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Possible life on Mars raises theological implications


August 7, 1996
Web posted at: 9:45 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A humbling possibility.

That's the way some officials in the country's religious communities are describing NASA's recent discovery.

Theologians say the possibility that life exists on Mars moves beyond an "anthropocentric worldview" -- one that places humankind at the center of the universe.

The current developments, if substantiated, will not unravel traditional biblical convictions, but rather provide an opportunity to enlarge or broaden them, says Professor Anthony Tambasco of Georgetown University.

But the findings may rattle fundamentalist claims that assert life literally originated as recounted in the Bible's book of Genesis.

"It certainly moves us, in one more way, beyond the claims of fundamentalists," said Tambasco.

On the other hand, the Vatican has its own observatory at the University of Arizona in Tucson and is said to have teamed up with NASA on occasion.

Most Muslims would also welcome the discovery of life off of Earth, according to Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America.

Syeed says the Koran refers to Allah as the God of "worlds," not just one world. He adds that the Koran says God created the universe for man to explore and discover.

The Koran, according to Syeed, gives man a specific mission on Earth, which does not preclude God's giving other life forms a mission on other planets.

Rabbi James Ruden of the American Jewish Committee says NASA's findings can only be "celebrated." Ruden says most Jews' interpretation of Genesis leaves open the possibility of life on other planets. If the findings become conclusive, Ruden feels it would be more evidence of the power of God.

A group that supports the teaching of "Creation Science" says the NASA discoveries pose no real threat to their theories. Bill Hoesch of the Institute for Creation Research calls Wednesday's announcement "99% hype and 1% fact."

Many questions remain to be asked before any conclusions are drawn, says Hoesch, adding that it's too early for the public to get excited at this point.

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