Vatican Corner 10-25-2020

The more we peer into space, the more certain we become that our planet isn’t the only one suitable for life. If there is life out there then some of it could possibly be intelligent life. That kind of life possesses wisdom, the ability to act with appropriate judgments, and be able to communicate. But intelligent life could also be extremely rare. The French priest and philosopher John Buridan (1295-1363) said that by saying that no other worlds existed beyond Earth implied imposing a limit to the power of God. He wrote “We hold from faith that just as God made this world, so he could make another or several worlds.” Pope John Paul II when in 1996 speaking to the Pontifical Academey of Sciences, said “truth cannot contradict truth,” insisting that the Catholic Church had nothing to fear from scientific advancement and its challenges, and vice versa. He was quoting Pope Leo XIII, who in 1891 re-established the Vatican Observatory. But if intelligent life is discovered, there will be theological problems that will have to be worked out. One problem would be how to understand if the extraterrestrials had been left by God to live in their original sin; or could Jesus by giving up his life on Earth have also saved them; or maybe they might not need saving at all and stayed in full harmony with God their creator; or did the aliens also receive a savor from God. Another theological problem would be the idea that humans are created in God’s image, the crowning achievement of God’s creation. However, then man finds out he is only one of many of God’s crowning achievements. Ted Peters, Professor Emeritus at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary answers that theological problem by saying “the discovery of life elsewhere in the Universe would not compromise God’s love for Earth life. “Just as a parent’s love for a child is not compromised because that child has a brother or sister.” If you believe in a God, why assume he is  only able to love a few of his starchildren? There are other theological problems that other religions would have greater difficulty resolving. For example Evangelicals follow their Scriptures with a high degree of literalism, and extraterrestrial intelligent life would just not fit with their Scriptures. But famous evangelist Billy Graham in 1976 said that he “firmly” believed that God created alien life “far away in space.” Pope Francis at a Mass in May of 2014 said “if an expedition of Martians arrives and some of them come to us and if one of them says: ‘Me, I want to be baptized’, what would happen?” Francis said it’s simple, no matter how distant they may be, the Church does not turn others away. A published study conducted on Space Policy found that Catholics are more likely than any other group to say that it is “essential that the United States continue to be a world leader in space exploration.” Catholicism is an evangelizing faith that tries to persuade people to become Christians. It is not too difficult to imagine that Catholics would be ready and willing to venture into space in order to spread the Gospel as they have done on Earth