Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Vatican: God Doesn't Mind If You Believe in Extraterrestrials

From the AP:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Believing that the universe may contain alien life does not contradict a faith in God, the Vatican's chief astronomer said in an interview published Tuesday.

The Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, was quoted as saying the vastness of the universe means it is possible there could be other forms of life outside Earth, even intelligent ones.

"How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?" Funes said. "Just as we consider earthly creatures as 'a brother,' and 'sister,' why should we not talk about an 'extraterrestrial brother'? It would still be part of creation."


Dolphin, in a discussion at Music City Bloggers (where I first learned of this story) argues convincingly that the existence of intelligent space aliens muddies the theological waters:

Orthodox Christianity affirms that people are broken and/or that creation as a whole is broken. Does "people" include extraterrestrials? Does "creation" refer to the earth or the cosmos? More significantly, Christians profess that our salvation is inextricably linked to two events in human history: the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Most Christians believe or assume that a proper relationship with God depends on one being aware of these events. That intelligent beings living several light years away would be aware of two moments in the history of a far-off planet is very unlikely. Faced with this problem, one might assume that Jesus was not unique, but was one of many "local incarnations" of Christ—God present in every form of intelligent life throughout the cosmos. Dolphin asks, "If I accept a martian Christ*, but not Jesus, then could I, as an earthling, still be saved?"

It's a fun theological discussion. But even the best theology is largely an exercise in speculation. Personally, I have enough faith in God's love and grace to assume that God will ulimately redeem the entire cosmos, space aliens and all, even if I don't understand all the details.

* As a young child, I believed that, after Jesus ascended to heaven, he again became incarnate as a baby, this time born of a Martian mother. He then, I reasoned, did the same thing on Mars that he had done on earth.


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