The Vatican Observatory was founded in the late 1500s by Pope Gregory XIII to study scientific data and its implications with religion
In the late 1500s, a Dominican friar, who also was a theorist and mathematician, came up with the conclusion that the universe was infinite and it didn't have a specific celestial body located at its core. He also suggested that the stars in the sky are distant suns that could even hold other solar systems around them. He then went on to suggest that there might be life in other plants, very alike to our own. This friar was Giordano Bruno and he was tried as heresy by the Roman Inquisition for debunking many Catholic teachings –he was then burned alive. Oddly enough, in 2009, the Vatican (which had ordered the burning of Bruno at stake more than four centuries ago) held a conference in which they analyzed the possibility of the existence of life in other planets and its implications to the church. Wait, does this mean the church believes in aliens?
We know how serious and dangerous it was to go up against the Catholic Church's beliefs a couple of hundreds of years ago. I mean, the Pope was the ultimate authority figure, and the legitimacy of the church’s teachings were based on the premise that Earth was God’s most precious creation. So imagine the shock when someone even thought of the idea of having life beyond that 'flat' surface? Could there be many Jesus or perhaps one savior per planet? Regardless, these theories went up against the principles of the Church and became a threat to the institution. In fact, the Vatican placed Galileo under home-arrest for the rest of his life after suggesting that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, but at least he wasn’t burned alive. What no one saw coming was the initiative from the church, in 2009, to call upon 30 scientists (astronomers, biologists, and physicists) from different countries in the world to evaluate the possibility of aliens in other planets. The initiative came after the United Nations had declared the year 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy.
It was just a matter of time before the Catholic Church innovated their tactics regarding science. In fact, you might think that faith and science don’t blend well together, yet the Vatican has its very own observatory and it is among the oldest astronomy institutes in the world (since the 1500s). Okay, but back to the main topic, did they reach a conclusion at the meeting?
Well, during a press conference held that same year, the director of the Vatican Observatory Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes said that “There is a rich middle ground for dialogue between the practitioners of astrobiology and those who seek to understand the meaning of our existence in a biological universe." In other words, they weren’t ready to admit to anything. However, a couple of years later in 2015, Rev. Funes did say in a interview to the Vatican newspaper that the discovery of the new planet Kepler-452b, which is similar to ours, strengthened the Vatican’s belief of the existence of alien life in other celestial bodies. At the same time, Rev. Funes said that God had only one son and he had only visited one planet, our planet.
For scientists, it was nice to hear about the church’s intentions to engage in a scientific dialogue. For many years, they conducted their researches in secret and had a hard time convincing people that science wasn’t evil. Though, to be honest, I didn’t know that the Vatican had an observatory or even that it helped establish other scientific institutions in Europe. As far as aliens in other planets and whether or not we'll get to meet them, Rev. Funes said that we might not get to know these beings in our lifetime: 'It is probably there was life and perhaps a form of intelligent life… I don't think we'll ever meet a Mr Spock.” Whatever happens between other civilizations and ours, it satisfying knowing we are all on the same page.
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