Fr. Thomas O’Meara delivers his Vast Universe lecture May 12 at the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto. Photo by Jean Ko Din

We can’t discount there is intelligent life elsewhere

  • May 18, 2016

TORONTO – Is there intelligent life outside of our planet? It’s possible, said Fr. Thomas O’Meara.

On May 12, the University of St. Michael’s College hosted a lecture on the Vast Universe: Extraterrestrials and Christian Revelation. O’Meara, a visiting Aquinas scholar at St. Mike’s, shared some ideas that he first posed in a book of the same title published in 2012.

“So many galaxies each with billions of solar systems can only increase the likelihood of distant civilizations with intelligence,” said O’Meara.

“Neither theologians nor astronomers should dictate to God the divine intelligence and power He can do.”

Because there is yet to be conclusive proof of alien life elsewhere, O’Meara maintained that this theology, known as exotheology or the theology of extraterrestrial intelligence, is speculative.

However, O’Meara said 10 years ago, when he first became interested in this as an amateur, it was estimated that there were 700-million stars in the Milky Way. Now, the estimate is closer to 100- to 300-billion stars in the average galaxy. With such a vast universe, O’Meara said it seems foolish to limit God’s creative freedom.

“Some have compared the universe to a botanical garden with countless species, each thriving in its own setting,” he said. “All the flowers, there’s a hundred basic species of roses, and all the fish, there’s 450 kinds of sharks... and the vastness of the universe suggests the possibility of many ways of life, ways of intelligent life.”

O’Meara argued that the diversity of creatures on Earth reveals the expanse of God’s creative nature. Because God is capable of working within the various kinds of living creatures on Earth, it is only logical that He would work in the same way with intelligent creatures.

Christian faith teaches us that God touches human life in a special way. Jesus calls it the Kingdom of God. St. Paul calls it life in the Holy Spirit.

Subsequent theologians have also called it grace and revelation.

O’Meara said that human beings’ special relationship with God is likely to be different from how other intelligent beings interact with God. Therefore, there might exist different forms of grace in worlds outside of our own.

“Is it likely that there are millions of bands on the spectrum of natural life but only one on the spectrum of supernatural life?” said O’Meara. “Or do other intelligent beings often have in their psychological and biological energies no longing for any kind of deeper relationship to God?”

As it is possible to have various modes of grace in other worlds, it also must be possible to have various forms of sin. O’Meara said it is possible that the species in other worlds would not be the same as that of the human species. Because they are not descendants of Adam and Eve, they do not inherit the consequences of original sin.

Therefore, it is possible that mankind’s redemption through Jesus Christ does not necessarily apply to other intelligent beings.

O’Meara admits there can be no finite answers to these questions. It is not only a theological question for the Christian faith, but for all religions. However, he does maintain that it does not contradict anything from Scripture. If anything, it expands it.

O’Meara said Christian theology should “accept the limitations of its religion and revelation as something of Earth.” He said the goal of Christian revelation is for the salvation of the human race. It does not answer questions for things beyond Earth.

“It’s certainly not our responsibility on Earth to manage or limit the number of created beings or the kinds of divine presence that God has produced,” he said. “The Trinity is not afraid of the cosmos that it’s created.”

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