>> Fr. Lucien Kemble is a Franciscan friar living in Alberta, Canada.
I am grateful to Jim Speiser for introducing me, via some lengthy and
stimulating exchanges at the last two CSICOP conferences (Boulder and Pasa-
dena), to this UFO debate. As an advanced and avid amateur astronomer and
one who is keenly interested in and fairly well-read in many areas of sci-
ence, I have followed the UFO controversies since their inception. I have
also been interested in all phenomena of the natural world, as a Francis-
can Friar and priest, follower of St. Francis of Assisi, sharing his great
love for the physical universe. Drawing on scientific methods of critique
and on the necessity of rational bases for what is called "faith", both
scientific and religious, I have discovered a complementarity, not a con-
tradiction, between science and faith. But that is another story.
As regards the UFO debate: I think it absolutely necessary to make
some important distinctions and to clarify usage of terms. I have been
asked very frequently, "With your telescope and viewing of the heavens,
have you ever seen any UFOs?" Without being facetious, I usually reply,
"Yeah, lots of them. Why, just the other day I saw an unidentified bird
flying down the valley. And once I saw a tiny, strange, periodic flashing
in the sky for which I had no explanation." I know what is behind such
questions - the universal confusion between UFO's and flying saucers or
Extra-terrestrial Phenomena (ETP's). It needs repeating ad nauseum that
UFO's are, by definition, precisely unidentified and therefore, even
though they demand full examination, they ought not be, but usually are,
identified via wishful thinking with an ETP, spaceship, alien visitations,
But, in spite of this persistent confusion, there ought to be always
as full an investigation as possible, without an a priori acceptance or re-
jection. Most people are usually let down when their supposed ETP is ex-
plainable or explained simply in terms of a very natural, but to them un-
familiar, down-to-earth phenomenon. To such people, rational, critical ex-
planations are so much "taking the fun out of life." There is always room
for "fun", but not at the expense of clear thinking.
A second necessary distinction in this, as in other areas of inquiry,
has to do with an ambiguous use of words such as "skeptic," "criticism,"
"judgement," etc. Too often these and like words seem to carry, quite
wrongfully, the idea of condemnation of a person. When the statement is
made, "you are so critical!", it is usually meant as a reproach. In reali-
ty it should be considered a compliment. True criticism, critique, is a
quality whereby the critic uses his full powers of intelligent inquiry,
taking nothing for granted or by gut reaction, feelings, etc., but who
evaluates, weighs, judges. He takes into account all pertinent facts, ex-
cludes all contradictory evidence, and at least tries to avoid personal
feelings and interest, preconceived opinions, etc. One may have a so-
called right to one's opinion, but that opinion becomes objectively valid
only when it conforms to critically evaluated data.
A third distinction has to do with weighing possibilities against
probabilities against certitude. There are few of the latter, but one
really gets into hot water, especially in the UFO/ETP debate, when one
begins with a mere possibility and expands it, e.g. "Inhabited worlds are
POSSIBLE. Therefore there are PROBABLY hundreds of more advanced civili-
zations. Surely, then, ET's and spaceships HAVE to exist (CERTITUDE). A
capital principle in logic is never to cross the border from one assertion
to the next. A "possible" remains only that, and neither it nor a probable
becomes a fact. To date, as regards UFOs being anything but naturally ex-
plicable phenomena, there are no hard certainties or facts or, for that
matter, even probabilities.
A fourth clarification, and an important one, deals with things that
can be known but not proven. Generally, knowledge is gained via three path-
ways: evidence; rational proof from assured data or principles; faith, of
any kind. Physical hands-on evidence is, of course, fundamental, provided
illusion, sense-defective collecting of data, etc., are excluded. ET ori-
gins of UFOs are out of the question so far, as regards hard evidence.
Rational proof or intellectually critical evaluation, is of the utmost
importance as a human pathway to truth. The third mode knowledge is the
one that gives us trouble because of our western bias concerning an imag-
ined faith/reason exclusivity and contradiction. But, looked at object-
ively, most of our ordinary knowledge indeed comes to us via some kind of
faith. St. Paul gives a good definition of faith by calling it the "sub-
stance of things unseen, but hoped for or trusted in." As an example, I
personally did not see Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon - all I did see
was TV coverage of an event which now KNOW to be true. I take it on faith
or trust in the reliability of TV networks (which can be verified). Such
coverage can be reliable in this respect (in spite of so many other unreli-
abilities of TV as truth purveyors. In short, the value of any knowledge
gleaned through faith is going to be as strong as the reliability of my
source. I may not fully comprehend all that I do believe, nor even be able
to prove it for that matter, but I must always be ready with good reasons
to prove WHY I believe. Anything less is gullibility. And the same applies
to the opposite, i.e. one must back up one's rejection of any reported
phenomenon with as solid reasons as one would want for acceptance.
In the UFO/ETP debate, then, it would seem that there are two extreme
camps: the fervent "believers" with nothing to really back up their asser-
tions; the "scoffers" who dismiss without any real reasons for doing so.
In this, as in so many other areas of supposedly extraordinary phenomena,
one has to be open to full, unbiased research, sifting of facts, ridding
oneself of bias one way or the other and, in general, trying to be as ob-
jective as possible.
In specific areas, the arguments against UFOs being ETP's and the
option, for the time being, for their explanation as purely earthly, mater-
ial phenomena, are many and convincing. But that's for another time.