Festival of Ideas: Minds meet to discuss intelligence beyond Earth
A Roman Catholic priest with graduate degrees in philosophy and astronomy, Funes is currently the director of the Vatican Observatory and has stated in the past that the belief in the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life does not contradict the teachings of the church, and that dismissing the possible existence of aliens would be like “putting limits” on God’s creative freedom.
Comins, who is currently a professor with the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Maine, is well-known for his research in several areas, including observational astronomy, general relativity, galactic dynamics and astronomy education. He has also written several popular science books including two that explore alternative versions of Earth and one that debunks common scientific myths and life’s curiosities. Comins hints that the Roman-Catholic perspective on the possibility of the existence of complex extraterrestrial life may not be so far from his own. He suggests that there are many important issues regarding habitable worlds that stem from such a question.
“Allowing that planets orbiting other stars can sustain life, the discussion could well range over many scientific and theological implications of their existence,” said Comins. “For example, how easy is it to go from simple life forms like those that may exist in Mars and other worlds, to complex life like that found on Earth? Can such complex life form on planets [outside the solar system]? If so, why haven’t we heard from them yet . . . or have we?”
Considering the common notion that science and religion are contradictory forces, the different backgrounds of Funes and Comins will enable them to delve into what the possibility of self-aware life in the universe means for scientific inquiry, theology and humanity.
“Both of these men are men of science, and one is from both worlds [of science and religion],” said Goa, the moderator and director of the Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life, Augustana Campus.
“Father Funes is really the person ‘sitting in Galileo’s chair’ in the 21st century, able to speak about how Roman-Catholic thought has cared about science and biological life, while Dr. Comins has a wonderful way of describing the uniqueness of our planet, its particular features that enable life and how these same features may be shared by other planets in our universe.”
The two will meet for the first time during this event in Edmonton, and will have the opportunity to have a dialogue not only about the similarities of their perspectives, but about the possible differences in how they go about justifying these perspectives. Following their discussion, they will engage in a question–and-answer period with the audience.
For tickets or more information about the Festival of Ideas 2010, please visit www.festivalofideas.ca.