According to a recent Gallup poll, 30% of Americans believe alien spaceships have likely visited this planet — and that number is pretty consistent regardless of a person’s political leanings. Perhaps more surprisingly, a vast majority (75%, per a June 2019 Gallup poll) believe that some form of life exists in the universe beyond what we know on Earth.
And while the general public doesn’t yet seem to be at Fox Mulder “I want to believe” levels of certainty just yet, we do seem to be moving toward a more welcoming attitude about the prospect of alien life.
One institution you may be surprised to find has relatively open-minded views on the whole thing is the Catholic Church — or at least Jesuit Father Jose Funes, astronomer, and director of the Vatican Observatory. According to coverage in the Catholic Review, Father Funes (a Pope Benedict XVI appointee) told a Vatican newspaper that believing in extraterrestrial life isn’t necessarily a contradiction with the teachings of the Church.
What if aliens are just part of God's creation?
In that Catholic Review piece, Funes is quoted as positing that belief in the possibility of aliens isn’t a threat to faith but a marker of it, noting that it’s not humanity’s place to limit God’s creative freedom. “To use St. Francis’ words,” Funes went on to say, “if we consider earthly creatures as ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters,’ why can’t we also speak of an ‘extraterrestrial brother?'”
It’s not just Father Funes who has broached this controversial subject. The Society of Catholic Scientists echoes much of what Funes believes, including that if such life were to exist, it should be viewed as in line with God’s desire to create life beyond what we can support or know on Earth. And while the Society of Catholic Scientists acknowledges that much of their stance is based on the probable existence of simple life forms, given how many planets exist both within and beyond our known solar system, they do raise important theological questions about what it would mean if life as intelligent as humans were to be discovered. For instance, if a life form is intelligent, does it follow that such a life form would have free will and self-awareness (human attributes the Society of Catholic Scientists asserts would require the existence of a soul)?
These are all heady questions to be sure, but it’s encouraging that one of the world’s biggest denominations is at least attempting to wrestle with them.
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