feels he's adequately discarded it. That leaves him with (3).

Why can't extraterrestrials be saved through some means other than incarnation? For this, Weidemann appeals to God's Act of Solidarity, namely, that "God's incarnating, suffering, and dying is the greatest possible (perhaps the only possible) act of solidarity with his creation" (p. 420). The only justification for this claim is that it is "essentially for the traditional Christian believer" and "abandoning [it] means abandoning traditional Christianity" (p. 420). This is not true. Let me raise again the possibility that all the incarnations, deaths, and resurrections happened simultaneously. Would not this, as opposed to a single incarnative act that excludes the vast majority of intelligent life in the universe, be the greatest possible act of solidarity? An act that is truly in solidarity with all creation, and not just created humans? I do not know of anything in Christian theology that requires that God's Act of Solidarity be in solidarity with humanity only, and assuming that it is begs the question not only against the Principle of Mediocrity (by giving humanity a special status amongst all of creation) but against the possibility at hand, that extra terrestrial intelligences can be saved as well.

In the next section, Weidemann turns to consider objections to the various steps in the argument, and I look forward to seeing whether he touches upon the points I've raised above. At first, I thought he did, as he brought up the Principle of Mediocrity. However, he in fact uses the PM, rather than rejecting it, in his dismissal of option (1), which we were happy to assent to. Furthermore, he says:

Correspondingly, is there any analogous evidence trumping PM that Earth plays a special role in God's plan for cosmic salvation?...I do not think so (p. 421).

Therefore, rejecting PM in order to deal with the objections I raise above will not be an option for Weidemann.

Concerning option (2), the first objection that Weidemann considers -- that Paul in writing Romans, and other Biblical authors who express similar sentiments, took it for granted that they were writing to a human audience, and therefore didn't, but could have, restrict their statement to "he will not die again on earth" -- is not my objection. However, Weidemann does appear to address my objection when he says, again with appeal to the Confession of Chalcedon, that "simultaneous incarnations are metaphysically impossible" (p. 421). His argument for this? Why, simply that "since the relation of identity is transitive...Jesus of Nazareth is personally identical with his counterparts at Alpha Centauri, Kronos, and numerous other places" (p. 421). The problem with this argument is that -- as is well known -- identity does not work in God the same way it does in created things, not unless you want to end up in paralogism. In fact, as an anonymous medieval author that I discussed in in my dissertation points out, when we distinguish personal and essential identity from formal identity, it is quite clear that personal identity is reflexive and symmetric, but is not transitive. God the Father is personally identical with God, and God the Son is personally identical with God, but it does not follow that God the Father is personally identical with God the Son. Therefore, we are under no obligation to accept that Jesus of Nazarath is personally identical with his counterparts in other worlds, even if all of these incarnate person are personally identical with God.

Next, Weidemann objects, against simultaneous incarnation, that no one thing can be both wholly human and wholly Klingon at the same time -- it is metaphysically impossible. But since it is also metaphysically for one thing to be both wholly human and wholly divine at the same time (which is precisely what the Chalcedonian doctrine says is true), I hardly think this is a strong objection.

Thus, we can maintain that we can straightforwardly accept that once Christ died and was resurrected, he would never die again -- he just died infinitely many times simultaneously.

Let us now finally consider Weidemann's objections to the idea that there are other means of extraterrestrial salvation, and whether he addresses my suggestion that the greatest act of solidarity would involve all creation, not humanity alone, especially in the presence of the Principle of Mediocrity. Interestingly, Weidemann suggests, by appeal to PM that if every intelligent species had its own method of salvation, well, then one of them had to have been incarnated, so why not ours? There's nothing special -- or not special -- about us that would make it less likely for us to be incarnated as opposed to any other species. As he says: "Some way of salvation God had to choose. The actual outcome is nothing to be stunned about" (p. 423). But perhaps we should be stunned at the diversity of options, when there is a perfectly plausible (as argued above) singular option, whereby every species is reconciled via incarnation. As it turns out, Weidemann thinks we have other reasons to be stunned by the fact of the human incarnation "against other means of redemption" (p. 423), because (he believes) it is unique, "one of the most remarkable events in the history of the cosmos" (p. 423). Given that it did happen, we can be surprised that it happened to us rather than to any of the other possible species.

But this assumes, contra what we've argued above, that the greatest act of solidarity with creation is the reconciliation of humanity. And if we reject that, then we do not have to reject either the rest of Christian theology, or the belief in the pervasiveness of extra-terrestrials. Win!

Friday, February 14, 2020

Resolution Read, Week 7: Would Aquinas Baptise Aliens?

This week's Resolution Read is a bit of a cheat. It's a paper that's been sitting on my desktop for ages because it has a great title, but which was so far removed from anything I do that I knew I'd never get a Round Tuit. Which actually makes it the perfect paper for a Resolution Read, since the whole point of the not-a-resolution was to give me as many Tuits in whichever shape is most pleasing that I need to read papers like this. So why did I pick this paper this week, and why is it a bit of a cheat? Because I was recently shared a call for papers on Theological Explorations in Time and Space, and it occurred to me that if I read something about aliens, I might have something to say on the topic. So...maybe this will end up being research related? Who knows! That's the whole point of reading these things!

The paper in question is:

Edmund Michael Lazzari, "Would St. Thomas Aquinas Baptize an Extraterrestrial?" New Blackfriars 99, no. 1082 (2018): 440-457, DOI:10.1111/nbfr.12319.

Point The First I want to make: The idea of there being intelligent extraterrestrials is probably less unrealistic for Aquinas than it is for (some) modern people -- this is because Aquinas's ontology includes angels, which by definition are non-terrestrial intelligences who live in the heavens (at least, some of them do). Once you've got both humans and angels in your ontology, expanding it to include the possibility extra-terrestrial beings (like angels) who are rational (like humans) should be a no brainer.

Lazzari poses the initial question he considers thusly: "the question of fallen extraterrestrials who do not share the human nature assumed by Christ is an interesting and important one for contemporary theologians" (p. 440). Point The Second that I would like to make: Even if we're happy admitting extraterrestrials into our ontology, why would we think that they have to be fallen? For there are two options: One, Adam and Eve's transgression is not species-specific, but infects beyond the bounds of humanity. Two, Adam and Eve's transgression is species-specific, so the only way there could be fallen aliens is if they experienced their own fall. If the former option is the case, one might ask why their sin spreads to extraterrestrials but not to, say, animals. If the latter option is the case, then what is to prevent Christ from assuming their nature and providing them with the same act of salvation?

Anyway, onto the actual paper. In the first section, Lazzari establishes that, on Thomist metaphysics, if "intelligent extraterrestrial life forms" have "radically different matter than human beings", then they do not have human natures, because human nature is hylomorphic, and if you change the matter you no longer have the same nature, but that if they are in fact intelligent (able to receive intelligible universals), then this "is a guarantee of an immortal soul" (p. 445). So much for metaphysics.

In section two, Lazzari moves on to theology. Because theology, unlike metaphysics, relies so much on revelation, any theological conclusions we draw about aliens will be necessarily speculative (absent any divine revelation that specifically addresses aliens!) And here Lazzari addresses my concerns about fallen aliens, by pointing out two important things: First, if the aliens weren't fallen, it wouldn't make sense to talk about their soteriology, so there'd be no point in writing this paper. Second, if the aliens have fallen, there's no reason why they shouldn't have their own fall event (so, the two options I outlined above in fact should be three). Indeed, Lazzari argues that according to Aquinas, it is not possible that the fallen of humanity could have caused the aliens to fall too:

Any fall of extraterrestrial life could not be caused by human beings in the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. While other theologians in the Christian tradition have a strong belief in the fall of human beings introducing disharmony into the cosmos, St. Thomas holds that the natures of other animals were not changed by the fall...Therefore, it is not the case that the fall of extraterrestrial life can be included under the same fault as the fall of humanity (p. 447).

So, if the aliens had their own fall event, Lazzari says this could've happened in two ways: It could be that Alien Adam and Alien Eve fell just as Human Adam and Human Eve did. Or, it could be that Alien Adam and Alien Eve metaphorically eschewed the apple, and it was one of their descendants that fell. In this latter case, "it would be possible for some of the species to be in need of salvation and some to still have that right relationship with God" (p. 448).

From this conclusion, Lazzari moves on to Section III, in which he argues that since humanity's fall cannot have caused the alien's fall, humanity's salvation cannot be the alien's salvation. This is because the redemptive act for humanity involved Jesus taking on human nature, not alien nature. However, while "it was fitting that the Incarnation occur because human nature was in need of salvation and it is by the Incarnation that humanity is could have happened another way" (pp. 448-449). This leaves open the possibility that some other redemptive act -- whether Incarnation or not -- is available to redeem the aliens.

Given this, I find it strange that Lazzari's conclusion in this section is that "Since baptism is the remedy of original sin for human beings, it seems as though one must have a human nature to undergo baptism" (p. 451). It is not clear why baptism couldn't be a part of the remedy of original sin in other beings as well. While it is true that if one is a human being, then one must be baptised in order to be saved, it doesn't follow that if one is baptised (in order to be saved), one must be a human being.

Lazzari opens section 4 with:

The sacrificial life of Jesus Christ redeemed those who have a human nature and are incorporated into His sacrifice by baptism. Because of the crucial role that assumption of a human nature plays in Chalcedonian and Thomistic soteriology, it is not possible to simply transfer the effects of the life of Jesus Christ to other intelligent beings who are not sharers in human nature" (p. 451).

The question I immediately have is: Why must Jesus have only one sacrificial life? What is to prevent him from becoming Incarnate as human, to save humanity, and then later (or earlier!) becoming Incarnate as alien, to same alienity? We don't need to be able to transfer "the effects of the life of Jesus Christ" to other natures, if there is nothing to prevent him from having had another life, with another nature. And since he is, you know, God, and omnipotent, and there doesn't seem to be anything self-contradictory in his being incarnated more than once, I don't see why this isn't an option for Lazzari (and for Jesus).

Well, Lazzari considers this in his survey of options offered by other authors: "The second is that there would be an Incarnation for every intelligent species which fell from grace" (p. 451). Lazzari's rejection of this position appears to be on the basis that it is one that is held by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who also argued for the "(heretical concept of) the inevitable and universal domain of sin" (p. 453). But I don't see that there being an Incarnation for every species that fell from grace entails that every species fell or will fall from grace -- so just because Teilhard de Chardin maintains one heretical view it doesn't follow that all his views are heretical. It appears that the other objection one would have to the one-incarnation-per-distinct-fall response is that (quoting Teilhard), it would "still [be] the same sacrifice, at all times and in all places" (p. 453) -- i.e., that Jesus's sacrifice as a man would be essentially the same as his sacrifice as an alien. But that presupposes that the essential distinction of human nature from alien nature is not enough to differentiate the sacrifices -- for indeed, the human sacrifice saves humanity, while the alien sacrifice saves alienity. How on earth can these then be "the same sacrifice", if they involve distinct natures and have distinct consequences?

As far as I can tell, Lazzari doesn't give us a reason to reject the one-incarnation-per-distinct-fall position, he merely argues that such a position is not necessary ("for there is nothing preventing God from simply forgiving without satisfaction" p. 456), and further calls it "highly unfitting" because "the Incarnation is such an important and pivotal event in the universe that it would not be fitting for such an event to be repeated" (p. 455). (Why can't one argue the contrary: It is such an important enough, it should be maximally repeated, to infinity!?)

But these concerns are to some extent beside the point. The question was, would Aquinas baptise aliens? It appears that in the absence of evidence that aliens shared in our human nature or that Jesus was also incarnated with an alien nature, the answer is "No, he wouldn't." Baptism is specifically tied to the rehabilitation of fallen human natures via a redemptive act that involved Jesus taking on such a human nature. Without the relevant redemptive act or participation in the relevant nature, baptism would be irrelevant for an alien.

A final comment on the paper: It was very weird to read a paper in New Franciscan that discusses Aquinas and doesn't have a single quote in Latin. (References are given to Latin texts, but no actual quotes.)

Edited to add: When I said "New Franciscan" I mean "New Blackfriars". I can never remember what color which order wears...

Friday, February 7, 2020

Resolution Read, Week 6: Early Modern Women Philosophers

Whoever would've thought it'd be so hard to read one item of my own choice (rather than dictated by deadlines or teaching) per week? Uh, well, me, which is why this was not-a-resolution.

However, at the end of another busy week I had 30 minutes to spare, so I picked up something I'd downloaded a few days earlier:

Eileen O'Neill, "Early Modern Women Philosophers and the History of Philosophy", Hypatia 20, no. 3 (Summer, 2005): pp. 185-197

Why did I download this? Because Wednesday I needed to suggest some potential referees for a paper on a 19th C woman philosopher, and went to google. What I found was interesting: In the context of people who are interested in rehabilitating the history of women in philosophy, a disproportionate amount of time is spent on the 17th and 18th century. I found almost nothing that focused on the 19th century. (This gives me some hope that the paper I submitted on Tuesday will find a niche to fill -- but also makes me sad that it'll be basically impossible to find any other philosopher who has written on this particular woman before.)

Why focus on women philosophers in the 17th and 18th century? Well, certainly one benefit is that this is a period in which women were increasingly writing more and more, and writing more and more in readable vernaculars. (I mean, no one disputes that medieval women philosophers and mystics were also writing in the vernacular, but more people probably know medieval Latin than Middle English, Middle French, or Old German. And compared to any of these languages, Early Modern English and Early Modern/Modern French are much more accessible.) Another reason people focus on these women is, as O'Neill notes, that their importance is demonstrated "by the numerous editions and translation of their texts that continued to appear into the nineteenth century" (p. 186). Not only that, but there were large numbers of men philosophers who wrote on these 17th- and 18th-century women in the 19th century, thus further contributing to them being a part of a longer conversation.

One wonders, therefore, where the 19th-century women fit into this. Were the men reading and commentating on women of the previous centuries alone, or were they in dialogue with women as well? And where are the 20th-century men discussing the works of 19th-century women? For the former question, O'Neill gestures towards a negative answer: "by the nineteenth century, much of the published material by women once deemed philosophical no longer seemed so" (p. 186). This idea that what women were doing in this period is not philosophy appears to be reinforced in Mary Warnock's choice of whom to include in her anthology of 17th-21st C women philosophers, based on an underlying conception of what philosophy is that O'Neill criticises on pp. 191-192.

The gap in the market for discussions of 19th-century women philosophers is noted by O'Neill in her paper: when

in the mid-1990s a publishing company decided to produce a supplement for one of its reference works on philosophy...a feminist philosopher who was on the editorial board had encouraged the press to include in the supplement a number of entries on women philosophers...It was never explained to women philosophers from the nineteenth century were included (p. 190)

Hopefully, things have improved in the last 15 years, and this gap no longer exists.

In the end, why did I read a paper on early modern women philosophers, when the woman philosopher I was interested in lived at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century? In part because there is no such corresponding paper for that period, and reading O'Neill's paper gave me space for interesting reflections as to why.