A little over a year ago, NASA’s Astrobiology Program gave a $1.108 million grant to the Center for Theological Inquiry (CTI) so that they could research a small chunk of the implications alien life would have on our society. More precisely, they wanted to know how Christianity would be impacted by the discovery of alien life.
The grant will allow the CTI to fund a team of scholars and theologians over a period of two years. But to what end?
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,” Center Director William Storrar stated on their website.
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.”
To the untrained observer, this venture seems pointless and beyond reasonable limits. It also managed to incur the disfavor of individuals and organizations alike. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is downright outraged by this episode. In a letter addressed to NASA officials, FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote:
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits any ‘sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the sovereign in religious activity,’" FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes to NASA officials. “Specifically, the government may not fund religious projects, as various courts have ruled over the years."
Furthermore, the project is co-sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, a fundraising organization known for muddying waters whenever possible. Its main objective is to promote an overlap between science and religion, but not in a productive way for society. No. The JTF regularly sways the public discourse by paying off academics to support their one-sided cause and one of their most recent endeavors include funding climate change denial.
In an attempt to get to the bottom of this, the FFRF has also filed a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding the controversial grant. It might take a while. In the meantime, let’s speculate.
Why would NASA, an agency crippled by underfunding (or is it?) practically throw away a million dollars in an attempt to get biased answers from a single source that is neither relevant nor crucial to the matter at hand?
One answer could be that they’re attempting some kind of social priming experiment and the $1.1 million grant represents the first step in paving the way for a wave of announcements like none other. By enlisting a religious organization to come up with a simulated picture of what a post-disclosure world would look and act like, NASA might be saying that they know something but they first need to know how we feel about it.
Our favorite space agency could have reached a sensible conclusion by appealing to common sense: if irrefutable proof of alien life were to be presented on a global scale, it would shake the very foundations of religion and spirituality. Everything would change and organized religion would either have to adapt and include the newfound axiom or dismiss it altogether, much to the chagrin of its believers.
Problem solved and we’ve still got over a million dollars of taxpayer money that could be better spent somewhere else.