VATICAN LETTER Nov-4-2005 (950 words) Backgrounder. With photo. xxxi
Do space aliens have souls? Inquiring minds can check Jesuit's book
By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Galaxy-gazing scientists surely wonder about what kind of impact finding life or intelligent beings on another planet would have on the world.
But what sort of effect would it have on Catholic beliefs? Would Christian theology be rocked to the core if science someday found a distant orb teeming with little green men, women or other intelligent forms of alien life? Would the church send missionaries to spread the Gospel to aliens? Could aliens even be baptized? Or would they have had their own version of Jesus and have already experienced his universal or galactic plan of salvation?
Curious Catholics need not be space buffs to want answers to these questions and others when they pick up a 48-page booklet by a Vatican astronomer.
Through the British-based Catholic Truth Society, U.S. Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno has penned his response to what he says are questions he gets from the public "all the time" when he gives talks on his work with the Vatican Observatory.
Titled "Intelligent Life in the Universe? Catholic Belief and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life," the pocket-sized booklet is the latest addition to the society's "Explanations Series," which explores Catholic teaching on current social and ethical issues.
Brother Consolmagno told Catholic News Service that the whole question of how Catholicism would hold up if some form of life were discovered on another planet has piqued people's curiosity "for centuries."
He said his aim with the booklet was to reassure Catholics "that you shouldn't be afraid of these questions" and that "no matter what we learn, it doesn't invalidate what we already know" and believe. In other words, scientific study and discovery and religion enrich one another, not cancel out each other.
If new forms of life were to be discovered or highly advanced beings from outer space were to touch down on planet Earth, it would not mean "everything we believe in is wrong," rather, "we're going to find out that everything is truer in ways we couldn't even yet have imagined," he said.
The Book of Genesis describes two stories of creation, and science, too, has more than one version of how the cosmos may have come into being.
"However you picture the universe being created, says Genesis, the essential point is that ultimately it was a deliberate, loving act of a God who exists outside of space and time," Brother Consolmagno said in his booklet.
"The Bible is divine science, a work about God. It does not intend to be physical science" and explain the making of planets and solar systems, the Jesuit astronomer wrote.
Pope John Paul II once told scientists, "Truth does not contradict truth," meaning scientific truths will never eradicate religious truths and vice versa.
"What Genesis says about creation is true. God did it; God willed it; and God loves it. When science fills in the details of how God did it, science helps get a flavor of how rich and beautiful and inventive God really is, more than even the writer of Genesis could ever have imagined," Brother Consolmagno wrote.
The limitless universe "might even include other planets with other beings created by that same loving God," he added. "The idea of there being other races and other intelligences is not contrary to traditional Christian thought.
"There is nothing in Holy Scripture that could confirm or contradict the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe," he wrote.
Brother Consolmagno said that, like scientists, people of faith should not be afraid of saying "I just don't know."
Human understanding "is always incomplete. It is crazy to underestimate God's ability to create in depths of ways that we will never completely understand. It is equally dangerous to think that we understand God completely," he said in his booklet.
He told CNS that his booklet tries to show "the fun of thinking" about what it would mean if God had created more than life on Earth. Such speculation "is very worthwhile if it makes us reflect on things we do know and have taken for granted," he said.
He said asking such questions as "Would aliens have souls?" or "Does the salvation of Christ apply to them?" helps one "appreciate what it means for us to have a soul" and helps one better "recognize what the salvation of Christ means to us."
Brother Consolmagno said he tried to show in the booklet that "the church is not afraid of science" and that Catholics, too, should be unafraid and confident in confronting all types of speculation, no matter how "far out" and spacey it may be.
For science fiction fans, Trekkies, or telescope-toting space enthusiasts, the booklet's last chapter reveals where there are references to extraterrestrials in the Bible.
Brother Consolmagno said the Bible is also replete with references to or descriptions of "nonhuman intelligent beings" who worship God. For example, he said the Scriptures talk about angels, "sons of God" who took human wives, and "heavenly beings" that "shouted for joy" when God created the earth.
The booklet, however, offers no "hard and fast answers" to extraterrestrial life, since such speculation is "better served by science fiction or poetry than by definitions of science and theology," he wrote.
He said the booklet is meant "to put a smile on your face" and, perhaps, make people think twice about who could be peeking at Earth from alien telescopes far, far away.
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Editors: Readers in the United States and Canada can order this booklet and other CTS publications through the society's Web site, www.cts-online.org.uk, or by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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