Aliens, Aquinas, and Jimmy Akin: Evangelizing a Mysterious World

In today’s polarized atmosphere, Jimmy Akin’s unique and popular podcast—neither a debunking operation nor a series of thrilling rumors—is a breath of extraordinarily fresh air.

Apologist and author Jimmy Akin is the host of the popular "Mysterious World" podcast. (Images: jimmyakin.com and sqpn.com)

Last year, like many people, I craved more human voices in my locked-down life, and I turned to podcasts to fill the void. One day, the algorithms suggested an episode of some show called “Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World”.

The next thing I knew, I had been sitting with my mouth agape for over an hour as Jimmy Akin’s comfortable voice narrated how the US Army trained soldiers during the Cold War to spy on the enemy using psychic powers… and it worked. (Well, at least some of the time, and better than expected. More on that later.)

Other episodes of “Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World” cover ghost hauntings, alien abductions, bigfoot sightings, historical assassinations, Marian apparitions…. Anything mysterious is fair game.

Recently, I got to connect with Jimmy Akin by email to ask him about this unusual show. Produced by the Catholic non-profit organization Star Quest Production Network (SQPN), it’s a Top 25 documentary podcast in the US on Apple Podcasts and has around 100,000 listeners per episode.

Akin himself is well-known as a Catholic apologist: author of many books, senior apologist at Catholic Answers, and regular radio guest on Catholic Answers Live. As if this weren’t enough to fill the 168 hours in a week, in 2018, he and co-host (and CEO of SQPN) Domenico Bettinelli decided to create “Mysterious World”. “Every Friday, ‘Mysterious World’ looks at fascinating mysteries—both natural and supernatural—from the twin perspectives of faith and reason,” Akin summarized for me.

Those fascinating mysteries include topics from science (why do we sleep: that is, go limp and have delusions several hours a day?), religion (is there good evidence for the Fatima apparitions, based on both faith and reason?), history (was King Tut murdered?), aliens and UFOs (were Betty and Barney Hill really abducted by extraterrestrials?), and the paranormal (did the aforementioned psychic spying really work?).

When I asked Akin if he has a favorite, he said, “One of the mysteries I find most intriguing is the paranormal. The Catholic faith holds that the supernatural is real, and it’s always a delight when we’re able to cover a ghost story that has evidence backing it up.

“Similarly, the scientific evidence for psychic functioning turns out to be greater than I initially thought,” he continued, “and doctors of the Church like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas held that God actually built weak, natural abilities into human nature that today would be classified as precognition and telekinesis.”

Back to psychic spies for a moment. In episodes 102 and 103 of “Mysterious World”, Jimmy and Dom tell the story of how the CIA and military trained a small team to collect intelligence by simply “seeing” things from a distance—an alleged psychic ability known as “remote viewing.”

They even relate how one experiment—in which the practice target was a secret underground CIA facility—was so successful, the CIA believed someone must have broken into the facility. The psychic had not only found the secret underground bunker, he had correctly read the names on folders inside a filing cabinet, with his mind.

Thrills like this partly explain why the show has sometimes (according to Akin) hit the #13 spot in the documentary category on Apple Podcasts, competing with well-funded outfits like NPR. But on the other hand, aren’t topics like bigfoot sightings and alien abductions a little, well, niche? And when they are covered from a Catholic perspective, doubly so? How has this obscure show grown so popular?

For starters, in today’s polarized atmosphere, “Mysterious World” is a breath of extraordinarily fresh air. It manages to be respectful, intellectually rigorous, and a lot of fun. Akin summed it up for me himself: “We seek to be open minded, charitable, and fair, while using critical thinking to arrive at the truth about the wonderful, mysterious world in which we live.”

But, from a Catholic standpoint, when it comes to topics like psychic abilities, is it possible to be too open minded? Aren’t alleged psychics usually frauds, or worse, might they be working with demons?

Akin takes all those possibilities into account, as he does for every mystery. The explanations he considers in the course of an episode usually include hoax, illusion, demons, and natural reality, and each one gets fair treatment.

“The evidence for [remote viewing] being real is significant,” concludes Jimmy near the end of episode 103. He points to a 1995 study indicating that the results from the US intelligence experiments were well beyond random chance.

He also points out that Aquinas believed God built weak psychic powers into human nature. “At least on its face, the [remote viewing] phenomenon presents itself as a natural one,” Jimmy continues in the episode, “in which case Aquinas would say you could use it, but we also need to be on our guard, because I can’t eliminate the possibility of demonic activity.”

On the other hand, Akin often reiterates that we shouldn’t rush to the conclusion that demons explain everything.

“It is superstitious if you dismiss everything you don’t understand as demonic,” says Akin in episode 103. “It also harms the Gospel, because it makes Christians look like superstitious buffoons when they do that. And it is factually inaccurate, because it gives the devil too much credit.”

In fact, he and Bettinelli have a running joke: whenever they mention the possibility that some phenomenon could be demons, they both chime in together with a playfully ironic, “because… it’s always demons!”

The slogan, “It’s always aliens,” is at least equally common, though here again, the hosts neither fully endorse nor dismiss the possibility of extraterrestrial visitors. Jimmy reassures Catholic listeners that the possibility of intelligent life on other planets wouldn’t contradict the Faith at all; it would just mean that God created them, too. (The whole of episode 55 is devoted to considering the theological implications of intelligent species on other planets.)

On the other hand, Akin is not overly eager to ascribe every strange light in the sky or every memory of a weird encounter “recovered” under hypnosis, to extraterrestrial beings. He sharpens Occam’s razor and comes back to the simplest explanation that fits all the available evidence, while still remaining open to other possibilities if the available evidence changes. The podcast is thus neither a debunking operation nor a series of thrilling rumors. The show’s Twitter bio says it best: “Neither skeptical nor credulous.”

But even if a lot of these alleged paranormal things are real and non-demonic, why should Catholics care about them? Is it a waste of time to delve into these topics that are not strictly necessary to our Faith or (for most people) our daily lives?

I probed this question with Akin himself, and received the kind of careful, balanced response I’ve come to expect from listening to the show. “Catholics shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that they should be interested only in knowledge that is ‘strictly necessary,’” he said in an email. “That would be a scrupulous and harmful approach.”

“It would prevent us,” he adds, “from marveling at aspects of God’s creation, prevent us from acquiring a pool of background knowledge that could be helpful in the future, and prevent us from learning things that will improve life for ourselves and others, such as new medical treatments. The healthy approach is to embrace a love of learning…. Just don’t do anything immoral in getting or using the knowledge.”

For example, says Akin, “I may be curious what the weather will be tomorrow, but I should be satisfied with the forecasts that are widely available. It would be immoral for me to conjure up a demon to get a more precise weather forecast.”

In fact, the natural curiosity that leads people to wonder about the mysteries of space or history might also lead to curiosity about the Faith. When I asked him how this show fits with his work as an apologist, Akin said, “’Mysterious World’ has an evangelistic dimension. By looking at every mystery from the perspectives of faith and reason, we ensure that the program has a Christian and Catholic worldview and that it demonstrates the critical thinking skills used in apologetics.”

“We have many listeners who are not Catholic or Christian but who have contacted us and said that they have gained new respect for the Faith as a result of listening to the show. We also have many listeners who have said that the integrated, faith-and-reason approach has helped them develop a greater appreciation for the harmony between the two and see how faith has nothing to fear from reason,” he continued.

“As a form of soft evangelization, the show has a ‘come for the mysteries, stay for the gospel’ approach.”

The approach succeeds. Every episode contains a “mysterious feedback” segment in which Akin and Bettinelli air messages from listeners, either praising or critiquing prior episodes. Many, many times, the feedback acknowledges the fairness of their approach to both sides of every topic, even when one side is easily laughed off by mainstream society (for example, for believing the earth is flat).

“We’ve had people who have disagreed with the conclusions I’ve come to, and that’s fine,” says Akin. “A diversity of views and a vigorous discussion about them is a good thing. … The great majority of listeners recognize the care I’m taking.

“For example, we did a couple of episodes on the 9/11 attacks, which are very controversial. As always, we sought to be scrupulously fair to all perspectives, and we got feedback from people who disagreed with my conclusions who still appreciated how we handled the subject.”

When I asked how he decides what topics to cover on the show, Akin replied, “For me, the fundamental requirement is that an episode topic be interesting. If I find a subject fascinating, I’ll be able to share that enthusiasm with the audience and make it compelling for them as well.”

As for what they don’t cover, “A limiting factor is that we work to keep the show family friendly,” says Akin. “This means that we don’t often do topics that could be disturbing, such as true crime. When we do touch on them, we keep our presentation clinical and non-sensationalistic. We also let listeners know in advance so that parents can make prudent decisions for their families.”

On a related note, Jimmy told me, “It was a very welcome surprise when we started hearing from parents who said they listen with their children, that their children are big fans of the show, and that it’s helping build their children’s faith and reasoning skills.”

It’s a welcome surprise to me that I found this show at all, despite not previously having been particularly interested in the topics it covers. Listening to each of Jimmy and Dom’s well-scripted, accessible conversations, I become immersed in something new and begin to appreciate it. Over time, I gain a sense of my smallness in a universe that has lived many thousands of years before me, and of which humans have discovered but a miniscule part.

And this is a comfort. Sometimes, the Catholics in my community seem wrapped up in apocalyptic anxiety: will COVID precautions keep us imprisoned forever, or will China nuke us all, or will Jesus come back tomorrow? What’s actually true, anyway? In the midst of it, “Mysterious World” goes on releasing episodes every Friday, reminding me that more wonderful things are found in heaven and earth than in all your clickbait-y news articles, Horatio.

The episode Operation Northwoods reminds me that government conspiracies are nothing unusual. The fascist coup in the USA reminds me that conspiracies against the government are nothing unusual. The Greenbrier Ghost reminds me that life on this earth is not all that matters, anyway. Life on Mars teaches me that life on this earth is not all the life there is anyway (yes, listen to that one).

All of it put together reminds me that disasters happen all the time, and they are usually survivable. Not all is right with the world, but God is still in His heaven. He has given us the truths of the Faith and the light of reason, but He has not spoiled the fun by giving it all to us at once. We can still wonder. We can still explore our mysterious world.

(Note: Quotes from episodes of the podcast are taken from outlines available to patrons of StarQuest on Patreon and may not precisely match the recorded episodes, though the substance is the same.)


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About Rachel Hoover 9 Articles
Rachel Hoover lives and writes in Nashville, Tennessee.

14 Comments

  1. I don’t know, Rachel. I found this article disturbing and concerning. There is no Scriptural support for humans having abilities like “precognition and telekinesis”, except when carried out by either God or demonic spirits. Sometimes these strange abilities may seem good, but are of demonic origin.

    In Acts:16-18, a girl followed Paul and his companions for many days crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation”. Truth is, Paul and his companions were servants of the Most High God, and they were proclaiming the way of salvation. Yet, the girl was actually greatly annoying to Paul and his companions, drawing attention away from their mission and to her ability to foretell who they were and what they were doing. In fact, the girl was possessed of a demon. We know this because Paul finally turned around and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

    We must be careful when giving ourselves to strange teachings and abilities that may seem good but are of demons. Great discernment is necessary. Relying on Scripture is critical. The question to discern the source of these abilities is: Does this seeming supernatural ability glorify Jesus Christ or man?

    • I also have some concerns about people developing an unhealthy interest in psychic phenomenon. It can lead to scary places but I think it’s good to keep an open mind. As Catholics, we believe in the Communion of Saints & Guardian Angels. We also believe in demons. So it seems like a subject where discernment is really critical.
      Precognition is not unscriptural but neither is it something we should seek out on our own. If God wants us to have supernatural knowledge, He’s free to do that.
      I very much enjoy Mr. Akin’s podcasts & recommend them highly.

  2. Jimmy Akin’s podcast on the mysterious world should be better and widely known among many Catholics and multitudes of Americans these days. Having been fed with so many conspiracies like satanic Hollywood Democrats eating aborted fetuses, JFK Jr. coming back to life to proclaim Trump president, or Archbishop Vigano’s retaliatory unveiling of top secret Vatican evil plots after he has been mothballed by Pope Francis, those who believe and promote these absurdities which includes a good number of Catholics, should listen to Jimmy Akin’s podcast instead.

    • Shame on you for Eighth Commandment defying presumption in characterizing the testimony of Archbishop Vigano as “retaliatory’ let alone “absurd.”

  3. On the EWTN show “On Location” Demonologist Adam Blai gave a presentation about exorcism. It is available on YouTube and is titled: “Exorcism in the Modern Church and How to Keep the Doors to the Demonic Closed.” The URL is:
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    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKnGdr9WMqs
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    Adam Blai has a mental health background. He went into the paranormal with things like the ghost hunting and paranormal investigation shows that popularize the paranormal. He said that people in this area have personal problems related to their involvement in this area.

    • Hi Greg, thank you for reading and for your comment! I recall that Jimmy Akin mentions during some episodes of his show that he’s opposed to those ghost hunting shows that over-sensationalize things for entertainment. He takes a very different, careful, critical approach to every mystery he considers, making sure he is informed by the Faith at every step. And again, as I mention above, he fully acknowledges the possibility of demonic activity and steers very far clear of sensationalizing THAT for entertainment. It’s very refreshing and wholesome, and definitely worth a listen to see how he handles the subjects in a way that strengthens, rather than diminishes, faith.

  4. As a physicist, I tend to find it unfortunate when Catholics demonstrate little resistance when gravitating to beliefs without considering their potential for contradicting major tenets of a Catholic faith. It seems they’re more interested in not being embarrassed to be Catholic in front of religion haters rather than be true missionaries. The notion of extraterrestrial life is completely unfounded on scientific grounds, and potentially evil when expanded to promote an evolutionary concept of human perfection.

    The appeal of having “more advanced life” forms telling us how to live assumes that the endowed truths, which are woven into our divinely created human nature, expressed in the words of Our Savior are quaint, outmoded, and inadequate for those minds continuously in search of validating their own sense of being in some ways better than those who are not a part of their search.

    Open mindedness can surely be carried too far. When we open a can at both ends, it all falls out. We might decide to remain unreflective concerning Old Testament references to our uniqueness in the universe, but we can, at least, apply some real science to understanding the razor’s edge of more than twenty interactive physical variables that are necessary to sustain life on a habitable planet. Among these are a planet of the exact gravitational mass; an oxygen rich atmosphere; liquid water and large continental land masses; a G2 dwarf home star of the right temperature and mass; an orbital path that is neither too close or too far from the star; a single moon able to stabilize the tilt of the planet’s axis and the movement of its tides; a magnetic field strong enough to deflect the sun’s harmful radiation; and a position in the very narrow habitable region of a spiral galaxy. All the necessary factors for life appearing at the same time on the same planet are conservatively estimated as one in ten to the negative 23. The possibility of even a single inhabitable planet other than our own in the entire universe is almost completely non-existent.

    The temptation might remain to resort to a science fiction writer’s fiction that life can be of a sort that doesn’t involve carbon-based protein molecules, but it is helpful not to lose sight of the fact that there is no such thing. Physics and chemistry work the same way throughout the entire universe as they do right here. It is important to resist being swayed by even some credentialed scientists, of an anti-religious inclination, exhibiting uninhibited silliness when the temptation presents itself to side with half-baked ideas that can be used to insult religious faith.

    • Hi Edward, thank you for reading and for your comment. The scientific points you mention are very interesting. I think I’ll just let Jimmy Akin speak for himself and show that he doesn’t ignore physics by any means (I’ve learned a lot of basic physics concepts that I missed in my formal schooling through listening to the show) and takes a very level-headed approach to the idea of extraterrestrial life, from the perspective of both faith and science together. The ultimate message of the show, as I see it, is that God is amazing and can do all kinds of astonishing and unimagineable things if He chooses… and we should marvel at that with humble admiration, but without losing sight of the fact that God is also consistent and rational. There’s this sense that, because so many people claim to have encountered aliens, we should look at those claims in light of reason and see whether there could be any truth to them, and if not, how are the alleged events to be explained? Similarly, a lot of people claim to have had spiritual experiences or seen apparitions of Our Lady, and we should consider those claims the same way. If all the alien ones turn out to be fake and some of the Marian ones turn out to be true, so be it: we just wanted to know the truth!

      • Apparently you missed my point so I’ll be more blunt. I don’t mean to be offensive, but belief in life on other planets is flat out stupid, and people who claim to have met aliens are flat out lunatics, and it is flat out foolish not to understand this reality for what it is. It is also insulting to the dignity of the Mother of God to broach any level of equivalency between an authentic apparition and even consider for a moment giving credibility to such deranged psychotic or fantasy encounters with non-existent aliens, claims often motivated to fleece money from the childishly gullible. It is true that there are phony apparitions that exist for the similar reasons, but an authentic encounter with heaven is the exact opposite of the idiocy and flat-out evilness that motivates anyone to pursue the stupidity of Star Trek fantasies.
        Because we work so hard at sin denial, self-deception is the most common of human experiences, right up there with breathing. We make a habit of lying to ourselves and pursuing forms of false humility, like pretentious “open-mindedness” because it enables us to sustain our habits of not focusing on the requirements of true humility which would require such difficult things as dealing with our sins and turning away from them. A phony apparition like Medjugorje goes on and on, despite obvious idiotic statements being attributed by the seers to Our Holy Mother, proving instantaneously its obvious falsehood, because its devotees are more concerned with feeling specially favored by heaven than they are in humbling truth. The reasons for rejecting truth or looking to find ways to deflect ourselves from finding truth should never be hard to understand.

  5. I found this about three months ago and listen to it everyday. It’s probably my favorite show (TV, radio, or otherwise) of the last decade, endlessly entertaining and informative. Jimmy Akin is our generation’s Fulton Sheen.

  6. When I watched the purported fighter jet video capture of several dancing, frolicking Ufos perhaps a playful entertainment for our AF, thoughts of what delightful creatures these outerspace folks must be, how advanced that after decades of sightings, alleged kidnappings of a few, their friendly return to safety on planet Earth, and yet not one shred of visible evidence left except for that within the extraordinary imagings of Ufo devotees, my wont is to say, like Seneca, that these visionaries by strength of mind “walk through the universe [mundum circuire; 3.1], to celebrate the works of the gods [3.5], and to free us from fear induced by natural events” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

  7. I should have said not a shred of ‘tangible’ evidence of Ufos is available. The images, lights and so forth are visual indications of something, not evidence. What makes the Ufo scenario doubtful is theology, the unique presence of our Creator Savior on this Earth. Intelligent life must be rational life. If it were to exist it by all indications exists beyond our solar system somewhere in the universe likely millions of light years distant. Conventional appearing craft cannot physically travel at required speeds for example beyond that of light. A mass of energy transcending the laws of physics. Nor have the wavelength radio astronomy devices at the National Astronomy Center Plain of San Agustin in all these years reported data that indicates astronomical travel or objects.

  8. Aikin discussions possibilities referencing the amazing omnipotence of God. What’s within the realm of possibility may also be highly improbable. Some things are impossible, the first that God could not exist. Others strain the parameters of rational order

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