At a meeting last May in New York with Andrew Pohorille, NASA’s senior-most scientist on origins of life, Pohorille told me that there is a certain factor to life that far cannot be captured in the lab, i.e., life is not purely a technical matter, and that he does not expect “we” will find life anywhere else in the solar system, including Mars – he added that there is as yet o consensus on what life is. But what Andrew Pohorille did not tell me at the time was that just a few days prior to our meeting, NASA’s Astrobiology Program—headed by Mary Voytek—awarded $1.108 million (5% of its annual budget) to the Center of Theological Inquiry, a religious think tank with more than $23 million in assets, to investigate how the world’s religions might respond to the discovery of life on other planets. John Templeton Foundation is co-sponsoring the two-year project (2015-2017) with a $1.7 million grant to CTI.
Couple thoughts here: First, one would expect that those world religions that care much one way or the other if NASA finds bacteria in space could fund their own examination of the question. Of course, they might apply to Templeton for funding but why need NASA be involved?
It’s unclear which religions would care much or why. In his Divine Comedy, mediaeval poet Dante peopled all the known planets, organized according to his cosmology as heavens. A popular mediaeval belief had it that the man in the moon had been booted there by a scandalized Moses because he refused to observe the Sabbath.
Beliefs of this sort have abounded from cultures around the world. I could see someone getting a grant to write a monograph on the issue, maybe a book, but … a government program?
Templeton’s been a puzzle to many of us for years. They may have lost control of their mission.
See also: Opposition to Galileo based on science, not just religion?
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Whatever NASA comes up with, the people who imagined this stuff would be wretchedly disappointed: