Life on Other Planets? Vatican Aide Ponders the Possibility

Comments of Director of Astronomic Observatory

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ROME, JAN. 8, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Scientific studies on the possibility of intelligent life on other planets is not against the Christian faith, says the director of the Vatican Astronomic Observatory.



Speaking in his own name, Father George Coyne told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that such an extraterrestrial possibility "is an exciting prospect, which must be treated with caution."

"For the time being, there is no scientific evidence of life," the priest added in the interview published Monday. "However, we are gathering observations that point to this possibility. The universe is so large that it would be folly to say that we are the exception. The debate is ongoing and complex."

Father Coyne´s suggested as a hypothesis that we imagine that there is life beyond the earth.

"If I were to meet an intelligent being from other worlds who revealed to me a spiritual life and told me that his people have also been saved by God through sending his only Son, he would ask me how it is possible that his only ´Son´ was present in different places. Thoughts of this kind are a great challenge," the priest said.

"Heresies, one after the other, have tried to deny the humanity of God over the centuries," Father Coyne added. "Jesus Christ is true God and true man. Can this true man also appear in another planet? I don´t know; I don´t know whether I should deny or affirm this."

"The possibility of extraterrestrial intelligent and spiritual life poses many questions," the priest said. "Anyway, science does not destroy the believer´s faith, but stimulates it."

Father Coyne also addressed the question of the big-bang theory and its implications for the faith.

In this area, the priest advises caution. "It is true that the cosmology of the big bang is certain today as a scientific model," he said. "But it tells us very little about creation, or rather nothing, because creation as understood in the Bible does not answer the question about the origin of the universe, but why there is something instead of nothing."

"´This is a theological response to a question of faith," Father Coyne said. "Science, however, is concerned with discovering the origin of the matter we know. In other words, sacred Scripture and theology do not refer to the way God created the universe. The two questions are not in conflict and, when this happens, very serious misunderstanding can arise."

The origins of the Vatican Astronomic Observatory go back to the time of Pope Gregory XII. He created a scientific commission responsible for studying the elements necessary for the reform of the liturgical calendar that took place in 1582.

The observatory now has two headquarters. One, in Castel Gandolfo, serves as an archive and library. It is located some 35 kilometers (21 miles) from Rome. The other, the Vatican Observatory Research Group in Tucson, Arizona, is located in one of the most important astronomic centers of the world.