SP-419 SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence




There are few questions that more excite the curiosity, the imagination and the exploratory bent of modern man than the one posed in this study: Are we humans alone in this vast universe? The question is usually expressed in terms of other possible intelligent beings, or other planets. The philosopher in me would want to believe that if there are other intelligent beings, they are also free, and will use that freedom to try to find us. The basic problem to which this study is addressed is similar: Will we use our freedom to find them? What priority should this search have for modern man, everywhere?

Few would disagree with the proposition that we are living in a truly revolutionary age, inaugurated by Sputnik and the first trip to the Moon. In another such age - the Copernican -the prevailing religious or theological thought resisted, with the then current wisdom. the proposition that the Sun and the universe did not rotate around the Earth. They mistakenly believed that man was the center of the Universe, and that astronomy should reflect that anthropocentric belief. They may ultimately be right about man, though not about astronomy, it we do not ever find intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. However, we should not be predisposed to accept the proposition that we indeed are alone and unique as creatures possessing intelligence and freedom in this whole vast Universe.

I must now mention God otherwise quite properly unmentionned in these scientific studies and must go a step further and pose the question: Can a religious person, or even more, a theologian, possibly be legitimately involved in, even be excited by these discussions of the possibility of other intelligent and free creatures out there?

Just last week, I was discussing the subject with a Russian lawyer who regarded me with some surprise and asked: 'Surely you must abandon your theology when you consider these possibilities?" "Indeed, I don't," I replied. "It is precisely because I believe theologically that there is a being called God, and that He is infinite in intelligence, freedom, and power, that I cannot take it upon myself to limit what He might have done." Once he created the Big Bang and there had to be something, call it energy, hydrogen, or whatever, to go bang He could have envisioned it going in billions of directions as it evolved, including billions of life forms and billions of kinds of intelligent beings. I will go even further. There conceivably can be billions of universes created with other Big Bangs or different arrangements. Why limit Infinite Power or Energy which is a name of God? We should get some hint from the almost, but not quite. infinite profusion of the Universe we still know only in part. Only one consideration is important here regarding creation. Since God is intelligent, however He creates - "Let there be light" - Bang - or otherwise, whatever He creates is a cosmos and not a chaos since all His creation has to reflect Him. What reflects Him most is intelligence and freedom, not matter. "We are made in His image," why suppose that He did not create the most of what reflects Him the best. He certainly made a lot of matter. Why not more intelligence, more free beings, who alone can seek and know Him?

As a theologian, I would say that this proposed search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is also a search of knowing and understanding God through His works especially those works that most reflect Him. Finding others than ourselves would mean knowing Him better.


Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C.

President, University of Notre Dame