The Vatican's official newspaper has endorsed the possibility that the universe could contain intelligent life beyond Earth, while insisting that aliens would be "our brothers" and "children of God" as much as human beings are.
The Pope's astronomer, José Gabriel Funes, a Jesuit priest, told L'Osservatore Romano that there would be nothing surprising about the existence of intelligent extra-terrestrials.
"Just as there is a multiplicity of creatures on Earth, so there could be other beings created by God [beyond it]," he said. The interview suggests that the Church's hierarchy may be paving the way to showing that Pope Benedict XVI is more open to the ideas of modern science than he has previously seemed to be.
Pope Benedict has spoken in favour of "intelligent design" in the past and has damned evolutionary ideas that leave no room for God.
Fr Funes, in the interview, admits that, for him, evolution is a given. He also said that he believed in the Big Bang theory as the most likely explanation for the origin of the universe, and that the Bible should not be held to account for its lack of scientific accuracy. "Fundamentally," he said, "the Bible is not a book of science... It's a love letter written by God to his people in the language of two or three thousand years ago... So one cannot ask the Bible for scientific responses."
The existence of alien beings would not create a problem for believers, he insisted, "because one cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God... They would be part of creation."
Pope Benedict has reminded believers that "Revelation teaches us that [man] was created in the image and likeness of God", and that "man is the only creature on Earth that God has wanted for his own sake".
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