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World News

NASA asks religious experts how to respond to 'life on Mars'

by Donna Birrell

It's emerged that NASA has been working with 24 theologians to examine how each of the world’s major religions may respond to news that intelligent life exists on other planets.

The $1.1 million NASA funded research was entitled “The Societal Implications of Astrobiology” and  took place in the United States at the Centre for Theological Inquiry at Princeton University.

Rev Dr Andrew Davison from Cambridge University was one of the religious experts recruited for the nine-month-long inquiry which began in 2016. He revealed his part in the project in a blog for the university’s Faculty of Divinity earlier this month and he’s written a book called Astrobiology and Christian Doctrine looking at his time as part of the study. 

Rev Davison, who has a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Oxford, says his own role focused on the connection between astrobiology and Christian theology and the prospect that there may have been ‘many incarnations’ of Jesus Christ.

The Times has seen a copy of the book, in which Dr Davison says: “The headline findings are that adherents of a range of religious traditions report that they can take the idea in their stride.

“Non-religious people also seem to overestimate the challenges that religious people . . . would experience if faced with evidence of alien life.”

Rev Davison writes that “creation” is seen as a “generous gift” from God and said: “That would apply equally to . . . whatever other life there might be in the universe.

“A large number of people would turn to their religion's traditions for guidance” if aliens were ever discovered.

“Detection [of alien life] might come in a decade or only in future centuries or perhaps never at all, but if or where it does, it will be useful to have thought through the implications in advance.”

Earlier this week, Nasa’s James Webb Space Telescope was launched into orbit to replace its 30-year-old counterpart Hubble.

Astronomers hope it will transform our understanding of the universe. 
 

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