When E.T. phones the pope

www.washingtonpost.com - ET & The Vatican
A little more than a half-mile from the Vatican, in a square called Campo de' Fiori, stands a large statue of a brooding monk. Few of the shoppers and tourists wandering through the fruit-and-vegetable market below may know his story; he is Giordano Bruno, a Renaissance philosopher, writer and free-thinker who was burned at the stake by the Inquisition in 1600. Among his many heresies was his belief in a "plurality of worlds" -- in extraterrestrial life, in aliens.
Though it's a bit late for Bruno, he might take satisfaction in knowing that this week the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences is holding its first major conference on astrobiology, the new science that seeks to find life elsewhere in the cosmos and to understand how it began on Earth. Convened on private Vatican grounds in the elegant Casina Pio IV, formerly the pope's villa, the unlikely gathering of prominent scientists and religious leaders shows that some of the most tradition-bound faiths are seriously contemplating the possibility that life exists in myriad forms beyond this planet. Astrobiology has arrived, and religious and social institutions -- even the Vatican -- are taking note.
Father Jose Funes, a Jesuit astronomer, director of the centuries-old Vatican Observatory and a driving force behind the conference, suggested in an interview last year that the possibility of "brother extraterrestrials" poses no problem for Catholic theology. "As a multiplicity of creatures exists on Earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God," Funes explained. "This does not conflict with our faith because we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God."
Yet, as Bruno might attest, the notion of life beyond Earth does not easily coexist with the "truths" that many people hold dear. Just as the Copernican revolution forced us to understand that Earth is not the center of the universe, the logic of astrobiologists points in a similarly unsettling direction: to the likelihood that we are not alone, and perhaps that we are not even the most advanced creatures in the universe. This may not "conflict with our faith," but it may conflict with the stories we tell about who and what we are.
"The real threat would come from the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence, because if there are beings elsewhere in the universe, then Christians, they're in this horrible bind. They believe that God became incarnate in the form of Jesus Christ in order to save humankind, not dolphins or chimpanzees or little green men on other planets."

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1 comment:

W. R. Pursche said...

I have co-authored a novel ("The Eternal Messiah: Jesus of K'Turia”) that is about the discovery of Jesus on another planet. The book explores not only how Jesus is perceived by another race, but also how those who know of the Biblical Jesus react.

In the book, the focus is not on 'will life exist on other planets,' but rather, "How will God choose to appear in the Universe He created?" And just as Jesus Christ was not universally accepted, so too we see that in this other place and time, some will believe and some will not.

Quite a few religious scholars (of different religions and denominations) read the book before publication and not only had no issue with the premise, but also felt that the exploration of the concept raised important theological issues.

"The Eternal Messiah: Jesus of K'Turia,” by W. R. Pursche and Michael Gabriele. www.EternalMessiah.com