Catholicism vs. Astronomy

Okay, so I’m sort of conflicted over something. I love the Catholic Church, I’m heavily involved in my univerity’s Catholic youth group, I feel like I could only ever date (and especially marry) a Catholic girl, and while I try to keep it separate from religion, I’m the president of my university’s pro-life group.

However, I’m also REALLY into scientific stuff, especially astronomy. I took a break from college for nearly two years, and I got into watching Wonders of the Solar System/Universe (with Brian Cox) and How the Universe Works (plus I took 2 astronomy classes when I came back to college). It absolutely fascinates me there’s 1x10^20+ stars in the universe, making us humans here on Earth basically a boson that makes up the universe, yet many of these stars (if not a vast majority) have planets, and we are finding some that are Earth-sized (so far 1800 exoplanets have been discovered, some of which are Earth-sized and are in the “habital zone”). Plus, life on Earth has shown to thrive in the most extreme places (like 2 km under the ocean around a hydrothermal vent, where it’s pitch black, the atmospheric pressure is over 100 atmospheres, and the water is heated to nearly 800 degrees F, yet there’s actual complex organisms just living it up down there), so it suggests that if life can exist in the most extreme environments that are more similar to the conditions on other bodies even in our own solar system (such as under the soil on Mars, in the oceans under the ice surfaces of Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceledus, and possibly even in the liquid methane lakes on Saturn’s moon Titan), then it almost seems certain that life could exist everywhere in the universe; even in environments that are completely different than the Earth.

However, I always think, how can The Bible and how it explains humanity here on Earth encompass the rest of the universe, especially if there is indeed life on trillions upon trillions of worlds? If the life on another world is in any way intelligent (like us), could Jesus have gone to those worlds and saved them, too? Given this (along with the constant angry rhetoric from atheists, which you can’t avoid these days, especially if you’re involved in the pro-life movement), I hate to say it, but often my belief in God (at least as we know Him) does sometimes become rocky. But lately, the real kicker has been my mom, who you could say is a borderline fundamentalist Catholic. While she acts interested in my talks/TV shows about astronomy, for the most part she thinks it’s a waste of time and thinks a lot of it isn’t true because it contradicts the Bible. She HUGELY believes there is no life anywhere else in the universe that’s more complex than bacteria (she said she’d bet me $10,000 that there isn’t), and tonight, as I was watching one of the latest episodes of How the Universe Works, in which they were talking about preserving the human race (in the case the world ends) by building and launching an interstellar “ark” to another planet and how it could be done, my mom thought it was the dumbest idea ever, as not only does she think it’s simply impossible, she says the human race will simply die off when the world ends, no questions asked, as that’s what it says in the Bible.

While of course the technology to even begin to build a spaceship that can go between planets hasn’t even begun to be far off, so that isn’t science fact (yet at least), she denies a lot of things that could very well be science fact, and if what she says is true to what the Catholic Church believes……I actually find the science to be more believable than the Bible, therefore further making my belief in God more rocky. (Not to mention, she gets a little mad when she explains all of this, which also doesn’t help).

So basically, I’m just asking what is the Church’s position on how the Bible can also encompass the rest of the universe in how it all fits into God’s plan, what the Church’s stance on the possibility of there being life on other worlds (especially intelligent life), and what the Church’s position is on the possibility of sending humans out into space to live on other planets and restore the human race elsewhere, therefore “cheating” the end of humanity? Again, I will definitely say my belief in God has been shaky lately, as the science just seems to make more sense, so I do need some reaffirming He exists.

Look up at the stars in the sky. What are they but electrical sparks on my retina? As for the rest of the universe (if it exists at all), we can easily just live as if it doesn’t exist. Why not? Why care?

It would be unethical to send human life to other planets- one is enough. To populate another planet would just be to spread more suffering. and slow down redemption, and to put more souls in danger of eternal damnation.

The most important thing, I suggest, is not to upset your Mom. That’s more important than the rest of the universe. The Bible isn’t a scientific text book. It’s there for moral edification. The important thing in life is to make your way from the cradle to the grave, without hurting others, sinning as least as possible, and avoiding pain and anxiety as much as possible. Truth is only worth pursuing if it helps us achieve this. Forget the universe, if it doesn’t make you happy or good. Each human being is responsible only for the 1 square meter which he occupies.

This is my humble advice.

Hi there!

I also took a year of astronomy (though unfortunately, I didn’t find it very interesting!) and love the sciences too (I took too many science courses in my undergrad, really - up to third year biochemistry). Before I begin, I would like to first say my answers aren’t definitive; I only hope to contribute to a discussion.

“Plus, life on Earth has shown to thrive in the most extreme places (like 2 km under the ocean around a hydrothermal vent, where it’s pitch black, the atmospheric pressure is over 100 atmospheres, and the water is heated to nearly 800 degrees F, yet there’s actual complex organisms just living it up down there) …”

What were the conditions required for such an organism to exist? Were the conditions the organisms require only available on Earth? I don’t know if that’s clear, but let’s put it this way: How can the organisms exist if they don’t have the necessary constituents to resist what it is they are resisting? Where do these constituents come from? If these organisms need protective surfaces made from more than peptidoglycan or whatever it might be that they need, would it be readily available on another planet? Just because organisms on earth can survive extreme conditions does not seem to give us sufficient reason to believe that organisms exist in other places of the universe. The ability of those organisms to survive is partly determined by their surroundings (they need to get that stuff that protects them from somewhere!). I don’t know if that makes sense, but I hope it does! Survivability is partly dependent on resisting extreme conditions (and surviving extreme conditions doesn’t mean one will live!). But existence depends on the right matter and condition being there.

In response to when you say “then it almost seems certain that life could exist everywhere in the universe; even in environments that are completely different than the Earth.” How could you say “it almost seems certain”? What is a measure of your certainty? Now I am a math major so naturally, this is a question I would ask. :nerd:

Let’s be realistic here. Could there be life on other planets? Yes. But how certain are we? To get 100% means we must show life exists elsewhere. We can always assign probabilities, but what makes a good probability model for the search for life in a vast universe? What variables are necessary? At the end of the day, a probability model is just that. A probability model. If it were certain, we wouldn’t need such models.

I tried to answer to the best of my ability and only what I felt I could answer. But I’ll offer an answer to what would happen if there were life on other planets. Let’s think about it using probability that is slightly informed by out knowledge of spontaneity, atoms, etc: if there were life out there, what are the chances of them being human? Since you seem to approach the emergence of life in a probabilistic way, I would like to ask that question.

I don’t know if the Church has answers to the questions in your last paragraph because it doesn’t seem to be an immediate thing to worry about, but I’m sure others will give you better answers than me.

I hope this helped somehow!

But the universe does make me happy, and looking at the stars is one of my favorite things to do. I can’t help but just wonder what could be going on around any of those given stars, trillions of miles away. And I feel something as big and vast as what we’ve discovered up there simply can’t be ignored when discussing God. I actually feel acting as if the universe doesn’t exist is, in a way, trying to skirt around the issue of discussing whether God exists or not.

Yes, I know the Bible isn’t a scientific text book, however I sort of think my mom (who sorry kind of has a short temper, especially when it comes to discussing Church issues, so it’s a lot of times hard not to upset her) thinks it is. She was saying how the scientists in that TV show just need to read the Bible to figure out how the world will end, and using science to figure it out is unnecessary. But is this really how the Bible works, or is my mom not entirely correct on this?

Please consider watching this (starting 1:15).

youtube.com/watch?v=_eyF0PiIY_o

I have to actually read where St. Aquinas says that, but it might be helpful for you! :slight_smile:

Well, when we are kids, our parents are patient with us (hopefully), so when we get older, we need to be patient with them. It is unlikely you will change your Mom’s opinion. And you will form your own view. The best policy is not argue- and if having ‘discussions’ upsets your Mom, avoid them.

Obviously, everything the Bible says about creation is a metaphor.

The only condition that’s really needed for life to exist (at least on Earth) is water. There’s some places in the Atacama Desert, which is the driest place on Earth, in which bacteria can’t even live due to a near complete absence of water. However, my point with this was [as long as there’s water], life can exist on Earth and adapt to environments that would be completely inhospitable to humans and other creatures (which other bodies in the solar system are to us). A substance that could be deadly to us could be a certain life form’s source of energy; an example of which is how Snottites, which are stalagtite-looking bacteria that hang on the walls in caves with a high concentration of sulfur, “inhale” hydrogen sulfide gas and “exhale” sulfuric acid, a process that would kill us humans and pretty much any other organism on Earth. So basically, as long as there’s a place that has water on Earth, there is likely going to be life, despite what else its environment would be like. And since there’s water all over our solar system, whether it be frozen, or in the case of Jupiter’s moon Europa, liquid [under its ice surface], or at least evidence of water that was once present (such as on Mars), it suggests that if life can exist on Earth with the only required conditions being the presence of water, then what could stop life from existing elsewhere in the solar system in places there’s water?

Plumes of methane have been found to rise out of vents on the surface of Mars that vary with the seasons, and (at least on Earth) methane originates only from either a geological source or a biological source. And as far as we know, Mars is dead geologically, so logically, the only other source for those methane plumes could be life living underneath the surface. In fact, the bacteria on Earth that produce methane are the kind that are found in extreme environments, and the changing seasons influence biology here on Earth (the methane plumes on Mars intensify during the warmer seasons), so given this, it seems there is very strong evidence for life one Mars that can actually be seen. Also, there’s many mysterious red streaks all over Jupiter’s moon Europa’s ice surface, which may be a visible sign of bacteria living inside the ice. Plus, Europa has a salty liquid ocean under its ice surface, which life could also have at least a chance to live in.
But of course, no life we find in our solar system will be like us humans.
Speaking of which, something I’ve always wondered is if there are intelligent aliens elsewhere in the universe, and God rules the universe, they’d be other homo sapiens (also made in His image), but would look different then what us humans look like on Earth, as in how different races on Earth look different from each other (imagine a human that didn’t look like any race from Earth).

OP, I really don’t understand the “vs.” in your thread title, nor do I understand your statement that “my belief in God has been shaky lately, as the science just seems to make more sense.” Who do you think created the things that are studied by science?

There is no conflict between the two.

If our Catholic faith is true then it must be able to stand up to proven facts–astronomy and your comment about deep sea research being but two examples. To me, one of the things that makes me greatly believe in the Catholic faith are just such things! Could there be life on other planets and could God have had to intervene there too? Maybe. Maybe not. But that doesn’t change anything for us here on earth! Read! Learn! It will bring you closer to God—not further away as you consider the majesty of what God has performed! Learning new things is never evil.

There’s no conflict between religion and science. Monsignor Georges Lemaître, who devised the big bang theory and was well-respected by his Pope, said:

“The writers of the Bible were illuminated more or less — some more than others — on the question of salvation. On other questions they were as wise or ignorant as their generation. Hence it is utterly unimportant that errors in historic and scientific fact should be found in the Bible, especially if the errors related to events that were not directly observed by those who wrote about them . . . The idea that because they were right in their doctrine of immortality and salvation they must also be right on all other subjects, is simply the fallacy of people who have an incomplete understanding of why the Bible was given to us at all.” - catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=8847

The Pope gave an address to the Vatican Observatory this summer:

"Here too we see a further reason for the Church’s commitment to dialogue with the sciences on the basis of the light provided by faith: it is her conviction that faith is capable of both expanding and enriching the horizons of reason. In this dialogue, the Church rejoices in the marvelous progress of science, seeing it as a sign of the enormous God-given potential of the human mind, even as a mother rejoices and is rightly proud as her children grow “in wisdom, and age and grace” - vaticanobservatory.org/vo-news/recent-news/94-recent-news/pope-francis-voss-example-of-dialogue/619-pope-francis-voss-example-of-dialogue

The Vatican Observatory held a conference recently on the possibility of life on other worlds:

“In a May 14 interview with the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano May 14, headlined “The Extraterrestrial Is My Brother,” astronomer Jesuit Father José Gabriel Funes said that according to his “scientific judgment,” the existence of extraterrestrials is a “possibility.”” - catholic.net/index.php?option=dedestaca&id=410

There is no conflict between the Catholic Church and Astronomy or The Bible and Astronomy.

If there is life on other planets (which I believe there are) they are all God’s creation too. Jesus may have visited those too or perhaps hasn’t had to visit them yet… Or perhaps God may have selected a different way to redeem them.

God is Love. And I’m sure that God has enough Love to fill the Universe, not just a planet.

The only “conflict” is based on atheists saying there is a conflict and fundamentalists taking a too literalistic interpretation of The Bible.

Vatican astronomers (who are priests) have even talked about Baptizing aliens if they asked to be Baptized.

BTW: Judgement day doesn’t necessarily mean the end to planet Earth, or the end of the species. That’s more of a Protestant (rapture) interpretation of the Book of Revelation. After all, they Story of Noah was a story that can be seen as a previous “Judgement Day.” The “end of the world” could be the end of the Galaxy or Universe, as far as we know. If that’s the case, humans could live on other planets and escape the end of the Earth. Since Heaven is outside space & time, then end of days could be billions of years from now or next week. Either way, the Church teaches that we shouldn’t dwell on the end of days. But instead focus on living holy lives.

I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to PM me with questions.

The Church has no teaching on the subject of extraterrestrial life as God has not revealed this to us. We may someday discover life on other planets or we may not.

There is no conflict between the Church and science. The Church has been a major player in scientific research as in all intellectual pursuit.

It is entirely possible that only Earth has life, or just as possible that it exists elsewhere.

It is entirely possible that only Earth has intelligent, sentient life with a soul, or just as possible that they exist elsewhere.

Right now Science is playing a fast and loose ‘probability’ game. Many things we take for granted, may be altogether exceptional and rare, and visa versa. If there’s anything we KNOW for CERTAIN about science, is that it WILL change in the future, as more things are discovered.

Since science is allowed to play their probability game, why should the OP’s mother be denied hers?

Another thing ALL OF THIS has taken for granted, is that man won’t plunge himself into another dark age (sooner rather than later) where all of his prized learning is lost. It’s already happened, so there is a HIGH probability. Everybody comes to think that because everything is the way it is now, it can never change, except to become even more so. But we all know about economic bubbles. There can be “civilization” bubbles too.

For science to be giving us doubt about religion is to acknowledge that we worship at the altar of science. It won’t always be there, but God and religion WILL always be there, even if a new Dark Ages overtakes humanity.

Genesis describes creation during the first four nights and days:1 In the beginning God created heaven, and earth.
16 And God made two great lights: a greater light to rule the day; and a lesser light to rule the night: and the stars.
17 And he set them in the firmament of heaven to shine upon the earth.
And angels (pure spirits - no body and does not depend for his existence or activity on matter) in Nehemiah 9 and Colossians 1:6 Thou thyself, O Lord alone, thou hast made heaven, and the heaven of heavens, and all the host thereof: the earth and all things that are in it: the seas and all that are therein: and thou givest life to all these things, and the host of heaven adoreth thee.

16 For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and in him.

The Bible has not addressed any other kinds of beings with free will, and mankind has not discovered any yet, so it seems that the Church is silent on the issue now.

The OP is assuming that there are other planets out there which have the capacity to harbor life.

Sooner or later this Earth would wither away (in a physical sense) regardless of and we must seek another planet to find home. Of course we have to make sure that we have found a planet which has all the necessary conditions for us to live in, and if we do we can built a spaceship and continue human life in that planet. What could be more pro-life than that? :slight_smile:

And I do believe we can find such a planet. Remember what God said:

Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you.

  • Matthew 7:7

For the OP:
There is no conflict between religion and science. It is a myth that’s accepted by both sides of the argument, and apparently your mother is a victim of such a myth. I’ve seen several people who take the Bible too literally to make scientific assumptions. I think the problem lies in how your mother reads the Bible. It has to be read in a special way according to what the Church teaches. Here’s the document.

By the way whenever I watch astronomy documentaries, they increase my faith in God more, not less. :slight_smile:

The scripture is about man and god, mans search and Gods revealing. Ultimately our salvation. In the end our joining a vast hierarchy of other beings beyond humans. There is much we don’t know and it doesn’t tell us.

The church tells us of nine ranks of other beings, the nine choirs of angels, but doesn’t really define what they are like. I would assume that a similar rank exists among what we call the demons since they came from the ranks of these beings.

Nothing suggests that this is all the life God made. Its very possible there is life through the entire universe.

Buy and read “Brother Astronomer” by Guy Cosmo. He is a Vatican Astronomer. In that book he speaks a little about the question you are pondering. You will find his comments interesting and relevant.

Also consider this from 2009 :

Though it may seem an unlikely location to happen upon a conference on astrobiology, the Vatican recently held a “study week” of over 30 astronomers, biologists, geologists and religious leaders to discuss the question of the existence of extraterrestrials. This follows the statement made last year by the Pope’s chief astronomer, Father Gabriel Funes, that the existence of extraterrestrials does not preclude a belief in God, and that it’s a question to be explored by the Catholic Church. The event, put on by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, took place at the Casina Pio IV on the Vatican grounds from November 6-11. – universetoday.com/44713/vatican-holds-conference-on-extraterrestrial-life/

Your questions are all valid, and only you can answer them.

You know that doesn’t help her and that she needs help. She still has trouble understanding if religion and science can be reconciled. And it can.

How does science make more sense? God exists. His work surrounds us.

  1. A space ark is an old idea. The only problem for building one today is money.

  2. Earth-like planets have been discovered. The question remains: Do they have an atmosphere and natural resources that can support human life?

  3. Even if human beings could live on other worlds, the Last Judgment will come for them as well.

  4. Here is what the Church tells us about alien life. catholic.net/index.php?option=dedestaca&id=410

  5. We do not have a space drive capable of traveling near or at the speed of light. So, if we find a habitable planet 3 to 5 light years away, it would take a bit longer than 3 to 5 years to get there. Right now, a trip to Mars would take months and the best plan would be to send two ships: a lander with basic supplies, and a supply ship which would be parked in orbit and which would act as a rescue ship should something go wrong with the lander.

The problem? Money. The technology to make the trip exists.

Peace,
Ed

Carl Sagan in Cosmos, 1980 A.D.

“Ten or twenty billion years ago, something happened – the Big Bang, the event that began our universe…. In that titanic cosmic explosion, the universe began an expansion which has never ceased…. As space stretched, the matter and energy in the universe expanded with it and rapidly cooled. The radiation of the cosmic fireball, which, then as now, filled the universe, moved through the spectrum – from gamma rays to X-rays to ultraviolet light; through the rainbow colors of the visible spectrum; into the infrared and radio regions. The remnants of that fireball, the cosmic background radiation, emanating from all parts of the sky can be detected by radio telescopes today. In the early universe, space was brilliantly illuminated.”

Book of Genesis: Centuries before Christ: “In the beginning God said: ‘Let there be light.’”

As astronomer Robert Jastrow pointed out in God and the Astronomers.

“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

Good luck with your mom. Just remember, moms rule! :thumbsup:

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