As noted in an earlier post, the document When SETI Succeeds: The Impact of High-Information Contact contains an interesting essay entitled, “Roman Catholic Views of Extraterresrial Intelligence” by Douglas A. Vakoch.  The essay begins on page 181 of the PDF file. It’s worth a read, even if, like me, you’re not catholic.  A few thoughts:

1. The strengths of the article in my mind are twofold:

  • it shows clearly that the Roman Catholic church has had, and does have, an open view of the ET life question. I point this out to note that this openness is NOT recent, as though in response to some impending disclosure or the influence of theistic evolution (though the latter may of course motivate catholic astronomers).
  • it also shows that the response of the Catholic church has been diverse–not every catholic thinker in the past or present was/is enthusiastic (or even interested) in the ET life question.

2. If one reads the article it is quite obvious that catholic theologians are NOT dealing with Scripture in their discussion.  That is, catholic theology (i.e., the priests quoted) isn’t concerned with the exegesis of the Bible.  This isn’t unusual or restricted to this topic. Most of the catholic theology I’ve read is peripheral to the study of biblical texts, grappling more with philosophical theology, logic, and canon law.  As such, if you want to get an idea of what certain catholic thinkers have thought about the question of intelligent ET life, this will be a nice overview.  If you’re looking for how to approach the question biblically, it won’t be much help at all.

3. The one exception to the above is that the article does in fact note a couple of theologians/priests who argued (as I do) that ET might be generally included in the benefits of the redemption of the whole cosmos (Colossians 1) and not under the fall.

4. The “principle of plenitude” (God’s omnipotence should not be limited to the creation of only one world) comes through clearly as a defense of the idea that God could have created other worlds.

5. Like so many evangelical Christians, a number of the theologians quoted wrongly based their understanding of the image of God to intelligence / rationality. It’s a poor position, especially for catholicism’s strong anti-abortion stance.

6. Despite the flaw above, some of these theologians did NOT have a problem with seeing ET as more endowed intellectually than humankind while not usurping divine imaging from humanity. This was interesting.

All in all, I’d recommend it.