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Religion and Life on Other Worlds

Would proof of the existence of extraterrestrial life be a problem for religious believers? That question gets a fresh look in, Religions and Extraterrestrial Life (Springer, 2014), a new book by Vanderbilt University astronomer David Weintraub. Knowing (some would say we already know) whether humanity has company in the universe will trigger, Weintraub says, one of the greatest intellectual revolutions in history, and, he thinks, it will pose a significant challenge for at least some terrestrial religions.

While some of the more fundamentalist protestant faiths may find it difficult to accept something not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, many others are quite comfortable with the possibility. Many polls, says Weintraub, indicate that a very large part of society thinks alien life exists, and that includes 32% of Christians, 44% of Muslims, 37% of Jews, 36% of Hindus, and 55% of atheists (Survata polling).

To learn more about how some little known, but long established, spiritual traditions have seen ETs and their role in the history of civilization, see Martin Ruggles’ story on the lost lineage of the ancient astronaut hypothesis (page 42).


Surviving as a Mars Colonist

When Columbus embarked, many predicted he would sail off the edge of the world. Fortunately,  he was not discouraged by such talk. Nowadays, the future of exploration seems to be on Mars, and while no one is worrying about flying off the edge of the world, there is no shortage of warnings for those who make the first trip.

MarsOne, the private Dutch effort planning on dispatching a group of would-be colonists on a one-way trip to the red planet sometime in the 2020s, is getting its share of grim forecasts. A group of MIT students have analyzed the publicly available data on the MarsOne plans, and found that, among other likely calamities, the group can expect to starve. According to the MIT group, the bodies and the available calories just don’t match up.

MarsOne CEO Bas Lansdorp told Popular Science the students don’t have their facts right, but he did acknowledge that there could be a shortage of replacement parts. Based on a NASA study, success may require that as much as 62% of the initial payload be spare parts.

For another theory on the best approach to interplanetary travel read Martin Ruggles’ article in this issue.


Early Image of a Beardless Jesus in Spain

New evidence is causing another look at the role Spain might have played in early Christianity. A shattered glass plate found in the town of Castulo has now been pieced together to reveal a Jesus with no beard, short hair, and wearing a philosopher’s Toga. Now dated to the fourth century, the plate for Eucharistic bread is believed to be one of the earliest images of Jesus.

Recently, evidence from a pair of Spanish researchers was offered to make the case that the original Holy Grail is the one display in the basilica in Leon. The cup dates from the first century.

The Sudarium of Oviedo, Spain, is said to be the cloth, which was wrapped around the head of Jesus. Its history is better documented than that of the Shroud of Turin in Italy, and it has been used to corroborate bloodstain evidence on the shroud itself. The Sudarium is known to have come to Spain in the sixth century.

As Rome declined, Germanic tribes invaded most of the lands of the former empire. Spain was taken over in 410 by the Visigoths who had been converted to Arianism, a form of Christianity, which rejected belief in the trinity.  Like Gnosticism, Arianism was declared heresy by the Council of Nicaea.