NASA gives $1 million grant to a theological organization to study the religious implications of extraterrestrial life

June 6, 2016 • 11:00 am

Well if this don’t beat all! According to the webpage of the Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI), NASA (the National Aeronautic and Space Administration, a part of the U.S. government), has given a huge grant to the CTI to study the implications of extraterrestrial life for religion. The money will fund a team of scholars, including theologians. I quote the announcement in its entirety:

The Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI) is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a grant by the NASA Astrobiology Program to convene an interdisciplinary inquiry into the societal implications of the search for life in the universe.

The project is intended to refresh and expand scholarly and public dialogue on this subject, which is of growing interest due to the discovery of thousands of extrasolar planets and the ongoing search for potentially habitable environments in our solar system and beyond. With this $1.108 million grant, CTI will oversee a resident team of visiting scholars in theology, the humanities, and social sciences that will conduct an interdisciplinary inquiry on the societal implications of astrobiology, the study of the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.

This inquiry will extend over two academic years from 2015 to 2017. It will focus on the societal implications of astrobiology’s current research goals and findings, which will be studied in symposia and video-linked conversations with leading scientists in the field. Applications will be welcomed from collaborative scholars who are examining the concerns raised by astrobiology for the humanities, or pursuing research on societal issues related to the evolution and future of life.

Announcing the NASA grant, CTI’s director William Storrar said, “The aim of this inquiry is to foster theology’s dialogue with astrobiology on its societal implications, enriched by the contribution of scholars in the humanities and social sciences. We are grateful to the NASA Astrobiology Program for making this pioneering conversation possible.”

CTI is an independent academic institution for interdisciplinary research on global concerns with an international visiting scholar program in Princeton, NJ. Further information on CTI’s resident program and application process can be found on the Center’s website at: The Request for Proposals on this topic for the 2015-2016 academic year can be found here, with the online application window open from December 15, 2014 to January 31, 2015.

On the page that lists the “research team,” you can also read the bit below. Guess who else is part of the program?

Yep, you got it:

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 10.38.47 AM

So now we have the U.S. government teaming up with the odious John Templeton Foundation, giving one million dollars of taxpayers’ money for a stupid and meaningless attempt to figure out what will happen if we find life on other planets. I expect they will deal with the Big Questions about whether space aliens could be saved by believing in Jesus, or if they might go to limbo instead of Hell because they never got a chance to hear the Good News. Alternatively, as Michael Ruse has suggested, there might have been an intergalactic Jesus who flew from planet to planet bringing salvation.

Seriously, this is an outrage and a huge waste of money. I also see it as a violation of the First Amendment, for it is an unnecessary entanglement of church and state. But even if it were legal, it’s completely ridiculous. What was NASA thinking? Think how many lives could be saved in Africa or India if that money went to provide food or clean water?

Here are the CTI’s “honorary trustees”:

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 10.48.37 AM

89 thoughts on “NASA gives $1 million grant to a theological organization to study the religious implications of extraterrestrial life

  1. Well, I think this is unprecedented. And a good example of how PCC(E) scrapes up these “little” things that get lost through the cracks.

    I wonder what would Neil DeGrasse Tyson say? Something suggesting that theologians are free to say whatever they want BUT they should know the facts… though in this case, they’re not free, they cost their share of over one million USD.

  2. NASA has long ago become involved in typical bureaucratic mission creep. It has completely lost sight of its original charter, and become a political money sink. (And I say this having personally had a small part in one of the Mars landers.)

    1. Yeh, I guess you could call a space exploration agency spending a million to consider the theological implications of discovering aliens before they’ve discovered any aliens a case mission creep….at a stretch…

      1. I’m talking about the many non space related projects ( environmental for example, legitimate study but bleeding off resources totally not space/aeronautical related at all)

        1. Yes — I was trying to make a joke about it being a spectacular case of mission creep. It’s so far out of the ball park I don’t think anyone would think of calling it mission creep, but it is, in way.

          Didn’t mean it to sound like it was dissing you. Wasn’t meant to be. Sorry if it comes over like that.

    2. For starters (I haven’t gone through the 70-plus comments yet – I’m impatient – perhaps someone has already effectively asked/ranted):

      Does one person – the Director of NASA – make this decision?

      Did the Templeton Foundation say they’d give if the taxpayer would?

      Why should the CTI outfit get this award of taxpayer money? Was there a “bidding process”? Was it a “line item” for some Congressional subcommittee to scrutinize and justify?

      Who decides why there should be “honorary trustees” for such a thing? (Is it like honorary pall bearers?) Does this mean there are actual trustees?

      If CTI and its ilk must be involved, so too must CFI. (Perhaps it should be CRI – Center for RATIONAL Inquiry.)

      Has not at least one top-flight academician/philosopher/theologian not already exhaustively raked this over the contemplative coals?

  3. According to HuffPost (“Nasa, Jesus and Templeton”),

    “The attempt by Templeton to insinuate its divine motive into science is aided by the failure of science to understand the origin and evolution of life.”

    That seems a bit gross to me.

    Hey, these are our tax dollars!

    1. How *dare* they claim that right after large conferences has started sessions on testing of astrobiology theories!? … excuse me, now I have to go wash the slime from my brain.

    2. Article here:–templeton_b_10285098.html

      It confirms my independent discovery on Scharf’s efforts, by the way.

      Mazur dabbles in the same false dilemma as Jerry and “the breaking news about alternative evolutionary approaches” where she hammers on self organization.

      And, oh noes! My favorite journal, Astrobiology Journal by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc is in the hands of scientists that grab deep into the Templeton pocket (and it shows)!


    3. HuffPost are pathetic. And what the hell is NASA doing pandering to Christian Van Danikens? Its beyond embarrassing, what right have they to spend govt money on astrowitchcraft?

  4. Very disappointing.

    I was also disappointed a couple of years when a number of interviews had NASA people discussing the various “good luck” rituals they engaged in prior to some big event. My guess is that this was an effort to humanize NASA personnel.

    1. At least that didn’t involve taxpayer money. I’m sure plenty of people there have personal religious belief. That’s private and their own business.

      1. Sure, but these were PR efforts and a science-based organization shouldn’t be promoting superstition. The point is that the organization seems to be somewhat accommodationist.

    2. I have calibrated instruments for NASA and there are rituals involved. Let outline a few:

      1. Calculate.
      2. Recalculate.
      3. Double check recalculations.
      4. Have someone else recalculate.
      5. Have a manager recalculate what someone else already calculated.

      That’s before the clean room. Does Templeton even know what nitrile gloves are? F**king dumbasses.

    3. ” . . . the various “good luck” rituals . . . .”

      I assume one of those rituals is that pre-launch deep-dish glass plate steak and eggs (toast and coffee) breakfast. I remember as a youngster seeing for the first time a photo of John Glenn digging in. Sure looked like he was enjoying it. I’m sure I would too.

  5. A similar theme was explored in A Case of Conscience, a science fiction novel by James Blish, published in 1958.

    It is the story of a Jesuit who investigates an alien race that has no religion yet has a perfect, innate sense of morality, a situation which conflicts with Catholic teaching.

    1. That was my first thought too: why do we need to spend a million bucks to research something that’s been thoroughly explored in science fiction already?

      1. Well, youze guys stole my lines. Those are the first two stories I thought of. A Case of Conscience, though quite an interesting read (at least the first half), strikes me as dated–the idea that some priest’s religious idea could possibly deter some avenue of scientific inquiry seems implausible (at least, until the theocrats take over).

        On the other hand, The Streets of Ashkelon is excellent, and would be one of the science fiction stories I would commend to the attention of our esteemed host.

          1. I had never read that one.

            A similar fate to John Adams in The Rakehells of Heaven by John Boyd.

  6. I agree that this project is most likely a waste of time and money. But I must respectfully take issue with this line of argument:

    Think how many lives could be saved in Africa or India if that money went to provide food or clean water?

    Providing clean water in Africa or India is no part of NASA’s mission; there was never any chance that this money could have been used for that. One might as well say, Think of all the lives that could have been saved with the money spent on fruit fly genetics, or on burnt-sugar ice cream. The uses to which money gets put aren’t fungible in that way. Yes, people die for lack of food and clean water, but it’s simply a non-sequitur to blame their deaths on any particular waste of money elsewhere.

    1. I didn’t even see that as I got distraught once again. [See my longish comment.] Always read through…

      Yes, Jerry dabbles in a false dilemma. Which I don’t condone when I see it from the web trolls where it is so popular. It takes little effort to formulate, they never support it with statistics that show the stated correlation in practice, but is in their minds a meaningful claim. I can therefore not do else than agree with you. [I hope it is not my emotional state that is speaking though.]

    2. The answer is to reduce NASA’s budget by one million dollars next year and divert the money to something productive.

      Cutting budgets of agencies that engage in stupid stuff is not impossible, as you imply it is. Taking money from some agencies and putting it to, say, foreign aid is NOT a non sequitur. One can make funding decisions based on productivity and other criteria so I deny that my complaint, which was NOT saying that this year’s money could have been used to reduce hunger, had no merit.

      1. You’re correct that cutting budgets is not impossible. But raiding science budgets to fund humanitarian aid programs seems like a very bad precedent to set.

        Organizing conferences and funding academic research projects is well within NASA’s remit. Granting that this theology project seems particularly wrong-headed, the solution is not to take away the budget for such projects; it’s to make sure those funds are being spent wisely, on projects from which we might actually learn something interesting. (And historically, NASA has a pretty good track record of doing that.)

        Similarly, if poor Africans aren’t getting the aid they need, the first step in solving that problem, it seems to me, is to make sure existing aid dollars are being spent wisely, and not (say) lining the pockets of corrupt local officials. Until that step has been taken, pirating funds from other agencies won’t help.

      2. I remember reading earlier this year about scientific studies on our own planet that would be useful to humanity that couldn’t be done due to lack of funding. I’m all for NASA, but we haven’t done much towards the original mission since the early days. If all the wasted or misspent funding to various agencies could be documented and their budgets cut proportionately, what an amazing thing that would be. What federal budget oversight we have is nominal to non-existent. Look at our military budget. Look at the wastage in our medical programs and the lack of appropriate oversight on Medicare. AARP reports that “we are losing $60 billion each year to rampant Medicare fraud”.

    3. I only worked for NASA for a short while, but the expertise I gained directly working for that agency can help (in principle) me design efficient and cost effective means to produce water anywhere on the planet.

      NASA employs people who can save the lives of people in Africa and India. Directing those people to postulate on Jesus 2.0 is not (likely) going to help citizens of this earth.

      1. The more cost effective means to produce potable water on the planet the better. However, we already have some that are not being used in as many places as they could usefully be employed. An area of Peru along the coast where is is so dry and there’s so little rain that they had to have all their drinking water trucked in, planted trees or put up screens to collect moisture for consumption. The U.S. Navy uses desalination for water on their large ships while out at sea. I’m sure there’s more we don’t use.

        1. Perhaps NASA can afford to donate to such an effort because much of the research and work assigned to the agency is going more and more to private industry.

          R&D – 6/6/2016:

          So-called “mission approval” for a private mission to the moon is imminent, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

          Moon Express, a space startup founded in 2010, seeks the U.S. government’s approval to land a 20-pound payload on the moon next year, with the payload consisting of scientific hardware.

          “The expected decision … is expected to set important legal and diplomatic precedents for how Washington will ensure such nongovernmental projects comply with longstanding international space treaties,” according to the media outlet. “The principles are likely to apply to future spacecraft whose potential purposes range from mining asteroids to tracking space debris.”

          The 2017 mission would use to the company’s “MX-1” lunar lander spacecraft to perform a two-week operation, the Journal reported. Company CEO and founder Bob Richards said he was awaiting the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) decision.

          The FAA licenses and regulates U.S. space launches, and reviews payloads.

          According to Moon Express, the “MX-1” is powered by sunlight and utilizes hydrogen peroxide as rocket fuel. And with the discovery of water on the moon, “the MX-1 has a potential source of rocket fuel on the lunar surface, a scenario that would be a game changer in the economics of lunar resources and solar system exploration,” according to the company.

          Moon Express is among the teams competing for the Google Lunar X Prize, which is tasking participants with landing a privately-funded rover on the moon. Thus far, Moon Express has won $1.25 million of the $30 million in prizes available, and it’s also received a launch contract for its 2017 competition moon blastoff. The team signed a launch contract with the New Zealand-based company Rocket Lab for multiple takeoffs to the moon. That initial launch, The Wall Street Journal reported, will occur on New Zealand soil.

          This announcement comes on the heels of another big announcement from the private space industry sector. Last week, Elon Musk announced SpaceX intends to send humans to Mars by 2024, with cargo deliveries to Mars starting as soon as 2018.

          In May, asteroid mining company Deep Space Industries announced a partnership with the Luxembourg government in its efforts to accelerate technology development for space mining.

          With all these efforts, it appears humanity’s efforts to spread beyond Earth and into the solar system are ramping up.

    4. “Think how many lives could be saved in Africa or India if that money went to provide food or clean water?”

      Think how many lives could be saved in Africa or India if that money [had gone] to provide condoms.

  7. Am I alone in thinking this is not as bad as it sounds.

    The study of religion is a legitimate topic for the social sciences and the discovery of extraterrestrial life may have a profound effect on some religions. It would remove what little excuse is left for an anthropocentric view of the universe.

    1. Umm. . . . it is bad because a. it’s a violation of the First Amendment, and b. it uses TAXPAYER MONEY. Let private organizations fund this kind of stupidity. Besides, they’ve had these kinds of endeavors before, and they don’t do anything to whittle away religion’s power.

      1. As much as I may disagree with the use of public money for this project, I don’t think it violates the first amendment, which states:

        “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

        The purported purpose of the project is to study religion, not to establish it in any sense of the term that I can think of. If this project were unconstitutional then so would any project dealing with religion undertaken by any academic that received public money to do the research.

        Such a project could have some intellectual benefit if were undertaken by people with no axe to grind and paid for out of private funds. Since the likelihood of contact with an alien race any century soon is virtually nil, such a study would be purely of academic interest. Thus, NASA should not have gotten involved in it.

    2. I think your points are valid. I’m more surprised that the funding was accepted–it seems CTI may not be aware of the potential ambiguities.

      1. Would that Ronald Reagan, with full use of his cognitive powers, were here to hold forth on the topic at hand, inasmuch as he’s quoted saying, “Intellectual curiosity should not be subsidized.”

        Anyway, aren’t answered prayers and vouchsafed personal, private revelations the solution to this?

  8. I am not surprised. NASA started a public outreach blog on exoplanet research and its implications, which I started to contribute on in between my hospital visits of late. I didn’t do my homework, given the circumstances.

    When I discovered too late that the funding money came out of Templeton’s pocket, I felt betrayed and blew up in a comment. Nautilus/Caleb Scharf, et cetera – and now that. And this.

    [Caleb Scharf is from NASA and now bridges Templeton to NASA in global astrobiology projects through Japan:

    “A workshop was held August 26–28, 2015, by the Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) Origins Network (EON, see Appendix I) at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. This meeting gathered a diverse group of around 40 scholars researching the origins of life (OoL) from various perspectives with the intent to find common ground, identify key questions and investigations for progress, and guide EON by suggesting a roadmap of activities.”

    “The Earth-Life Science Institute at the Tokyo Institute of Technology was launched in December 2012 as part of the World Premier International Research Center Initiative (WPI) of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). The WPI grant is awarded to institutes with a research and administrative vision to become globally competitive centers that can attract the best scientists from around the world to Japan.”

    The ELSI Origins Network (EON) was created to form a global interdisciplinary network, centered at ELSI, for research into the OoL. Its goal is to bring together existing ideas from different sciences to shape each other’s development and create a collaborative research community with global vision, which can recognize and ask the next generation of questions. EON is designed to support ELSI’s goal to be a worldwide destination for leading-edge research in all aspects of the OoL and to internationalize research and higher education in Japan. EON is funded by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

    ;, my bold]

    That meltdown spawned responses, but I was off to the hospital again and haven’t had time to study the impact … um, crater.

    1. Not to worry. Impact craters can be very interesting.

      Whatever the medical issues, best wishes for a full and speedy recovery.

        1. I can’t quite place the story from the dialogue. Sundiver by David Brin comes to mind, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t it.

          Your friends book sounds interesting. All of the reviews I’ve found are very positive. Many expressed initial skepticism because of the title and surprise that, upon reading it, it turned out to be very good. I’ve put it on my list.

          1. I actually think the “inspecting sunspots from the underside” comes from one of Larry Niven’s books, but whether in “Mote” (when they did do some sun diving), one of the M-K Wars novellas when a relativistic missile (with AI aboard) used a star for aerobraking (with side effects) … or one of the short stories …

  9. I don’t recognize the names at the end, save for… Tippett.
    Gaaaah! Now I have to shake out the cobwebs of pink cotton candy from my brain, and shoo away the pink unicorns and tweeting birds circling my head. I bet she does a show about it on NPR. I hope I don’t have NPR on when it rolls out, ’cause I am out of barf bags.

    1. Must admit the same thing, only her name do I recognize, although I blame PCC(E) for that. If he hadn’t brought her up here, I would have remained blissfully ignorant of her existence and with a few more of my brain cells undamaged.

      1. Reminds me of an old joke:

        “What sign were born under?”
        “‘Maternity Ward.'”


        “What sign were born under?”
        “‘Gunther’s Bar & Grill.'”

        or even:

        “What sign were born under?”

        1. As a sceptic, I’m slightly (conceitedly?) proud of the trivial fact that I don’t have a clue what ‘sign’ I am.

          Oh no, wait … (goes and checks coffee mug) ‘Virgo’!

          Other than that I was never very good at dates and remembering the birthdays of mythical constellations seems doubly pointless to me.

          Anybody remember ‘biorhythms’ ?


          1. That’s how I learned my star sign too. Oddly, the series didn’t include Ophiuchus – never did understand that 😼 .

    1. Yeah, that was my thought, how can I get in on this scam? Gotta come up with a good title for my proposal, probably something involving the right buzz words – “extra-spiritual”, “spatial life affirmation”, something like that.

  10. The implications are that religion will be intellectually destroyed.

    Please send 1 million dollars to Box 915 Tofino BC. V0R2Z0

  11. The god-botherers should be required to take a position in advance on this issue: which one of these would constitute evidence for the existence of their God — a universe that is rife with intelligent life, or a universe in which such life exists on Earth alone.

    Because, given the chance, they would undoubtedly argue that one either way — either that a fecund universe demonstrates that a loving God made the emergence of intelligent life inevitable, or that God so loved His chosen Earthlings that He created them alone.

  12. OH NO! There must be protest. Will FFrF take it on? IT seems entirely unconstitutional!!!!
    Unbelieveable!!!! I’ll write my rep & sen but fat chance that will do any good.

  13. Suspect that the people who rail on about government waste won’t have any problem with this.

    Is it all Templeton dosh, or is some from the NASA budget?

  14. The implications… Some will say extraterrestrial life doesn’t exist, because the science conflicts with the Bible. Some will reinterpret the Bible to claim the Bible predicted the discovery. Some will worry its the End Of Times. Some will fight to keep that “theory”out of school books. Some will claim ET’s are different “kinds” that we have dominion over. Some will claim extraterrestrial life is a lost tribe of Israel. After 50-100 years, this will be what the religion has always believed. There will be Muslims and Hindus and Pastafarians who will mirror the various responses of the Christian fraudpologists.

    For most, all the desperation and stupidity will be another nudge towards the None category.

    I’d just like $999 for that analysis, the rest can go back to the taxpayers. TIA!

    1. I wondered if anyone else had noticed that piece of particularly repellent (and more-than-normally-stupid) bigotry.
      The reason I say that it’s more than normally stupid is … conceive of the first round-trip mission to Mars : 18 months in flight, 2 years on planet, 18 months in flight ; 50 months in total as a small team together (I’ll ignore that half the crew would stay on Mars and some of the return crew will hav flown out on that outbound trip, to establish staggered crew turnover). Therefore EITHER heterosexual couples will form or homosexual couples will form, depending on what sexes are available ; most likely both. There will also be some frustrated people who won’t have any release other than wanking (or feel some religiously based inhibition). [With increasing frustration, the probability of rapes (hetero- or homo-, doesn’t matter) increases rapidly.] So, regardless (EN_REDNECK : “irregardless”) of the opinions of a fat, probably closeted, US politician, there will be homosexuals in space. By the time they’re coming back, if not on launch day. (The latter assuming that he has a purity test for both male and female homosexuals ; oh, look – a flying pig!)

  15. Giving our taxes illegally to fund a religious inspired quackery. If ever there was a bridge to nowhere this would be the destination.

    Surely FFRF must know about this…

  16. If they were just a generic think tank which included theologians on the side, this would raise fewer First Amendment problems, but CTI is an offshoot of Princeton Theological Seminary (albeit independent) the latter of which is overtly Presbyterian, which really has overtones of establishment of a specific religion which even the most religion-friendly of our founding fathers would have recognized as a possible problem.

    The notion of an intergalactic Jesus was engagingly described in Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Man” which was a overtly a work of fiction.

    However, why assume that aliens need redemption at all?? (I’m not saying that the CTI does.)

    The notions of aliens who don’t need ANY redemption (and will only lose by contact with humanity) has been engagingly explored both by atheist science-fiction writer Ursula K. LeGuin in “The Word for World is Forest” and in Christian sci-fi by C.S. Lewis in “Out of the Silent Planet” (and with less profundity but with spectacular visuals by film maker James Cameron in “Avatar”).


    Ken Ham believes that all space aliens were affected by the fall of Adam (since according to Pauls letter to the Romans the whole cosmos was affected), but that only humans are saved (since Jesus was a human not a Martian), ergo Ham wants NASA to stop funding the search for ETs, since we can conclude from the above they must be evil. I have a mild curiosity (2 on a scale of 0 to 10) as to how Ham will respond to this project.

    1. Yeah, that (your first para) was the first thing that came to my mind too. So now I guess NASA will have to find a million each for the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Hindus…
      in fact any denomination that US citizens belong to.

      I’d love to see the legal arguments on that one. 🙂


  17. “Alternatively, as Michael Ruse has suggested, there might have been an intergalactic Jesus who flew from planet to planet bringing salvation”

    Just when I think I’ve heard it all…

  18. Do they get to keep the million-simoleon grant if, after a suitable interim, they come back with “Nah, we got nothin'”?

    1. It’ll almost certainly be phrased as “produce a report,” to which “we ain’tn’t found nuffink, ossifer” is a “report”.

  19. But NASA has always been a little leaky at the seams, hasn[t it? Every time their instruments get a chemcal reaction or a whiff of moisture, out come the reports that they have found life.

    1. ” . . . out come the reports that they have found life.”

      Rights. These reports come from breathless, bloviating reporters.

  20. All I can say is, “WTF??!!- this COULDN’T be constitutional!” Where the justification for it? What benefitss could ANY findings possibly have, unless aliens come to US in the near future? This is totally outrageous and retarded.

  21. This may actually be the biggest waste of money the government has ever spent. First off, we’re gonna need to find some aliens first. Already a difficult and unlikely task, now made slightly harder by us spending $1,000,000 on not exploring space.

    Next, the theologians would need to come to an answer that they haven’t already (either the Space Jesus or the “Never heard the news” exemption that jungle tribes get being the most common)

    Then, the theologians would have to actually be listened to, rather than ignored like they usually are.

    And this is all before we get to the whole, y’know, no god thing. Jesus Christ…

    1. To clarify, I meant that in order for the $1m do be well spent, the theologians would have to come up with NEW explanations on what to do with space aliens. If they only come up with the same old ones they’ve come up with before… then even if those explanation are true, it’d be a waste of money. Like spending $1m to find out if children love candy.

      And might I add, that if the Space Jesus explanation turns out to be true…. then we wouldn’t need to theologize about it right now. After all, we’d get there, start talking to them, and find out they have a remarkably Christian like religion, which would definitely answer for Christians that it was Space Jesus all along.

      Even accepting that there is a true religion, this is still a big waste of money.

  22. This stinks. In 1960 I broke up with a girl I was dating because she told me that I was going to end up in hell. The reason was that only Roman Catholics could go to heaven, and I was a lowly Episcopalian. I asked her if a stone-age inhabitant in some South American jungle, a person who was kind, loved his or her children, and led a good life, was also going to hell just because he had not been made aware of the importance of Catholicism. She answered in the affirmative.
    So what religion can claim the path to heaven in this new study?

    1. She obviously wasn’t up on the doctrine of the “virtuous pagan” – which was why Dante Alleghre could be guided through Inferno etc by Virgil – a “virtuous pagan.” So besides her other failings, she also didn’t know her own religion.

  23. This is about speculation (“conduct an interdisciplinary inquiry on the societal implications”), and not scientific research. As such, if this money just “had” to be spent on this topic, it would have been better to distribute it to high schools throughout the country, and let students delve into the science of origins and learn about stellar types, planetary geology, atmospheric conditions, chemistry, theories of biogenesis, the role of natural selection, and neurobiology. Then, the STUDENTS could hold their own conference and present their ideas to each other.

  24. I suppose it *might* be legit to study the implications of discovering ET life for society – which would include the possible effects on religious belief and the consequent social implications. (i.e. would x% suddenly stop believing in G*d and if so, would they riot?) That would be secular.

    Though, considering how effective economists and psychologists usually are at predicting societal behaviour, I doubt whether any credible or useful results would emerge anyway.


    1. I gather that psychologists study the behavior of flesh-and-blood human beings, and economists study the behavior of human “resources” and “capital.”

      1. I think that’s correct. I just doubt that they can produce reliable predictions population behaviour.


  25. I’m more worried about the implications of our various religions to extraterrestrial visitors. It seems likely that we’d make a very poor impression on beings advanced enough to get here from another star.

  26. The most substantial religious implication of extraterrestrial life is getting 1 million $ grant from NASA.

  27. If NASA has money to burn, why not create more scholarships for students wishing to study astrophysics, etc.?

    My most charitable thought is that perhaps NASA is paying the balky horse to drink from the well of rational thought. But I doubt this is really the case.

  28. Although this study is a waste of taxpayers money and would be more appropriate for the Templeton Foundation, it should be noted that the possibility of extraterrestrial life is a problem for fundamentalist Christians (and ultra-orthodox Jews and Muslims to boot). Up until the discovery of exo-planets in the early 1990s, such folks denied that there were planets traversing around other stars. In fact, some of them claim that the whole thing is a plot by astrophysicists to undermine religion and thus reject the findings. However, most of them have now retreated to the position that, yes there are exo-planets but that there is no evidence of exo-life. It is my prediction that when evidence of exo-life is found, they will retreat further to the position that there is no evidence of intelligent exo-life.

  29. South Park did an episode on meeting intelligent life forms and introducing them to Christianity (S3E11 “Starvin’ Marvin in Space”).

    The aliens politely tell the missionaries their religion is false.

    I gather this million dollar study will produce the same amount of intellectual fruit, but none of the humor.

  30. One possible interpretation (I’m playing Dei’ls Advocaat here) is that NASA are paying a megabuck (over how many years?) to have a team of people that they can direct all such time-wasting, frivolous and bloody stupid questions to, freeing up useful people from such intellectual galley-slavery. In that way they might actually save more than a megabuck of useful people’s productive time.
    I’m not really sure that it’s a “good” suggestion on any metrics, but it might actually work out.
    PR people aren’t particularly cheap, but paying scientists to do what is essentially PR work isn’t a good use of science budgets.

  31. If Catholic hospital systems don’t have to participate in Obamacare because some tax dollars may go to birth control or abortions, then I sure as hell shouldn’t have to pay for this!

  32. You are right, Jerry. This is an outrage. My I suggest deluging NASA with letters of protest?

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