According to the Pope’s astronomer, any intelligent aliens living elsewhere in the universe should be considered God’s children – no matter what they look like.
Brother Guy Consolmagno, who speaks at the British Science Festival at Aston University, Birmingham, tomorrow, said: “Going back to the Middle Ages, the definition of a soul is to have intelligence, free will, freedom to love or not to love, freedom to make decisions...
“Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul.”
Should there ever be a Vatican mission to outer space, Brother Consolmagno might be just the person to lead it.
He admits to being a science fiction fan, which got him into astronomy, and says he would be willing to baptise an alien, but “only if they asked”.
Brother Consolmagno, whose appearance at the British Science Festival is unrelated to Pope Benedict XVI’s state visit, said: “I’d be delighted if we found life elsewhere and delighted if we found intelligent life elsewhere..
“God is bigger than just humanity. God is also the god of angels.”
But he did not think machines would ever become comparable to humans.
“A computer has as much chance of being intelligent as a steam engine,” he said.
On physicist Professor Steven Hawking, who has claimed there is no need for a god to explain the origin of the universe, Brother Consolmagno said: “The whole idea of what creation means is not a case of who wound up the clock and sets it going, it’s the fact there’s a clock to be wound up in the first place.
“A god that started things up would be a pagan god. The god I believe in is outside space and time.”
He criticised American “creationists” who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, saying they were turning God “once again, into the pagan god of thunder and lightning”.
The Catholic Church has a long history of interest in astronomy, dating back to 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII wanted to reform the calendar to settle the date of Easter.
Its attitude towards science has changed dramatically since the 17th century astronomer Galileo Galilei was convicted of heresy over his claim that the Sun, not Earth, was the centre of the universe.