Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has launched a strong protest against one million dollar NASA grant to the Center for Theological Inquiry. Announcing the NASA grant back in 2015, the Center for Theological Inquiry’s director William Storrar said: “The aim of this inquiry is to foster theology’s dialogue with astrobiology on its societal implications, enriched by the contribution of scholars in the humanities and social sciences. We are grateful to the NASA Astrobiology Program for making this pioneering conversation possible.”
The question is: why was NASA funding any sort of dialogue about the intersection of science and religion? And what kind of correlation can even exist between scientific and religious visions of the world?
FFRF sent a letter in 2016 about the grant which was intended to make an in-disciplinary inquiry on astrobiology's social implications. Their contention was that the grant's main aim was theological, and thus religious. In a letter which was sent to the NASA organization, FFRF pointed out that:
“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits any ‘sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the sovereign in religious activity,'” FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes to NASA officials. “Specifically, the government may not fund religious projects, as various courts have ruled over the years.”
This inquiry is planned to extend over two academic years from 2015 to 2017. There was still a year left in the grant and FFRF was asking NASA to refrain from throwing any more money toward the project especially because of misuse of scarce taxpayer dollars.
FFRF didn’t stop after sending a letter. They also filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to learn more about NASA’s grant. The inquiry revealed that the Center of Theological Inquiry employed a total of 11 theologians and one scientist. Of course, most of them are Christians, namely 10 of 11 theologians.
The list of proposed work includes:
- Generating “Christian responses” to the scientific studies conducted on morality.
- Relating the appropriate themes from the First Corinthians, a Christian Bible book to the subject of astrobiology.
- Developing biblical interpretation's new models.
- Reconciling Christian theology with probable astrobiology discovery.
- Trying to understand how astrobiology will influence redemption, a Christian doctrine.
- Analyzing the Christian doctrines and ethos of human obligation.
- Writing a Christian forgiveness monograph.
This isn’t the end of NASA’s troubles. NASA Technical Officer Mary Voytek, who was managing the grant money, had a questionable business relationship with Center of Theological Inquiry Director William Storrar. Actually she was thanking Storrar for his “thoughtful gifts” after travelling to Florida in order to meet him. It’s against federal law for Executive Branch employees to accept gifts from people who do business with their agencies.
“This grant raises a whole lot of questions that need to be immediately resolved,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. FFRF has also “submitted yet another FOIA request to learn more about Voytek and Storrar’s relationship.”
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