In this big universe, are we really alone?

October 17, 2010

Eye on Faith and Science

The cover story in the October issue of Astronomy magazine looks at the search for Earth-like planets capable of harboring life outside our solar system. So far astronomers have identified some 500 so-called “exoplanets,” and they continue to find more. Scientists recently reported finding a very distant one orbiting a star in the “Goldilocks” zone — not too hot and not too cold for life — about 20 light-years away in the constellation Libra.

Anyone who has gazed at the heavens has undoubtedly wondered at some point: Are we alone in this huge universe that God created? Hollywood has been fascinated with the possibility of intelligent life, friendly or otherwise, existing somewhere beyond Earth. But, truly, the discovery of any sort of extraterrestrial life — an amoeba, algae, a fungus — would rank as among the most important scientific finds in the history of humanity.

It certainly would raise theological questions as well. If God created life somewhere else in the universe, especially intelligent life, would that somehow lessen the importance of the Earth and humans in the eyes of the Creator?

I don’t think so.

Finding life somewhere else in the universe would simply prove that God’s life-giving power extends far beyond our own celestial backyard. That shouldn’t be a threatening reality, just one that will require some deep theological thinking.

In any event, Vatican astronomers don’t seem afraid of such a discovery. Several took part in the European Planetary Science Congress last month at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, where they shared their hopes of finding extraterrestrial life.

Jesuit Father Pavel Gabor, who works at the Vatican Observatory in Tucson, Ariz., told Catholic News Service that “Mars is still a very intriguing object with a high probability of life being somewhere under the surface or some traces of life remaining.”

Father Gabor, who designs instruments that gather data about the atmospheres of exoplanets said: “I think our faith leads us to seeing the world around us as a gift from a very munificent God, a God who gives very freely and generously.

“And, he added, “if we find any life outside this planet, it will mesh in very nicely with that idea of God, who is such a generous giver.”

What do you think?

About Joe Towalski

Editor of The Catholic Spirit, husband, dad, baseball fan(atic), astronomy buff. Follow me on Twitter @towalskij

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