back to article Catholic priests, scientists head to Rome to ponder alien life

The Vatican may be a little closer to deciding how it deals with the tricky problem of extra terrestrial - and most likely non-Catholic - life forms, as it wraps up a conference on astrobiology this week. The Vatican Observatory has been running a "joint study week" on Astrobiology this week together with the Pontifical …


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  1. strum Silver badge


    A few weeks back, I was in Castelgondolfi, near Rome. That's where the Pope has his summer palace - complete with Swiss Guards and tatty souvenir shoups by the gate.

    I was ready to sneer - oh look, they've even got a mini-replica of the dome of St Petwers on top! What a load of w... Wait a minute - a closer look revealed that this was no architectural folly, but an telescope dome, for astronomy.

    Ah well, so much for stereotypes.

  2. Andrew Martin 1


    Isn't it all a bit academic, in the best sense of the word? We've still got no evidence of any extra-terrestrial life - intelligent or otherwise. That's ZERO data. We've got fancy formulas to predict how much life might be out there, but no way to validate any of their parameters. We've got the SETI folks, who, consensus says should have found something by now, if any of those predictions are right.

    Asking anyone to take a position on something for which there is no evidence one way or another seems a bit of a waste of time.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Makes sense to me

    And why would anyone (except any like-minded delusional people) want to take any notice at all about what a bunch of slackers who have quite literally made a career out of talking bollox (oh, and persecuting anyone who has the effrontery to say “hey - you’re talking bollox”), think about alien life?

    You may as well ask Santa Claus. At least he exists!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    coencide with V remake?

    Since TV is addressing issues that are relevant to people's lives more than the catholic church does!

    Best attack on religion was in "Shameless", where the young kid insisted on substituting Jesus & Spider man in a conversation with evanglists... shows how made up it all really is.

  5. No, I will not fix your computer

    If you can't beat them.......

    Oh wait, the church often did.... or in Galileos case, you can make him stand trial, imprison him, ban his current and any future books, refuse to let him be burried acoprding to his families wishes etc.

    But if you put up a telescope (pretend you thought of it first) and say sorry 350 years after his death, while still not accepting what the bible said was wrong*, that makes it all OK.

    The church has nothing useful to say about anything whatsoever, their opinion about aliens has as much validity about their opinion about blastocysts having souls.

    *If you can be arsed, have a look at 1st Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 93.1 & 96.10, the bible, quite plainly wrong about the motion of the earth, but apparently that's because we've "interpreted it wrongly" and the bible was right all along.... ahem

  6. Blake St. Claire

    @strum, Re: Dome

    Yes, the Vatican sometimes does come off as a bit more enlightened than some of the more fundie christian sects.

    On top of not allowing women priests, they won't allow married priests either.

    But eventually they'll run out of celibate males and have to do something.

    Maybe that's where the little green me will come in.

  7. JimC Silver badge

    > order to save humankind, not ... little green men on other planets

    "The real threat would come from the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence, because if there are beings elsewhere in the universe, then Christians, they're in this horrible bind. They believe that God became incarnate in the form of Jesus Christ in order to save humankind, not dolphins or chimpanzees or little green men on other planets."

    Oh dear, the only thing that's sadder than Theologians making dogmatic pronouncements about science they don't understand properly is Scientists making dogmatic pronouncements about theology that they have not a single clue about... Its not a new speculation and there are no particular problems there... CS Lewis talked about all this back in the 1940s...

  8. Jimmy Floyd
    Gates Halo

    Hey, no problem

    There really shouldn't have to be that much of an ideological issue with ETs, unless they're one of those pesky types that believe the Universe is older than 7,000 years (or whatever it is).

    Thing is, I still don't see a conflict between science and religion (unless you're a creationist / bonkers) but one can never underestimate the levels of stupidity to which humankind will stretch.

    Bill Gates, because it's the closest icon to an angel with a halo (and it was never going to be Steve Jobs now, was it?)

  9. Marvin the Martian

    "in order to save humankind"

    Well, god seems to be doing a much better job of saving humankind than chimpanzees and dolphins, if you look at numbers of the last few decades. And my compatriots seem to have disappeared too!

  10. Joe Cooper


    "We've got the SETI folks, who, consensus says should have found something by now, if any of those predictions are right."

    I disagree; there is absolutely no data to put a timeframe on when we should expect SETI to spot something. Could be tomorrow, next year, next decade or never. Any estimate of any kind is only a reflection of personal biases.

    However _alien life_ ought to be discovered within 15 years by observing spectral data of extra-solar planets to spot oxygen-rich atmospheres.

    Free oxygen is rare because oxygen readily bonds with everything. The Moon, for example, is 40% oxygen by weight. The only other places we know of with free Oxygen in the air are the mindblowingly sparse atmospheres of some icey outer planet Moons. The main natural free oxygen producer we're aware of is photosynthesizing life.

    So if there's tons of free oxygen, that means plant life. And if there's edible plants all over the place and free oxygen, than you'll have animal-like and fungis-like life to utilize these resources.

    I'd bet by savings that this is how we'll find ET, and it'll be 20 years, tops.

    A 3rd search effort is NASA's on-site studies of Mars & the outer planet moons (Europa, Enceladus, Titan, etc.)

    However the turnaround time on these missions is pretty darn long--over 20 years between outer planet missions--so if they don't find life on Mars with the next rover, I don't see the landers winning this race even if there is life on Mars.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @No, I will not fix your computer

    There's no way the Bible can be "quite plainly wrong about the motion of the earth" for the simple reason that the authors of the Bible did not have a concept of "motion" or "the earth" that is sufficiently compatible with modern scientific concepts for them to be able to formulate even an incorrect statement about the motion of the earth, as we would interpret that expression today. It makes no sense whatsoever to take a piece of poetry written several thousand years ago and claim that it is saying something about modern physics. That is just not a reasonable way to interpret ancient literature. If you see the expression "the earth" in an (English translation of) the Psalms and think that it refers to the rocky sphere with a radius of about 6400 km familiar to reasonably well educated modern readers, then you're being a bit retarded. I'm wouldn't claim the way Christians interpret the Bible is necessarily any better, but your interpretation is obviously complete bollocks.

  12. Steven Hunter

    Have you not heard the Good word?

    Have you not heard the Good word about Kahless the Unforgettable, the greatest warrior the Klingon empire has ever known? He will one day return to us and lead the empire again into glory! For now he waits in Sto'vo'kor to welcome honorable warriors to him, casting the dishonorable to suffer at the hands of Fek'lhr in Gre'thor.

  13. Robert Ramsay

    I laughed at the Spiderman thing...

    ...but Doctor Who is a much better fit...

    JEHOVAH'S WITNESS (finally losing it): But Jesus came back from the DEAD!

    TOM (waving him off): Pfeh. When he comes back eight more times, he can talk to me.

  14. Jim Coleman


    ...every planet with life on it got its very own version of Jesus and had its own Eden and tree of life and original sin thing? Maybe God had a production line churning these things out so that all of the billions of life-bearing planets got the same deal? Each one has its own bible too, complete with contradictions and inaccuracies. Every heard of the Venusian Inquisition? No-one's heard of it.....etc.

  15. Paul Hates Handles


    ...they've definitely been watching the V remake.

  16. Daemon ZOGG

    The Vatican

    The ones, historically, condemning the views of some of the greatest scientific minds.. Nikolas Capernicus, Charles Darwin, Galileo, etc.

    Only now, due to public pressure, are admitting to forgiving some of their views. The ones, who long ago, made a significant contribution to innovative torture methods for those comdemned of heresy.

    The ones that bury their heads in the sand whenever the possibility of the truth disagrees with their own archaic beliefs. The Vatican is a museum of the darker side of human history. I don't suppose certain parts of the Vatican that used to be old dungeons and confession torture chambers are on the main tour for visitors.

    " }:> "

  17. Anonymous Coward


    "CS Lewis talked about all this back in the 1940s"

    So you do admit you're making it up as you go along.

    I can understand religious fundamentalists - they have a holy script and take it literally. The others are just bending themselves into paradoxes to try to make facts fit their text.

  18. Cameron Colley

    RE: @No, I will not fix your computer

    But the bible is the word of God Almighty and should be obeyed as such! Given that, as stated by the Catholic Church (and others) he created everything then you would think he would be able to come up with a better description than he did -- after all, the likes of Nostradamus and Mother Shipton managed to predict the future.

    Or, perhaps, these are stories written by people, in which case there is no reason whatsoever to abide by anything within them.

    This is the problem with organised religion -- most of the organised religions of this world are constantly trying to stop their walls from crumbling as enlightenment and science chip away at their iron-age dogma. They should either give up or shut up.

  19. The old man from scene 24

    @Joe Cooper

    There's an even easier way. Get TV Licensing's list of licensed addresses, cross reference it with all know exoplanets and you've got a list of alien license evaders. You've got to be a life form to be a license evader, so we end up with a list of alien life forms. Voila!

  20. Kwac

    Aliens? Pah

    Unless they look like us they won't have been made in God's image, so why's the church getting involved.?

    Are they making an assumption or has someone been chatting to the Pope, L. Ron Hubbard-style?

  21. 4HiMarks

    Was Jesus an alien?

    A non-human being with wings artificially impregnated some poor carpenter's wife, who gave birth to a son who could walk on water, transform water into wine, cure the sick, raise the dead, and perform other feats no human before or since has been able to accomplish. Sounds like an alien to me.

    @Andrew Martin: Are you kidding? We've still got no real evidence of any "supreme being," intelligent or otherwise.

    Asking everyone to take a position on something for which there is no evidence one way or another seems to me to be right up the Vatican's alley.

  22. TimeMaster T

    Something to note

    Single or simple multi-cellular and plant life on other worlds would not really cause any problems for the church, or any of the related religions because they would rationalize it by saying something to the effect "Of course God put life on other worlds, that Man may go forth and multiply as God commanded." or some such BS.

    Where its going to hit the fan is when we find INTELLIGENT life, then it will cause some major shake-ups because, since according to church belief's only Man was given an "Immortal Soul", any sentient beings would be "soulless" in the eyes of the major religions of the world.

    Not to mention the ET's may have there own ideas about creation. Thats the thing I'm most looking forward to about first contact, the total disruption of of our culture. Humanity is overdue for a big cultural shake up.

  23. bell

    I think the point is being missed here.

    Sure. the Catholics coming over all science minded after both these millennia is a bit rich. But the fact that they're dong a more convincing job of it than the better practiced competition is pretty newsworthy.

  24. peyton?

    Bunch of slackers?

    Stephen Hawking (lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Science) is a slacker?

    High standards indeed.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Head-of-a-pin Dept.

    Paris Hilton wants to know...!

    Suppose an intelligent alien civilization were discovered, but their reproductive organs functioned on a principle completely different from our own... static electricity, say. How would the Vatican decide which (of perhaps several) genders to discriminate against?

    Something for the curia to ponder in between bouts of protecting child molesters and spreading HIV disinformation.

  26. Antony Riley

    Lay off catholisism.

    The vast majority of Catholics do not believe in a literal interpretation of the bible.

    You are getting confused with several other cults, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, and whatever form of Christianity is prevalent in the USA where they believe creationism has a place in science/schools.

    If you want to criticize Catholicism stick to more obvious subjects like condoms, lack of female priests and the special hell you will go to for not going to church/confession periodically, also the psychologically unsound practice of chastity for priests and nuns and the belief in black magic arts.

    I was brought up as a Catholic, and am now an Athiest. It's OK though, as long as I ask forgiveness I can still get into heaven.


    Father Catholics Had A Smarter Copyrighter

    Don't Catholics have God who made first people look similar to Him, and aren't here too much capitals if aliens turned out to be little and green?

    If they do, and ETs had human-like bodies, don't Catholics have a "right of the first night" amongst other branches of Christianity to call ETs brother aliens, for the Church's trademark is translated as, you know, "Universal"?


  28. Monty Cantsin

    The CC is actually surprisingly enlightened on these matters these days

    A lot has changed since Galileo. Official Catholic theology fully accepts the Big Bang, evolution, etc, so there's no issue with the Vatican exploring these issues. Although didn't Hawking tell the story of Pope JP II saying that it was OK for humanity to explore the everything that happened after the Big Bang, but not the moment of it itself, as this was God's moment?

  29. M Neligan


    "The Vatican is a museum of the darker side of human history."

    I've seen St Peter's and the Sistine Chapel: awesome. Why don't you go to Switzerland and look at the cuckoo-clocks?

    And when/where did the Vatican attack Darwin?

  30. jake Silver badge

    My answer to "But Jesus came back from the DEAD!"

    Nah. Was sleight of hand, probably cooked up between Pilote & the Essenes.

    Read your Gospels for content, it's all in there ... Jesus was imprisoned with Barabbas (which is Aramaic "Bar" means "Son of", "Abba" means "Father") ... in other words, Pilote would have asked BOTH men "are you the son of the father?" Now, remember, Pilote didn't want to kill Jesus, he wanted to kill Barabbas. The Essenes, known for causing mini-riots, started yelling "crucify him" for the OTHER guy ... in other words, it was the other guy who died on the cross. Mary of Magdala arrived while they were in the process of removing the body and substituting it for the very alive Jesus (why else would he have been walking TOWARDS the tomb?). The marks on hands & feet and side are easy enough to manufacture, thus completing the illusion.

  31. Charles King


    "The real threat would come from the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence, because if there are beings elsewhere in the universe, then Christians, they're in this horrible bind. They believe that God became incarnate in the form of Jesus Christ in order to save humankind, not dolphins or chimpanzees or little green men on other planets."

    This guy obviously hasn't spent much time hanging around religious people. If we found proof of extraterrestrial intelligence it would take the average Jesuit less than a couple of hours to integrate it fully into Catholic dogma and provide copious biblical references that (when interpreted correctly) show that Moses prophesied it thousands of years ago and that the parable of the Good Samaritan actually refers to two-headed beings from Betelgeuse.

    All successful religions owe their success to being flexible.

  32. Davey Bee

    Common sense

    I'm no authority on religion (though I was brought up in the Church of Scotland) but I do wonder how so many churches can get themselves in a mess about things like this.

    Do you remember about 10 years ago when they thought they'd found things on Mars that might be fossils of bacteria? The Catholic Church came out with some theological waffle; the C of England came out with even worse babble; but the Chief Rabbi's spokesman simply said "It doesn't matter where they come from - they're all God's creatures".

    I'm not now religious at all - but I'm sure other religions would do well to abandon doctrinal tangles, and just follow the Chief Rabbi's obvious common sense.

  33. Anonymous Coward

    Um ... but

    Obviously Aliens are centuries ahead of us in Call Blocking and Spam Filters, those SETI guys are relentless, and I don't think we'll be able to avoid a big apology for Late Night TV.

    Still, I was a bit concerned when the Vatican got involved. It's much worse than that. A Jesuit is running the Vatican Observatory! No genetic manipulation can make the Alumni Solicitation Letters stop. Wormhole Vacations will only delay the inevitable.

    We are so sorry,


  34. This post has been deleted by its author

  35. Jason Hall


    "Oh dear, the only thing that's sadder than Theologians making dogmatic pronouncements about science they don't understand properly is Scientists making dogmatic pronouncements about theology that they have not a single clue about... Its not a new speculation and there are no particular problems there... CS Lewis talked about all this back in the 1940s..."

    I'm with you on the first part, but how can a scientist have any *less* of a clue about made-up nonsense? The supposed theological experts are only experts in flimflam.

    The study of theology *is* the study of nonsense, or at best mankinds irrationality.

  36. Andy Towler


    I wonder what a cult with such a poor record on human rights will have to say about alien rights?

  37. Anonymous Coward

    @ Blake St. Claire

    The Catholic Church does have some married priests, it's just not the norm.

  38. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

    The Dominant Galactic Religion

    is NOT Romulan Catholic.

    Everyone knows it's Jedi, innit?

  39. kwikbreaks
    IT Angle

    Waste of time?

    @ Andrew Martin 1 Posted Tuesday 10th November 2009 14:25 GMT

    > "Asking anyone to take a position on something for which there is no evidence one way or another seems a bit of a waste of time."

    Errr... This is the Catholic Church we are talking about - taking a position on something for which there is no evidence has been their sole business since they started up.

  40. Anonymous Coward

    By Anonymous Coward 14:31

    So eliquently put and about as useful as chocolate fireguard to this discussion -pot kettle black.

  41. Anonymous Coward

    @By No, I will not fix your computer

    I could and saw nothing amiss save th Earth cannot be moved in Chronicles- at can't save for a flippin massive comet to knock it out its orbital track.

  42. c3

    Looking to the stars for more subjects ... any plans for a deathstar yet ?

    Which, I suppose, makes Darth Vader the 2nd coming. After all, the force was strong in him, right ?

    Funny how of all the "classic" SciFi movies I thought the scenario from Terminator seemed the most plausible.

  43. Anonymous Coward

    Who cares about...

    a bunch of loonies at a mental asylum ideas about anything? These people are mentally ill and should be treated not listened to and encouraged. Any person that seriously believe that some omnipotent person created the earth and everything that exists around it is ill. Mentally ill. We as a modern society MUST face this fact and treat these people. Such a huge part of the human race is mentally ill and we do nothing. We must act now.

    Embrace the future, ban religion.

  44. vishal vashisht

    @Anonymous Coward 15:16

    To be fair the bible was rewritten and repaged and fucked around with for hundreds of years, throughout the middle ages. The myth that what we read today was written by bronze age goat herders just isnt true. The Catholic church has too much invested in the book for it not to say what they want it to. The Greeks knew the Earth was round, that it circled the Sun and they even knew the size of the damned sphere to within a couple of thousand yards.

    The fact that the bible goes on about the earth not moving just shows what a bunch of retards wrote it, what retards went over it and how much knowledge was destroyed by the Catholic church.

  45. No, I will not fix your computer

    @Anonymous Coward 10th Nov 2009 15:16

    >There's no way the Bible can be "quite plainly wrong about the motion of the earth"

    <snip>blah blah blah</snip>

    >but your interpretation is obviously complete bollocks.

    OK, the bible says in various ways that "The earth can never be moved", and because Galileo suggested that it does in fact move (heliocentrism) his views were declared contrary to Holy Scripture and he got spanked.

    "My interpretation of the bible" is irrelevant, but unfortunately this isn't true for everybodys view, people don't eat pork because of holy scripture, but now we have decent refrigeration it's safe to eat, children are left to die needing blood transfusions because of phrases like "don't partake of blood", why can't we re-interpret these passages because of modern times? The answer is simple, the bible is meant to be "perfect" if the church can change their interpretation for one thing then isn't everything else open for debate?, and if it's open for debate then what's the point of it at all? if you're picking and choosing the passages to believe, the passages to ignore and the passages to interpret how you want, there really is no point in it at all.

    Even AC@10:49 thinks the bible can't be wrong, but goes on to say only " flippin massive comet" could make it move "out of its orbital track" like that was what the bible meant! people will believe what they want to believe, and this includes interpreting facts how they want, to get the definition they want.

    Please stop listening to the church, their opinion is worth no more than the average "person in the street" and sometimes much less as they try to bend the answer to fit with the bible.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Strange how some people cant drop the dogma...

    Like athists. Learn something and accept other people.

    The church may not be able to prove anything, but until you can prove them wrong your worse than them. There views don't harm people, but many people get strenght and hope from them.

    The only argument I have seen on here about how they hurt people is about female priests and celabacy, which are both there choices and realy, how dose that hurt anyone, and condoms. The churches view is why do you need them if you don't have sex outside marrage? You can't say that people should ignore one but not the other.

  47. Graham Bartlett

    @AC "There views don't harm people"

    In Ireland, their views included institutional physical and sexual abuse of women and children, sanctioned by the highest levels of the Catholic organisation, until the end of the last century. Look up the Magdalene laundries and the Christian Brothers. The last Magdalene asylum closed in 1996; the Christian Brothers are still operating today.

    Today, the Catholic ban on contraception is directly hurting millions of people in Latin America - you *do* need contraception inside marriage if you want a planned family. As is the Catholic ban on all abortion, including a ban on abortion in cases of rape (even rape of children) which ensures victims are doubly violated. The Catholic organisation has directly interfered with investigations into physical and sexual abuse by clergy in all countries in which these investigations have taken place. Catholic priests in Africa have been allowed to use the church as a vehicle for ethnic cleansing with no comeback from the Catholic organisation.

  48. c3

    "Funes even suggested aliens might not suffer from that human burden original sin."

    No sin, no need for the church, right ?

    No sin means they're angels or Jesus himself or at least 2nd cousins to Mary.

    And what if the no-sin-little-green-men just happen to develop a taste for human flesh ?

    Holy aliens eating believers ? How would a christian respond to that ? Will they think it's the rapture (via alien digestion) ? I mean, why not ? God works in mysterious ways, right ?

    And even if this is not the case, no sin means they're more or less like the animals on earth. Will the church start converting poodles and lolcats next ?

  49. No, I will not fix your computer

    @Anonymous Coward 12:46

    >>The church may not be able to prove anything, but until you can prove them wrong your worse than them. There views don't harm people, but many people get strenght and hope from them.

    Church views do harm people;

    Historically; Crusades, Inquisition to name but two (and the understandable Islamic backlash)

    In recent history, on the day of remberance it's probably inapropriate to mention it but Hitler used his Christianity to justify his actions, perhaps if the Pope condemmed him then his public support would have been weakened and millions of people would not have suffered?

    Dogmatically; If the laws of Duteronomy or Leviticus are followed then there are horrific and unjust punishments.

    Look at the suffering caused by Mother Theresa, if the donated money went to medication rather than to the Vatican then less people would have suffered and died, on that note why did she take money from the Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier?

    I find your comment about condoms absolutely disgraceful, saying that using condoms is a sin, and worse actually saying that they don't prevent HIV infection has caused millions to suffer, and no, saying "well, they shouldn't have sex outside marrage" doesn't make it right, by a long chalk.

    >>many people get strenght and hope from them

    Ignorance maybe bliss, faith in a non existent afterlife, belief that you are one of the few chosen ones to be saved, belief that one of the various gods thinks that you are special might be a comfort, but wouldn't it be better to just be nice to people, be good for the sake of it not because you think it might give you eternal life but because it's actually the right thing to do?

    Don't waste your life worshipping a non existent god and following irrelevant dogma, if you want to be good, then be good, don't judge people for having consensual sex before marrage or with someone of the same sex (or even with themselves!) just because some ancient scrawlings are interpreted in a particular way.

    There are many, many people who work in the church because they want to be good, and in fact are (I think) good people, if the church wasn't there they would still work for charities, be good people support others, try make the world a bit better, they don't really need the church or it's dogma and neither does anyone else.

    Only once you are free of (religious) dogma can you be an altruistically good person.

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