“Where Are They?” A Question for Both Spirituality and Science

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Scientific legend has it that Enrico Fermi, one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century, looked up from his lunch one day in Los Alamos, New Mexico and simply asked, “Where are they?” This became known, famously, as ‘Fermi’s paradox,’ which sparked the initiative of many young scientists to create equations that just might prove the existence of extraterrestrial beings or life on other planets. Fermi had often wondered  about life in other universes, including our own. Here was a man who created the first nuclear reactor, excelled in both theoretical and experimental physics, contributed to quantum theory, and helped develop the atomic bomb (though he vigorously opposed the hydrogen bomb as the most destructive weapon ever developed). Reading his biography is more like reading a physics textbook. The 100th element on the element table is fermium, named after Fermi.

Still, he wondered. Fermi’s premise was that there is no tangible evidence of ‘creature life’ on other planets and there is also no tangible evidence that there is not life on those planets. It was a conundrum even for the most gifted physicist of his generation and well into ours. So, Fermi thought it a good idea to pursue this train of study, though he personally would not be so engaged. Someone remarked that “either we are alone in the universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”

I am an amateur explorer of these theories, a UFOlogist by interest but I was not always on this page. Several years ago, four of us Sisters of Charity drove to Roswell, New Mexico, where the anniversary of the landing of the first presumed flying saucer had taken place 50 years before. Three of us were on different levels of the spectrum of non-believers while one of us was a dedicated believer. During that trip, we interviewed people who were connected to the event as residents of the city; we read documents from each American president starting with Harry Truman and we interviewed scientists and writers who have done major studies on the Roswell event. I started to believe in extraterrestrial life, but what really convinced me was the number and professional quality of theologians, who are also scientists, and have peered into the window of interplanetary existence and provided the spiritual underpinnings we need to at least have an open mind.

So, when the U.S. Director of National Intelligence made public, last week, the nine page document on aerial phenomena witnessed by Navy pilots and titled, Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, I was curious.  

Immediately, I thought this will not disclose anything but it is a start. It’s like the bullpen is warming up and once our attention is given, the game will continue. As predicted by many scientists, the report confirmed only that there were sightings of phenomena in the sky reported by Navy pilots. But this has been going on for decades. General conclusions are that we need more investigation and, second, there is always the possibility of foreign nations secretly experimenting in our atmosphere. There is more to come, we can be certain.

Reflection

For religious naysayers, the Catholic Church has always held the possibility of life elsewhere than on earth. The Church maintains the Vatican Observatory which opened in 1891 in Rome and one in Arizona where trained scientists, including clergy, spend careers studying, teaching, and publishing research on advancements in astronomy. Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., an American who heads the Observatory in Rome, is called “the pope’s astronomer.” Father Jose Funes, retired director and now a scholar at the Jesuit university in Argentina said, “Christians should consider alien life as an extraterrestrial brother and a part of God’s creation. We cannot place limits on the creation of God.”

I think it’s exciting to imagine that one day we may meet these beings whom God loves as much as he loves us. But in the meantime, I invite you to join in the exploration of expanded life. Check this out: there are billions of universes each with billions of stars so it is difficult to wrap our heads around this immensity let alone think of beings inhabiting any of these ‘worlds.’ 

This week, reflect on the possibility of life from other planets and stars.  Open your mind to the immeasurable creation of God. Look up at the skies on our summer nights and praise God for what you see and what you don’t see.

If you are seeking good reading on the subject, look up the Vatican Observatory online. Excellent books and articles are suggested there. Perhaps you might want to read Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base by Annie Jacobsen or Hunt for the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah by Colm A. Kelleher Ph.D., George Knapp

Try to pick out sections of the Hebrew Scriptures where marvels of mysterious nature are mentioned and praised.

But most of all, keep an open and informed mind. Father Funes wrote,

“Astronomy is a science that can open peoples’ minds and hearts and bring them closer to God.”

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