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You can download the program of the Vatican astrobiology conference here. It has couple of familiar names: Paul Davies, Chris Impey, and Jill Tarter. There was also an article in Washington Post about the conference and touched upon some interesting topics - especially this amusing quote about "brother extraterrestrials":
Father Jose Funes, a Jesuit astronomer, director of the centuries-old Vatican Observatory and a driving force behind the conference, suggested in an interview last year that the possibility of "brother extraterrestrials" poses no problem for Catholic theology. "As a multiplicity of creatures exists on Earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God," Funes explained. "This does not conflict with our faith because we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God."Here is a bit about other religions and also about debates within Christianity:
Read the full article here.
The possibility of extraterrestrial life is not much of an issue for Eastern religions, which tend to be less Earth-centric. Islam also has little problem with extraterrestrials because the Koran speaks explicitly of life beyond Earth, as do some newer Christian groups such as Mormons. It is in mainstream Western religious traditions, in which humans and God are central, where astrobiology poses the biggest challenge.
"I think the discovery of a second genesis would be of enormous spiritual significance," says Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist from Arizona State University who is speaking at the Vatican conference. He believes the potential challenge to Christianity in particular "is being downplayed" by religious leaders.
"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."
Davies explained the tensions within the Catholic Church: "If you look back at the history of Christian debate on this, it divides into two camps. There are those that believe that it is human destiny to bring salvation to the aliens, and those who believe in multiple incarnations," he said, referencing the belief that Christ could have appeared on other planets at other times. "The multiple incarnations is a heresy in Catholicism." (As Giordano Bruno learned.)
Many Protestant scholars agree with Funes, saying that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would not pose a major challenge to their faith or theology, especially if it was not intelligent or morally aware. But on the evangelical side, there is a deep concern, one reminiscent of the battles over evolution. "My theological perspective is that E.T. life would actually make a mockery of the very reason Christ came to die for our sins, for our redemption," Gary Bates, head of Atlanta-based Creation Ministries International, told me recently in a critique of the Vatican conference. Bates believes that "the entire focus of creation is mankind on this Earth" and that intelligent, morally aware extraterrestrial life would undermine that view and belief in the incarnation, resurrection and redemption drama so central to the faith. "It is a huge problem that many Christians have not really thought about," he said.