Our daughters watched a show about aliens the other day, and it spurred some interesting questions. Instead of brushing the topic aside as make-believe or scientifically unproven, I actually gave them a short lesson on thinking with the Church, much to my surprise.
“Mom, they look so real on T.V. and the people on the show said they saw real aliens. They even showed body parts of dead aliens. They said it was real, so it must be!”
“Well, first, you can’t believe everything you see on T.V. Producers have a goal to get you to watch their programs so they can sell advertising, and sometimes what they say is true is not really true. Remember that film we watched about giraffes high diving into swimming pools, so realistic but computer generated?”
“Oh yeah! So could aliens exist though?”
“God created everything, and if He wanted to create lifeforms on other planets, he could, yes. Maybe aliens do exist; maybe they don’t. When you see shows like that you have to remember that it’s okay to keep an open mind, but also, a single television show cannot prove whether aliens exist or not. You need more information, and you need to carefully form an opinion.”
“Find out what the Church teaches. Be grounded in that because the Church has guarded the search for truth for the entire history of mankind; it guards what God revealed in Scripture, what Christ taught, and what can be known by human reason. Once you know what the Church teaches, then you can build your opinions. The Bible says that angels and demons exist, so we know there are minds without bodies. We know that humans are minds, souls, with human bodies. There could be life forms on other planets too, possibly even with intelligent minds. So at least you know what is conceivable, what is possible. The aliens on T.V. are images people make up in their imagination though.”
In explaining it that way, I was able to introduce the difference in imagination (mental pictures) and conception (abstract consistencies). I was able to show how the Church informs us about what is solidly known, either by Divine Revelation or human reason. I was able to teach how a grounding in truth and logic allows us to form legitimate, ordered opinions instead of absurd, unstructured opinions. This is what it means to think with the Church — even on a subject this far out.
Did you think I’d leave you hanging about the giraffe film? Of course not! A great big thanks to Mr. Max Weismann, philosopher, President, Director and Co-Founder, with Mortimer Adler, of the Center for Study of the Great Ideas, who sent this to me some time ago, much to the delight of our kids who watched it about 34 times, give or take 100.