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Vatican-mothership-Pope FrancisPope Francis is reportedly preparing a major world statement about extraterrestrial life and its theological implications. Rosana Ubanell from Voxxi News today reported that due to advances in scientific detection methods for the discovery of extraterrestrial life, Pope Francis wants to be ready with a statement about “First Contact”. Ubanell reports that details have yet to be officially announced but that the Vatican’s interest in extraterrestrial life is well documented through recent astrobiology conferences the Vatican Observatory has sponsored or participated in. Father Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit astronomer and one of the leading Catholic proponents for preparing for the scientific discovery of extraterrestrial life, on July 18, won the Carl Sagan science medal from the American Astronomical Society. Pope Francis, a fellow Jesuit, regularly consults with Consolmagno and other leading Vatican astronomers about scientific issues. It is likely that Pope Francis is preparing an “Urbi et Orbi” speech – Latin for “to the city [of Rome] and the world” – about First Contact with extraterrestrial life.

The Vatican’s scientific interest in extraterrestrial life was publicly revealed for the first time in May 2008 when the head of the Vatican Observatory, Fr Gabriel Funes, also a Jesuit, gave an interview to the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. Funes made a series of startling statements about how extraterrestrial life is likely to be more ethically evolved than humans, and can be welcomed as brothers. In his interview, which was titled “The extraterrestrial is my brother,” Funes said that intelligent extraterrestrial life may not have experienced a ‘fall’, and may be “free from Original Sin … [remaining] in full friendship with their creator.” This makes it possible to regard them as ‘our brothers’ as Funes explained:

Just as there is a multiplicity of creatures on earth, there can be other beings, even intelligent, created by God. This is not in contrast with our faith because we can’t put limits on God’s creative freedom… “Why can’t we speak of a ‘brother extraterrestrial’? It would still be part of creation…

Most importantly, Funes’ statement makes possible the idea that Christianity can be exported to extraterrestrial worlds that have not experienced a ‘fall’ and are free from original sin.

Just over a year after his interview, Funes was the organizer of the first ever Astrobiology Symposium held by Pontifical Academy of Sciences in November 2009. Consolmagno and Funes have ever since played leading roles for the Vatican Observatory in presenting a theological perspective on the discovery of extraterrestrial life. Most importantly, both have been leading advisors to Pope Francis about scientific issues concerning the discovery of extraterrestrial life.

What is likely to be the content of Pope Francis’ upcoming statement or possible “Urbi et Orbi” speech about alien life? An important clue is a forthcoming presentation by Fr. Consolmagno at a September 18-19, 2014, astrobiology symposium organized by NASA and the Library of Congress that is titled: “Preparing for Discovery: A Rational Approach to the Implications of Finding Microbial, Complex or Intelligent Life Beyond Earth.”

Consolmagno is a featured presenter and will discuss the theological implications of discovering alien life. His topic, “Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?” suggests that Pope Francis agrees that extraterrestrials are capable of the higher ethics involved in understanding the Christian message and becoming Christians.

If Pope Francis is indeed preparing a statement about extraterrestrial life, it is likely to emphasize that there is no incompatibility in Christian teachings with a belief in extraterrestrial life as Fr. Funes proposed in May 2008. More importantly, Pope Francis is likely to emphasize themes of extraterrestrials: not sharing in original sin; being more ethically evolved; and being capable of sharing the Christian message, and being our brothers.

Not all will welcome a statement from Pope Francis advocating extraterrestrials as brothers and worthy of being baptized into the Christian faith. According to Chris Putnam and Tom Horn, authors of Exovaticana, Pope Francis I is preparing to lead the Catholic Church to embrace aliens as “brothers in Christ” – reflective of the 1950s and 1960s contactee reports of benevolent “space brothers.” Putnam’s and Horn’s Exovaticana portends a future religious war between those accepting extraterrestrials as “brothers in Christ” and those believing them to be returning demons about to enslave us. Despite the extensive scholarship found in Exovaticana, it unfortunately skews data towards an overly negative assessment of the motivations of extraterrestrial visitors. Thankfully, the Vatican’s evolving public position, as reflected by statements from its leading astronomers, shows a far more enlightened stance on how to consider the discovery of alien life from a theological perspective. A statement or “Urbi et Orbi” speech from Pope Francis expounding on various themes associated with the view that extraterrestrials are potential “brothers in Christ’ is a welcome position to take on a controversial issue with major world significance.

© Copyright 2014. Michael E. Salla, Ph.D.

Edinburgh University is set to launch a series of six free online courses in Autumn 2012, one of which is titled: “Introduction to Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life”. The course involves five lectures to be presented online and will result in a certificate to all that complete it. Edinburgh is teaming up with Princeton and Stanford universities in an effort to make available undergraduate courses to a global audience for free as part of the Coursera consortium.  According to Edinburgh University spokesperson, Ranald Leask: “Something like extraterrestrial life comes out of a wide and deep base of knowledge and academic endeavour.” Leask is referring to the progress made by the scientific community in confirming the existence of distant exoplanets and that some of these have the right conditions for hosting life as we know it. Princeton was the first U.S. university to offer a degree in astrobiology. Now thanks to Edinburgh University, astrobiology courses that focus on questions concerning the existence of extraterrestrial life are going global.

Edinburgh’s “Search for Extraterrestrial Life” course will be taught by Professor Charles Cockell who has authored two books on Mars, worked for NASA, and is the current Director for the UK Center for Astrobiology. Cockell’s course will examine questions such as “Is there life on other planetary bodies?” and “How is it distributed throughout the Universe?”

According to Rory Reynolds from the Scotsman:

The first two weeks of the course explore the origins of life and how beings survive in extreme environments, with the focus in the third week moving to the possibility of life being discovered on other planets. The final week includes asking how contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence would be dealt with and what would be the impact on society. It concludes with the question “who would represent Earth?” in the event of first contact.

The course is a direct result in the ongoing discovery of exoplanets, some of which have been confirmed to exist in the habitable region of their suns. This has sparked a number of academic conferences focusing on the social and political impact of the discovery of extraterrestrial life. Two were hosted by the Royal Society of London in 2010, and led to much media interest over scientific speculations over the likely motivations of extraterrestrial life. The most notable has been Prof Stephen Hawkings’ view about space faring extraterrestrials being more likely predatory in nature than friendly.

Recent advances in space telescopes have now made it possible to detect alien metropolises on distant worlds. On May 8, 2012, NASA announced: “NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has detected light emanating from a “super-Earth” beyond our solar system for the first time. While the planet is not habitable, the detection is a historic step toward the eventual search for signs of life on other planets.”  According to Dario Borghino from  Gizmag: “This marks the first time that light has been detected from a planet of such a small size, and the find is telling astrophysicists where to look in their search for signs of life on planets beyond our own.”

The question to be examined in the final week of the Edinburgh Unniversity course, “who would represent Earth” in the case of contact is very significant. It first came to public prominence in 2010 in relation to Dr Mazlan Othman from the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs who was a presenter at the Royal Society astrobiology conference in October 2010. There was much media speculation over a story in the Sunday Times mistakenly claiming that Dr Othman would represent Earth on behalf of all humanity. In an earlier talk, Othman did say however:

The continued search for extraterrestrial communication, by several entities, sustains the hope that some day human kind will receive signals from extraterrestrials. When we do, we should have in place a coordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject. The UN is a ready-made mechanism for such coordination.

Edinburgh University’s upcoming “Introduction to Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life” course will open up an exciting new era in the study of extraterrestrial life. Core questions regarding the existence and societal implications of extraterrestrial life are being raised by respected scientists, and will now be discussed by students around the world. According to Jeff Haywood, vice principal of the University of Edinburgh, the number of students for the online course is potentially 100,000 students or more. That projected enrollment figure is in itself a remarkable possibility. Whether 100,000 students enroll or not, it is clear that the scholarly study of extraterrestrial life and its societal implications has entered mainstream scientific discourse and is now going global.

[Special Notice: The author teaches a course in the Exopolitics Institute’s Certification Program titled: The Science, Spirituality and Politics of Extraterrestrial Life. Fall Semester classes begin in early September. More info here.

© Copyright 2012. Michael E. Salla. Exopolitics.org

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