Would Aliens Disprove Catholicism? (Guest: Paul Thigpen)

One of the great questions man has pondered is, “Are we alone in the universe?” Is there intelligent alien life out there, and if so, how would that impact the Catholic Faith?

Crisis Point
Crisis Point
Would Aliens Disprove Catholicism? (Guest: Paul Thigpen)
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Guest

Paul Thigpen is an internationally known speaker, best-selling author, and award-winning journalist. He has published 59 books and more than 500 journal and magazine articles in more than 40 religious and secular periodicals. HIs most recent book is Extraterrestrial Intelligence and the Catholic Faith: Are We Alone in the Universe with God and the Angels?

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Extraterrestrial Intelligence and the Catholic Faith: Are We Alone in the Universe with God and the Angels? (book)

Transcript

Eric Sammons:

One of the great questions that man has pondered is: are we alone in the universe? Is there intelligent alien life out there? And if so, how would that impact the Catholic faith? That’s what we’re going to talk about today on Crisis Point. Hello, I’m Eric Sammons, your host and the Air and Chief of Crisis Magazine. Before we get started, I just want to encourage people to smash that like button and to subscribe to the channels. That’s the way the algorithm, which might be controlled by aliens, I don’t know, tells people that we exist. Also, you can follow us on social media at Crisis Mag. Okay. I’m kind of admit I’m geeked up about this episode because I’m huge Star Trek fan, huge Star Wars fan, all of those things. And so we’re going to talk about Alien life and we have with us Paul Thigpen.

I bet you that most people know who you are, but I’m going to introduce you anyway. So he is an internationally known speaker, bestselling author and award-winning journalist. He has published 59 books. Did you hear that? 59 Books and more than 500 Journal of Magazine articles and more than 40 religious and secular periodicals. One of his most recent books is Extraterrestrial Intelligence in the Catholic Faith: Are We Alone in the Universe with God in the Angels? And I have it right here. I was telling Paul beforehand that sometimes publishers will send me books, will ask me, “Hey, would you be interested in sending you this book? You can interview the author.” When this case, I actually bought the book on my own because I thought it looked great. And then like a week or two later, then it’s Tan, right, yeah, Tan contacts me and tells me, “Hey, well are you interested in maybe interviewing Paul about this book?” I was like, “I already bought it. So definitely, let’s make this happen.” So welcome to the program Paul. I appreciate you being here.

Paul Thigpen:

Great to be here, Eric. Thanks for the invitation.

Eric Sammons:

So I just want to start off, we’re just going to geek out right from the beginning and I want to talk about the Fermi paradox, which for those who don’t know, that’s basically the idea that the universe is billions of years old. It has billions and billions of stars, billions and billions of planets spread out throughout. We know there’s intelligent life on one of those planets because we’re on it. With the odds, it seems like the odds should be in the favor of having intelligent life elsewhere, but yet we have no conclusive proof of it. They haven’t contacted us in any way that’s been obvious to everybody, that everybody accepts. So the question I guess I just want to ask you is: do you think it’s likely there actually is intelligent alien life out there?

Paul Thigpen:

The answer is yes. It’s interesting part of the book, I’m an historical theologian, so that means I look at the development of ideas within the church, but also in the culture in this case. And it’s very interesting that for most of Western history, it’s people have thought, “Sure, sure. Why not?” Other kinds of intelligent life, including Christians, including specifically Catholic teachers of various sorts and theologians and others. It is only kind of in my lifetime that there began to be a development of scientists, some scientists saying, “No, actually I think this is very unusual of all the conditions seem to me to probably be only here on earth.” And there was a time, say back in the sixties, some of the scientists today will tell you when you couldn’t talk about this without just being totally dismissed, but that he watched this particular one, I quote him in the book, can’t remember which one, but how he saw the pendulum swing back until now.

You wouldn’t call it a consensus, but perhaps a majority of scientists dealing with these kinds of things would say, “Oh, it’s pretty much inevitable.” Science can only tell so much of course. But I do think it’s likely that they’re out there. And the whole Fermi paradox of course was that: if there are somebody others out there, where are they? Why haven’t they shown up? And I think there are probably several possible answers to that. One is that the distances between us both in space and time is so great that they’re just haven’t been able to make that leap. That would be one possibility. Another would be that they’re out there and they’re visiting, but they’re a whole lot smarter than we are and they don’t want to be seen. And so if our scientists, a human being, were trying to look at an anthill and study the ants that they would make any effort for to reveal themselves to the ants, so to speak.

The third, of course, and the book is not about this, I have an appendix about it, is that they’re hundreds of thousands of people who say, “Yeah, they’re here. We’ve met them or we’ve seen them,” or that kind of thing. You can’t say that there’s no credible evidence. You put the question very carefully, no kind of publicly verifiable evidence. Though these days, there are plenty of folks I think that if that happened would still not believe. They would say, “It’s a conspiracy of the government.” We have people already saying that, “They’re going to do this. It’s a false flag operation. They have holograms in the sky, they have whatever.” So trying to find something that would convince everybody anyway might be a difficult thing. But for the Fermi paradox, I would say there’s I think, plenty of evidence that they have showed up.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, so a kind of Catholic corollary to the Fermi paradox, I would wonder: why didn’t God tell us about this in sacred scripture? You deal with this in the book some definitely. I want to talk a little bit about the history of that in a minute. But just why wouldn’t God…? Because when you read the Bible, at least on the plain reading, the average person reads it, it does appear that we’re it, that this planet is it. Yeah, there’s a lot more going on in, the universe might be vast, but it’s all focused on us. And there’s a talk about Jesus’s work being all of creation and things like that, and there’s theological implications in that too. So, which we can get into in a minute, but why didn’t, God just tell us, “You’re one of a lot, guys, you’re special, but you’re not the only ones.”

Paul Thigpen:

Well, it’s a great question. I would say, first of all, he has told us about another, you could say extraterrestrial intelligence that you could at least say non-human intelligence, told us about the angels, because they do seem to, that they have had a direct role to play in our salvation history. Which kind of suggests to me that if you had another race that was playing a direct role in our history, he would’ve included it if there is such a thing. But not just that, again, being a historical theologian, I’ll always look back and see what if folks like Augustus and Thomas Aquinas and others said, and you have that issue raised by some of St. Augustine’s readers for instance, and talking about the book of Genesis and the creation stories. You have a lot of folks saying, “Okay, he should have included ET, extraterrestrials, in the creation story if they were real. And the fact that it all left out is silent Bible silent about means they’re not.”

Well, there were people saying the same thing to Saint Augustine at the time, saying, “You know the creation story doesn’t mention angels?” And it doesn’t. So if there really were angels, God have said that the fact that they were there, the argument from silence is that they don’t exist. And he and St. Thomas Aquinas picked up on this as well. The response kind of was, “Well, first of all, we do know from our faith that angels exist, so the first thing that tells us is silence in the scripture doesn’t necessarily mean absence of a reality.” But the other thing is that’s pointed out, I know Thomas has, that the people that were being written to in the book of Genesis were given still to idolatry. And that it may very well have been wise for God at that point and early Israelite history, not to be revealing stuff about the angels. Because it really was further on in Israelite history before angels were revealed in kind of a clear way. So that because if they had been revealed early on that they may have worshiped them.

And that maybe sounds a little far out until you realize that it’s referenced in the New Testament that even then, even in the New Testament times, there were some believers who were tempted to worship angels who were giving into that. Look at today, you have folks who, some folks have called it the kind of messianic alien mythology. You have folks who believe they’re there, that there are great big space brothers, and that they have a messianic mission. They’re going to save us from ourselves and all this kind of stuff and come close to almost worshiping at least the notion of ETI. Maybe that has been the case. Maybe God’s wanted to not reveal their existence until now, maybe later, because people would’ve tempted to attempted to make a religion out it and worship him. I’m just saying it’s a possibility. But I certainly silence in the scripture doesn’t rule things out. The scripture doesn’t talk about microbes, it doesn’t talk about dinosaurs, it doesn’t talk about atoms, duckbill platypi, whatever the plural is, all kinds of things. It’s not intended to be an exhaustive kind of scientific description of reality.

Eric Sammons:

One of the things I found interesting on in your historical overview of what Christians and Catholics have thought about this is that there has always seemed to be an awareness of two different possibilities of let’s just say extraterrestrial or alien life, intelligent life. There’s the idea of other life in this universe, but then there’s also what today we call the multiverse, but this idea of there could be other universes that are non-overlapping with us. We don’t have any connection to them, but they do exist in which they would have intelligent life. And I was surprised, I can’t remember now exactly who was talking about, I was surprised to find that this is not a modern idea of the multiverse, and in fact, Catholics have actually addressed this idea of a multiverse in the past. Can you talk a little bit about that? because I thought that was just fascinating how that’s not a modern thing, because I always thought it was,

Paul Thigpen:

It’s in general, one of the things you learn from studying history is that there really is nothing new under the sun. It’s the Book of Ecclesiastes says, “So you did have folks centuries ago proposing the idea.” I’m trying to remember the particular writer, and to be honest, I can’t right now. There were so many characters. This book has more than 550 footnotes and it covers 2000 years. But anyway, one who did propose that they could be multiple universes that don’t touch on each other. That basically their only connection is the God’s created them both. And that’s basically, except for the part about God, that’s the notion of the multiverse today, or the notion of interdimensional beings.

And in some ways you could, depending on how you define that, you could say that’s what angels are, angelic beings are. Even today, it’s so interesting that I wrote the book primarily for Christians who have questions about this, and especially for those who have been taught in a knee-jerk kind of way, it’s all demonic. Don’t even think about it to see that. No, there’s a long history of serious discussions in the church for some of the amazing people you would maybe even never imagine talking about it. And so first of all, it is a serious subject. And second, the whole notion of being demons doesn’t fit in so many ways. But if there were to be-

Eric Sammons:

Can you kind of do that? Explain that a little bit more. Played literal devil’s advocate here. Why couldn’t various, as you mentioned earlier, and we’ll talk about this more in a little bit, the idea, people say that they had these saw UFOs or they saw they encountered these beings, whatever the case may be. And one argument you hear from some Christians, Catholics is it’s demonic, demonic forces, something like that. And we do believe that obviously the demonic is active in this world. So why isn’t that the case in at least some of these cases? Why can’t we just say it’s probably all demonic activity?

Paul Thigpen:

Well, in some of these cases, yeah, I agree. And I’m very upfront in the book about that, that you have some of the cases of claimed alien abductions that if you read them carefully, if you’re familiar with historical accounts of demonic encounters, they sound an awful lot like that. It’s easy enough to imagine, especially in the cases where the beings they’re talking to say, “Oh, all worldly religions are wrong. We’re going to show you the new religion.” That brings to mind certain cases in Christian history where the devil appears an angel applied to mislead people. So I have no argument of saying that. Certainly there are some cases that seem to be that. On the other hand, to try to say that every case of this, especially the ones that just don’t fit a kind of diabolical profile, have to be that there’s no other thing they can be.

What it reminds me of is situation like or historically where for the longest time if someone had seizures or fits of different kind, it’s all demons. It’s all demons. Then finally, science helps us to see, “Well, there are certain cases where it’s medical, it’s not demons at all. It’s short wiring in the brain or something.” Or there’s someone hearing voices, so it’s always demons. But sometimes it’s something else. Sometimes there could be some overlap. Sometimes it’s epilepsy for the seizures. Now does that mean that you never have cases of demonic possession with those same symptoms? Not, of course not. I’ve written several books on spiritual warfare. I can be experiences with exorcist. I can tell you for sure those things are real. But there’s a difference between saying every time somebody has a seizure, it’s demons and saying, “Yeah, sometimes people are showing those symptoms because they are demonically possessed, but that doesn’t mean that everything that looks like that is that way.”

So you have all kinds of cases and I, let’s just leave out the abduction thing. Maybe they’re all demonic, I don’t know, but leave that out. And the other kinds of things where you say, “That doesn’t fit the profile at all.” So for instance, one of the things being that’s about to be I think revealed finally with congressional hearings, we’re going to be having some other things, is that the claim that the government has actually retrieved crashed UFOs and has had material, been trying to reverse engineer, had material in their hands for probably ever since Roswell, that big event back in the forties. If that really is the case, I think you’d be hard pressed to try to make the case of that’s demonic.

First of all, demons don’t need nuts and bolts craft to fly around in. Second, it’s one thing for them to just appear one day and make you think you’re seeing an apparition of a ship or a being or whatever. That’s very different from a solid piece of material or craft that’s been sitting around for years and studied and that kind of thing, just doesn’t fit the profile, especially if it didn’t seem to have any malicious intent or misleading intent. So that’s what I’m saying is the book mainly is not about UFOs, it’s about helping people to understand that it could be real and it could be something other than demonic and it would not contradict our faith.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, let’s get into that now. Because I think this is where there are serious theological questions that are raised by the possibility of alien intelligent life. And they’ve been raised for centuries, but today still the case. So let me just start… Let’s start at the beginning. In Genesis, we know by original sin, the first Adam and Eve they fell, and scripture mentions multiple times the idea of all of creation being fallen. And we see that, and often the most common thing people interpret that as not just that we have cubic sense, but that the natural order of things is also fallen in some way, that things aren’t the way they were originally created to be. Now, if let’s say there is alien life on another planet in this universe, does original sin touch them? Why or why not? And how would we reconcile that as Catholics?

Paul Thigpen:

Yeah, great question. First of all, I think if there were another creature, an intelligent creature out there that all our descriptions of original sin take us back to the fall. And so for creatures actually to be affected directly in the sense of inheriting original sin, they would’ve to be descended from Adam. And that’s why Christ is called the new Adam, the second Adam that he came to restore. That suggests to me that unless you’re talking about some kind of third degree, several times removed effect, that no only descendants of Adam would be affected by original sin directly as we are for the other stuff. I think it’s whether it would have introduced directly disorder into a planet that’s millions of light years away, I don’t see that that’s necessary. When you talk about all creation groaning for the revelation of the sons of God, that’s probably the passage maybe you have in mind.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, definitely.

Paul Thigpen:

And there have been people, not just Catholics, but other Christians to think about that. I love the analogy that one theologian had. He said, “All right, imagine that you’ve got a beautiful symphony. And you’ve got several people have solo parts. And for the symphony to be perfect and complete, everybody has to get there, has to do their part and do it well. And everything’s going great. And then one of the soloist just bombs. What’s happened is now the entire symphony’s been marred because it’s not reaching its perfection as it was intended.”

And that’s one way to look at it, that if you think of them created by God as part of a single creation with a single purpose and plan that he had for everything, our blowing it sure has affected the others in the sense that we’ve marred the plan. And so Christ has had to come, the Son of God has had to come to redeem that and to turn it into something beautiful and powerful and wonderful that it wouldn’t have been before. But the words like all and that kind of thing in the scripture, that’s one of the things I have to look at. You look at those passages and it’s so easy to say, “Oh, okay, that means everything.” Well, but then you look at the context for it or even you look at how St. Thomas Aquinas or some of the church fathers interpret it, and for them the word all wasn’t an absolute word there, it meant other things.

Eric Sammons:

So on the flip side then of original sin, it’s potential that it’s true impact is really on this planet and not necessarily, not a direct impact, let’s say. So there is the possibility that there is alien intelligent life somewhere else in the universe that did not fall. So the flip side then of course is Christ’s work, his self-ethic work, and we know there’s a direct connection between Christ and Adam. Christ is the new Adam, and what fell in Adam is restored and even lifted up in Christ. And so then Christ’s work, would the flip side of that be that essentially it was for this world, the descendants of Adam are kind of confined to that, not necessarily for another world, which let’s say in this hypothetical didn’t even fall.

Paul Thigpen:

Yeah, so one of the chapters I have in the book has to do with that matter what we call soteriology, the study of salvation. And so we believe as Christians, it’s true that the son of God became incarnate in our planet and all that he did here made possible our redemption and eternal salvation. So what is his relationship to other races? And that would depend on all kinds of things, but I would categorize them as… The categories would be depending on their spiritual and moral status. By spiritual status I mean: okay, first of all, if they’re intelligent creatures, are they automatically made in the image of God as we understand it or could they be intelligent but not made in the image of God? For me, often people talk about the image of God, and this is what one of the wonderful things about this kind of study, it presses you to go back to all kinds of basics and theology to the early church fathers, the debates about different things in Christology. And so it’s very useful that way.

But image of God we usually think of as having a rational intellect and a free will. A lot of people stop with that. I would say there’s more, and that is an immortal spirit, that we are destined for the beatific vision. That’s at least God’s desire for us, his intention for us, original intention. And so with those three things together, is what every intelligent race out there necessarily be made that way? What I do in the book mostly is raise possibilities. Because we can’t know unless God shows us specifically by revelation or we start meeting other creatures. But I think it would be possible, first of all for there to be a race of multiple races who have intelligence and free will, but were not made in the image of God, in the sense that they were not intended to be having immortal spirit.

You get CS Lewis who of course is not a Catholic writer, though the very Catholic in his thinking. He was Anglican and he has non-fiction essays on extraterrestrial intelligence possibilities, and also a fiction trilogy about it that’s wonderful. And in one of his books, he tries to imagine what would that be like where we have a race of creatures that’s intelligent and free willed but not intended for eternity. They were intended just to have a good life in this universe, and when they died, it’s they could, and they’re fine with that. So that seems to be a possibility. You have some people who claim that according to our theology, that the rational soul that has the free will is inherently immortal. It has to be, and I don’t know there are various arguments for that, but that primarily that the soul is a single hole and cannot be divided into parts. And that’s what happens when you die, so you can’t have a soul that dies.

I would respond that death isn’t just disintegration to parts, it can also be annihilation, that something can cease to exist. So is it possible that God had some races, he intended for them simply to have a good life in this universe, and when they die, the soul ceases to exist? We already say that about what Aquinas and Aristotle would’ve called an animal soul, that you have animals on this planet that have some kind of thinking skill and seem to be able to make choices. They’re not like us for sure. And so they’re of a lower level that when they die, that’s the end of it. So that’s one possibility. Could there be some whose spiritual status is they’re not made in the image of God? Another possibility then the moral status is that either they’re fallen or they’re unfallen.

If they’re unfallen, they wouldn’t have a need for redeemer. But you do have a tradition within the Catholic church, a very strong tradition of theology that’s that insists that even if we had not fallen, God would’ve still become flesh as an act of solidarity out of love for us. So that could be the case, maybe even with an unfallen race. But the question then becomes: what is the plan of salvation for us? Does it also include others if there are others out there? And you get to several interesting questions. On the one hand, you have folks who want to say, “Well, it sure seems that if Christ himself became a man here, that it would have a ripple effect throughout creation and throughout time.” And you get some of the church fathers who seem to hint at that. I don’t think anybody actually comes right out very specifically and says it. And I allow for that possibility.

I also allow for the possibility though, because of some of the ancient Christian christological controversies, that it wouldn’t be that way. That the Apollinarian controversy in particular. Appolorius and his followers taught that when God became man in Jesus Christ, that he had a full divine nature of course, but not a complete human nature. He only had a body in, what would we call the lower soul, not the rational part. The rational part was replaced by the word according to that teaching. And the church had to come out and say, conclusively, “Nope, nope, that’s not true because it’s the union of the divine nature with our human nature that brings about our redemption, our healing.” And whatever the saying was, whatever was not assumed, taken to God in the incarnation was not healed. And so that’s why the human mind had to be taken, and even the human will had to be taken and united to the divine wills, so that our minds and all the rest can be healed.

And you can see that in simple ways, our devotions to the sacred heart or other things. If they’re a race that’s just not like us that way at all, a human savior would kind of seem alien to them. Devotion to the sacred heart. What if it’s a creature that doesn’t have a heart as we understand it? So I’m just raising the issue. I’m not saying it can’t be. But I’m raising the issue that it could be that he would have, especially if they were found, he would’ve a redemptive plan for them otherwise. And again, you go back to some of the theologians, people like St. Thomas Aquinas did not really have in mind the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence out of the planets because their notion of a planet was something different, planet means wanderer.

And to the ancient Greeks, up until much more recently, the notion of a planet was not a rocky or gas ball going around a sun. It was stars that did not keep their course the way the others did. They wandered around the sky. So there was no really way for them to even think about extraterrestrial intelligence living on another planet. But even with that, St. Thomas and Anthony responded to the question: could there have been more than one incarnation? He said, “Yes. There’s nothing inherently impossible about it. With human beings on this planet, no, we, it’s been revealed that it only happened once. It will happen once, but it could happen again. It’s not contrary to God’s nature to be able to assume more than one created nature.”

Eric Sammons:

So yeah, that’s what I was going to follow up with. So St. Thomas actually said that. Because my question was going to be with the idea of what is not assumed cannot be saved then if there’s an intelligent alien life from some other plant that not descended from Adam and fell, so they also felt they were created, let’s just say perfect as well, but they fell, then God… I guess it would be God the Son, each time. I don’t know. Could the Father of the Holy Spirit do it? I don’t know. But God, the son could potentially then have multiple natures that he takes on. So he’s got the divine nature obviously, and then he has a human nature that he’s taken on the incarnation. So St. Thomas would say then that he could also have a Klingon nature and a Romulan nature, just to use my Star Trek aliens. So that would not be inherently… There’s nothing inherently wrong about that idea of God and taking on these natures?

Paul Thigpen:

Well, again, his context is human natures, because he doesn’t even have a context for thinking about races walking around on other planets because he doesn’t even know that such planets exist. We never actually verified the existence of any other, as we call them exoplanets, until the nineties. And now we know they’re more than 5,000 of them just that we found, and the potential for millions and maybe even billions of them. But what I’m saying is that, but the issue he was dealing with is for some folks who say, “No, there could never be a second incarnation,” it’s inherently contradictory to the notion of it or something. He said, “No, no, what could happen?” The other thing is that nevertheless, even though with Thomas, I don’t want to say this, that he wasn’t even thinking in terms of other planets that could have other intelligent races.

If you were to ask him, “Okay, outside the earth and even a apart from angels, could there be a non-human form of intelligence that’s up there?” And his answer was that the idea that goes back to the ancient Greeks, that the stars themselves were animated, that they had souls, intelligent souls united kind of through their bodies, the way our souls united to our body or something like it. And he was open to that possibility. So essentially he was open to extraterrestrial intelligence, just not of the kind we typically think of. But that says a lot that he did not find it contrary to the faith to think of non-human, non-angelic, intelligent beings. Nor did Saint Augusta, nor did Saint Jerome. Both of those believed and clearly that they thought that the beings that had been worshiped by the Greeks and their mythology, that they were real and they were non-human intelligences.

They weren’t gods, they just were worshiped as gods, but that they weren’t necessarily demons either. Scripture does… St. Paul says one time the gods of the Heathen are demons but not necessarily all of them. You have this intriguing letter, you may have remember it from the book, where Saint Jerome, the father of biblical scholarship, about the most well-formed Catholic probably ever been along with Augusta and some others, where he reports and the life of St. Paul of the desert, that Saint Anthony is going to visit him one day crossing the desert, and he runs into first centaur and then a satyr. And the satyr, I mean, that’s just… The centaur seem to say much, but the satyr is just heartbreaking.

He says, “Who are you? What are?” And he says, “I’m one of the creatures that the Greeks of wrongly worshiped as gods, but I’m here because,” I’m paraphrasing, “but I’m here because we’ve heard that the savior has come to men and we want to know about that.” And then the saint against a weep and say, “Oh my gosh, in the big city there, Alexandria God state, wherever, you get all these Christians who don’t have the time of day to even think about the savior.” And here you’ve got one of these guys, a satyr inquiring about the gospel. And then you can say, okay, he’s just reporting this as something he heard, but he didn’t really believe it. But then he goes on, he makes it really clear. He says, “For those of you who think such creatures don’t exist…” And then he has a report of what happened, probably would’ve been about the time that he was born when one of these creatures was captured and brought before the emperor and all these other things, and all these people saw it.

And so at least in his mind, he believed that, yeah, there were non-human, non-angelic intelligences out there of some kind. And St. Augustine believed the same thing. It’s in a city of God. You have exorcists who have run into things that are not demonic because they don’t respond to the word of God and the sacraments and holy things, the way a demon would have to submit. So you have exorcists all the way to… 1700, there was one in particular, Ludovico Sinistrari who wrote about them. You have folks like Father Herbert Thurston from the early 1900s speculating about: could that be the same thing as Poltergeist maybe? But anyway, I’m just saying the point I’m making is these things don’t prove it, but they do show that you’ve got very well-formed Catholics who know scripture as well as anyone that we highly respect, who say, “Of course it’s possible for there to be such things.”

And I mentioned some of the saints, and I think I need to. Say Padre Pio, we have in two books a reference to a conversation he had, might have had two conversations with the same answer when someone said, “What about the Indians?” And he said, “What? Do you think we’re the only ones who give God glory? Of course there are other ones out there.” And he even claimed that there were some who were unfallen. Now, I wish I’d been the one asking the question because knowing what Padre Pio, Saint Pio, knowing that God revealed all kinds of things to him through special revelation, he could see things happening remotely at a distance, he could know what’s going on in the soul, he knew events to come, the events of the past that he shouldn’t have been able to know. I would’ve wanted to say, “So Father, Padre, is this some conclusion you’ve come to about what we know from the faith? Or did God reveal this to you?” But we don’t know.

Eric Sammons:

I got a lot of follow up questions you could have asked him, that’s for sure.

Paul Thigpen:

That and St. John Paul II, a little girl, asked him in an audience in Rome, this is public record, “Holy Father, what about aliens?” And so he didn’t say, “Oh, that’s contrary to the faith.” He didn’t say, “We don’t know.” He didn’t say, “If they exist, then…” His answer very simply said, “They’re God’s children too.” So you’ve got all folks like this, plus Catherine Emrick who saw things out there and her visions, others, all these folks who are great, well-informed Catholics, and they don’t see the contradiction. And I’m with them. I stand with them

Eric Sammons:

Now, one of the things that in the past few hundred years from the study of cosmology, we’ve seen that the earth is not the center of the solar system, not the center of the universe. And we’ve actually seen that the earth is a very tiny, tiny infinitesimally tiny part of the universe. And you’ll hear often, particularly atheists, agnostic people say, that kind of shows that man’s not very important, not that big a deal. And I’ve always kind of scoffed at that. What, God gave us a big playground means that we’re not important? That doesn’t make any sense to me. That being said, I do think there’s at least a little more power to the argument of saying scripture, and actually our Catholic tradition, really does place us at a very central place in history, in the cosmos and everything. If there are other beings who are not human, doesn’t that take us down a peg? Wouldn’t that somehow maybe diminish that belief we have? How would you respond to that?

Paul Thigpen:

Yes, that’s a great question. And I do respond to it in the book. I’d like to go back, you have to just define special first of all, but I’d like to go back to something Saint Augustine once said, where he said that, “God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us.” Anyone who’s ever been a parent of more than one child knows exactly what he’s talking about. Okay, your first child comes along and you say, “Oh, I love you so much. I could never love anybody as much as I love you.” And then the second one comes along, you say, “Oh, I love you so much. I could never love anybody like I love you.” And we find that having multiple children does not diminish our love for any of them or make them in competition for our love. In a fallen world that might end up, but not innately and for sure not God.

If he has multiple races he’s created, it doesn’t make any one of us, any race less special, doesn’t make it any less loved. But there are other ways to look at it too, that again, if they exist, we’re part of a bigger cosmos where he has all these soloists, so to speak, and essentially other things. And each one of those is irreplaceable. It’s irreplaceable in the whole, which makes us very special. Also, I just think we need to keep in mind that, how do I say that, the incarnation tells us how special we are. Even if he went to another planet, still, that he would give his son to die for us. And that wouldn’t be changed by knowing that there are other intelligent races out there. He loves each one of us as if there were only one of us.

So that’s my major response to it. And also location really means nothing. One other thing I would say, and it’s kind of an analogy I put in the book and made it up myself, and this has to do more maybe with eschatology even, but imagine that there’s a world war going on and you’ve got the commanding general of one of the, say it’s Eisenhower or something, of one of the sides. And in order to win the war, there are a number of battles where he must go directly, get on the front line and fight the battle himself. Now, the outcome of the war is dependent on his appearing in each one of those battlefields and fighting on the front lines himself. Does that make one of the battles more important than the other? Or that means, oh, well, now since there’s several battles that are central that none of them are special? No, no, you can have centrality in the sense of essentiality to be a multiple thing.

The old saying that goes back many centuries the that God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere. And another way of putting that is that wherever God is and acts, that’s the center of everything. God is the center of everything. So if he has shown up here, this is essential to what’s going on, if he’s shown up somewhere else or he has special activity there, that’s essential too. You have more than one center in the sense that they’re all essential. They’re all part of winning the war that God has had to do ever since our fall, and maybe the fall in other places too.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. I want to go back a little bit now to some more practical, real, what’s going on today. As you mentioned, there’s a lot of, and I know this isn’t exactly, you covered near the end in the book a little bit, but I just think it’s interesting, and that is of course, the UFOs and things like people say this. Now for me, one of the things that makes me, and I’m open to the idea of alien intelligent life, but I’m much more skeptical about the idea that they’ve been here or they are here. And the reason is… I think it’s just this. This is my hurdle I have a hard time getting over. Imagine the human race gets advanced enough that we can travel to other planets. And most people would have to be pretty confident that if there’s alien intelligent life, it’s very far away.

It’s not in this solar system. And the next closest place is still so far away that by our technology, it would take just hundreds of years at minimum to get probably even longer than that, now, I can’t remember now what the number is. It’s a long time. And so if we created technology that could allow us to travel like that, I can’t see us showing up in another planet and just popping up here and there. We would just be… And I know that alien life might not be like us, but we’d make our presence known. Or we’d be so good at not making our presence known, there wouldn’t be these kind of accidental sightings. So that’s my challenge. My skepticism is it’s got to be highly intelligent on some level to get here, and if it is, why does it have a few whoopsies that people see it or whatever. How would you respond? I know we don’t have to believe these things are real or UFOs, but just your own opinion about that.

Paul Thigpen:

Of course, people ask that all the time, “Okay, it should be all or nothing? Either we’d have nothing like this that suggests we’re being visited or it should be out in the open.” And people have different ways of looking at possibilities. The first possibility or thing we have to realize is that if it is extremely intelligent, far beyond us still in God’s, he’s sovereign over all and he would’ve created them, but if they are, then it may not be such an easy thing for them to appear to us in such a way that we recognize what they are. But along with that, you’ve got folks who have theories like, okay… There’s the kind of zoo theory, it’s funny, that their intentions, because you’re getting down to their intentions, this is what you’re doing, but their intentions are just to study us.

And so just as we might go to a zoo to study through the glass or through the bars, if there’s still bars around something without necessarily directly interacting or just occasionally interacting, maybe that’s their only interest. Or again, if they’re so far ahead of us in certain ways that maybe it could be like us looking at an anthill. How do you even communicate with ants to tell, “Hey, this thing you’re seeing here, this is me, it’s me.”? And you can’t really talk with them. Could be something like that. But I think probably if they’re real, they’re out there, and I think there’s loud evidence that they are. The reality’s much more complicated than that, maybe even in some ways that we hadn’t thought about. I even think back, okay, if you like the science fiction stuff, think back to the early Star Trek maybe before your time, but when I was a kid.

Eric Sammons:

Oh, I watched it through on the reruns early. I’ve watched every single Star Trek episode all the way through Enterprise. So the first four seasons, so I’m fully a geek.

Paul Thigpen:

So what was the imperative?

Eric Sammons:

The prime objective? You could not interfere with alien plants that did not have warp travel. I could probably give it exactly, but I’m getting a little geeky.

Paul Thigpen:

No, no, it’s right. Okay. I just think if it’s something like that, that in their own kind of book of rules, they don’t want to interfere with what’s going on except maybe just in small ways or even accidental ways. Even if they exist, the fact that they’re really smart and tech-driven doesn’t mean they’re infallible either. The thing about the crashes and stuff, there are some folks who think that in some cases it was an intentional landing of the thing so that we could find it and use it. All kinds of ideas, but the intention is always the big question in this matter, if they are there. And I have to say, I doubt that we’re going to be able to figure that out unless they find some way to interact with us where we really can understand them.

Eric Sammons:

And for a Catholic, what is the danger of the world getting into these UFOs and following this? It does seem like… I think you mentioned earlier about you alien messiah type thing. What are the dangers? Because I have seen people who have gotten so into this that it becomes somewhat of their religion, and it really kind of takes the place of it. So from a Catholic standpoint, how do we look at these things and keep it in perspective, so to speak, so it doesn’t become spiritually dangerous? Because as you also mentioned, there is a possibility of demonic being there in some cases. So what should Catholics do to ward off against that?

Paul Thigpen:

Well, I think we’ve got a parallel situation with angels. And again, even in the early church, well before the scripture canon was completed, you already had people who they learn about angels and they start worshiping. And so I would say with Catholics, yes, one of the dangers is that you get this a kind of curiosity that’s unhealthy. The ancient St. Augustine always talked about how we always think in our world, curiosity is a great thing, and in certain ways it is. But there is such a thing as an unhealthy curiosity where you’re trying to find secret knowledge, where you’re trying to often to gain some kind of power through the secret knowledge. That’s what lies behind the whole cult Enterprise. And so you do have this often interlinked with people involved in the occult, and those kinds of things.

So number one, just as we have to be warned, “Don’t spend all your time thinking about angels and trying to interact with angels and making claims,” and I may even think the notion of naming your angel is kind of treating her like a pet, that in the same way, whether it’s that, whether it’s giving your whole life and interest to certain kind of technology or to other things. If it’s distracting you from the gospel, from living the faith, from faith open charity, from those things, or in any way putting doubt in your mind, the first thing I would say is, “Okay, if it’s already put doubt in your mind, please read this book because it is not a challenge to our faith.” It’s not. The faith is old, it’s rich, it’s nuanced. I think Catholic thinkers have thought about this for centuries without it being a challenge to their faith. We can accommodate that, the same way the church accommodated the discovery that the earth was not the center of the universe, which was actually an idea inherited from Aristotle, but was not scientific, but people fought it.

When Galileo came on, it wasn’t just church leaders who thought he was a heretic, the scientists and philosophers of his day thought he was a heretic. It was all across the board. But the church was able to say, “Okay, we were depending on the wrong science. This is not really part of our faith. We could accept that.” And I think if folks can see that, that it’s not part of our faith, that such things don’t exist and it shouldn’t scandalize in the sense of making us lose our faith. So I would say all that, be careful. The other thing is that along with the danger, there’s also opportunity in the sense that so many people were focused on it either have an occult background or they have a secular background, and they’re trying to tie those things together. And most of them just aren’t hearing any Catholic voices right now.

I’m trying to be one. The same people who talk a lot about this, they say, “What’s happened with this is that as I study this, I used to be a materialist, philosophically, that matter, energy is the whole thing. And either science can explain it or it’s not real, all those attitudes. And now this is shaking me up on that. I’m beginning to see all these things, some of the things that go along with this, that there seems to be a reality that’s not just matter and energy.” And I want to say, “Yes. Let me tell you about it.” Christian’s have been talking about this for 2000 years. Or they’ll say… They make a lot of comments these days about consciousness, and it’s almost as if with all this, that instead of as some scientists seem to claim neurologists or neuroscientists, that the consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the material brain, the matter of the brain, and its processes somehow give rise to this consciousness.

He says, “Again, it seems to me it’s the other way around that there’s this great kind of cosmic consciousness that’s giving rise to the universe.” And I want to say, “Let’s follow that a little bit. Maybe that’s God.” And other things too, interdimensional beings. Well, in a sense, depending on how you define it, maybe you’re talking about angels and demons, or at least realizing that something we’ve said for 2000 years and longer. So there’s also opportunity, but yes, you have to keep your head on straight. You have to… Don’t let it preoccupy you.

Don’t let your curiosity be the kind of thing where you just want occult secret knowledge. I don’t want this… I don’t want any kind of occult knowledge of this. I want the whole world to know. I want to know the truth. I don’t want the world to know the truth. If there are other things out there and they’re visiting us, especially then for the first part for me, is that that means God is even greater and more creative than I could have ever imagined. And let’s start asking ourselves about those things. How does it impact our faith in that positive way?

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, I’ve thought that myself with, when I think about the age and size of the universe, and you find out it’s bigger and larger and longer. And then you find out it might be populated more than you thought. To me, it just gives more glory to God, because it just shows his great wonder that he is so far above us, we can’t even conceive it. Now, okay, my last question to you is this: a definitive alien intelligent life comes to your door, comes to your house, meets you, somehow you know it’s alien life, what do you do? Do you start evangelizing them? What do you do in that situation?

Paul Thigpen:

That’s a great question. And people have jokingly asked folks of the Vatican, “Would you baptize an alien?” And that’s not the first time it’s been asked. That question, oh my goodness, all the way back to people just centuries ago who talked about that and talked about how if you had aliens that we met and they wanted to be baptized, and the church said, “Okay, we’ll give them conditional baptism.” Then the next issue would be for the Catholics: can you ordain such a person? And it was just… But they were thinking about it all that time ago. I would say, if I could get in that situation and we could communicate, I would start off with saying, “Tell me how do you think the universe came to be?” And start asking questions to find out if they have a notion of God.

Also asking questions about morality in such a way to try to discover: do they know what we would call sin in their culture? Do they know… Are they capable of deception? Are they capable of malice? Those kinds of things. And then to begin to find out, say, “Now this is the reality that I know.” And to talk about it, and see if they start saying, “Oh, yes, yes. That person, he came to our planet too.” Or maybe, “This is all new to me. Tell me more about it.” Or, “Yes, we know about a creator. We live with him happily all the time.”

Somebody does a great cartoon where it has an alien talking to a human being. And the human being says, “Do you know Jesus Christ?” And the alien says, “Yes, yes. He came to our planet and we threw him a big festival and put him on a throne, made him king. What did you do to him?” Oh my gosh. The guy says, “Oh, I don’t want to answer that question? What did we do to him?” So I’d start out by asking questions, and then talking about what I know to be true. And you’d have to go from there.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, that’s a good answer. Because that you would want to find out their cultural history too, because maybe you’re meeting the atheist alien, where there’s a large Catholic church on their planet that he’s rejected, but actually exists. Because I’m afraid that’s what we’re going to do. When we finally can do space travel, we’re sending out some atheists who’s going to go out there and just mess it all, that first contact.

Paul Thigpen:

Well, CS Lewis already envisioned that. And one of his speculations was, “Maybe one reason we don’t have the contact with him is because we’re under quarantine.” That God has made sure that you have a hint of something like that, that angels-

Eric Sammons:

You’ve done enough damage to the human race.

Paul Thigpen:

… angels look long to see what has happened on Earth, and then maybe we’re in quarantine. He doesn’t want us to spread our moral illness.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, we’ve done enough damage to our own world. Let’s not try to spread elsewhere, maybe he’s thinking. So, okay, so we’re going to wrap it up there. I want to encourage people to, like me, buy this book, which is Extraterrestrial Intelligence and the Catholic faith: Are we Alone in the Universe with God and the Angels? And I like how… The question most people just say is, “Are we alone in the universe?” But you made sure you added, “with God and the angels,” just to remind people we’re not actually alone in the universe, whether or not there’s alien intelligent life or not, we’re not alone. There’s the angels of God at the very least, very most. And so it’s from Tan Publishing. I’ll make sure I will put a link to it in the show notes so people can easily find it over at Tan. It’s great because it goes through the history of what kind of things were thought, but then you actually then grapple with the questions in a modern context as well. So excellent book I recommend it to anybody interested in this subject.

Paul Thigpen:

Thank you, Eric. Thanks for having me. It’s been a lovely conversation. Appreciate it.

Eric Sammons:

Great, great. Thank you so much again. I, again, encourage people to pick up that book. And until next time, everybody, God love you.

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