Putting all of this nonsense aside, there are millions of people who legitimately wonder what the Catholic Church's response would be to the discovery of extraterrestrial (alien) life on other worlds. I honestly don't know if the Vatican has any kind of statement planned, as this could just be the latest Internet sensationalism buzzing the web. These things come and go. However, I thought the topic was intriguing enough and deserved a short blog entry. So the following is just my opinion, based on my understanding of Catholic Christian theology. It is by no means "official," as I have no authority to make official pronouncements. It's just my thinking on the matter, and I'll leave it up to you (the reader) to decide.
In order to understand the prospect of life on other worlds, we need to take a closer look at life on our own world.
If you're a Catholic Christian, you're allowed to believe in dinosaurs. That's kind of important actually, because a lot of non-Catholics (particularly Evangelicals) are not permitted to, or at least, they're not permitted to believe dinosaurs lived millions of years ago. This is how I understand Catholic teaching on origins. Catholics are permitted to subscribe to evolutionary theories, and the evidence of the fossil record, provided we acknowledge that God directed the process, created everything, and has always been in control. Conversely, we Catholics are also free to take a more literal approach to the first chapter of Genesis, and insist that God created the world in six literal days, if we find the evolutionary theories too difficult to accept. Furthermore, we Catholics are permitted to believe any other theory, regarding the origin of species and the fossil record, provided we always acknowledge that God is ultimately the one who created everything and is in control of everything. Now this is a tremendous amount of intellectual liberty for Catholics, and it enables the human mind to freely explore all scientific options available. The Scriptures are believed to be true and infallible, however, our interpretation of them is subject to debate. We can take a literal approach, or a non-literal approach. For example; in a non-literal approach, we Catholics are required to believe that Adam and Eve were real people, and that they were truly tempted by the devil to sin against God. However, we don't necessarily have to believe the devil took on the form of a literal snake, or that it literally spoke, or that the Tree of Knowledge was a literal thing. All of these things could be literally representations to speak of the higher truth, which is that the first humans were tempted by Satan to sin against God, and that original sin resulted in the fall of the human race. Granted, some Catholics just can't go there. For whatever reason, some feel the need to subscribe to the literal interpretation that God created the world in six literal days, along with a literal interpretation of the Adam, Eve, the Garden of Eden and the serpent. Those Catholics are free to believe that as well. However, both the literal and non-literal approach to Scripture must produce the same result. Adam and Eve were real people, who really were tempted by Satan, and really did commit original sin, but the two approaches need not agree on the exact details of how that happened.
In previous blog entries, I've explained my own beliefs on this. I tend to take the non-literal approach to the first chapters of Genesis, and believe they convey deep religious truths using literary tools. I see the Book of Genesis containing two creation stories, not one, with conflicting chronology. These are found in Genesis chapter one, and Genesis chapter two, starting at verse four. I believe this was intentional, because the author of Genesis (most likely Moses himself) wanted to make it clear that these are literary tools -- stories shrouded in iconic imagery to convey deeper messages. I also see a poetic feature to Genesis chapter one. I seriously wonder if it was once a Hebrew song or chant. Consequently, taking a non-literal approach to the first two chapters of Genesis, my mind is free to embrace various scientific theories about the origins of life on earth. On a personal note, I tend to subscribe to catastrophe theories, which is a little different than standard evolutionary theories. I tend to believe the earth has gone through radical environmental changes, caused by everything from asteroid impacts, to runaway greenhouses, to ice ages, etc., that have caused plant and animal life on earth to make radical adaptations in order to compensate for these changes. These adaptations are punctuated by mass extinctions. I tend to believe the earth has gone through many cycles of life, each one quite foreign and alien to the others, and that this current cycle (in which mankind exists) may very well be the last. Based on the fossil record, I think this current life cycle on earth is just a shadow of previous life cycles. The last life cycle was the age of the dinosaurs, cut short by an asteroid impact that blew off much of the earth's atmosphere, shrouded the planet in flames, and killed off just about everything that was over five pounds, and living above land and water. The earth that exists now is but merely a shell of the earth that once was. As a result of this, I believe the climate that currently exists on earth is unique to previous climates on earth during other epics of world history, and that this climate is particularly suitable to the flourishing of mammalian life. We know that mammals lived during the epic of the dinosaurs, but we also know they were very small and never grew above five pounds. Why is this? One theory is that the atmosphere of the earth was significantly warmer, wetter and heavier than it is now, making breathing more difficult for large mammalian lungs. Dinosaurs, however, were known to have smaller chest cavities, and therefore smaller lungs, making breathing more suitable to a warmer, wetter and heavier atmosphere. It is believed that the asteroid that impacted the earth sixty-five million years ago, blew off a significant portion of the earth's atmosphere, radically changing the climate, and therefore put mammals in a much better position to take over the food chain.
If you tend to subscribe to a literal interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis, then you have to believe that dinosaurs roamed the earth less than 10,000 years ago, and that all life that ever existed on earth, existed during the time of man. That complicates things a bit. It's not totally outrageous to believe such a thing, considering the enormous fossil evidence, but it does present some problems. As a result, a small number of Christians have chosen to dismiss the fossil evidence entirely, and chalk it up to some kind of elaborate hoax/conspiracy. However, most Genesis literalists have simply developed a very elaborate scientific creation model for the earth that allows for man and dinosaurs to exist side-by-side, until the catastrophic Great Flood of Noah, which changed the world, making it no longer hospitable to dinosaurs. Actually, that's not a bad theory when you really stop and think about it. There are problems to be sure, big problems, but at least it's a reasonable attempt to explain the fossil evidence.
Why is all this important? What do the first two chapters of Genesis have to do with extraterrestrial alien life? Actually, they have everything to do with it. You see, if you subscribe to the non-literalist interpretation, as I do, then you have to acknowledge that there was once an earth, filled with life, long before mankind ever came along. To man, this ancient earth would be quite "alien" to the world we are used to now. That is why we have such an interest in it. That's why people spend millions of dollars digging up fossils in the middle of the wilderness. In a sense, men are exploring the alien world of earth, that existed long before mankind, and the dominance of mammals. Now, if the earth could once be a home to life without man, then it stands to reason that other worlds could likewise be home to life without man. Thus alien life on other worlds presents no theological problem to me, any more than dinosaur life on earth millions of years ago.
It seems logical to me, that if God so desired, he could easily make a universe replete with life, on millions of worlds. To us, these lifeforms would just be plants and animals, like what exists all around us, and what likely existed on earth for tens of millions of years, before mankind was placed here by the divine providence of God. As far as I'm concerned there is no theological problem with this. Plants and animals do not have "free will," but are instead slaves to their instincts and genetic programming. Therefore sin is irrelevant to them. They cannot sin. I can imagine a universe filled with such worlds, teaming with plants and animals, all of them without "free will" and, like the plants and animals on earth, incapable of sin. Again, if this is the only life that exists in the universe, then there is no theological problem, insofar as I can see.
It seems to me that this is most likely the case. If there is life on other worlds, it's probably just limited to plants and animals. Consider this. If we are to believe the current fossil record, and the way it is commonly understood today, the earth has been inhabited with life for hundreds of millions of years. Each age, or epic of life cycle history, has lasted tens of millions of years. During that time, as far as we know, only one species on earth has ever been intelligent and spiritual. I say both intelligent and spiritual because it is possible to have intelligent life that is not spiritual. Apes, dolphins and whales are all intelligent animals, but none of them are spiritual. That's why they remain animals. Their brain capacity is quite remarkable, and if they had the spiritual discipline to deny their instincts and channel their minds toward higher ideas, they would easily develop advanced communication and begin manipulating the world around them, as man does. However, they don't have a spiritual component. They may be intelligent, but lacking spirituality, they remain just animals. This is what separates man from the animal kingdom. While man possesses the carnal body of an animal, wielding flesh and blood, man is different, because he is a hybrid, consisting of a heavenly spirit (a divine spark) that the rest of the animal world simply does not have. "The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being." -- Genesis 2:7 Here the Scriptures tell us that God made man different from the rest of the animals. God himself breathed life into the first man, making him a "living being," or a spiritual being, which is different from the other animals that exist in just this world. Man lives in two worlds simultaneously -- the world of flesh and the world of the spirit. This is why, unlike the animals, we can discipline our minds, and bring them into subjection, forcing them to do those things which would be unnatural to the beasts of the earth. We worship God. We wear clothes. We construct elaborate societies, and build cities, machines, and even reach for the stars. No animal does this. We are unique here on this earth, and if the earth has been around for hundreds of millions of years, then we are something this planet has never seen before, something totally unnatural to what this world is used to.
If man is unique to the earth, something totally out-of-step with the history of life on earth, how unusual would a species like mankind be for life on other planets? I would say extremely rare to say the least. In my personal opinion, I would not be surprised if the universe was full of life (plants and animals), but that none of it (except for us) is spiritual. We are the exception not the norm. That would be my own personal take on things, and based on the earth's fossil record, I think I've got cold, hard evidence backing my opinion here. It's literally written in stone.
That however is an opinion not popular to the modern world. We live in a culture obsessed with E.T.. We've grown up on movies depicting alien visitations, invasions and even interstellar wars. Star Wars and Star Trek are some of the greatest box office hits of our generation. Then there is the cult phenomenon of Area 51 and the "greys," with a cultural history replete with stories of close encounters and alien abductions. It never seems to end. I was once laughed to scorn by a few well-educated peers because I dared to say that I didn't believe in "flying saucers" and "alien abductions." It seemed to be an established scientific fact in their minds. Somehow I was the "wacko" and "nutjob" because I didn't believe in those things.
In response to those who think alien visitors from other worlds is an established fact, I'll answer with a little historical fact followed by a personal story. The historical fact is that people have been "abducted" for centuries, or at least that's what people have been saying for centuries. In fact, long before the alien mythology developed, people claimed to be abducted by witches, leprechauns, fairies and trolls. Abduction stories are fairly common in history. The only thing that changes are the abductors. Apparently some people are just prone to missing time and hallucinations. They tend to latch on to the popular mythology of the time, and use that to explain their unusual, sometimes terrifying, experiences. So keep that in mind next time you hear of another alien sighting or abduction.
As promised I'll now give you a personal story to back my claim that I don't believe in visitors from other worlds. This is an absolutely true story which I am for the first time about to relate publicly, so bear with me, and please read all the way through to the end.
I was about 13 years old and living in Los Angeles county in Southern California. Back then the television set was constantly blaring in our small suburban home after about 7pm at night. I always hated the sound of blaring television sets, and found the bluish light they emitted just as annoying. So I frequently would go out into the backyard and walk around in the cool night air. I could still hear the muffled tone of television sets, from multiple homes, but at least I had a little peace and quiet. Most of all, I had time to myself, and I cherished these quiet moments to think and just let my mind wander.
One night I was walking in the cool night air in my backyard, when I rounded the corner of my parents' house, only to see a bright white disk floating in the sky. It made no sound. It hovered there in the distance, perhaps a few hundred feet over our neighbours house across the street. I was mesmerised, and immediately I realised this could not be a plane or helicopter. This was a pure white and glowing hovering disk. It made no sound, and moved effortlessly through the night sky. I was certain that this was a flying saucer. "How fortunate I am," I thought to myself. "While everyone else is inside their houses, basking in the blueish light of their boob-tubes, I was privileged to witness a close encounter from another world." I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming. Ouch! Yep, this is real.
Then something happened. I noticed that the glowing white disk was moving in my direction, and it was getting bigger. Clearly this flying saucer was descending toward me. At this point I began to get nervous. In fact, I was downright frightened. For a moment I wondered if this all might be a hallucination of some kind, but then my dog saw it too, and began barking hysterically. The disk moved ever closer. It was now perhaps just a hundred feet, nearly over my head, and getting closer. My heart was racing, my breathing deep and laboured, I was scared. Part of me wanted to run into the house and tell my parents. But another part wanted to stay and see what would happen next. Guess which part won? That's right. Curiosity killed the cat. I planted my feet firmly and held my ground. I knew I was having a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I was not going to take my eyes off this thing.
Then it happened. I heard a noise. It was something like the sound of an engine kicking on, then the buzz of a mighty machine. The disk changed shape and moved faster than possible for any man-made machine. Then it moved in the opposite direction, first to the right and then to the left, in an oval shape. Suddenly, the disk was gone, and I found myself staring into a blinding light. The ground illuminated all around me. It was like daylight. I thought to myself, "This is it!, I'm about to be abducted!" And for a second I closed my eyes, thinking my feet would soon be rising off the ground as they levitated me into their spaceship.
My feet never left the ground. Instead the buzzing noise got louder. So I opened my eyes, and there it was, floating right over my head -- a great big white blimp! I immediately identified it by it's red running lights, and could see the pilot sticking his head out the window with a huge spotlight in hand, surveying the trees and power lines, as he quickly pointed the nose of the aircraft upward and ascended as rapidly as he could. I had seen this commercial dirigible make its rounds in our area for weeks prior, but always during the day. The blimp featured some advertisements on the side, and was apparently used as a flying billboard for rent. It never occurred to me that the floating disk I saw could be associated with this blimp, because I had never before seen the blimp fly at night. There was a complete mental disconnect there. While I have no idea why the blimp was flying at night, it was apparent however, that it had lost power. It was descending slowly into a suburban area (my neighbourhood) and about to crash actually, right over my backyard and into the next street over. There was a park nearby with some open fields, so I surmise that perhaps he was trying to make it there for an emergency landing. I can tell you he wouldn't have. My guess is that, had he not regained power, he would have crashed on the next street over, after hitting the power lines near the house behind ours.
The pilot had on board a powerful spotlight, and while he was trying to regain power, he mounted it on the side of his window, pointing it upward toward the nose of the blimp, creating a perfectly white luminous disk shape. That's what I saw floating in the sky. I imagine he did this to let people on the ground know he was coming down. I, however, thought it was a flying saucer. About the time he neared my parents' house, he regained power (and not a moment too soon), so he dismounted the spotlight. That was the sudden movement I saw of the disk going left and right. Then he did the next logical thing. He pointed the spotlight down to the ground to figure out where he was. I'm sure one of the first things he saw was this 13 year-old kid (me) staring up at him with horror on his face, only to close his eyes like a dummy and just stand there petrified. I'm sure he probably saw and heard my dog barking at him too. This spotlight was the blinding light I thought was going to abduct me into a flying saucer.
I am happy to report the blimp did not crash, but safely returned to a suitable altitude and gently glided back to wherever it came from. I don't remember seeing it much after that. I am also happy to report that I went back into my parents' house, walked straight into my room, closed the door behind me, and learnt a very powerful lesson.So what was this lesson I learnt? I'll summarise it this way. "If you hear hoof beats in Texas. Think horses not zebras." What does that mean? It means simply this. If you hear the sound of hoof beats in a place like Texas, it probably means there is something domestic and local nearby -- something like horses. You wouldn't be inclined to think something exotic like a herd of zebras was about to run by. Well the same rule goes for things you see in the sky. If you see something strange in the sky, no matter how strange it is, even a floating white disk, chances are it's something local and domestic (something man-made), not something exotic like aliens from another world. I learnt that lesson the hard way through experience.
Now just imagine, if you will, that instead of holding my ground when I saw that disk, that I ran into the house and tried to pull my parents away from their bluish glowing boob-tube (television set). What would have happened? I'll tell you what would have happened. It would have taken me forever to get them out of the house, and by the time I got them outside, that blimp would have been long gone. My story today would be limited to the white disk floating in the sky, and that's it. I would be counted with the millions of people who have seen objects in the sky they can't explain. To this day, I would probably believe I saw a flying saucer U.F.O., and that's what I would be telling people to this day. However, my childish curiosity pushed me to hold my ground and let this "sighting" play out. That in turn allowed me to identify the saucer as a distressed blimp about to crash. That in turn taught me something about things we see in the sky. I learnt a very powerful and good lesson. I learnt to never jump to conclusions, and always assume things in the sky are locally made, rather than from another planet. In truth, I have had one more unusual sighting since then. Both my father and I saw it together. It was a star moving in a strange snake like pattern through the night sky. To this day we have no idea what that was. We are sure of one thing though. It's probably something human beings made, and human beings were flying it somehow. It was probably not something from another planet.
Understanding that most (if not all) sightings of U.F.O.'s are probably sightings of man-made aircraft, what are we to make of the possibility of human-like life on other worlds? I'm talking about creatures that are both flesh and spiritual hybrids like us. Well for starters, as I pointed out above, that is highly unlikely. Let's suppose however, just for the sake of argument, that they do exist. I am sure we would never see them. The distances between stars are so great, that travelling between them is highly unlikely. I suppose if such people do exist, we will probably never know about them, nor they know about us. I suppose God made it that way on purpose and for good reason. For if they do exist, we run into a theological problem, as to how the Gospel of Jesus Christ would relate to such people.
There are but two theological questions that would need to be asked.
The first is this. If an alien species is both intelligent and spiritual, we must ask, is it fallen or immaculate? By that I mean, did such a species ever commit their own version of original sin? If the answer is no, then the species is immaculate, meaning these people live in perfect harmony with God and nature. We need not do anything with them nor worry about them at all, because they are already in a better place than we are. If the answer is yes, then the species is fallen, meaning these people are just like us. Their ancestors committed original sin, and they are a fallen race just as we are.
If the answer to the first question is yes, then this leads us into the second question. If the alien species is fallen, and humans ever make contact with these people, should we preach to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ? The problem comes from concern over the nature of the alien species. Technically, they're not human. They may be intelligent and spiritual, meaning they exhibit all the characteristics of mankind, but they are not actually mankind. Since Jesus Christ was both God and man, connected to the human race biologically, would the atonement of Jesus' shed blood even apply to them? Should the atonement of Christ be offered to people who are not technically human? We don't offer baptism, confirmation and Eucharist to animals. So should we dare offer it to aliens from another world?
This is a complicated question, but I think on the outset, the answer should be obvious. What would Jesus do?
Those of us who know and love the Carpenter from Nazareth probably have an inkling as to what he would do. If a person (even a person from another world), having both knowledge and spirit (meaning capable of knowing God) came to him and asked for forgiveness, what would Jesus do? He would give it to them of course. I have no idea how he would make that work, since their not human, but I would trust that in his infinite wisdom and omnipotent power, he would make a way.
That's really all there is to it, insofar as I can tell. The only theological hurdle to intelligent/spiritual life on other worlds is the issue of sharing the gospel if they too happen to be subject to original sin. That hurdle is easily cleared, in my mind, once we ask ourselves what Jesus would do if confronted with this situation in his time. Indeed there is some Biblical precedence. God commanded Saint Peter to share the gospel with the unclean gentiles in the vision he received of unclean foods (Acts 10:9-16). The idea here being that the gospel was originally intended for the Jews. It was initially a "Jewish thing," but God had other plans to share it with all of mankind. It would seem that the generosity of God would likewise extend to other intelligent/spiritual life throughout the universe, assuming God: (a) actually made such life, and (b) such life had fallen into original sin.
All of this is highly speculative though. We have no hard evidence that any life exists anywhere in the universe, except for right here on earth. If it does exist elsewhere, however, then the earth's fossil record testifies to a long span of history, consisting of hundreds of millions of years, wherein no intelligent/spiritual life ever existed alongside the millions of species that inhabited this world -- that is, until just recently. So the odds are definitely not on the side of intelligent/spiritual life elsewhere. Plant and animal life is a real possibility but intelligent/spiritual life (like mankind) is highly unlikely. If they do exist, we will probably never meet them. If by divine providence we do ever meet such creatures, and those creatures have themselves fallen into original sin, then it would be our duty to preach the gospel to them.
If I were a gambling man though, I would gamble against ever meeting such an intelligent/spiritual alien species. I would put my money on alien plants and animals, and nothing more, if even that exists. As for the fringe Evangelical conspiracy theorists, all I can say is they're really going out on a limb with this whole Vatican-Alien-Apostasy cabal. To them I say this. Do you really have so much contempt for your fellow Christians in the Catholic Church that you would actually believe the pope would really do such a thing? Do you really have so much contempt for us, that you actually believe we would abandon our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to follow an alien messiah/god? Do you truly think so little of us, that you would actually assert that all of this is transpiring right now, and we will all soon apostatise from the Christian faith for the love of flying saucers? Really? Seriously? Is this what you actually think of us? Wow!
|Click Image to Learn More|
THE BOOK CONTAINS A
NIHIL OBSTAT AND IMPRIMATUR
NIHIL OBSTAT AND IMPRIMATUR
ORDER YOUR COPY HERE