The Vatican's top astronomer has said that some scientists appear in public proclaiming themselves to be atheists in order to gain credibility, but there is a surprising number of people in the field who actually attend church.
In an interview with the Vancouver Sun earlier this week, Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory, contended that the notion that science and faith are separate silos "has never been true."
He asserted that many of the scientists who appear in public are insecure about their rank as scientists and only proclaim themselves to be atheists to appear credible.
"The scientists that you see on TV who are proclaimed atheists because they think it gives them credibility in science — which it doesn't — are turning off the nine-tenths of the population that don't call themselves atheists," he said.
"Carl Sagan said 'an atheist is someone who knows more than I do.' Even he had to admit that he just didn't know about the existence of God," he added, referring to the popular American astronomer and cosmologist.
Consolmagno, who is in Vancouver this week to deliver a talk on the joy of scientific discovery, said that he was surprised by the number of scientists who revealed to him that they attend church.
"I think it would be a great benefit to science and to religion for them to publicly proclaim in their churches that they are scientists. That's where it needs to happen," he said.
The astronomer also spoke about the belief of alien life on other planets, and noted that it has never been a problem for Christians. He pointed out that people throughout history have always assumed that there is life elsewhere, and asserted that it is only the humanists who insist that human beings were the "pinnacle of the universe."
"Christians have the tradition of angels, non-corporeal beings, created by God. What could be more science fictional than that?" he said.
Some Christian leaders, including Young Earth Creationist and Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham, have been critical about the search for alien life. Ham had suggested that researchers should seek God instead of searching for intelligent life on other planets. The prominent creationist also contended that the Bible does not provide evidence that life may have been created anywhere outside of Earth.
Consolmagno stressed the importance of the search for alien life because of the big gaps in human knowledge of astrophysics. He surmised that people will only begin to have an understanding of what life is by studying life on other planets.
The astronomer said that one of the goals of his work at the Vatican is to show that the church supports science. He recounted that he worked for 20 years at NASA where he had to show results of his research within a three-year grant period, but at the Vatican, he now has complete freedom to choose his own research.