By Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J. and Father Paul Mueller, S.J. (Image, 2014)
If you picked up Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? solely on the basis of its title, you might be surprised not to find a series of quirky questions Catholics ask astronomers. Far from being a clever take on the “for dummies” series, the book’s authors—both scientists and one a philosopher—have produced a serious work for serious people of faith to digest.
The title hardly captures what the book contains: a simultaneous apologia both for Christian faith in a scientific age and for Christian engagement with what science is telling us about the universe. No need to worry about it being dry: Wile E. Coyote appears many times, and the settings of this series of conversations between the authors range from the Art Institute of Chicago to Milliways, the fictional restaurant at the end of the universe in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Each of the six chapters tackles a question like the one found in the title, and each stands alone as a discrete conversation. They range from the “demotion” of Pluto to the backstory on Galileo and his fate at the hands of Pope Urban VIII. Equally important to whatever element of science is under scrutiny are the connections the authors make to what they call the “big questions” of Christian faith.
Despite the cosmological and theological scope of the back-and-forth between the authors, their tone is down-to-earth and sometimes moving, as when Mueller shares his own insights on “the end,” whether of the universe or our own deaths, gleaned from an evening of taking care of the young children of a friend. Perhaps the greatest success of the book is the compelling invitation it makes to the reader to join the parallel quests of science and religion. “The challenge for us is to confront the world as both scientists and seekers,” writes Mueller, “to be open both to understanding the world on its own terms and to seeing the world alight with divine mystery.”
This review appeared in the November 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 79, No. 11, page 43).