NASA funded a programme attended by 24 theologians in a move to determine how different religions around the world would react if contact was made with aliens.
A group of academics took part in the NASA-endorsed programme, which ran between 2016 and 17, at the Center for Theological Inquiry (CTI) at Princeton University, New Jersey.
Among them was British priest and Cambridge University theologist Rev Dr Andrew Davison, who is helping to advise amid the ever-growing likelihood of discovering alien life.
His forthcoming book, Astrobiology and Christian Doctrine, considers the possibility of God also creating life elsewhere in the universe, and notes that “non-religious people also seem to overestimate the challenges that religious people... would experience if faced with evidence of alien life”.
Carl Pilcher, former head of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, 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”.
Addressing the idea of Earth as 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.”
Our observational and exploratory space technology is advancing rapidly at present, with tools like the new James Webb telescope, which launched on Christmas Day, offering a clearer picture of the universe. It has been described as a ‘time machine’ that could observe distant objects emitting light from further back in time.
In addition, the European Space Agency’s Rosiland Franklin rover, which will drill down into Mars’ surface, takes off next year.
Meanwhile, scientists in Cardiff have found that ammonia in Venus’s atmosphere could potentially be the result of living organisms. Researchers also believe that Europa, the icy moon of planet Jupiter, has liquid oceans under its surface that may support life.