VATICAN CITY — A weeklong conference on Vatican grounds with respected scientists was convened by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, chaired by its religious leader Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, from 6 to 10 November 2009 concerning Astrobiology the study of life’s relationship to the rest of the cosmos. The scientists discussed the detection and implications of extraterrestrial life. A major driving force behind the conference was the Director of the Vatican Observatory, the Jesuit priest Father Jose Gabriel Funes. In May 2008, Funes gave an interview to the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper saying that, “the existence of intelligent extraterrestrials posed no problems to Catholic theology”. ‘Just as a multiplicity of creatures exists on Earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God,’ says Father Jose Funes, a Jesuit astronomer at the Vatican Observatory. Together with Funes’ 2008 interview and subsequent public comments by him, the conference demonstrates a welcome openness by the Vatican on the possibility and implications of extraterrestrial life. The Vatican also worked with President Reagan to bring the down fall of Soviet Communism and is working to open the discussion on extraterrestrial life and UFOs in our skies. The Vatican is playing a leading role in preparing the world for extraterrestrial disclosure. The Vatican Library is full of UFO case histories from reliable members and priests. The Bible states, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light to the earth. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image”. Genesis 1
This belief is often in conflict with modern Science so the study week had an ambitious agenda: to bring together leading scientists in diverse fields, to share the latest results of their own research. The Vatican program was organized into eight sessions:
Session 1, on The Origin of Life, concerned the difficult problem of the mechanisms by which molecules became organized in such a way as to permit life to begin. Life as we know it on Earth is built on a structure of proteins and nucleic acid polymers which carry the information to build the proteins from their constituent amino acids. While complex, life is a very specific and selective organic chemistry: out of the broad range of possible organic acids that abiotic systems can produce, life utilizes just a handful; likewise, life largely utilizes just left-handed amino acids and right handed sugars.
Session 2, Habitability Through Time, concerns water on Earth’s surface when the Sun was so faint suggests that our atmosphere must have provided a much stronger greenhouse effect than, and been quite different from, that of today. Episodes of severe glaciations in the geologic record suggest that from time to time the atmospheric ‘thermostat’ failed. How life – even at the molecular level – and the environment have interacted over geologic time is the subject of Session 3, Environment and Genomes. Molecular signatures of the biochemical reactions sustaining life remain in the geologic record, giving us hints of the changes over vast periods of time. Lessons from life forms that live in extreme environments, such as submarine vents and the Earth’s driest deserts, aid the interpretation of this record. The relatively sudden appearance of animal life late in the Earth’s history remains a mystery whose solution might be found in both the environment of the time and the workings of the genome. Earth seems to be unique in our solar system in terms of its abundant life, and yet we cannot be sure that life is not present on Mars or elsewhere in the solar system.
Session 4, Detecting Life Elsewhere, explores the prospects and techniques for finding life elsewhere in the solar system. Whether or not life exists elsewhere within our own solar system, the vast Milky Way Galaxy of which we are a part contains over 100 billion stars. If planets are a common feature of such stars, might life be as well?
Session 5, Search Strategies for Extrasolar Planets explains the various techniques used to find planets around other stars and determine their properties. Already, about 380 Extrasolar planets are known, and the number of stars searched suggests that at least 10% of stars similar in properties to our own Sun have at least one planet. Session 6, Formation of Extrasolar Planets, details progress in understanding how planets form as a part of the process of the formation of stars. Two outstanding questions are what determines when a rocky planet like the Earth will form versus a gas giant like Jupiter, and is the process of planet formation materially different around stars much smaller than our Sun. Finally, Session 7, Properties of Extrasolar Planets, brings to bear computer modeling, astronomical data and a bit of speculation on the question of the properties of extrasolar planets, and distances from their parent stars. Ultimately, much of the fascination of astrobiology comes from the question of whether sentient life forms exist on other worlds, and whether forms of life alien to our own in fact coexist with us – today – on our own home world.
Session 8, Intelligence Elsewhere and Shadow Life, explores both these issues. The search for intelligent life elsewhere is being conducted by listening to the cosmos with radio telescopes in an effort to pick up a signal of inarguably artificial origin. A search for life with biochemistry different from that of all the known life on Earth – what has been termed ‘shadow life’ – on our own planet is a fascinating possibility but one fraught with daunting difficulties. Astrobiology is an effort to use a diverse range of scientific techniques, focused on targets from the molecules in cells to the vast cosmos around us, to provide a deeper appreciation of humankind’s place in the cosmos. It is a recognition of the remarkable intricacies of all that is within and around us.
Dr. Paul Davies shown here, who spoke at the conference is a theoretical cosmologist and astrobiologist at Arizona State University stated, “Alternative forms of life might be happily co-habiting with us on Earth. If life does form readily under Earth-like conditions, shouldn’t it have formed many times over, right here on our home planet?”
“If we find that life has happened in the solar system twice, from scratch, if we can be sure of that, then it’s going to have happened all around the universe,” Davis said. “The universe is going to be teeming with life, and there’s a very good chance that we are not alone.”
We can speculate that other civilizations may exist under the sea or inside the Earth and have chosen not to reveal themselves. Often Christianity and science appear to have an adversarial relationship but perhaps we are looking at the same objects and giving them different names based on our backgrounds. The pope and some of the worlds’ top astronomers believe the two need not be in conflict. “How can we exclude that life has developed elsewhere?” asked Vatican astronomer Father Jose Gabriel Funes. He expressed the view that there could be alien intelligences elsewhere in space. “This is not in contrast with our faith,” he stated, “because we can’t put limits on God’s creative freedom.” Fumes’ musings had a clear theological flavor. “Some aliens could even be free from original sin,” he opined.
“The Bible is not a scientific textbook.” (This is a good thing, since science textbooks change every year. And if God created everything, then He created the Laws on which we base science, and, being all-knowing, His Word would be accurate on every subject it touches, including science). The Vatican astronomer’s comments about the possible existence of extraterrestrial life are the inevitable outcomes of allowing man’s word preeminence over God’s Word, instead of using the Bible as our starting point with which to interpret the universe. With a recent poll finding that just 4 in 10 Americans believe in evolution, one might be tempted to ask who’s more antiscience: the Vatican or the average American? Scientists (many of them nonbelievers) offered presentations on subjects as varied as how life might have begun on Earth; what newly found “extremophile” microbes living in harsh places on our planet tell us possible life could be on other planets; and how life forms might be detected in our solar system, or how their bio-signatures might be found on and around the many distant exoplanets.
Monsignor Corrado Balducci, Chief Exorcist for the Archdiocese of Rome, the Vatican
UFO: Something real must exist. In fact, today there is a great amount (still increasing) of testimonies regarding the so called flying saucers or spaceships and the extraterrestrials; and among them there are some coming from reliable persons, with a culture and initially non believers. There are already hundreds of thousands of eye witnesses in the world that state to have seen UFO’s at least once. There are so many, even in a smaller amount, the testimonies coming from the so called contactees.
If we consider this, it seems impossible to deny at a rational level that something real does exist! A totally skeptic behavior is not justified at all, because a priori seems to be against to the elemental prudence suggested by the good sense.