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Catholic scientists explore extraterrestrial life at conference


Anatolii Vasilev - Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 08/07/21

Discovery of sentient life beyond earth would beg the question of how it relates to God.

As commercial space tourism is taking off, the notion of life beyond earth is becoming increasingly relevant. The possibility of discovering extraterrestrial life was a topic of conversation at the annual conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists. There, experts suggested that such a discovery might not change our perceptions as much as one might think. 

This is uncharted territory, to say the least, for scientists and theologians alike. Humanity’s quest for mainstream space travel is a distinctly 21st-century endeavor. As such, the Church has yet to fasten down any teachings on the topic. 

Theologian Christopher Baglow, director of the Science and Religion Initiative at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame, commented: 

“Basically we have a situation where the Church has not taught anything definitively about that, so we have no doctrine to rely on,” he said. “So how do we proceed in thinking about this?”

“Faithful speculation”

According to Crux, Baglow went on to note that the conversation is “faithful speculation” until such teachings come. Still, the scientific community can help advance the subject by conceiving of the right questions. For example, discovery of extraterrestrial life would raise the question of what God’s relationship is to that lifeform. 

Baglow reasoned that if a species were to reach a stage of rational thought, it would have a long history, as humans do. He posited that in order to “unite them to himself” God would have made his presence known to them. This too would be similar to God’s interactions with humanity. This theory further suggests that a relationship with God could be where humans and aliens find common ground.

Baglow was confident that humanity’s relationship with God could be used as a model for comparison with extraterrestrial life: 

“Thinking about what God has done for humanity is for me at the heart of what it means to be a theologian,” Baglow told CNS. “So to apply that to a new question like this would be spiritually rewarding.”

Karin I. Öberg, professor of astronomy at Harvard University, admitted that the discovery would create theological questions about salvation and incarnation. Still, she suggested that the discovery of life, especially intelligent life, would indicate that they are “very specifically created by God.”

The consensus at the conference was that there is a possibility of life in the stars. Furthermore, such a discovery would not be a hindrance to faith, but affirmation that will promote understanding and appreciation of God’s Creation.

Read more about the Society of Catholic Scientists’ annual conference at Crux Now.

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