It sounds like the plot of a bad sci-fi movie, but NASA really is recruiting a priest to help prepare for humanity’s contact with aliens.
No, they aren’t being launched into space to fight a space demon.
NASA is hiring the help of 24 theologians as part of a plan to work out how the world’s different religions would react to news about extraterrestrial life.
Amongst them is British clergyman Reverend Dr Andrew Davison, a theologian at the University of Cambridge who also holds a doctorate in biochemistry from the rival Univerity of Oxford.
The Collins dictionary says: “A theologian is someone who studies the nature of God, religion, and religious beliefs.”
The reason NASA is hiring the experts now is because of advances in humanity’s efforts to find life in the great unknown.
A range of new missions is expected to further our understanding of space, including the James Webb Telescope, which is due to launch on Christmas Eve. Additionally, the European Space Agency’s Rosiland Franklin rover, built in Stevenage, takes off next year.
The Rosiland Franklin will drill into Mars’ surface looking for fossilised microbes in a direct effort to detect traces of life.
Meanwhile, scientists in Cardiff have indicated that ammonia found in Venus’s atmosphere could potentially have been put there by living organisms.
The NASA-sponsored scheme was held at the Centre for Theological Inquiry at Princeton University in New Jersey to tackle questions about how life from another planet may impact thinking about gods and creation.
Rev Dr Davison believes the prospect of finding a life that’s out of this world is becoming more and more likely.
In Davison’s book, Astrobiology and Christian Doctrine, he asks questions about whether God could have created life elsewhere in the universe. Or, could he have sent a saviour to die for the sins of alien species?
The head of NASA’s head of Astrobiology Institute until 2016, Carl Pilcher, said the theologians were brought in to: “Consider the implications of applying the tools of late 20th [and early 21st]-century science to questions that had been considered in religious traditions for hundreds or thousands of years”.
Discussing earth being the only planet in space with life on it he said: “That’s just inconceivable when there are over 100 billion stars in this galaxy and over 100 billion galaxies in the universe.”
He believes it is important that regardless of whenever alien life is found that the implications have been thought through in advance.
**By Harry Thompson