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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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What Does a Priest Think About Space Aliens?

my-alien-hiAnthony came to me with questions for a school project.  They have to do with the possible existence of “outer space” aliens.

1. Do you believe that life exists on other planets in the universe?  Why or why not?

This question requires certain specificity in both the asking and in responding.  First, what do you mean by life?  Catholicism has always taught that there is extraterrestrial life and that it is sentient.  However, this is in reference to angelic beings:  both the good angels and the demons.  They are spiritual creatures, not a composite of soul and meat like us.  (Please note that atheistic authorities would object that we are only “thinking meat” and that there is no spiritual component.  It is somewhat ironic that these same “experts” would insist that there must be life elsewhere in the universe, although there is no proof at present.  Further, they suffer from a type of terrestrial racism because they suppose that all alien life must be akin to us, either biological or by extension, mechanical.)

Second, if you mean to exclude angelic creatures, then as a reasonable man I am well aware of both the Drake Equation and the Fermi Paradox.  Half of all stars in the universe may have earth-like planets, but this in itself only gives us a probability, not a certainty.  We suppose an understanding of the conditions for life, like water, but what if we are too restrictive?  Might there be a world where the climate is hellish and the denizens breathe sulfur?  We know that there are micro-organisms on our planet that are dependent upon methane.

Third, even if 100,000 planets in our own galaxy might sustain life as we know it, would such life exist by necessity and/or would it be sentient?  While I think it likely that there is something “out there” even if microbial, there is no corresponding guarantee that it would be sentient.  Catholicism associates consciousness with self-reflective thinking.  The scholastics viewed this as not merely a property of the brain but of the soul.  We might live in a universe of plants, bugs and cattle.  The reason no one answers our calls into space might be because of the distances, but such could also be due to the fact that no one is listening or that no one cares to respond.  Intelligence could be of two orders, if it exists:  one would be like the ant or bee.  They know a genuine sophistication and a civilization (of sorts) might develop.  But they would be largely robots.  Concepts like freedom or compassion might be meaningless to them.

The second scenario would allow for genuine sentience and such creatures, if they exist, would be ensouled.  Here I think of C.S. Lewis and his creatures of Mars who had not fallen from grace and the Venusians who were just now facing their moral test in the garden.  Would such creatures suffer from original sin?  If so, then how and would Christ’s redemptive work include them?  What this means is that they would be asked if they are redeemed or damned.

A recent suggestion for the celestial silence is the theory that instead of federations of planets, star faring societies tend to wipe out the competition before they can become a threat.  If true, then there might be an armada of asteroids being directed to us and our sun as I speak.  There is no guarantee that aliens will be benevolent.

To answer your question, personally, I do not know if there is alien life.  Mathematical probabilities might be wrong.  We could possibly be alone in the material universe.  I do not know God’s mind about this.  Of course, given the various string theories, might life still exist in another universe?  Hum, where is heaven and hell, precisely?  The speculation about other dimensions in science may bring us back to the truths in religion.

2. How would you react, if actual proof of alien life were discovered?

It represents no challenge to faith.  The Creator made it all.  I would probably respond by saying a loud and drawn out, Wooooow!

3. Should humans travel into space?

Certainly we should not neglect the issues of earth by doing so; but, yes, I think that missions into space are part of our developmental trajectory as a species.  It reflects an important element of man’s intelligent curiosity.  There are things to know and resources to exploit.  I think there should be a chaplain on the International Space Station.  Indeed, I would argue for permanent bases on the moon before we tackle the more difficult task of establishing settlements on Mars.  There is no world in our solar system apart from earth that is hospitable to human life.  Whether or not Mars or one of the moons of the gas giants can be terraformed is a topic for science fiction and the distant future.