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From The Back Pew:

Mixing religion with the extraterrestrial

May 22, 2010|By Michael Arvizu

Last week I visited Jet Propulsion Laboratory during its annual open house. I was told by JPL media relations that about 30,000 to 40,000 visitors attended the event.

I was in high school the last time I attended a JPL open house, attending as part of an ROTC field trip. From what I remember, that visit proved to be most enlightening, as we got to check out the lab’s largest clean room, the Deep Space Network facility, and saw a Mars rover in action.

Walking around the JPL campus got me thinking: What does the church have to say about all this science that’s going on, the trips we’ve taken to the moon, the trips we’ve taken to the upper atmosphere and the trips we might take to Mars in the not-too-distant future. Then I was reminded about a special conference the Vatican held late last year on the possibility of life on other planets.


Recalling that story made me chuckle a bit. The Vatican and aliens? Really? So I did some research, and I discovered that the Vatican, in a five-day conference, had discussed what impact a visit from an alien species would have on the church and whether extraterrestrial life exists.

At the conference, astronomers, physicists, biologists and other experts gathered to discuss and study the origin of life “and its existence elsewhere in the cosmos.”

Remember, these are the same people who centuries ago put Galileo in the slammer because of his theories that the sun was at the center of the solar system, not Earth. Here we are in 2010, and that same laity is looking up into the sky, perhaps now realizing that, like Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” showed us, we are really just a speck of dust in a very big, very infinite universe where anything is possible.

“If biology is not unique to the Earth, or life elsewhere differs biochemically 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,” said the Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, an astronomer and director of the Vatican Observatory, in an interview with CBS News.

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