Theology can help guide speculation about aliens, professor says

By Christine Rousselle for CNA


Washington D.C., Jun 8, 2021 / 16:01 pm (CNA).

Fundamental theological principles provide the framework for any doctrinal questions over the discovery of extraterrestrial beings, a theologian claimed in a lecture on June 5.

While the Church does not have any specific teachings on extraterrestrial life, theologians can speculate on the existence of these beings and their nature due to the “underlying principles” which influence Church doctrine, said Dr. Christopher Baglow, director of the Science and Religion Initiative at the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life, on Saturday.

“We have something, in a way, more essential than doctrine to guide us: What St. John Henry Newman identified as the permanent elements in the development of doctrine, the underlying principles which animate doctrines,” he said.

“According to Newman, these principles are so important that they are the very life of doctrines,” and “an even better test of heresy than doctrine,” Baglow said.

Regarding the possibility of an extraterrestrial incarnation, Baglow cited sacramentality and solidarity for why it could have occurred.

If rational life existed outside of earth and were to be discovered, it would not be theologically inconsistent to believe that the extraterrestrial rational beings were creatures of God in need of a savior to achieve salvation, he said. Baglow referred to this as “incarnational plurality,” adding that God would not be limited by constraints.

Baglow delivered the keynote lecture, titled “Extraterrestrial Life and Catholic Theology,” on June 5 at a conference for the Society of Catholic Scientists in Washington, D.C.

The fourth annual conference of the society was held June 4-6, and focused on “Extraterrestrials, A.I., and Minds Beyond the Human.” It featured lectures and presentations on the theological implications of extraterrestrial life and artificial intelligence. The conference was broadcast online, as international members were not permitted to travel to the United States.

“When we talk about extraterrestrial rational species (ETRS), we are not discussing angelic creatures, but embodied ones. In particular, animals, rational animals, like us,” he explained.

These species would likely have a society, with differing cultures, similar to humans. Baglow pointed out that in the animal world, more intelligent and rational creatures tend to be more social, so it would make sense that the ETRS beings would be social as well.

The ETRS would have liturgy and rituals, although Baglow said that what these would entail is “beyond my imagination.”

These species would have “some history” where God made Himself accessible to them, said Baglow.

If these species were “in need of salvation, there would be a real history of divine engagement and self-revelation with that species,” with laws, prophets, “music-makers and poets,” elders and sages, and finally, there would be a member of the species who was “fully ETRS, but fully God.”

“It would be this one who would draw together and fulfill all (that) the great ones spoke and did. Because God can be no more perfectly mediated than by mediating himself as a divine person who is fully ETRS,” said Baglow.

According to the Society of Catholic Scientists website, “The Society exists as a place where Catholic scientists can share their knowledge, perspectives, and intellectual and spiritual gifts with each other for their mutual enrichment, and with fellow Catholics and the wider community.”

The society was founded in 2016 with only six members, and has grown with now more than 1400 scientists, students, and other intellectuals in more than 50 countries.

Lawrence Principe, professor of the humanities at Johns Hopkins University, delivered the St. Albert Award Lecture on June 5.

Other scheduled conference speakers included Jonathan Lunine, director of the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science; Karin Öberg, a Catholic convert, professor of astronomy and director of undergraduate studies at Harvard University; and Simon Conway Morris, chair of evolutionary palaeobiology at the University of Cambridge.

The society says it “hopes to provide role models and mentors for young Catholics” who are studying the sciences in universities. All scientists who are practicing Catholics are permitted to join.

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  1. Nope, nope, nope. There cannot be any “incarnational plurality”. There cannot be “many christs”.
    I am sure, that’s heresy.

    • Even St. Thomas Aquinas agreed that the Son could incarnate a second time in another human nature. See ST III.Q3.A7. Incarnating in an alien rational nature would pose no obstacle to the divine power nor to Catholic faith or theology.

  2. Dr Christopher Baglow is not speculating theologically on intelligent life, actually he implies aliens with reasonable capacity, since June Bugs have some degree of intelligence, and how such rational aliens might be culturally developed liturgy and all. Rather he’s speculating philosophically. Theology as we possess it centered on Christ’s revelation would have us understand that Christ’s incarnation in our world is entirely unique to Mankind, created in his image, nowhere else alluded to in the Cosmos. No one else saves but Christ. Nowhere else has he been crucified and risen. There cannot be others in his image [if they are rational they are in his image and created by him]. If alleged sightings of UFOs excite the creative imagination of Dr Baglow that’s fine. Although he mistakenly confuses theology centered on the Deposit of Faith as open to dreamland. Notre Dame, once a true Catholic University has gone the way of Fr Hesburgh’s distancing from Catholic doctrinal principles. Aside from a handful of orthodox staff, any sort of nonsense can result from the Hesburghian Illuminati.

    • As known Aquinas does admit to the possibility of the Divinity assuming two different human natures since matter is divisible though not the divine nature (ST 3 7 Ad 1). Although I would add that what is conceded within the realm of possibility doesn’t always correspond to the realm of plausibility.

      • For those interested in reading Aquinas on the issue the precise location is
        ST III Q3 Article 7 Whether One Divine Person Can Assume Two Human Natures Ad 1 [reply to objection 1].

  3. We read: “These species would have ‘some history’ where God made Himself accessible to them, said Baglow.” How might this be true, or not? In an earlier posting (June 26, 2020), your truly proposed such as the following:

    (1) Have any possible and technologically advanced civilizations in the cosmos also been GIVEN, by the transcendent God, a very different washroom key—-for the Beatific Vision? Is there a glass-ceiling threshold for this kind of “intelligence,” gifted and governed more from above, than from below (wrap-around “evolution” across the cosmos)? And personal, rather than the “species” (a preoccupation of post-Christian historicism)?

    (2) How might any implied cosmically-multiple sort of polygenesis square with terrestrial Original Sin (just a quaint local narrative?) plus the SINGULAR redemptive act of Christ—-a “person” both human and divine, fully both—-on Calvary? Is our familiar and universal capacity to sin (!) against God (!) a unique and more-than-technical endowment, inseparable from a freely given, alarming, and unique Redemption by the Creator (!)?

    (3) Or, is any such Redemption both multiple across space and time and still ONE ACTION (not mass produced) just as every Mass (capital M!) around the world is both the unbloody renewal/extension of the SINGULAR Calvary, while also “numerically distinct”? Or, does the heart of God expose itself only here in backwater Jerusalem perhaps because none of those other hypothetical intelligences ever “fell”?

    (4) Or, instead and with Blessed Duns Scotus, might Christ have become incarnate here (and even elsewhere?) ABSENT our particular need for salvation history, by an action of overflowing divine charity that includes, but is not limited to our need for damage control?

    (5) Or, despite hypothetical technical superiority elsewhere, is our access toward beatitude still a most singular gift into the cosmos? Pope Francis would readily baptize a Martian, he once said, but Pope St. John Paul II proposed a distinctive “ONTOLOGICAL LEAP” (sometimes fatally mistranslated [cross-dressed?] as only an “evolutionary” leap?):

    “The moment of transition to the SPIRITUAL cannot be the object of this kind of observation [meaning the natural sciences], which nevertheless can discover at the experimental level a series of very valuable signs indicating what is specific to the human being. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-awareness and self-reflection, of moral conscience, freedom, or again of aesthetic and religious experience fall within the competence of philosophical analysis and reflection, while theology brings out its ultimate meaning according to the Creator’s plans” (“Message on Evolution to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.” Oct. 1996).

    Just a few opening questions about possible ETI—what it might be and what it might not be. With Hamlet: “. . . that is the question.”

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