Aliens could be out there, and believing that the universe may contain extraterrestrial life does not contradict a faith in God, the Vatican’s chief astronomer says.
The vastness of the universe – with its hundred billion galaxies and trillions of stars – means there could be other forms of life outside Earth, even intelligent ones, the Rev Jose Gabriel Funes, a Jesuit who directs the Vatican Observatory, says.
“How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?” Mr Funes said in an interview with Vatican newspaper 'L’Osservatore Romano', headlined: “The extraterrestrial is my brother.”
“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,” he 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.”
The full-page interview – printed in a question-and-answer format – ranged from discussions about the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and science, to the theological implications of the existence of alien life.
Mr Funes mused that aliens would not have been visited by Jesus, because his “incarnation was a unique and unrepeatable event”. However, “I am sure that they too, in some way, would have the possibility to benefit from God’s mercy”.
Mr Funes said that science, especially astronomy, did not contradict religion, touching on a theme often dealt with by 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” and looking for scientific facts on the universe and its origin does not cast doubt on God’s role in its creation, Mr Funes says.
As an example, he said he believed the Big Bang theory was the most “reasonable” explanation of 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.
And yet, “I continue to believe that God is the creator of the universe and that we are not the result of chance”.
Mr Funes urged the Church and the scientific community to leave behind divisions caused by the Galileo affair nearly 400 years ago, often cited as an instance of church hostility toward science.
“This incident has caused wounds,” he said. “The Church has somehow recognised its mistakes. 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.”
In 1633, Galileo Galilei was tried as a heretic and forced to recant his theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Church teaching at the time placed Earth at the centre of the universe.
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 his summer residence.
It also conducts research at an observatory at the University of Arizona, in Tucson.