back to article NASA talks little green men with Vatican

It's a good time to be a Catholic and a cosmologist. Heretic stake burnings are at an all-time low, and the Vatican has even warmed to the idea of ETs out there in the infinite expanse. So, it was a notably un-charred and still-communicated Father George Coyne, former director of the Vatican Observatory, who stopped by NASA's …


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  1. jake Silver badge

    Here we go again ...

    I'm making popcorn & grabbing a beer :-)

  2. Chris C

    Religious people are funny

    Without wanting to offend anyone, I must say that I find most (not all, as this article points out, but most) religious people extremely funny (and, of course, hypocritical) on the concept of life beyond Earth. These people firmly believe in God without any proof whatsoever, and yet they need to see physical evidence of non-Earth entities in order to believe they exist. So it's good to see non-banished religious figures exercising a little intelligence and open-mindedness.

  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Looking for life in the wrong places...

    ...all life of any interest in this universe has taken place in the hot, fast and young universe before inflation took over, all in less than one of your gigantic so-called "seconds", you sad representatives of glacially slow scrapyard hobos! Enjoy your cosmic horror show.

  4. Darling Petunia

    Universe & God

    Read or listen to: "A short history of nearly everything" by Bill Bryson.

    Religion is an elementary school playground.

  5. Neil Stansbury
    Thumb Up


    Coyne says his faith and science don't need to be contradictory terms. "There is a measure of faith in science," he said. For example, "I trust the age of the universe is 14 billion years when I do my science."

    Except most scientists measure their "faith" on "evidence", not 2000 year old documents written by politically motivated Roman Emperors, who thought the earth was flat and that it was an ethical position to stone women to death for adultery.

    But then I guess when you finally start to realise you're really sitting on some increasingly wobbly pillars, it;s always good to make out you thought the other side could be right all along.

    Ah bless you father... now hurry up and pass the matches - we've got some stakes to light.

  6. Allan Dyer
    Paris Hilton

    "Then we need to worry about the proper PH value"

    PH, of course, standing for Paris Hilton. Don't get confused with pH, a measure of the hydrogen ion concentration. And it's a little tautological to worry about dessication after you've worked out you need a solvent, "like liquid water".

  7. Jonathan Richards

    Wonky maths

    > "Suppose we took our 13.7 billion-year-old universe and condensed it to the age of a single year"

    Ok, that works out to a scale speed of 434 years per second. The earliest dinosaurs were in the Triassic, 230 My, == 6 days ago, so Christmas [1] is right, but the oldest human remains are 195 ky, == 7.49 minutes, i.e 11:52 on New Year's Eve. Fr Coyne's God has been communicating since 11:59:50, rather than the last two seconds. So, useful analogy, but I think the maths is wonky. [2]

    [1] That's unless you're Greek Orthodox, of course, but luckily for the experiment, Fr Coyne isn't.

    [2] What do you mean, 'get out much'?

  8. Dave Jones

    The difference between NASA and the Vatican.... that the Vatican actually has a policy on dealing with intelligent E.T.'s. See the foreword to James Blish's novel "A Case of Conscience".

  9. Steve Dulieu

    Life on other plants?

    ...are we talking dafs, daisies or cresanthmumumumumumuanums here?

    Cheers, Steve,

    Seeking out new life and new pollenations, to boldly go where no bee has gone before!

  10. CurtisB

    And after the break, more heathens get tortured...

    At least we know the next inquisition will be televised.

  11. jake Silver badge

    @Neil Stansbury

    "not 2000 year old documents written by politically motivated Roman Emperors, who thought the earth was flat and that it was an ethical position to stone women to death for adultery."

    You are somewhat confused about history, and the history of science. I suggest you study up on the subject matter before babbling about it anymore, lest anyone recognize you in RealLife[tm] down the road, when it might matter.

    Please note that I am NOT an Xtian, but I've studied their history in detail. In several languages. You are not doing your cause any good by displaying your ignorance.

    Until a day, then? Ta.

  12. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Those last few minutes, in detail

    I think someone has been mis-quoted. Crushing 15 billion years into 30 million seconds gives about 500 years per second. That means 11:59 started about 30,000 years ago, so nothing terribly interesting happened during the minute 11:58.

    On the other hand, 100 years ago the best estimate for the age of the Earth and Sun was a few million years, so two-tenths of a second ago, it was 11:57-ish and now it's midnight. I can see how this might be confusing.

  13. bilston

    Its very easy to prove life exists elsewhere.

    We exist here, proving life can evolve.

    The univererse is virtually never ending.

    Thus in a virtually never ending universe other life will exist some where.

    And dont be blinkered by believing life can only exist on a planet such as ours.

    We exist on this planet because we evolved to live in this enviroment, life on other planets or even in space will evolve to fit that enviroment.

    It will may be that we fail to recognise another life form because it is so different from us.

  14. Craig

    "Condense the universe's timeline"

    Within the space of one week I've heard far too many people suggesting that the history of our universe be considered from the condensed perspective of a standard Earth year. It was funny when Stephen Fry did it on QI, gets old when repeated too frequently though.

  15. Bryn Evans
    Paris Hilton

    Worry about what ??

    ... PH value? Really ??

  16. Steve


    "I've never met a humble or modest astronomer, but we should be,"

    Seems to apply to all the BOFHs and Helldesk Heroes, too. So, so sure they are right, without realising just how much they have to take on TRUST out of the sheer neccessity for Getting Anything Done. How do we know we are not just the crazed imaginings of a head in a jar? Somehow, we still get out of bed in the morning without having an answer.

    Faith is a dirty word in emperical circles. It's just a pity that the Universe is neither 100% quantifiable nor measurable. (Something which science HAS proved!) Things like Love, Will, Quality are core components of (evolutionary) life, but Science can barely acknowledge these, let alone see them as anything significant.

    Uncertainty exists, QED. A little humility and modesty is a reasonable response.

  17. MarkMac

    Petunias presumably?

    "to chat about the possibility of life on other plants."


  18. Peter Gant

    Alien Life Where?

    "chat about the possibility of life on other plants."

    Just what I need, aliens living on my roses.

  19. Funky Dennis

    It's all a numbers game

    "the first humans don't arrive until 11:58 pm. In that same minute, Jesus is born, said Coyne."

    So that would mean that humans have been around at most 4,030 and a bit years. (Assuming Jesus was born in 7BC and remembering that there is no year 0. Oh yeah!)

    Never trust a journo's figures. Nor a priest's, it would seem. As for me, I'm just approximating.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    life on other plants.


  21. Tim Brown

    Life on what?

    So they're discussing the "...possibility of life on other plants." That explains so much...

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The secret life of plants

    The commenters aren't mad. The article did originally say "life on other plants".

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Haven't we got...

    ...better things to do than to be concerned about what these nutjobs think?

  24. Anonymous Coward

    @Religious people are funny

    Please don't confuse "religious people" with those of only one faith. There are a great many faiths, some of which are quite compatible with the concept of alien life. At least a few faiths even exist without a "creation myth" or an "afterlife." Before you tar everyone with the same brush, take some time to consider that there may be more philosophies in this world than those to which you have been exposed.

    I believe in my theory: that the interactions of all life on earth give rise to a larger consciousness. Just as the cells in your brain interact to form your consciousness. My personal belief is that this "meta-consciousness' is no more aware of an individual life form that makes it up than we have named all of our brain cells. I can't prove it, but I believe it to be possible, even likely. That theory gives rise in turn to what is, for all intents and purposes, my faith. I could be wrong, but I prefer to hold to the idea that I am not, because for various reasons, I find the aspects of my faith comforting. Nothing in my faith says the universe, or life itself was “created,” doesn’t preclude (one could almost say it encourages) alien life, and the question of an afterlife is open to a lot of debate.

    Certainly, those raised to believe in science (as I was,) should see the value in experimentation and continual testing of new theories, rather than rejecting something outright because they have been culturally conditioned to do so. Most atheists that I have met (and I am making the assumption you are one from the text of your comment,) do not have definitive proof that there is no form of life elevated above their own. They have no proof life wasn't created, or guided, or seeded, or thought into existence by a yellow, polka-dotted hippopotamus with bad teeth. Despite this utter lack of proof, they seem to persist in deride others for their theories on the world, because those theories lack proof.

    To target broadly "religious people", and say that we all share one belief and behave in one way is incredibly insulting. Your beliefs are just as unproven as my own, and to lump me in with extremists of yet a third faith simply because I believe differently than you unfortunately does cause offence. Not all non-atheists are the same.

  25. P. Lee

    Materialist-scientist people are funny

    They take it on blind faith, despite there being no evidence at all, that life sprang from inorganic matter.

    Most scientists would base their "faith" on "evidence", but they seem to base it all on a 200 year old document which doesn't even attempt to explain how to obtain life from non-living matter. Of course, having taken the position that human life (and therefore, thought) is just a biochemical accident, any ethical position is logically just a random attempt at propagation of our own personal genes and may be discarded when inconvenient, or when we wish to obtain resources someone else happens to have, or we just feel like indulging in a bit of rape. As long as we think we can get away with it, its just the selfish gene, right?

    Of course, those Christians have their prophecies which managed to predict the times and dates of various events to the year and even naming a ruler who will do the work, hundreds of years in advance. None of that vague, cryptic Nostradamus stuff for them, but predicting the future isn't evidence of something beyond the natural is it? If the Supreme Being of the universe won't consent to being bottled in test-tube for us to play with, there is no logical reason for us to believe that such a Being exists. If the supernatural can't be analysed with the tools used to experiment with the natural, then He can't exist. If there is a God, we would find his particles bumping into each other in the LHC, wouldn't we? I mean, the universe may be billions of years old, but after 60 years or so of modern experimentation I think we can safely rule His existence out.

    "There is no God" - an article of faith which, for a sceptic, seems rather hypocritical.

    Uh-oh, I've spoken heresy. Its a good job I didn't do it in *gasp* a school, or the flames would be even higher than they are now!

    @Jake - you can put your popcorn around my feet - I really don't mind :)

  26. Fozzy

    New El Reg measurement

    "...the universe is so extremely large and old. About 159,302,326 times as old as Golden Girls' Bea Arthur,"

    And yet it needs to be said that the universe itself is infinitely more appealing

  27. Neoc
    Thumb Up

    You owe me a keyboard

    "the Church of Laser-day Saints" indeed.

  28. Chris C

    re: Its very easy to prove life exists elsewhere.

    "It will may be that we fail to recognise another life form because it is so different from us."

    That's the way I've always thought, but have not yet met anyone else who agrees. We (society in general, including scientists) seem to believe that all life everywhere will share common traits. For example, we seem to have this notion that all life forms must be carbon-based; anything which is not carbon-based cannot be considered a life form. Why? Simply because we cannot identify any characteristics we classify as "living"?

    Also, since time is merely an abstract concept that does not exist, it seems silly to tie our concept of life to our concept of time. Maybe other life forms are just too fast or too slow for us to notice (or to measure reliably). For example, to a hummingbird, a sloth may not look alive because the sloth moves so much slower than the hummingbird (so slow that the hummingbird may not even realize the sloth is moving at all).

  29. Bassey

    Re: Neil Stansbury

    Yeah, when spouting about how great you are when it comes to believing things based on evidence, it's best not to dribble complete shite for which there is no evidence at all. There is nothing to suggest modern humans have ever believed the world to be flat and plenty to show the Romans, Greeks and many other societies before them were well aware the earth was most definitely not flat.

  30. TeeCee Gold badge

    @Rick Axon

    You've done it now. I'm wondering if the more paranoid caterpillars worry about being invaded by little green flies from other plants.

    All your leaf are belong to us.......

  31. Anonymous Coward

    Please no....

    It will be a real pisser if the first alien we meet turns out to be called Xenu representing the Galactic Confederacy.....

  32. jake Silver badge

    @P. Lee

    "They take it on blind faith, despite there being no evidence at all, that life sprang from inorganic matter.

    "Most scientists would base their "faith" on "evidence", but they seem to base it all on a 200 year old document which doesn't even attempt to explain how to obtain life from non-living matter."

    Eh? Might want to read up on Miller–Urey ... Scientific theory evolves to fit observation.

    "Of course, those Christians have their prophecies which managed to predict the times and dates of various events to the year and even naming a ruler who will do the work, hundreds of years in advance."

    Examples, please ... ::crickets:: ... That's what I thought.

    ""There is no God" - an article of faith which, for a sceptic, seems rather hypocritical."

    Actually, most scientists I know say "I have no idea if there is a god/ess((e)s) or not".

  33. Chris C

    @AC re: Religious people are funny

    I apologize if I offended you. That was not my intention. Nor was it my intention to paint/tar all religious people with the same brush, which is precisely why I said "...I find most (not all, as this article points out, but most) religious people extremely funny..." It was my way of pointing out those specific people without having to name them all individually.

    As for your assumption, no, I'm not an atheist. The closest definition to what I am would be agnostic. I will never say that God does not exist because I don't know that to be true, nor can it ever be proven. That's the funny thing with negatives -- they can never be proven. Given enough time, effort, and resources, you might be able to prove that something does exist, but you will never be able to prove that it does not exist (if for no other reason, than that it may exist in a way that you don't understand or are unable to measure). For example, with my limited resources, I cannot prove that you exist. You may be someone's AI project. Of course, I cannot prove that I exist, either. I may be a figment of someone's imagination while they are dreaming.

    I'm not saying all religions are bad (though, morally-speaking, I do consider any religion which teaches people to hate and kill other people to be bad). And I'm not saying there's no room for science and religion. There are a lot of things we will never know, such as how it all began. The Big Bang theory (as I recall it -- that originally there was nothing, which exploded, thus creating the universe) is scientific heresy since one of our most basic laws of physics is that you cannot create something from nothing. For the same reason, I cannot blindly believe in the existence of God (how did God come into existence?). However, I'm smart enough to know, and strong enough to admit, that the fact that I personally believe in neither is not proof that neither is true.

    One thing I do seriously question about all people, but religious people in particular (all religions based on ancient documents), is the complete faith they put into these ancient documents. People literally take these books' words as gospel. Why? Because they're written in a book, even many books? Will human beings one thousand years from now believe that Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet are factually and historically accurate? I'm not saying that specific religions have it wrong, but I think it's a bad idea to blindly believe in anything simply because a book tells you to.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    @ Chris C

    On that point, (re: ancient documents) we can be agreed. I always found that point odd about the religions I studied too. Christianity, for example, (my parents were Christian,) states that a man can not know the mind of god. AFAIK, all the bits of the bible were written by men, and what's with this pope thing?

    A lot of quirks about a lot of beliefs methinks.

    Also don't delve too much into solopsism, the whole

    We are all aware that the senses can be deceived, the eyes fooled. But how can we be sure our senses are not being deceived at any particular time, or even all the time? Might I just be a brain in a tank somewhere, tricked all my life into believing in the events of this world by some insane computer? And does my life gain or lose meaning based on my reaction to such solipsism - Project PYRRHO, Specimen 46, Vat 7 (Subject termination advised), Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri

    thing is really rather mind/soul destroying if you poinder it too much.

    In any case, peace!

  35. Mike

    Religious people are [clever|stupid]

    Athiests do not "know" that god does not exist (unless they are not very logical), they might be pretty sure, confident or just consider it unlikely.

    Agnostics are fence-sitters, it's actually takes a significant degree of faith to think that in the absence of any provable, repeatable evidence it's close to 50/50 that god exists, by definition agnostics are people with a lot of faith, around 50% (although, I suspect that most agnostics are in reality Pascal wager atheists - which is odd because if there is a god [he|it|she] knows what you really believe, so there's actually no point in pretending).

    Theists believe there is a god, in the absence of any provable, repeatable evidence which means they either right (clever, if they got the right god) or wrong (stupid, if they wasted their life worshiping nothing, or worse making other peoples lives worse because of it).

    Exactly the same prinicples follow for belief in aliens;

    There might be aliens - but I can't prove it or communicate with them, if they do exist they are probably too far away to reach us so it's not worth living my life like there is aliens.

    It's 50/50, I won't commit to belief or otherwise, I'm just as happy to believe in aliens as not to believe in aliens, no point in asking my opinion about them, I have nothing to say (although I might spend a lot of time saying nothing).

    Aliens exist, theres no repeatable proof, but lots of hearsay and things I can't personally explain, so it must be aliens, I will make important life decisions on the basis of aliens existing.

    So, now for a summary - these beliefs are so close, there really is no "in principle" difference believing in god or believing in aliens, imagine a world where people kill each other because of what different peoples thought their aliens told them, or what about spending two hours every week singing praises to your particular alien - does this make sense?

    People have great capacity for caring for their fellow kind, this capacity does not come from aliens|god it comes from humanity, redirect the "love" we feel for aliens|god at people (because that's where you really feel it) and the world will be a better place, if you don't believe me just spend one day (16 waking hours) smiling and being nice to (almost*) everybody you meet and see if you have a better day than whe you do worshipping your alien|god of choice.

    *even tramps that smell of wee, unless they acost you

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