In a recent article in the Vatican newspaper L'Oservatorio Romano readers were surprised to learned that belief in the possibility
of extraterrestrial life is not contrary to Catholic doctrine. Jose Gabriel Funes, the chief astronomer of the Vatican, was quoted, as saying: "there is no conflict between believing in God and the possibility of extraterrestrial life." The same astronomer added: "... just as there is a multiplicity of creatures on Earth, there can be beings elsewhere even intelligent ones created by God. This is not in conflict with our faith because we can't put limits on God's creative freedom." Funes' view point is, of course, sound theology. The infinite God who created and sustains the Universe is obviously not necessarily limited to populating a single speck of His vast domain with intelligent life.
Funes and theologians who share his point of view, however, entirely miss what I believe to be the more important issue: Would discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life jolt the Christian believer - not in his belief in God, but rather in his belief in his own religion? That is the real issue! I personally believe that it would. The average Christian still views mankind as the pinnacle of creation - made in the image and likeness of God. God Himself, after all, became one of us in the person of His divine and only begotten Son. Heaven is thought to be filled with saints i.e. humans in glory. The concept of space aliens joining us in the celestial kingdom is well beyond the mind set of traditional Christianity.
Could there be intelligent extraterrestrial life? Certainly, but not necessarily! Could our own true destiny involve the exploration and settlement of the entire Universe, if and when, technology makes that possible? God's gifts to mankind, may, after all, not be limited to the fruits of a single planet but extend as far as the heavens themselves reach. Maybe! Our inherent dignity as members of a rational created order which God Himself joined more than justifies such a view. In short - its all for us and ultimately all for God's greater glory.
There may simply be: men, angels (a type of intelligent extraterrestrial life) and God Himself, which is all that Scripture and Christian tradition identify. If there is more, then the next questions become:
1. What is their role in the creative scheme?
2. What is their relationship to us, particularly in the event of an eventual encounter?
It is clear that traditional Christianity has no answers to these and other related questions. The future need to answer such questions if and when aliens are discovered may indeed put a great strain on Christianity itself - Mr. Funes and company notwithstanding!
No rational person should ever doubt a belief in God who created everything. The Devil himself, after all is no atheist. Many Christians, however, while not doubting God because of the discovery of alien life may well question their own religion because of it. Time may tell.