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Why this Catholic astronomer is hoping we find extraterrestrial life


Courtesy of Harvard.Edu | Fair Use

Stephen Beale - published on 03/20/18

The question is intriguing from both a scientific and a theological perspective.

In terms of theology, Öberg, who is a convert to Catholicism, said Christianity already has a belief in other intelligent life. “We already know extraterrestrials. They’re called angels,” Öberg said. But angels are intellectual beings, not rational animals. Angels are not in need of salvation, whereas we human beings as rational animals are, Öberg noted. (She didn’t mention the issue of fallen angels, but St. Thomas Aquinas taught that demons aren’t saved because their free choices once made, unlike ours, are permanent. Thus, they persist in their rejection of God.)

That leads to a big theological question: “If there are rational aliens out there, how are they saved? Are they saved?” Öberg asked.

For Christians, salvation comes through the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. “It seems clear from reading the New Testament that this was a one-time event for all,” Öberg said. Likewise, Aquinas argued that it was fitting for the Word to take on human nature alone. But the reasons for this—the dignity of having a rational nature and needing salvation—in theory would apply to other rational beings, Öberg noted. (But Öberg remains skeptical that there would be another incarnation.)

Although she is hoping there are rational animals, Öberg says she would be happy with the discovery of far humbler life-forms elsewhere in the universe. “I would be excited by the tiniest bacteria,” Öberg told Aleteia. “I don’t need much more than that.”

Either way, future discoveries are bound to reveal more about the kind of universe in which we live, and indirectly, further reveal its Creator.

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