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Vatican: It’s OK to believe in aliens

by Ariel David

VATICAN CITY—Believing that the uni­verse may con­tain alien life does not con­tra­dict a faith in God, the Vat­i­can’s chief astronomer said in an inter­view pub­lished Tues­day.

The Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the Jesuit direc­tor of the Vat­i­can Obser­va­to­ry, was quot­ed as say­ing the vast­ness of the uni­verse means it is pos­si­ble there could be oth­er forms of life out­side Earth, even intel­li­gent ones.

“How can we rule out that life may have devel­oped else­where?” Funes said. “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.”

In the inter­view by the Vat­i­can news­pa­per L’Osser­va­tore Romano, Funes said that such a notion “does­n’t con­tra­dict our faith” because aliens would still be God’s crea­tures. Rul­ing out the exis­tence of aliens would be like “putting lim­its” on God’s cre­ative free­dom, he said.

The inter­view, head­lined “The extrater­res­tri­al is my broth­er,” cov­ered a vari­ety of top­ics includ­ing the rela­tion­ship between the Roman Catholic Church and sci­ence, and the the­o­log­i­cal impli­ca­tions of the exis­tence of alien life.

Funes said sci­ence, espe­cial­ly astron­o­my, does not con­tra­dict reli­gion, touch­ing on a theme of Pope Bene­dict XVI, who has made explor­ing the rela­tion­ship between faith and rea­son a key aspect of his papa­cy.

The Bible “is not a sci­ence book,” Funes said, adding that he believes the Big Bang the­o­ry is the most “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.

But he said he con­tin­ues to believe that “God is the cre­ator of the uni­verse and that we are not the result of chance.”

Funes urged the church and the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty to leave behind divi­sions caused by Galileo’s per­se­cu­tion 400 years ago, say­ing the inci­dent has “caused wounds.”

In 1633 the astronomer was tried as a heretic and forced to recant his the­o­ry that the Earth revolved around the sun. Church teach­ing at the time placed Earth at the cen­ter of the uni­verse.

“The church has some­how rec­og­nized its mis­takes,” he said. “Maybe it could have done it bet­ter, but now it’s time to heal those wounds and this can be done through calm dia­logue and col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

Pope John Paul declared in 1992 that the rul­ing against Galileo was an error result­ing from “trag­ic mutu­al incom­pre­hen­sion.”

The Vat­i­can Obser­va­to­ry has 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 a sum­mer res­i­dence. It also con­ducts research at an obser­va­to­ry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ari­zona, in Tuc­son.


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