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Is There Life on Other Planets?

Q. What does the Catholic Church teach about life on other planets?

A. The possibility of life on other planets (and their moons) has been debated for centuries by Catholic theologians, scientists, and others who find the question to be fascinating. However, the Catholic Church has never taken an official position on this particular issue. In recent years, remarks from scientists at the Vatican astronomical observatory seem to have been quite sympathetic to the notion, but of course these scientists don’t speak officially for the Church. (Yes, the Vatican actually owns an observatory in Italy and also operates an advanced technology telescope in Arizona.)

“Life on other planets” can refer both to intelligent life and to non-intelligent life. The more pressing form of the question is whether extraterrestrial intelligent life (ETI) exists. That possibility raises all kinds of interesting speculations about the relationship of such intelligent life to God.

What might various forms of ETI know about their Creator? Might some of them be fallen as we are, and others be unfallen? And if some are fallen, would Jesus Christ have a role in their salvation — or, as the second “Adam” (in St. Paul’s words; see 1 Corinthians 15:45), is He the Savior only for the race of Adam (that is, humankind)? Might we meet members of intelligent extraterrestrials in heaven?

These and related questions certainly merit further discussion and speculation. But much will probably remain unknown in this life unless and until we finally make public contact with an intelligent extraterrestrial race.

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