Rome, Italy, Sep 17, 2009
(CNA).- Father Jose Gabriel Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory, said this week there is no opposition between belief in the existence of aliens and at the same time belief in God. This position, he reminded, was held by Father Angelo Secchi, the 18th century Jesuit astronomer and director of the Observatory of the Roman College—today the Pontifical Gregorian University.
In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Father Funes explained that Father Secchi was the first scientist to classify the “stars according to their spectrum” and that the existence of aliens “could not be excluded a priori.”
Father Funes said establishing contact with aliens is “very difficult” because of the “almost insurmountable obstacle of distances in the universe,” even with today’s technology.
He went on to note that the neither Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or academic officials at other institutions has made any statements on the issue, adding that “as a scientist I am always willing to update my ideas in response to the latest research. For example, regarding the issue of space and time in the universe, I believe it is finite, while others believe it is infinite.”
“There are interesting theories about this,” he continued, “such as the so-called ‘multiverse,’ but they continue to be merely speculative: the problem is in how to prove them.”
Father Funes said astronomy is an element that can contribute to dialogue between peoples, as it can help to understand that “all the people of the earth are under the same sky and gaze upon the same heavens.”
“It is obvious that today you cannot do research without collaboration. One country on its own cannot build a huge telescope: it is necessary to work with other people, and with other religions and cultures as well. Thus astronomy can be at the service of dialogue,” the Argentinean priest said.
He went on to stress that an astronomer must always have “his feet planted firmly on the ground and that “scientific research demands a culture of effort and work. In this way it can be useful for young people as well.”
Father Funes said it is widely believed today that “in order to be a scientist one must necessarily be atheist. This is not true,” he corrected.
“The Pope said it well during the Mass of the Epiphany when he pointed out that ‘many scientists—following in Galileo's footsteps renounce neither reason nor faith; instead they develop both in their reciprocal fruitfulness.’”
“I chose to be an astronomer because I believe that in the universe it is possible to encounter God. And I continue to be one with the same conviction,” he said.
Father Funes also announced that in order to mark the International Year of Astronomy, an expo on telescopes will take place October 15 at the Vatican Museums. In addition, the Pontifical Academy for Sciences will host a November 6-11 Congress on Astrobiology that will look at the search for life in the universe.