Vatican to E.T.: Hello, Brother

By Andrew Moseman | November 11, 2009 1:27 pm

Pope220Had he lived to what would have been his 75th birthday on Monday, Carl Sagan would’ve seen a surprising new collaborator in pondering whether there’s life out there in the cosmos: the Vatican. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences held a conference of scientists and theologians this week that probed the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and the peculiar religious questions that life on other worlds would raise.

Father Jose Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, became the Catholic Church’s chief evangelist this week spreading the notion that alien life is compatible with Christianity. “This is not in contradiction with our faith, because we cannot establish limits to God’s creative freedom. To say it with St Francis, if we can consider some earthly creatures as ‘brothers’ or ‘sisters’, why could we not speak of a ‘brother alien’? He would also belong to the creation” [The Guardian].

The meeting marks another step in the Vatican’s attempt to overcome its historical reputation as unfriendly to science and scientists. The church held a similar scientific conference on evolution earlier this year, and set up a Vatican Museum exhibit to mark the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s observations–and to make up for the church’s 17th century treatment of him. In 1992, Pope John Paul II declared the ruling against the astronomer was an error resulting from “tragic mutual incomprehension” [AP].

But while many Christians have managed to square evolution and astronomy with non-literal interpretations of the Bible, some people think the reconciliation won’t be so easy—like cosmologist Paul Davies, who spoke at the conference. “The real threat would come from the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence, because if there are beings elsewhere in the universe, then Christians, they’re in this horrible bind. They believe that God became incarnate in the form of Jesus Christ in order to save humankind, not dolphins or chimpanzees or little green men on other planets,” [Washington Post] he says.

Related Content:
80beats: Vatican Gives Darwin a Big Birthday Hug, Leaving Creationists on the Fringes
DISCOVER: How to Teach Science to the Pope
DISCOVER: 20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Galileo
Bad Astronomy: Carl Sagan Remembered

Image: flickr/roblisameehan

  • addicted to bad

    And if they don’t adopt an extra-terra life is compatable with religion policy, they give people more reasons to be thinking that religion’s discouraging scientific exploration.
    Not that it is. Of course it isn’t…..

  • Ian

    A very misleading title, and I’m not sure the religious questions would have come into it – the full programme of events can be found here (

    … and the plenary session on evolution was held this time last year not “earlier this year” as your article states. Again the proceedings are available from the PAS website.

    … and given that the many historians of science – Jaki and Hannam to name but two – have attributed the birth of the modern era of science to the Church there is very little for the Church to “overcome” … perhaps only in the mind of those who read Dan Brown.

    If anyone’s interested I did a wee interview with Prof J Lunine – the organiser of the study week – which can be found by clicking on my name (web link) in my blog entry.

  • Ron Bennett

    I think these guys finally get it, maybe they read “Chariots of the Gods.” A book written in 1968 by Erich von Däniken It involves the hypothesis that the technologies and religions of many ancient civilizations were given to them by space travelers who were welcomed as gods. Although the book still is controversial today with some accusation of plagiarism it does lay the groundwork for acceptance of aliens into our culture.

    Some past writings of H. P. Lovecraft’s short stories “The Call of Cthulhu” and “At the Mountains of Madness” may also have helped.

    You can’t deny parts of the Bible old testament and the Koran references to such things as “Book of Epoch” when the 199 fallen angels swept down from the sky to take humans wives, their offspring were giants of their times…… We do have to be careful what is written over the years because a lot of it is left for subjective interpretations.

    I don’t know who or what we are seeing is real or illusionary but if we look in a mirror that is what some string theorist say is what you will see from the sightings, us from the future manipulating the past. I have never met an alien, that I know of, but if the future is manipulating the past then I have been blessed by a very close encounter in my youth.

    This however I do know, in my youth the very close encounter I had changed my life…

  • Doc

    Actually, I think that in that last snippit by Paul Davies he answers his own question. Christians believe that God became incarnate to deliver mankind from its sins. Thats, Mankind. If the “little green men” never suffered from a fall the likes of which Mankind suffered from, they would not be beholden to a savior Christ, nor would their perspective on religion be beholden too it.

    Granted, in the case of an integration of cultures (and I highly doubt this would happen), I am sure that the Christian faith would welcome any alien converts. The far more likely scenario, I would claim, is that any visiting intelligent life would see the futility of efforts towards peace with a creature such as man, and then again see the utility of simply destroying us, something they would likely be completely capable of doing at a whim.

    No independence Day, no War of the Worlds, just Mankind getting stomped. So I don’t really think its going to be an issue one way or the other.

  • Earl Wajenberg

    For an interesting Christian perspective on extraterrestrial intelligence, in fictional form, see C. S. Lewis’s trilogy, “Out of the Silent Planet,” “Perelandra,” and “That Hideous Strength.” In the first two, we meet five various races of extraterrestrial, in theology-based plots that are either fantasy or science fiction, depending on your metaphysical convictions.

  • Joe

    Smart move on behalf of the Catholic religion. Instead of taking a very close minded angle to this debate (cough cough evangelical christians)… they took the path of least resistance and acknowledge the possibility of the existence of alien life.

    This is important for 2 reasons..

    1. The church is acknowledging some role between science and religion (what be find to be true scientifically can also be explained theologically).

    2. The Catholic faith can remain strong new despite scientific discoveries. This open minded approach might actually bring more people back to the fold.

  • Brian Too

    4. @Doc,

    “No independence Day, no War of the Worlds, just Mankind getting stomped.”

    Umm, wasn’t the whole plot of those movies mankind getting stomped? Or at least the aliens trying to stomp mankind?

    In each one the humans triumph but when I step back, the plots just seem silly. The aliens were clearly superior technologically having achieved large-scale space faring cultures. On Earth, whenever a technologically advanced culture has met a less advanced culture the results favor the advanced culture. Drastically.

    Are we really to believe that the aliens didn’t anticipate bacteria (War of the Worlds), or a commando-style mission using captured equipment (Independence Day)?

    Good escapist entertainment, yes! Realistic threat assessment, not so much. But it’s not fair of me to criticize those movies for not doing what they were never intended to do.

  • Fred

    Great site thanks!!


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