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The Pontifical Academy of Sciences held a "study week" to explore the question of the existence of extraterrestials. Image Credit: The Vatican

Vatican Holds Conference on Extraterrestrial Life

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

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Though it may seem an unlikely location to happen upon a conference on astrobiology, the Vatican recently held a “study week” of over 30 astronomers, biologists, geologists and religious leaders to discuss the question of the existence of extraterrestrials. This follows the statement made last year by the Pope’s chief astronomer, Father Gabriel Funes, that the existence of extraterrestrials does not preclude a belief in God, and that it’s a question to be explored by the Catholic Church. The event, put on by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, took place at the Casina Pio IV on the Vatican grounds from November 6-11.

The conference was meant to focus on the scientific perspective on the subject of the existence of extraterrestrial life, and pulled in perspectives from atheist scientists and Catholic leaders alike. It was split into eight different segments, starting with a topics about life here on Earth such as the origins of life, the Earth’s habitability through time, and the environment and genomes. Then the detection of life elsewhere, search strategies for extrasolar planets, the formation and properties of extrasolar planets was discussed, culminating in the last segment, intelligence elsewhere and ‘shadow life’ – life with a biochemistry completely different than that found on Earth.

Speakers at the event included notable physicist Paul Davies and Jill C. Tarter, the Director of the Center for SETI Research. Numerous astrobiologists and astronomers researching extrasolar planets also were in attendance to give lectures. The whole series of speech abstracts and a list of participants is available in a brochure on the Vatican site, here.

The event was held to mark the International Year of Astronomy, and the participants hope to collect the lectures into a book. Father Gabriel Funes, the chief astronomer of the Vatican, said in an interview to the Vatican paper, Osservatore Romano last year:

“Just like there is an abundance of creatures on earth, there could also be other beings, even intelligent ones, that were created by God. That doesn’t contradict our faith, because we cannot put boundaries to God’s creative freedom. As saint Francis would say, when we consider the earthly creatures to be our “brothers and sisters”, why couldn’t we also talk about a “extraterrestrial brother”? He would still be part of creation.”

Even with the discovery of over 400 exoplanets, the question of extraterrestrial life still remains to be answered in our own Solar System. It is a pertinent question for the religious and non-religious alike. Though it wasn’t answered at this most recent conference, the existence of life outside what we know here on Earth has an equal impact on the findings of science as it does the meaning of religion. This event certainly brought the two under the same roof for what were surely some interesting and fruitful conversations.

Source: Physorg, Pontifical Academy of Sciences

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tacitus
Member
November 10, 2009 10:01 PM
Proof of the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life will only be a challenge to the most fundamentalist of Christians (or any other religious faith for that matter). I would fully expect organizations like the Catholic Church to adjust to the new reality quite easily — certainly in comparison with their long battle against a Copernican solar system. Groups like young Earth creationists would likely have a harder time adjusting, particularly if the alien records go back appreciably more than a few thousand records, but it’s not like they can’t supplant one delusion with another — say, the aliens are actually Satan’s demons sent to tempt and test us. After all, that’s just about as believable as a 6,000… Read more »
tacitus
Member
November 10, 2009 10:59 PM

It is unlikely we will meet any aliens in our lifetime — unless they’re already here or at least on their way (also unlikely). But there is a better chance we might at least detect signs of intelligent life — through the SETI program or a future successor.

It’s still a long shot, but you never know.

Ivan3man_At_Large
Member
Ivan3man_At_Large
November 10, 2009 9:21 PM

A possible future Alien Pope?

Vedic
Member
Vedic
November 10, 2009 10:37 PM

For me, life elsewhere in the Universe wouldn’t change anything, but given the shere size of space and the distances involved I do wonder if we would ever meet them…

…unless we developed ‘warp drive’ lol

Maxwell
Member
Maxwell
November 11, 2009 12:05 AM
Proof of extraterrestrial intelligence would be more of a challenge to certain scientists and politicians. A lot of dangerous people would lose influence and power if someone else were to turn up on the scene. Religions are flexible. They’ve been providing a sense of stability and culture to mankind for thousands of years though a number of drastic changes. I don’t think contact with extraterrestrials would be much of a challenge (some might even say it was predicted in various scriptures). I’d be more concerned with what their religions think of us or how their moral code looks upon other species. Especially if they outpace us in technology and find earth first. If its all the same, I’d… Read more »
The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
Member
The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
November 11, 2009 12:38 AM

0Just hope they don’t find that God is an extraterrestrial! smile

Some Random Guy
Member
Some Random Guy
November 11, 2009 2:08 AM

If you’ll allow me to be pedantic for a moment: by definition of prefix ‘extra-‘, God would be defined as an ‘extraterrestrial’.

But seriously, I think this progressive attitude shown buy the Vatican is a good start. I only hope this progressive attitude becomes applied to other lines of thought and by more than just the Catholic Church, considering that there are quite a few non-Catholic denominations that look toward the Vatican for guidance.

Ultimately, I think the most interesting development from this would be the possibility of comparative religious and comparative philosophical dialogue between ourselves and another race of intelligent beings, should the possibility of communication ever eventuate (making the assumption that they delve into religion and/or philosophy).

Some Random Guy
Member
Some Random Guy
November 11, 2009 2:11 AM

Addendum on that first line:

Dependent upon your conception of God. If your definition is that God is everything and everyone, then you couldn’t clearly define him as terrestrial or extraterrestrial… He/She/It/They would be both.

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
November 11, 2009 6:25 AM
I suspect that the “density” of intelligent life is not terribly high. By intelligent life I mean life capable of abstracting concepts, communicating them to each other and of fabricating things. The question of ET is whether there might exist any within a distance we are capable of receiving a radio signal from, or transmitting to. The matter of God is of interest to theologians. Yet God can be considered a projection of ourselves. If one looks at indigenous, subsistent or tribal people you see they have elaborate stories about totems or spirits in their environment. I suspect this is a way we humans evolved language, which permits us to transmit environment information from generation to generation. In… Read more »
Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
November 11, 2009 6:46 AM
I agree with Tacitus that we are not likely to communicate with ET very soon. Think of the universe as a flat Earth extending infinitely. There are some planets which bear life, and intelligent life. On this flat Earth model such a planet is an ant hill and we are the ants. We can look out and see far into this universe. We have sent some devices to nearby rocks or things of interest and some of us have walked on the nearest thing or pebble to our anthill — the moon. Now maybe a thousand kilometers away from our anthill is another anthill. We might get good at detecting things and finding this other anthill. On the… Read more »
FritzS
Member
FritzS
November 11, 2009 7:48 AM

It seems that the Universe is still wondering when Intelligent Life will develope here on earth. Given the vastness of the universe, the only possible reason they have not chosen to ‘really’ have contact with us is that we are still under quarantine. Contemplate this on Veteran’s Day today.

BeckyWS
Member
BeckyWS
November 11, 2009 11:34 AM
Lawrence makes an excellent point. It is just as likely that any ETI will be less rather than more “intelligent” than us, of a level seen in advanced organisms on Earth. The obvious candidates as Lawrence lists, elephants, octopi, apes, we have made very little progress in communicating with *on our terms*, however we are perfectly well aware that all of these (and many other less “clever” organisms) are sentient beings capable of emotions, conscious thought- even if not self-conscious-, and complex communication within their own species. The shocking thing is how we treat them- killing them, often just abusing them for very selfish purposes, despite knowing they are complex sentient beings. It makes me afraid of how… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
November 11, 2009 12:48 PM
Some religion is flexible, or any specific such wouldn’t survive long. That said it is even then glacial, territorial and immoral (remember the catholic church medieval institution for suppressing new thoughts), and science would be better served not to have scientists ally with specific churches. Specifically here, this church will adapt but at a prize. Post-semitic religions are inconsistent as regards morals (“problem of evil”) and cultures (“chosen people”), and this touches on both problems. Specifically, will they have their respective morally and culturally selective gods “visiting materially” all habitable worlds, only on worlds with intelligent life, or only here? I wouldn’t hold my breath for a (consistent) answer on that one. Yet another problem that they will… Read more »
HeadAroundU
Member
November 11, 2009 12:49 PM

One thing I know for sure, LC should never touch problems concerning god and future. It just doesn’t suit you. Just stay in your complicated reality, you are good at it.

BeckyWS, the shocking thing is that I’d never expect people like you to be on UT.
PS: meat is tasty.

JDouglas
Member
JDouglas
November 11, 2009 7:20 PM

I think this is just Vatican public relations. There’s no institution on earth that is more adverse to enlightened, science-informed dialogue than the Catholic Church. It was true in the Middle
Ages and it’s true today. This conference makes them look good on the surface, but underneath it all, those Vatican officials are scrambling around, analyzing those lectures and looking for ways to shoot holes in them from a rigid, dogmatic perspective. Religion is a virus. Any actual interest they may have in the possible existence of “alien” life probably stems from a fear that their virus might be threatened or attacked by some other virus.

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
November 11, 2009 8:38 PM
The Vatican does support La Sapienza and the Pontifical Academy. The Church since the 15th century has played some role in scholarship. However, they have also an interest in controlling knowledge, which includes religious knowledge. The Church presents a front to the world, in particular Catholics, with a ritualized system. Underneath the clergy are aware of a far deeper meaning to the Bible than most people are aware of. The problem between Galileo and Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino reflects this in part. Bellarmino consulted with the Pontifical faculty and was aware that largely the scholars had settled on Copernicus as at least a viable model. Bellarmino simply wanted Galileo to tone down the rhetoric some and to give time… Read more »
Nexus
Member
November 11, 2009 8:39 PM

Got any evidence for these accusations, or is it just irrational hatred?

Nexus
Member
November 11, 2009 8:43 PM

Sorry, Lawrence. That last post was directed at JDouglas- you and I posted at nearly the same time.

JDouglas
Member
JDouglas
November 11, 2009 9:09 PM

Right. It’s my “irrational hatred” of deadly infectious viruses, whichever strain we happen to be discussing.

Nexus
Member
November 11, 2009 9:32 PM

You know what I think? I think you can’t stand the idea that the Catholics are actually doing something half-way sensible for a change. It’s very difficult to vilify people who are behaving sensibly.

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