Vatican Holds Conference on Extraterrestrial Life

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

39 Replies to “Vatican Holds Conference on Extraterrestrial Life”

  1. 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 year old Universe.

    I think in the end there will not be as big an upheaval in religious life on Earth as many would expect. Some people, of course, will have their minds changed, and I fully expect that new religions based on the existence of the aliens and perhaps based on their belief systems would spring up, but religion is nothing if not adaptable, and this would merely be latest in a long line of adjustments religions have made throughout their long histories.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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 prefer to meet the aliens in a neutral location far, far, away from here. With at least a little lead time to figure out their intentions. I’d be better than having an alien find mankind in the cradle, as it were.

  5. 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).

  6. 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.

  7. 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 our cultural development we have converted these nature gods or spirits into members of a pantheon, which then were later subsumed into a single God. Of course we still do totemism, where we identify ourselves with various animals — look at the names given to many sports teams. These ideas amount to projections of ourselves, which we do in many guises, from totemistic ideas of spirits, to literary projections onto characters, Einstein imagining himself on a reference frame moving with an electromagnetic wave, to projecting ourselves to gods, a God and so forth.

    If there are ETI we can communicate with they may likely have a different internal conscious basis for their intelligence. For them the idea of there existing a god might sound very strange. This assumes of course we are able to decrypt and encrypt the relative symbolic or linguistic structure of ourselves and the ETI to realistically communicate. Yet it might be for them the idea that there exists some infinitely projected version of us humans as the supreme basis of existence would seem extremely strange. It might be something they never considered for themselves.

    We do have to remember that on our planet we have some life forms which have very complex neurological processing abilities. Of course our ape relatives are examples, and we also have cetacean with large brains, elephants and even cephalopods such as octopi. Some octopi have brains 1/4 their body mass and the size of soccer balls. So in some of these cases we have animal species which have complex neurological structures, and process lots of information. We have yet to make much progress in communicating with them.


  8. 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 other hand, that other closest anthill might be a million km away and we will never detect it.

    The response of people to the discovery of ETI might range from religious epiphany and revelation to violent rejection. The space of concepts will change considerably, where something common to fictional representations (Star Trek etc) is a projection of ourselves which managed to be verified in the exterior world. People with an authoritarian mentality (about 25% of humanity) may reject any evidence of detecting ETI, and about half of them vehemently so.


  9. 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.

  10. 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 we would treat ETI organisms that were vulnerable to our exploitation in some way. Our track record, even of treatment to our fellow humans, is not one to be proud of.

  11. 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 have to fuzzify for their masses.

    all of these (and many other less “clever” organisms) are sentient beings capable of emotions, conscious thought- even if not self-conscious-,

    Other animals can be self aware.

    Elephants passes tests of self-awareness by connecting paint marks visible only in mirrors with their self, trying to rub them out. They can model “self”.

    Dolphins have at least a more rudimentary processing of self, in that they can hesitate if a reward test may mean punishment for mistakes. (Here punishment is withhold reward AFAIU.) I.e. their cognition is self-reflective as it considers its context.

    Under similar circumstances other animals act normally, i.e. IIRC pigeons choose test alternatives as fast with punishment involved as if not.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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 for deliberation. If there is one thing the Catholic Church is good at doing it is in delay tactics. Galileo got in trouble with his Dialogue on … when he basically portrayed Pope Urban VIII as Simplicio and the upholder of the geocentric world. The Church wanted to have some control on knowledge, Galileo wanted none of that. In the end he pulled on too many ponticial beards and the Holy Office put him on interdict.

    The Church is not interested in stifling scientific knowledge, but does have an interest in making sure such changes in our understanding of the world does not reduce the numbers of Catholics. The Vatican admits evolution and the rest, but they have an interest in “information management” of sorts.


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

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

  17. 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.

  18. Right. Half-way across the universe sensible. And at the same time they’re injecting their virus directly into the U.S. political process regarding what woman are and aren’t supposed to be allowed to do with their own bodies.

  19. “god” is a virus that exists only in the minds of men and women. There is no “god-creator of life, creator of the universe.” I’m surprised that these scientists even agreed to dignify this with their presence. All the Vatican is doing is using science in an attempt to further perpetuate their god virus.

  20. They’re also twirling their pantomime villain mustaches while laughing maniacally and possibly kicking puppies.

    Seriously, what a load of irrational, hate-filled twaddle.

  21. Funny I just wrote a post on my blog about this. Since no one really knows whether or not God exists, it’s pretty infantile to say with any certainty God is a virus. That is a humorous statement in itself.

    I have to agree whether aliens believe in God, Gods, rocks or nothing, would have little effect on man’s religious beliefs as a whole. But I doubt, as well, we’ll never meet any. Even with vehicles traveling at close to the speed of light (I’m thinking anything over 50%), it would take a multi-generational approach to reach them. Plus when you take into consideration the dangers involved, radiation, space debris, unknown dangers, etc., it wouldn’t be feasible.

  22. Contact with space aliens is likely to be by radio or other forms of electromagnetic communication. We might be able to send probes to nearyby stars <~ 25-50 light years. Sending people there is far harder, expensive and risky. I would be surprised if ETI turned out to be in a very nearby star. Sending anything beyond a few 100 light years is likely to be outright impossible.

    As for God and a virus, the God-idea is something which seems to be intrinsic to our psychology in some way. We project ourselves onto other characters, whether fictional people or totems or gods. This does not mean that God does not exist, but of course might cause some questions about that.

    The Vatican has its dirty laundry, and recently that has included boarding schools and laundering shops which indentured fatherless girls in Ireland. Before that were the sex abuse scandels of alter boys , and so forth, which going back in time leads to some serious horrors. The "sins" of the Vatican have though to my mind become more venal or minor, while those of the "Protestant reformationists" have grown in seriousness. A particular case of this is their sucking up or prostituting themselves for political power with the American conservative right wing.


  23. BeckWS,
    I totally agree with you. We human organisms can’t live peaceably with our other “brothers and sisters” as Saint Francis would say, “When we consider the earthly creatures to be our “brothers and sisters”, why couldn’t we also talk about an”extraterrestrial brother”? He would still be part of creation.”
    If there really is any other planetary life more “intellegent” than earthly humans and have been observing us, do you think that they want to fool around with a mean spirited, warmongering, greedy human organism?? We would do them harm just like we do with our other earthly “brothers and sisters”. The beings in power, including the vatican, are not peaceful beings but beings that like to control the masses and consume them. Some use weapons, others use mind control.
    Maybe someday, the peaceful will inherit the earth, but I don’t know what shape the earth will be in if /when they inherit it. I know that the chimps are destined to become extinct within 15 years, because humans have torn down their habitat and killed them for meat. It’s like eating your distant cousin. I am ashamed of what we have done. We are already polluting outer space with our junk. Any other life outside of earth would be well advised not to try to communicate with us. Wait until we self destruct, then maybe it should be safe.

  24. The good news is that things are really getting better. The bad news is that the consequences of bad activity on our part are far more dire. The percentage of people who die in battle or war has actually declined, even in the 20th century with the horrors of WWI-II. The flip side is we now have nuclear weapons, which have potentially ultimate consequences. We have a better understanding of the natural world, but our activities are possibly more devistating in the long run. We are better educated and informed, but also more of us are misinformed as well.

    It is like the limit of the ratio of two functions or variables as they go to zero. Does this blow up, or converge nicely?


  25. Suppose aliens visit us, and we learn that they are deeply religious. Should we treat belittle them as well, calling their faith a “virus”? How intelligent and logical. Maybe we can give them yellow arm bands too.

  26. HeadAroundU:

    I am not sure what you mean by “people like you” or the fact you wouldn’t expect such people, whoever they are, to be on a website about astronomy.

    “P.S: meat is tasty”

    Good for you.

  27. This dicussion follows the thread of many discussions I’ve seen on this question. The same arguments about distance and travel time, Religion’s reticence on science, the impact of visitation on religions, and the idea that this couldn’t be happening because SETI says it can’t. Well, the Catholic church being the head of Christianity in the world has to respond to such matters if there is a shred of reality to back them up, given the embarassing history and all. The impact of visitation/contact has to be managed to get the best results. Who would be best suited for that role? The religions of the world, for starters. The Vatican’s knowledge of this matter goes back a ways. So why are they talking about it now? Indeed, no one seriously thinks that someone else is really here, right? That is just stupid, as are the crackpots who see these things or think they experience abduction etc…, right?


    Global leaders and the church(es) are wrestling with this important issue because they have to. The 5 original nuclear states – USA, USSR, France, China, and the UK all know too well how real this matter is and are working on how to deal with it. The church is involved for obvious reasons.

    Germany and Japan were working on nuclear weapons programs going into WW2. The USA program gained from the demise of Germany’s program. Japan’s program fizzled out largely due to political interests. The USA had visitation around ALL of it’s facilities supporting this effort early in the process. That continues through today, and you’d have to be under a rock somewhere remote to not know that this visitation is more prolific than ever now and is increasingly happening at important population centers openly to get our attention. All of the nuclear states have and are getting specific attention – engagement of the military of these states is and has been commonplace. At the same time, non-nuclear states are increasingly getting more open visitation/events.


    Where is this all going? I don’t know. I can only say what has happened historically in response to our acquisition of nuclear weapons technology. I can’t argue about distances traveled or what this all means. I can only say that this has been happening right under our noses and our leaders have been grappling with what to do about it for decades.

    It is a bold move for the Catholic church to start the process publicly as it has. The church is responding to an existing condition.

    Moving forward, we need above all else caution; we are vulnerable because we are inexperienced with this new kind of engagement. My biggest concern – we do not want to give up our sovereignty as a host race on this planet. We must understand and defend that sovereignty above all else. Hopefully we can unite globally for that goal.

  28. Humanity can barely stand dealing with anything “different”, E.T.’s are a whole added dimension of different. I feel we would embarrass our whole species if another intelligent lifeform showed up.
    I say: if we can figure out how to exist in a perpetually sustainable fashion by controlling our reproduction, breaking down cultural aggressions, fleshing out a real G.U.T.(impossibly difficult I know, but the cooperation of all scientifically based schools of thought should facilitate this) and finding a balance between greed and social responsibility, we will have the key to the universe.

  29. The implications are with information. We might get signals from ETI out there and eventually find they have proofs for mathematics we don’t understand, or they have a more complete theory of quantum cosmology, or … . The human intellectual endevor would come to an end as it becomes reduced to an interstellar TV transmission.

    The future choices coming at us are pretty hard. The energy picture is changing drastically, as we further must change our “carbon diet.” The economic systems of our world, particularly the United States, will have to seriously adjust. The sort of post WWII economics of this nation, which has been promoted throughout the world, is of boundless growth. That trend will come to an end — one way or the other. it will also put major constraints on this golden calf called capitalism. How we adjust to this will be a big part of whether we survive or not.


  30. We have already received much information, and it wasn’t from radio signals. This is meant to convince us that an inteligence is undeniably here. Here in the presence of our people and governments on this planet.

    You are absolutely right, LC. Everything our economic model is based on will change. I think that would happen regardless, simply because it is not sustainable.

    I have spent more than 10 years looking into the events that have occured around nuclear facilities world wide. This activity is not random, it is a set of specific responses to our increasing threat over the use of these weapons. The events have records and witnesses. Anyone wishing to learn about it can read Robert Hasting’s “UFOs and Nukes.”

    We are being “prepped” for a disclosure. I may be dead when this actually happens, the timeframe remains elusive. It has been over 65 years since the activity really took off. It could be another 25 before we know what this is all about. I would be surprised if it takes that long.

    When I mention caution, I am dead serious. There are so many different scenarios that could play out. We as a race could in this process give up the very thing we struggle with everyday. Independence and freedom. If humans are incapable of governing themselves, we may be giving up any control we had previously. Yes we have shown ourselves to be somewhat incapable, but not entirely. Who is to say that we would not be enslaved by the inteligence that is courting us. We don’t know how this will go. It is an opportunity for our race to grow out of the morass we are in today.

    I predict it will get uggly before it gets better. We are already seeing that struggle of power begin. It is here. We are already in it. How are we going to respond?

    When you are on the outside of the debate, comments like those I am making seem outlandish and presumptuous. All I can say is read about this, especially the engagement of our militaries globally. Then judge my words.

  31. I don’t think it’s entirely wise to court conspiracy theories. For whatever reason, we have a tendency to gravitate to this when considering the creation of nukes, the Pyramids, 911, the list goes on..

    Talk of being “prepped” or “courted” by extraterrestrials says a lot more about the author of these comments than anything else.

    On a better note:
    I do look forward to future scientific discoveries of in this area. It may not be long now before we get a glimpse of another earth. Will signs of distant extraterrestrials follow? I can only imagine..

  32. The Vatican’s latest interest in the ET’s is quite amazing. This makes one to infer from it that some significant disclosure concerning them is in the offing thus. Whereas, I had the opportunity to read a new book online at (, which presents the Islamic viewpoint concerning them in an amazing new idiom. So, let us brace ourselves to experience something new that could potentially alter the way we view this amazing universe.

  33. The Vatican’s latest interest in the ET’s is quite amazing. This makes one to infer from it that some significant disclosure concerning them is in the offing thus. Whereas, I had the opportunity to read a new book online at which presents the Islamic viewpoint concerning them in an amazing new idiom. So, let us brace ourselves to experience something new that could potentially alter the way we view this amazing universe.

  34. I have seen at least one group of extra terrestrials.

    i’m not going to go through the whole story but i can tell you that the group i have seen look exactly like we do. even down to the same facial expressions.

    from my own personal experiences and extra research it is my belief, that the group of extra terrestrials who look like us not only transformed us from neanderthal man to how we look today but are currently walking amongs us in human clothing all over the world.

    if you have a look at a microchip, that will give you an understanding of the technology they use. that was not our invention. that was given to us and we created a version to best we could.

    also the ones that look like us don’t just have blonde hair thats nonsense the ones that i saw had brunette hair colour as well.

    they want out governments to disclose to the people on this planet that they exist. intelligence agencies such as the c.i.a do not want to tell us. this argument has been going on for at least 20 years.

    anything else you’d like to know just let me know.

  35. I think i’d like to share some more information before i go to bed for the night.

    this is not a question of how many life forms are in our universe or even in our galaxy anymore. the truth is we are not even alone in our own solar system.

    i can see what is happening. and that is the religious church is trying to help its believers not panic or get angry when the world finds out we are not and never have been alone.

    this is going to be disclosed within your life time i can promise you that. I am talking perhaps very very soon. My guess would be in the next week or so.

    there are at least 60 groups that are visiting/visited earth.

    some of them are from venus,mars,moons. some of them our from other star sytems in our galaxy, some of them are from different galaxys, some of them are time travelers and some of them even come from a different dimension to ours.

  36. “I have seen at least one group of extra terrestrials.

    i’m not going to go through the whole story but i can tell you that the group i have seen look exactly like we do. even down to the same facial expressions. ”

    … Did you ever consider they maybe were human? lol.

    I love all the unsubstantiated claims popping up in this forum. Your jokes might be more fun if you even tried to back some of these claims up.

    Oh and by the way I’m from Venus.

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