Ann Kellan (Reporter, CNN Washington): "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void, and God said, 'Let there be light... Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion.'" The story of creation, from the Old Testament of the Bible, describes mankind as dominant over all other living things. Well, now scientists are discovering planets beyond our solar system, and the possibility that life existed on other planets even before it existed on earth. Will these discoveries shake the foundation of some religious beliefs? Scientists and religious leaders are grappling with these issues.
Reverend Joan Brown Campbell (National Council of Churches): One of the difficulties people in the world of religion have had is that we have had to fight against the sort of age-old belief that human beings are all that counts. And what science has helped to teach us is quite other than that, and that is that every microorganism has its reason for being.
Ed Weiler (NASA scientist): Humans have always tried to place themselves in a special place in the universe. You might remember back a few thousand years when the earth was at the center of the universe...
Kellan: When Copernicus discovered the earth was just another planet revolving around a sun, religion slowly adapted to the change, and will continue to adapt as science explores new galaxies beyond this solar system...
Weiler: There are other solar systems. We're not at the center of anything. Our galaxy is just another galaxy among hundreds of billions of galaxies... Well, "We're the only LIFE in the universe" -- this is the last thing we have to hold onto, as being special.
Kellan: But this rock from Mars [famous meteorite photo] showing possible signs of past life, and a possible ocean of water on one of Jupiter's moons, Europa, casts scientific doubt on the idea that life originated on earth, and only exists here.
Richard Zare (Stanford University scientist): Who is to say that we are not all Martians, that Mars was the place where life first started? Some people claim long ago it had a more hospitable environment.
Weiler: It makes us less special, and I think maybe that's important for all of us to realize -- that this universe wasn't created for us necessarily, and the earth wasn't created for us necessarily.
Campbell: All we're doing now is saying perhaps creation is broader, more extensive, than we once understood. I don't think that has to threaten people's religious beliefs. But I think for those who are more fundamentalist, it will threaten their belief, because I think their God is narrower. They are much more concerned about the dominance of human beings.
Kellan: Scientists are planning to send ten probes to Mars over the next ten years, and they hope to explore Jupiter's moon Europa. One goal: to search for the origins of life, including how life began on this planet. Scientists now believe primitive life could have formed in hot water vents deep within the ocean. And, as discoveries unfold, scientists will look to religious leaders for help in translating scientific findings to their communities.
Campbell: We're beginning to have discussions between science and religion, and I think those will help us to help the rest of the people understand that this doesn't have to be a threat to either.
Anneila Sargent (Cal-Tech scientist): I in fact grew up as a Roman Catholic, and I haven't had any problem in dealing with my scientific life and any kind of religious beliefs. I think that they're quite compatible.
Reverend John Minogue (President, DePaul University): Science is supposed to be disturbing, it's supposed to push the envelope. We need both -- we need our feet and our roots that religion gives, and we need to keep pushing the envelope. I think it's a very exciting adventure for the world.
Kellan: The magnitude of the adventure will be decided by the president and Congress when they consider NASA's budget and funding for future space missions. Ann Kellan, CNN Washington.
Original file name: CNI - CNN on Science.Religion
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