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Astrobiology: Where science intersects with faith

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NORMAN, Okla. – While the US government continues to deny any existence of intelligent life in our galaxy, the NASA Astrobiology Program has financed, in 2015, over $1 million dollars for the Center for Theological Inquiry (CTI) to discuss on the societal implication of astrobiology. This will take place for a period of two years.

Additionally, the John Templeton Foundation has also sponsored the program up to $1.7 million.

“If you look at the stars there are hundreds of millions of planets that could serve as a second Earth,” said Mary Voytek, a senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology program, in a recent podcast addressing this important topic with theological and societal implications.

NASA created its Astrobiology program on 1959 under the name the exobiology project. Its main purposes are understanding of life evolved on Earth and where it might be expected to find life elsewhere.

“We tried to reach a place such as the CTI where the philosophy is to bring all type of disciplinary group together to talk about these very important questions,” Voytek said.

A total of 12 scholars discussed at the CTI during the first year of the program. They all came from a various background such as Dominique Steiler, director for the Center for Personal and Managerial Development at the Management School of Grenoble (France) and Susan Schneider, a professor Department of Philosophy Cognitive Science Program at the University of Connecticut.

“We want our scholars in theology, religions in humanity, philosophy, and arts to talk about astrobiology in the way the NASA will recognize in a form responsible accurate,” said William Storar, a members of the Center of Theological Inquiry.

However, they all have a common point, their Christian faith, nothing surprising when the CTI recognized itself as “an ecumenical institute for interdisciplinary research in the field of religion.”

A situation that the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) didn’t accept and publicly asked the NASA to remove the grant of $1 million.

“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits any sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the sovereign in religious activity,” FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes to NASA officials, noting the NASA didn’t reply to the FFRF request.

Despite all the critics of the FFRF toward the utility of the societal implication of astrobiology program conducted by a religious institution, which is understandable, the CTI has the merit to ask interesting questions about astrobiology, such as “If there are many different forms of life, known and unknown to us, what does it mean to be ‘alive’?”

In one of the podcasts available on the CTI’s website (the only way to get informed about the work of the CTI scholars) Schneider tried to reply at this problematic by discussing on the post-biological intelligence in the cosmos.

Schneider said humanity is getting closer to create artificial intelligence that could soon surpass human intelligence raising the problem to how to control it.

“The greatest alien intelligence are maybe post-biological, being AI because they will be older than us as our planet is relatively young,” Schneider said, noting it raises also the question, do AI has the conscience or not?

As it is said in the podcast, astrobiology has the value to push the religion and the believers beyond their boundaries. Seen in this light, the NASA sponsorship may be a step in the right direction.

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Olivier Rey

Olivier has traveled in 20 countries on six continents before landing in Norman. Native French...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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