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Photo: AP Photo/Plinio Lepri
The senior Vatican scientist, Brother Guy Consolmagno, said that he would be delighted if we encountered intelligent aliens and would be happy to baptise them.
His pronouncement opens up the possibility of space missionaries heading out to the stars to convert aliens to Christianity.
Speaking on the eve of addressing the British Science Festival, Dr Consolmangno said he had no problem with science and religion co-existing together.
But he dismissed Creationism and claimed that the revival of “intelligent design” – the controversial theory that only God can explain gaps in the theory of evolution – was “bad theology”.
Dr Consolmango is one of a team of 12 astronomers working for the Vatican, said the Catholic Church had been supporting and funding science for centuries.
He said he was “comfortable” with the idea of alien life and asked if he would baptise an alien, he replied “Only if they asked”.
“I’d be delighted if we found life elsewhere and delighted if we found intelligent life elsewhere,” he said.
“But the odds of us finding it, of it being intelligent and us being able to communicate with it – when you add them up it’s probably not a practical question.
“God is bigger than just humanity. God is also the god of angels.”
He said the characteristics synonymous with having a soul – intelligence, free will, freedom to love and freedom to make decisions may not be unique to humans.
“Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has has a soul,’ he said.
However machines were unlikely to be smart or human-enough to have souls.
Dr Consolmango, 57, the curator of the Pope’s meteorite collection, is a trained astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican’s observatory.
He worked as a scientist in California for 15 years before turning to the church.
He said “intelligent design” had been “hijacked” by religious fundamentalists.
“The word has been hijacked by a narrow group of Creationist fundamentalists in America to mean something it did not originally mean at all.
“It’s another form of the God of the gaps,” he said.
‘It’s bad theology in that it turns God once again into the pagan god of thunder and lightning.’
The phrase ‘Intelligent Design’ was centuries old and described the idea that God could be discovered in the laws of space and time and the existence of human reason..
The Vatican was ‘very aware’ of what was going on in the world of science, he added.
The Pontifical Academy of Science, of which Stephen Hawking is a member, kept the senior cardinals and the Pope up-to-date with the latest scientific developments, he said.
The discovery of aliens would raise huge theological problems for the Roman Catholic church that would make the debate over women priests, clerical abstinence and contraception pale into insignificance.