Catholics search for life beyond Earth

An artist’s rendering of NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft, which is being developed for a launch sometime this decade (CNS/courtesy Johns Hopkins APL via NASA)

Are humans alone or are we one rational species among many in the universe? It’s a question both scientists and theologians are exploring. Source: Crux.

And it is scientific discoveries that are energising the queries not just about the possibility of rational, or intelligent, life, but also about God’s role in life elsewhere and if there may be an incarnational experience beyond Earth.

Since 1992, over 4000 exoplanets have been discovered orbiting stars light years beyond the solar system and are considered confirmed by scientists, according to NASA.

The most interest is in those exoplanets found to be similar to Earth and located in the “Goldilocks Zone” around stars — where it is likely to be neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist and other conditions appear to be just right for life as we know it to have developed.

“What we have found is what we think are biological essential ingredients for making a living planet — from a chemistry point of view water and organic molecules — are very common,” Professor Karin I. Öberg, who is Catholic and professor of astronomy at Harvard University, told CNS. She explored her work in a presentation at the Society of Catholic Scientists’ annual conference in June in Washington.

Outside of scientific quests lies the significant question about God’s plan for creation. Theologian Christopher Baglow, director of the Science and Religion Initiative at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame, addressed the conference. He said it is only possible to offer “faithful speculation” about what God has in mind for life elsewhere.

“Basically we have a situation where the Church has not taught anything definitively about that, so we have no doctrine to rely on,” he said.

Professor Baglow said the question comes down to trying to understand what God’s relationship with creation and redemption might be with any rational species that may exist beyond Earth.

While some theologians and even some scientists question the value of searching for life beyond Earth, Professor Baglow said that in light of his Catholic faith, it’s a worthwhile endeavour to explore the relationship God might have with all of life. It’s “faith seeking understanding,” he said.


The search for life beyond Earth is as much theological as it is scientific (CNS via Crux)  

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