As I mentioned in the combox of my May 3rd post (And You Thought I Was Just Lazy), one of the reasons I posted the Carl Sagan video on the “4th Dimension” was to ease us into a discussion of the Vatican’s position on extraterrestrial intelligent life.
Back in January, Pia and I exchanged a few emails on this subject. It began when she left a comment on one of my posts telling us about a woman she knew who was talking about this sort of thing in a way that seemed wacky. The comment reminded me that in the fall of 2009 I had heard some references to this subject myself. At the time I didn’t pursue it, but in January I was drawn to find out more, and began googling, YouTube-viewing, and scribbling.
Now, the purpose of these two posts is not to debate the existence/non-existence of extraterrestrial beings; personally I have believed in their existence since I was a teenager (several!) decades ago, having read much of the documented evidence over the years. Anyone who follows the news in this regard has probably heard that many of the major world governments have released or are on the brink of releasing their documented evidence to this effect. So if anyone wants to leave a comment on this post or the next one, I ask that this not become that kind of a debate, and that even if you do not believe in their existence, I would like the discussion (if there is any) to be focused around what I am about to share with reference to the Vatican’s activities/knowledge and how you feel about it from a spiritual and/or theological viewpoint.
As a brief introduction, we can start with the comments from two years ago of Father José Gabriel Funes, Chief Vatican Astronomer:
Although apparently the Vatican made no official comment on Father Funes’ remarks, it seems to me that Father Funes was gently opening the gates to revealing the Vatican’s position – presenting the strong possibility of extraterrestrial life but with an emphasis on the fact that it would in no way be a contradiction to our Catholic faith. This has always been my own stance; we have a great and glorious Creator – why would we assume any limits on the majesty and extent of His creations in the universe? But notice the defensive reaction of the “man on the street” near the end of the video.
It never entered my mind that God’s relationship with non-earthly creatures should in any way affect my Catholic understanding of our earthly human salvation history. But I watched this video in which an American priest, Father Jonathan Morris, was interviewed on Fox News concerning the conference on alien life which took place in November 2009. It’s important, I think, to note that the Vatican did not simply send representatives to this week-long conference – the Vatican hosted it. Father Morris talks very excitedly and enthusiastically about the Catholic Church’s openness to the scientific discoveries concerning the existence of alien life, but says that the Vatican has not yet discovered alien life. We will see in Part II how this statement may conflict with some of my other findings. What intrigued me in Father Morris’ interview was that he said the wonderful discussions amongst scientists, philosophers and theologians centred around such topics as how the discovery of alien life might affect our Catholic understanding of creation, the doctrine of original sin, the Adam and Eve story, etc. Father Morris said, “…maybe our understanding of perennial truths needs to be updated…” and that perhaps it will require a “growing in our understanding of perennial truths… “ At that point, my question was, why? – apart from the magnificent growth in our understanding of the vastness and wonder of God’s creation – why would it possibly affect our Catholic understanding of original sin, etc.? We’ll explore that more, in Part II.