Reposted from: Examiner.com
From September 18-19, 2014, NASA and the Library of Congress are hosting a symposium on how society can prepare for the discovery of extraterrestrial life. Leading astrobiologists from around the world will convene at the Library of Congress in Washington DC., to discuss the latest scientific theories and developments in the search for extraterrestrial life. Presenters will discuss the implications from recent scientific breakthroughs in discovering the existence of exoplanets, new theories of the conditions under which extraterrestrial life can flourish, and how to communicate with them.
In addition to broad discussion of the societal implications of discovering alien life and how to prepare for these, two of the presenters will discuss the theological implications. More specifically, Brother Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit from the Vatican Observatory, will discuss “Would you Baptise an Extraterrestrial?” Consolmagno’s topic suggests that the Vatican approves viewing preparation for the discovery of intelligent alien life as an opportunity for gaining new recruits to the Christian faith.
The full title of the Symposium is “Preparing for Discovery: A Rational Approach to the Implications of Finding Microbial, Complex or Intelligent Life Beyond Earth.” The Symposium describes recent scientific advances in finding conditions suitable for extraterrestrial life, and what this means:
Beyond Earth, science has identified more than 1,400 exoplanets. That life thrives in multifarious conditions, coupled with these potentially habitable exoplanets and the detection of life-giving elements on numerous moons on asteroids, means we must face the possibility that simple or complex organisms may be discovered beyond Earth. How might we prepare for such a discovery?
The main goal of the Symposium is then described as exploring “how we prepare to face new knowledge that may challenge our very conceptions of life and our place in the universe.”
Steven Dick, the Symposium Chair, will set the stage for discussion of the societal implications of the discovery of alien life in his talk on “Astrobiology and Society.” He will then be followed by a panel session titled, “Philosophical Impact: How Do We Comprehend The Philosophical and Theological Challenges Raised by Discovery? A total of five presenters will discuss philosophical and theological implications. Robin Lovin will discuss “Astrobiology and Theology,” and set the stage for Consolmagno to discuss alien baptism.
It is not surprising that the Vatican views preparation for discovery of intelligent alien life as an opportunity for gaining new recruits to the Christian faith. What is surprising is that NASA and the Library of Congress are providing a forum for discussion of the theological implications of the discovery of extraterrestrial life when important political, national security and economic implications are not considered by any of the speakers. For example, would it be justified to cover up such a discovery on national security grounds, for how long, and has this already happened? It’s hard to understand NASA’s reasoning for including theological considerations unless it thinks that it will benefit from the US Congress and Vatican supporting Christian missionaries seeking to baptize visiting or off world aliens.
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E.T. Phone Rome? Vatican Looks to Heavens for Signs of Alien Life
US News | Nov. 10, 2009 | ARIEL DAVID, AP
Associated Press Writer VATICAN CITY—E.T. phone Rome.
Four hundred years after it locked up Galileo for challenging the view that the Earth was the center of the universe, the Vatican has called in experts to study the possibility of extraterrestrial alien life and its implication for the Catholic Church.
“The questions of life’s origins and of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe are very suitable and deserve serious consideration,” said the Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, an astronomer and director of the Vatican Observatory.
Funes said the possibility of alien life raises “many philosophical and theological implications” but added that the gathering was mainly focused on the scientific perspective and how different disciplines can be used to explore the issue.
Chris Impey, an astronomy professor at the University of Arizona, said it was appropriate that the Vatican would host such a meeting.
“Both science and religion posit life as a special outcome of a vast and mostly inhospitable universe,” he told a news conference Tuesday. “There is a rich middle ground for dialogue between the practitioners of astrobiology and those who seek to understand the meaning of our existence in a biological universe.”
Thirty scientists, including non-Catholics, from the U.S., France, Britain, Switzerland, Italy and Chile attended the conference, called to explore among other issues “whether sentient life forms exist on other worlds.”
Funes set the stage for the conference a year ago when he discussed the possibility of alien life in an interview given prominence in the Vatican’s daily newspaper.
The Church of Rome’s views have shifted radically through the centuries since Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1600 for speculating, among other ideas, that other worlds could be inhabited.
Scientists have discovered hundreds of planets outside our solar system — including 32 new ones announced recently by the European Space Agency. Impey said the discovery of alien life may be only a few years away.
“If biology is not unique to the Earth, or life elsewhere differs bio-chemically from our version, or we ever make contact with an intelligent species in the vastness of space, the implications for our self-image will be profound,” he said.
This is not the first time the Vatican has explored the issue of extraterrestrials: In 2005, its observatory brought together top researchers in the field for similar discussions.
In the interview last year, Funes told Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that believing the universe may host aliens, even intelligent ones, does not contradict a faith in God.
“How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?” Funes said in that interview.
“Just as there is a multitude of creatures on Earth, there could be other beings, even intelligent ones, created by God. This does not contradict our faith, because we cannot put limits on God’s creative freedom.”
Funes maintained that if intelligent beings were discovered, they would also be considered “part of creation.”
The Roman Catholic Church’s relationship with science has come a long way since Galileo was tried as a heretic in 1633 and forced to recant his finding that the Earth revolves around the sun. Church teaching at the time placed Earth at the center of the universe.
Today top clergy, including Funes, openly endorse scientific ideas like the Big Bang theory as a reasonable explanation for the creation of the universe. The theory says the universe began billions of years ago in the explosion of a single, super-dense point that contained all matter.
Earlier this year, the Vatican also sponsored a conference on evolution to mark the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.”
The event snubbed proponents of alternative theories, like creationism and intelligent design, which see a higher being rather than the undirected process of natural selection behind the evolution of species.
Still, there are divisions on the issues within the Catholic Church and within other religions, with some favoring creationism or intelligent design that could make it difficult to accept the concept of alien life.
Working with scientists to explore fundamental questions that are of interest to religion is in line with the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI, who has made strengthening the relationship between faith and reason a key aspect of his papacy.
Recent popes have been working to overcome the accusation that the church was hostile to science — a reputation grounded in the Galileo affair.
The Vatican Museums opened an exhibit last month marking the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first celestial observations.
Tommaso Maccacaro, president of Italy’s national institute of astrophysics, said at the exhibit’s Oct. 13 opening that astronomy has had a major impact on the way we perceive ourselves.
“It was astronomical observations that let us understand that Earth (and man) don’t have a privileged position or role in the universe,” he said. “I ask myself what tools will we use in the next 400 years, and I ask what revolutions of understanding they’ll bring about, like resolving the mystery of our apparent cosmic solitude.”
The Vatican Observatory has also been at the forefront of efforts to bridge the gap between religion and science. Its scientist-clerics have generated top-notch research and its meteorite collection is considered one of the world’s best.
The observatory, founded by Pope Leo XIII in 1891, is based in Castel Gandolfo, a lakeside town in the hills outside Rome where the pope has his summer residence. It also conducts research at an observatory at the University of Arizona, in Tucson.
On the Net:
Vatican Observatory, http://clavius.as.arizona.edu/vo
Associated Press writers Victor L. Simpson and Alessandra Rizzo contributed to this report