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Of late, there has been a news on the appointment of theologians by NASA to study the impact of belief in the existence of alien life, on human beings , at http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/heavens-above-nasa-hires-priest-to-prepare-for-an-alien-discovery- .

Now, one finds something intriguing in Gen 6: 1-3:

When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.”

Of course, there are theories on who the Sons of God were. Some do not rule out the possibility of their being extra-terrestrial, untainted human-like beings. There is also a theory that the pyramids, which are too difficult for human beings to build even by today's standards, were built with the assistance of such extra-terrestrials. My question therefore is: What is the Catholic Church's view on the appointment of theologians by NASA to study the impact of belief in ETs, in the context of Gen 6:1-3 ?

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What is the Catholic Church's view on the appointment of theologians by NASA to study the impact of belief in ETs, in the context of Gen 6:1-3?

I do not think that the Church has a particular point of view in this regards. We can not confirm the aliens do exist and the Church does not admit as fact, even if you take into context Genesis 6:1-37!

Let us start by seeing who the Nephilim of the Scripture may truly be:

The Church does not believe that the Nephilim are angels, demons or aliens. Angels, according to Catholicism can not beget human beings!

The Nephilim (Hebrew: נְפִילִים) were the offspring of the "sons of God" and the "daughters of men" before the Deluge, according to Genesis 6:1-4.

A similar or identical biblical Hebrew term, read as "Nephilim" by some scholars, or as the word "fallen" by others, appears in Ezekiel 32:27.1

When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, "My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. — Genesis 6:1–4, New Revised Standard Version

The word is loosely translated as giants in some Bibles and left untranslated in others. The "sons of God" have been interpreted as fallen angels in some traditional Jewish explanations.

According to Numbers 13:33, they later inhabited Canaan at the time of the Israelite conquest of Canaan.

The Lord said to Moses, "Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites" ... So they went up and spied out the land ... And they told him: "... Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there." ... So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying, "The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them." — Numbers 13:1–2; 21; 27–28; 32–33. New Revised Standard Version.

And now let us look at what the Sons of God may mean:

Sons of the God (Hebrew: בני האלהים‎) literally: "sons of the Gods") is a phrase used in the Hebrew Bible and apocrypha. The phrase is also used in Kabbalah where bene elohim are part of different Jewish angelic hierarchies.

Hebrew Bible

Genesis 6

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. — Genesis 6:1–4, KJV

The first mention of "sons of God" in the Hebrew Bible occurs at Genesis 6:1–4. In terms of literary-historical origin, this phrase is typically associated with the Jahwist tradition.3

This passage has had two interpretations in Judaism:

  • Offspring of Seth: The first references to the offspring of Seth rebelling from God and mingling with the daughters of Cain are found in Christian and rabbinic literature from the second century CE onwards e.g. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Augustine of Hippo, Julius Africanus, and the Letters attributed to St. Clement. It is also the view expressed in the modern canonical Amharic Ethiopian Orthodox Bible. In Judaism "Sons of God" usually refers to the righteous, i.e. the children of Seth.

Angels: All of the earliest sources interpret the "sons of God" as angels. From the third century BCE onwards, references are found in the Enochic literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls the (Genesis Apocryphon, the Damascus Document, 4Q180), Jubilees, the Testament of Reuben, 2 Baruch, Josephus, and the book of Jude (compare with 2 Peter 2). This is also the meaning of the only two identical occurrences of bene ha elohim in the Hebrew Bible (Job 1:6 and 2:1), and of the most closely related expressions (refer to the list above). In the Septuagint, the interpretive reading "angels" is found in Codex Alexandrinus, one of four main witnesses to the Greek text.

Rabbinic Judaism traditionally adheres to the first interpretation, with some exceptions, and modern Jewish translations may translate bnei elohim as "sons of rulers" rather than "sons of God". Regardless, the second interpretation (sons of angels or other divine beings) is nonexistent in modern Judaism. This is reflected by the rejection of Enoch and other Apocrypha supporting the second interpretation from the Hebrew Bible Canon.

Regardless of these understandings the question of aliens and ET life remains an open question in Catholic circles, including Pope Francis.

On Monday morning, Pope Francis preached that he would baptize Martians. He caused, yet again, quite a stir. But to think he was talking just about aliens is to miss his main point. Pope Francis was using Martians to illustrate that the church must be open to whatever, or whoever, may seem socially foreign and unaccepted.

Pope Francis brought up Martians as he was preaching about a specific New Testament story: early Christians were wondering if Jews and Gentiles could associate, and God gave the Apostle Peter a vision that salvation extended beyond the deepest cultural divides. It was a moment of internal crisis for the early church. “That was unthinkable,” Francis explained. And, to show just how unthinkable it was, he added: “If—for example—tomorrow an expedition of Martians came, and some of them came to us, here…Martians, right? Green, with that long nose and big ears, just like children paint them…And one says, ‘But I want to be baptized!’ What would happen?”

The church today should learn from the early church, Francis explained, that it cannot close its doors to anyone. That which God has purified, as the Scripture says, no one can call profane. “It was never the ministry of the closed door, never,” Francis explained.

It is also a pointed reference to the church’s efforts to welcome immigrants. ‘Alien,’ ‘stranger,’ and ‘immigrant’ are often translated interchangeably in Biblical texts. One passage from the book Deuteronomy has become the crux of Catholic teaching on welcoming the immigrant: “Show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” While Francis did not reference immigration as specifically as baptism in his sermon, the connection cannot be not far from his mind. Pope Francis urged compassion for the immigrant in his first papal trip to the island of Lampedusa, where hundreds of people have died trying to immigrate from Africa to Europe. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also often uses the alien language in its push for immigration reform on Capitol Hill and in its refugee programs.

Did Francis have a message about actual beings from other planets? Possibly. The idea of baptizing aliens is actually nothing new for the Vatican. The Vatican’s chief astronomer, Argentine Jesuit father José Funes, explained the possibility of extraterrestrial life in 2008, when he too said that God’s mercy could be offered to aliens if it were needed. He even cited Pope Francis’ namesake to make his point. “This is not in contrast with the faith, because we cannot place limits on the creative freedom of God,” Funes said. “To use St. Francis’ words, if we consider earthly creatures as ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters,’ why can’t we also speak of an ‘extraterrestrial brother?’”

The Vatican Pontifical Academy of Sciences held its first major conference on astrobiology in 2009. For five days, thirty scientists gave presentations to Catholic bishops on everything from microbes to planetary detection to life beyond Earth. Rome has come a long way from 16th century, when Dominican friar and astronomer Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake during the Inquisition for heresy, including his openness to multiple worlds.

Pope Francis, like any good preacher, knows how to keep his audience interested—nothing like a Martian reference to catch people’s attention. Whether or not they will remember it for the right reasons is another question.

For Pope Francis, It’s About More than Martians

Catholic Church's may not have any particular point of view on the appointment of theologians by NASA to study the impact of belief in ETs, in the context of Gen 6:1-3, but it stands to reason the Church would be favourable towards the idea.

Would the existence of intelligent Extraterrestrials be consistent with Catholic belief?

In answering this question it is important to recognize that we have no evidence for life other than what is present on the Earth. We do not know of any other place beyond Earth where an indigenous life form exists --- either microbial or multicellular. All life that has been studied on the Earth exhibits such profound commonalities in genome and the core polymers of living processes that essentially all biologists accept a single, common origin for life on the Earth. We know of no alien life forms extant on the Earth.

That said, modern astronomy has established that planets appear to be as common as stars throughout our Galaxy and by extension the Universe as a whole. And given this abundance of planets, it would be surprising were there not literally billions of such planets capable of supporting life like that on Earth --- the only kind of life we know. In our own solar system, no fewer than three worlds other than Earth appear capable of supporting life. Our own planet’s geologic record establishes that life began early --- within the first 10 to 20% of our planet’s history. And so it would not be unexpected to find that simple life forms have arisen on many worlds.

The discovery of life on other worlds would not at all be inconsistent with Catholic belief, since it reflects the ability of the Creator to establish creatures wherever and whenever he wishes. Indeed, just as far more species of higher organisms have existed on the Earth in the past than exist today, we might imagine a universe populated with an enormous variety of life forms as an expression of the infinite power of God’s creativity and his desire to give being to many wondrous forms for which there simply is no room in Earth’s ecosystems.

But what about intelligent, self-aware extraterrestrial life --- what we might abbreviate as ETI’s? Here we cannot automatically assume we are common. Only one such life form has appeared on Earth --- us --- and it has taken evolution four billion years to produce our physical forms. Indeed, some planetary scientists estimate that we have appeared in the final 10% to 20% of the total duration of habitability of the Earth, as the Sun brightens and we move to a climate state in which our oceans will begin to boil away. Perhaps in most planetary systems there is insufficient time for intelligent life to arise --- we just do not know. And we do not even know whether self-awareness, rationality and free will automatically accompany intelligence. We cannot rule out that these powers are unique properties of human beings. For example, might it be possible to have intelligence without rationality or free will? As Catholics we hold to the conviction that God must implant in each human being a soul for these to exist. Science has nothing to say on this.

Suppose we find that ETI’s do exist? What happens to our uniqueness as being formed “in the image of God” if other self-aware material beings exist? From the standpoint of Catholic theology, the following points are clear and uncontroversial: if other embodied beings possessing reason and free will exist in the universe, they would have rational and immortal souls and be made in “the image of God.” God would love them and desire them to be in communion with him. If they were fallen, he would desire their redemption. How would redemption work for them? Would it involve God becoming “incarnate” among them in their own forms? There is no Church teaching on this question, and theologians are divided in their opinions. That such multiple incarnations of the Son of God are not impossible is suggested by the fact that St. Thomas Aquinas held that it was possible for God even to have multiple human incarnations. (See Summa Theologiae, Part III, question 3, article 7: “It is plain that … it has to be said that the Divine Person, over and beyond the human nature which he has assumed can assume another distinct human nature.”) This takes us, however, into the realm of theological speculation and debate.

If it exists, ETI might turn out to be so alien that we cannot comprehend it, which in turn might render moot some of the theological issues outlined here. In the forward to his novel “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Arthur C. Clarke warned his readers about speculating in this regard: “The truth, as always, will be far stranger”.

Those of us who are Catholics and have and inquisitive and scientific mind should pray to St. Albert the Great for inspiration and guidance.

And do not forget the Gold Masses which are generally held on November 15, the Feast of St. Albert the Great.

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You will find that the most reasonable interpretation of this passage is that the "sons of God" are the children of Seth, the ones who continue in the line of the blessing. A series of selected commentaries show a large consensus on this point.

Poole's Commentary in particular is very helpful in seeing this is the case, as he gives cross-references for usage of the same term in Old Testament Scriptures.

In my experience, every respectable Catholic theologian I have read on the topic agrees with this understanding, as does my wife, who is studying Sacred Scripture at an orthodox Catholic school in their graduate program.

In light of this, I don't think the Church would have any objections to such a study done by NASA. It is unlikely that ancient men, the early Church, or medievals widely believed in extraterrestrial beings as we understand them today, and as such a study on the effects of widespread belief in their existence is probably worth the effort. If anything, Catholics would worry that care is taken to appoint only reputable and trustworthy theologians to this task, so as to avoid error due to ignorance, maliciousness, or heretical foundational principles.

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  • All those commentaries are wrong if they think the evidence is conclusive. We have no reason to think it's the children of Seth vs Cain. We really don't know what it refers to.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 23:10
  • I'm not sure any of them state it's conclusive, but the most reasonable interpretation is that it refers to the children [read: descendants] of Seth and Cain. Other interpretations fail the Occam's Razor test, so unless there is a greater reason to suppose one of those theories than this one, this one is most reasonable.
    – jaredad7
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 23:24
  • That's definitely not the most reasonable interpretation. Because all humans are sons of God if Seth's descendants are, and humans making babies with other humans wouldn't provoke God's wrath, not would it produce nephilim/giants.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 23:28
  • If you think there is a good argument to be made, you might be interested in this question, which so far hasn't received any persuasive argument (IMO): Why is the line from Seth to Noah often called righteous?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 23:56
  • @curiousdannii sorry I missed your second response. In fact, given the long history of Jews being warned not to intermarry with pagans, and, the fact that often these intermarriages lead the Jewish party astray, it makes perfect sense that the children of Seth and Cain intermarrying would offend God, the children of Seth being led away from righteousness. We see that God sends the flood not because of this intermarriage in itself, but because of the wickedness it has caused in man. Noah is the only righteous man left alive in the time of the flood.
    – jaredad7
    Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 15:37

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