Review — Extraterrestrial Intelligence and the Catholic Faith

Are We Alone in the Universe with God and the Angels?

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Overview

Synopsis The question of UFO and alien intelligence has gained new attention and significance in the past five years, so what will it mean for Christians if humanity contacts aliens?

Author Paul Thigpen
Publisher Tan Books
Genre Non-Fiction, Philosophy

Length 443 Pages

Release Date June 28, 2022

In December 2017, The New York Times published a curious story about a top-secret U.S. government UFO research program funded by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that has been investigating the subject of unexplained aerial phenomena for over a decade. On June 5, the same journalists broke another story, claiming that a whistleblower has proof that the U.S. government is lying to Congress about possessing alien aircraft. This came just a few months after the U.S. Airforce admitted to shooting down several unidentified objects over the Great Lakes and Northern Canada.

As of the time of writing, the truth remains unseen on these topics. It is unclear whether humanity is alone in the universe or if some intelligent human-like creature is out there on a planet far away asking the same questions as us.

If you ask most Christians, they will aggressively tell you that aliens do not exist. It is taken as a given, by fundamentalists and scholars alike, that God created humanity in his image. The existence of aliens not only suggests that we are not innately special, but also questions long-held beliefs about Biblical cosmology. As such, most Christians look at UFOs as either hoaxes or as evidence of demonic activity. Although, to paraphrase Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, what would the Devil want with a starship?

While it remains unlikely the U.S. government has special knowledge or that it would disclose secrets that would be highly disruptive, the core questions at play are quite fascinating and worrying. If an alien species roughly on par with humanity’s intelligence made contact with Earth, what would that mean for Christianity?

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: Throughout – the book is a theological text discussing philosophical considerations on questions about the existence of aliens in light of religious doctrine
Violence: None
Language/Crude Humor: None
Sexual Content: None
Drug/Alcohol Use: None
Other Negative Themes: None
Positive Content: A densely packed philosophical textbook that tackles some of the most challenging philosophical questions facing the world today, and what Christians ought to do about them

Review

The question of what aliens will mean to humanity has been taken up amicably by a recent book. Professor Paul Thigpen is a Catholic theologian and a former advisor to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Advisory Council. In his recent book Extraterrestrial Intelligence and the Catholic Faith, he tackles the sticky subject of extra-terrestrial intelligence (ETI) by digging through the entire history of Christian teachings on the subject and digging into the serious back-and-forth debates that have existed on these questions since the dawn of the faith.

As a Catholic, he defaults to the authoritative teaching of the Bishop of Rome. That is, alien intelligence would not necessarily be a threat to the authority and truth of the church’s mission to spread the word of Christ, and the church is prepared to accommodate for this reality and evaluate how it teaches that truth, should it come to light. But with 400 pages to fill, Thigpen does not merely fall back on such declarations.

Evangelicals, Calvinists, Orthodox, or other denominations will not be merely swayed by the authority of Rome, particularly since most modern Biblical hermeneutics do not leave much space for the existence of aliens. It goes against many core modern teaches in modern Protestantism and Orthodoxy. A deeper examination of the questions is necessary.

Should aliens be discovered, a thousand theological questions will suddenly emerge and force Christians to evaluate a very difficult situation. Do these aliens know about the incarnation? Are they saved? Are they technically capable of being saved or comprehending the concept of salvation? Are they born without original sin, due to not being descendants of Adam? What does it mean for our theology if they do contain original sin? Are humans intended to evangelize to aliens?

Thigpen spends the first half of the book recycling the entire history of Catholic theology and exploring prominent voices within and without the church who have made public speculations on these questions. The influence of Aristotelian metaphysics has been one of the most prominent factors cutting against the claim that aliens exist, with its interpretation by the great Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas pushing it as a mainstream position within Catholic scholastic theology. Aquinas saw a Platonic singularity and unity to the cosmos that would be violated by the existence of such beings. Thigpen states, “Because of the oneness of God, [Aquinas] insisted, it was fitting for Him to create only one world, mirroring His own perfection.”

Bald white man with goatee
Paul Thigpen is a theologian and philosopher, and the author of “ETI and the Catholic Faith”

The majority of thinkers who default to the position that aliens exist point to God’s limitless potential and the limited perspective Scripture offers on the topic. The Bible teaches that man is made in God’s image, but there is no reason to believe an infinite creator with a massively expansive cosmos would not feel the desire to create as many civilizations as he saw fit. He CAN do it, and if he did, he is glorious for doing so. Many prominent Christian thinkers have entertained the concept, including Origen, Augustine, and John Chrysostom. Some Catholic mystics claim to have seen images of alien intelligence among the moon and the stars.

On the Protestant side of things, many speculations have been made that imagine what alien species might act like. The 18th-century Lutheran theologian Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock explores the topic in his novel Messiah, in which a race of unfallen aliens discovers the catastrophe of humanity’s fall — “Far from us, on one of the earths, are persons such as we, / Similar in form; deprived by themselves of innate innocence / And of godly form—mortal in fact they are!” C.S. Lewis picked up on many of his themes in his critically acclaimed Space Trilogy, imagining a cosmos where all alien species, except humans, exist in perfect harmony with their Creator and creation.

Thigpen spends a significant portion of the book drawing on Lewis’s thoughts, as he wrote extensively about the possibility of alien life. The duration of the text unpacks the theological consequences of the possibility of ETI, but he does not make a special argument to say it must be true. He is clearly very sympathetic to the idea, curious about it in the way that all UFO enthusiasts are. There is a deep mystery to the idea of extraterrestrial visitations and alien life that sparks the imagination with possibilities. He is clearly very susceptible to the hope of being able to talk to another life form and ask them these questions.

More than anything, the book is eager to pry open the discussion on these issues. Should it come to pass in the coming weeks, months, or years that humanity is faced with the reality of an alien species at our front door, Christianity must be ready to field these questions. Many Christians abide by a faith brittle enough that their beliefs would be shattered by the revelations an alien would reveal to them, or they would simply enter denial and disregard all evidence as demonic influence designed to harm us. Thigpen prefers the middle way of inquiry and merely asks his readers to ask the question of if it is true.

Extraterrestrial Intelligence and the Catholic Faith is highly comprehensive, almost to a fault, and does an excellent job exploring both perspectives on the topic of ETI. It does the reader a fair job of offering it the truth about the difficulties and philosophical nuances of the subjects it interrogates.

Positives

+ Highly Comprehensive History on the Philosophical Questions Surrounding Aliens
+ Well Researched Catholic Philosophical Perspective
+ Thoughtful Comparison and Discussion of Complex and Conflicting Ideas

Negatives

- Potentially Too Philosophical or Academic For Casual Readers
- Excessive Length and Some Repetition

The Bottom Line

Paul Thigpen's book is an all too comprehensive and timely text for a question that could become one of the defining questions of modern times, and give Christians the tools they need to tackle these issues.

 

Writing 9

Editing 8

8.5

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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