The Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences, along with the Vatican Observatory, held its very first conference on astrobiology, a week long event which concluded yesterday.
Jesuit Father Jose Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, explained that "the questions of life's origins and of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe are very interesting and deserve serious consideration. These questions offer many philosophical and theological implications."
Father Funes reiterated what he has stated in the past - that the Catholic church has no problem with the idea of extraterrestrial life. The Church can not put a limit to God's creativity. All creation falls under God, and any intelligent extra-terrestrial life, no matter how diverse, would be brothers and sisters in God's expanded family of spirit children.
However, Paul Davies, Arizona State University cosmologist, believes that discovery of intelligent extraterrestrials would create a philosophical dilemma for Christians since "they believe that God became incarnate in the form of Jesus Christ in order to save humankind, not dolphins or chimpanzees or little green men on other planets."
While some fundamentalist sects may have a problem, Father Funes believes that there is no theological crisis here. In an interview with the Catholic News Service in May 2008, he states that aliens may not need redemption as maybe they never lost God's fellowship. Father Funes pointed to the parable of the lost sheep: "We who belong to the human race could really be that lost sheep, the sinners who need a pastor." Thus, that is why God became man in Jesus on this planet - it was we who needed saving the most.
Alternatively, if the aliens also need saving, Father Funes states feels that Jesus' sacrifice would apply not only to humans, but to all intelligent beings in the universe. I am reminded of the gospel passage where Jesus tells his disciples that "other sheep have I" - maybe that includes aliens on extrasolar planets. Jesus picked Earth as the starting point. Either way, Jesus was God incarnate and sacrificed only once.
The Catholic Church is not the only Christian sect that accepts the concept of aliens. For instance in the LDS Church accepts the idea of extraterrestrials, though they feel they will be humanoid because all intelligent advanced life will be created in God's image, as were we. Unofficially some Mormons talk about how Jesus after his resurrection went to teach "other sheep" which includes aliens, and how this proves that the Earth is the worst of all the planets - we are the only ones to crucify Jesus.
Of course, when we say "in God's image" do we really know what He meant by that? Could it be a spiritual image and not necessarily a physical one?
Butt, Riazat. "Vatican Ponders Extraterrestrials." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. 11 November 2009. Web. 11 November 2009. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/11/vatican-extra-terrestrials-catholic>
Maxwell, Neal A. A Wonderful Flood of Light. Bookcraft Pubs, 1990: 25.
Thavis, John. "Vatican astronomer says if aliens exist, they may not need redemption." Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service. 14 May 2008. Web. 11 November 2009. <http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0802629.htm>
Image credit: Futurama, 20th Century Fox Television.