By Thomas R. Horn
July 3, 2011
WHAT SECRETS LIE WITHIN THE HOLY SEE? In January of last year, the Royal Society, the National Academy of Science of the UK, and the Commonwealth hosted representatives from NASA, the European Space Agency, and the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, during its 350th anniversary celebration. The event offered some dizzying intellects in the featured discussion, “The Detection of Extraterrestrial Life and the Consequences for Science and Society.” Lord Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society and Astronomer Royal, announced that aliens may be “staring us in the face” in a form humans are unable to recognize. Other speakers used words like “overwhelming evidence” and “unprecedented proof” to signify how close we may be to making discovery of intelligent alien life. Some, like Simon Conway Morris, professor of evolutionary paleobiology at Cambridge University, worried that contact with these unknowns might not be a good thing. “Extra-terrestrials might not only resemble us but have our foibles, such as greed, violence, and a tendency to exploit others’ resources,” he said. “And while aliens could come in peace they are quite as likely to be searching for somewhere to live, and to help themselves to water, minerals and fuel.”
While other scientists, astronomers, and physicists agreed with Morris’ concerns (most notably, renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking), some speakers at the gathering of intellectuals were more optimistic, imagining ETs someday appearing as man’s saviors or, at a minimum, benevolent space brothers. When Father José Gabriel Funes in a long interview with the L’Osservatore Romano newspaper weighed in on the question, “Are we alone in the Universe?” he said there is a certain possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos, and that such a notion “doesn’t contradict our faith.” He then added: “How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere? Just as we consider earthly creatures as ‘a brother,’ and ‘sister,’ why should we not talk about an ‘extraterrestrial brother’? It would still be part of creation.” Such statements by Funes were the latest in a string of recent comments by Vatican astronomers confirming the belief that discovery may be made in the near future of alien life, including intelligent life, and that this encounter would not unhinge the doctrine of Christ.
In 2005, another Vatican astronomer, Guy Consolmagno tackled this subject in a fifty-page booklet, Intelligent Life in the Universe?: Catholic Belief and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life, in which he similarly concluded that chances are better than not that mankind is facing a future discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence. Before that, Monsignor Corrado Balducci made even bigger news when he said ETs were actually already interacting with Earth and that some of the Vatican’s leaders were aware of it.