NASA slammed for illegally funding religious research

NASA slammed for illegally funding religious research

Why on earth (or in space) would America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) want to spend more than $1 million in taxpayer money on theological research?

That’s the question being asked by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which claims that the 2015 grant to the Center of Theological Inquiry is “patently unconstitutional”.

In a press release issued yesterday, FFRF said that in May 2015, NASA’s astrobiology programme awarded $1.108 million to the center for:

An interdisciplinary inquiry on the societal implications of astrobiology, the study of the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.

Center Director William Storrar stated at the time:

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.

FFRF sent a letter last year questioning the grant. It maintained that the principal thrust of the grant was theological — and therefore religious. And though ostensibly ecumenical, the Center is “rooted in Christian theology”, according to its website.

The grant was unconsitutional, FFRF asserted, since government-funded scientific studies of theology create state-church entanglements.

As part of its investigation, FFRF requested records from NASA. After several denials by the agency and many appeals by FFRF’s diligent staff sttorney Andrew Seidel, the freethought organisation finally obtained about 550 pages of records.

Combing through these pages, Seidel and FFRF’s dedicated legal interns made two startling discoveries:

First, there was damning evidence confirming that the grant was indeed unconstitutional, violating the separation of state and church. And, second, NASA Technical Officer Mary Voytek, above, the official managing the grant, has had a questionable and likely unethical relationship with Storrar.

With the NASA money, the Center of Theological Inquiry hired 11 theologians — 10 of them Christian — and only one actual scientist. That wouldn’t be problematic if they were doing secular work, but they weren’t. The work proposed for the grant included:

• formulating a “Christian response” to scientific studies on morality,
• developing a new model of biblical interpretation,
• relating themes from First Corinthians, a book in the Christian Bible, to astrobiology,
• reconciling a potential astrobiology discovery with Christian theology,
• looking at how astrobiology would affect the Christian doctrine of redemption,
• examining Christian ethics and Christian doctrines of human obligation,
• looking at societal implications of astrobiology with “theological ethics”,
• and writing a monograph on Christian forgiveness.

Said Seidel in a recent letter to NASA Astrobiology Institute Director Penelope Boston:

The Supreme Court has explicitly held that refusing to fund scholarships for theology is not religious discrimination under the First Amendment.

Then there is the questionable relationship between Voytek and Storrar. While administering the first grant but prior to approving the supplemental grant to the Center, Voytek participated in a panel at a 2015 Center of Theological Inquiry conference in the United Kingdom.

Emails reveal that the Center arranged for Voytek’s travel to and from this event. In another email sent during the same period, Voytek talks about a 2014 invitation for a trip to Florida to meet the Center’s board members and thanks Storrar for his “thoughtful gifts”. The records do not reveal the nature of these “thoughtful gifts”.

Employees of the executive branch of the United States of America “may not . . . accept a gift from a prohibited source,” according to federal law. A prohibited source includes any person who:

• “does business or seeks to business with the employee’s agency.”
• “is seeking official action by the employee’s agency,” or
• “has interests that may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance ?of the employee’s official duties.”

The Center of Theological Inquiry is or was a prohibited source under each of these definitions. None of these gifts or the travel was disclosed, as required by law.

FFRF requests an inquiry into the nature of the relationship between Mary Voytek and William Storrar and a complete review of the grants awarded to the center, including a determination as to whether the awards violated the Constitution by providing funds to a religious institution for research with a religious purpose and effect.

Said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker

FFRF is saddened that an institution such as NASA whose work we have so admired over the years has wandered woefully astray from science. This grant raises a whole lot of questions that need to be immediately resolved.

Jerry Coyne, writing for Why Evolution is True, said:

Remember, this is the pre-Trump NASA; and what it did, according to the FFRF and my own review of the documents, was to simply funnel taxpayer money into a dumb religious project, violating the Constitution. Voytek’s behavior, apparently schmoozing with the grant requestor and taking gifts from them before the grant was awarded, and then failing to report these gifts and trips to the government, seems to be blatantly illegal. She should resign.

Well, it’s a new administration now, and we’ll see what happens, but NASA should be ashamed of itself. Their money should be used for space exploration and the like, not theology! What an embarrassment!

41 responses to “NASA slammed for illegally funding religious research”

  1. Rob Andrews says:

    This shows the way these big organizations think. i mean 1,108,000, is not a lot of money, to the federal government. An argument was put forth recently by a speaker on TV talk show about not cutting funding to the National Endowment for the Arts-as art enriches our lives.

    The national debt is now over 19,000,000,000,000*. (19 trillion). Got to start somewhere.

    *It looks really serious when you write all the zeros out, like that.

  2. Daz says:

    I, too, am kind of interested in how the various religions will fit the discovery of extra-terrestrial life into their world-view, when/if it happens. (Mostly, I admit, ’cause I suspect it’ll be hilarious.) I just don’t think such speculation should be done at public expense.

  3. Daz says:

    @Rob Andrews

    I tried, just for shits ‘n’ giggles, to work out the exact percentages, but the result’s so tiny that my calculator had a hissy fit and threw an error message at me. At a guesstimate though, your “start” would appear to be the equivalent of someone saying “I owe you $100,000. Here, have a cent.”

  4. Prior says:

    Not IF … WHEN. There is unquestionably life out there … myriad life … and anyone who thinks not does not have a grasp of the enormity of the universe and the number of planets in it. We know for sure that life did kick off once in our solar system. So the probability, Pl, of life kicking off is >0. The small probability (Pl) times the huge number of planets out there (Np) is a real finite integer. There is life out there. We will confirm that as a scientifically proven fact sometime soon.And the theologians know it and have probably already confected a load of harebrained GOD DID IT stories already. There will be some obscure and ambiguous phrases sprinkled in the hidebound volumes of constipated minds (Bible, Torah, Quran) that will get new convoluted half arsed interpretations confirming the hand of whatever god in life elsewhere. Pity NASA got ripped off for funds sponsoring the mental masturabatory fuckwits who are doing just that.The pious are pertrified of the announcementof life elsewhere. It would be a hideous irony though if intelligent life elsewhere has an imaginary god too.

  5. remigius says:

    Actually it’s…

    “I owe you $171,480.15. Here, have a cent.”

    (My calculator got stroppy too. It gave 1.900000062E13. I had to extrapolate the exponent. It is some indictment when your national debt is so large that even calculators can’t handle it.)

  6. Daz says:

    Remigius, Ta for that. Even my pen couldn’t handle it; the ink dried up half way through writing all those noughts. Hence the guesstimate.

    Prior. Assuming the search in our own solar system turns up a blank, how do you even begin to calculate the probability of detectable life elsewhere?

  7. remigius says:

    “We know for sure that life did kick off once in our solar system.”

    We also know for sure there is at least one planet in our solar system inhabited solely by robots! How cool is that?


  8. andym says:

    I too think they’ll shrug off finding life elsewhere pretty easily. I’ve already heard the ridiculous Rev Lionel Fanthorpe do just that in anticipation, saying to the effect that it would just make god even greater.So what if we’ve been pushed as his unique creationto back up arguments about his existence.

    I prefer this take:

  9. barriejohn says:

    This story was covered by the BBC last December. As others have said, religiots have their excuses ready in advance, should alien life be discovered, and Billy Graham has been saying for years that he believes that his god created other life forms than those found on earth. If that life is intelligent, then does it also sin, and did Jesus die for it as well? He can’t have died twice, according to the New Testament!

    Some interesting facts and opinions outlined in that article, reflecting some of what commenters here have said.

  10. barriejohn says:

    PS With reference to my previous comment:

    “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has dominion over Him.” (Romans 6:9)

    Other verses make a similar point.

  11. remigius says:

    barriejohn, so a bit like Commander Bond then.

    He died in Hong Kong, and was buried at sea. Then he’s up and about in no time, thwarting baddies and putting the world to rights – just like Jesus

    And he’s immortal too, apparently.

  12. Les says:

    Hey Guys,
    Sorry to pee on your parade.
    The bible has that base already covered, check out Genesis 6 1-7 and reflect on ‘the sons of God,”there were giants in earth in those days’ and ‘the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.’ Does not take much to figure it out, oh, and the issue of angelic beings. So, really NASA are actually covering their backsides on this one, because no one actually knows whats out there. Although, in the next few years I believe something will ‘happen’ or be ‘revealed.’

  13. Les says:


    Totally agree, I know you are well versed on bible matters.
    How about this verse, and one word:

    For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: [Col 1:16]

    World [used in John 3:16] greek = Kosmos, Cosmos.

    Nothing more to see, now move along please (apologies, trying to be humorous and not sarcastic!).

  14. remigius says:

    Les. “…check out Genesis 6 1-7 and reflect on ‘the sons of God,”

    So you’re saying God had lots of kids. What’s so special about Jesus then?

  15. remigius says:

    Bloody hell, barriejohn. Where did they find those tiny archaeologists?

  16. barriejohn says:

    Remigius: I think one’s Richard Hammond, and I saw Cristiano Ronaldo in Tesco’s last week (at least, that’s what his shirt said) and he’s tiny too!

  17. barriejohn says:

    Les: You’re completely evading the question. If other forms of intelligent life exist, then THEY presumably have morality, as this is one of the “proofs” that God created humankind, therefore sin must be possible for them, so who died for THEIR sins?

  18. Les says:


    ‘sons of god’ is actually a hebrew derived word for angels, or angelic beings. Jewish beliefs vary amongst their sects, but most accept this interpretation as being closest. So in answer to your question, no relation to Jesus whatsover. Incidentally, the giants and ‘men of renown’ could be seen or interpreted as the greek ‘gods’ and demi-gods (Hercules etc). Yes, its only speculation, but intriguing nonetheless. Incidentally, the books of Joshua, Judges and Kings and Chronicles (historical literature) mention giants (Goliath, who had four brothers). The Pentateuch also references these ‘giants.’
    Moving to Barriejohn’s post now.

  19. remigius says:

    “…then THEY presumably have morality, as this is one of the “proofs” that God created humankind,”

    Not necessarily, barriejohn. Daleks are an intelligent extraterrestrial life form yet they don’t have morality. And don’t get me started on the Raxacoricofallapatorian Slitheen.

  20. barriejohn says:

    And there was I thinking that Daleks were fictional beings.

  21. remigius says:

    “‘sons of god’ is actually a hebrew derived word for angels,”.

    Thanks Les, I understand now. So Jesus the ‘son of god’ was just another angel. So again, what’s so special about Jesus?

  22. barriejohn says:

    ‘sons of god’ is actually a hebrew derived word for angels, or angelic beings. (Debatable)

    The fact that the Bible contains references to “spiritual” beings is beyond dispute, but that’s not what we are discussing here.

  23. remigius says:

    “And there was I thinking that Daleks were fictional beings.”

    Let’s hope so – for all our sake.

  24. Les says:

    Now to answer that question, I believe a re-reading of that verse may contain the answer (“For God so loved the [cosmos] that he gave His only begotten Son… “). Although, maybe the answer is simply that the other beings God may have created (aside from humankind and angels) did not ‘fall from grace’ i.e. succumb to that initial urge to rebel against a divine instruction, after all, everything was ‘good’ and everything was permitted. Apart from that one ‘tree.’ We were created ‘good’ not ‘perfect.’ They had the freedom to choose, and made a wrong choice, how many times have you or I made a similar mistake. Maybe, if God has created ‘other beings,’ they did better than our ancestors did, food for thought I hope!

  25. barriejohn says:

    (a) Even Answers in Genesis doesn’t support the idea that the Biblical “giants” were anything other than giant humans, and neither does it offer a scrap of evidence that “giant races” ever existed:

    (b) Unless God created other life forms as robots (Christian argument), then they would be moral and capable of “sin”, and, having free will, some would “fall”. It’s a given.

  26. Les says:

    A valid point, I’ll come back to that later. It’s way past my bedtime! And any others raised.

  27. remigius says:

    (whisper) Psssstttt everybody. He hasn’t really gone to bed. He doesn’t know the answer so he’s gone to look it up. (/whisper)

  28. Daz says:

    Awww,Don’t be hard on Les. Jesus wanted him for a Sunbeam, but he failed the application and only got a Singer Vogue.

  29. remigius says:

    I thought Jesus’s disciples shared a Honda hatchback.

    My mate used to drive an Accord – and he spent a lot of that time praying too.

  30. barriejohn says:

    Here’s another one for the crackpots: If alien life forms are discovered that are intelligent and sentient, then they will presumably be immortal and immutable, just as everything was on earth prior to “The Fall”. If there is birth, development, and – horror of horrors – death in their realm, then that blows a hole in the biggest argument of the Bible – that death was the result of sin, and that Jesus died to “conquer death”. Death is, according to the Bible, the result of Adam’s transgression:

    “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin.” (Romans 5:12 KJV)

    And if there are going to be “new heavens and a new earth” in the future, these alien beings must be part of a different universe – or else that prophecy refers only to the earth and its little sphere – like some giant bubble floating in space. If there were to be new heavens and a new earth, what would happen to them? It’s as if the Bible had been written by a bunch of primitive shepherds and farmers who knew nothing of astronomy or physics, but we know, of course, that that couldn’t possibly be the case, as they were inspired by God, and God knows everything!

  31. remigius says:

    barriejohn. Who are we to question the wonders of God’s creation?

    We are learning new things about it every day. I have just discovered there is a race of tiny archaeologists living among us (thanks to your astonishing and thought-provoking proof).

    This alone has made me re-evaluate my previous position regarding the existence of supernatural beings.

  32. barriejohn says:

    Remigius: If anyone dares tell me that “we don’t know the answer to all these questions, but we must just leave it to God”, I shall scream. What do they think is the purpose of their holy book – the so-called “handbook to life”?

    PS The camera doesn’t lie!

  33. andym says:

    @ barrie.We know the whole argument is deficient from the start. An omnipotent God creates a flawed being, and then blames the creation for the flaws it itself created .

    Why can’t they just project the failings, theirs and their god’s,onto another galaxy/universe. They’ve long abandoned reason. What difference does another galaxy make?

    As I’ve said before, religious nutjobs only stop telling us about the mind of their god when their arguments fail. Then it becomes blasphemous to pretend to know the mind of said god.

  34. Paul says:

    I want to know if there are unicorns in space.

  35. remigius says:

    “I want to know if there are unicorns in space.”


  36. Les says:

    @Remigus [just for clarity, I have a chronic health condition, an indirect result of botched medical intervention when I was seriously ill a little over three years, no I won’t sue the NHS, even though three GP’s have told me to. Thus, one of many side effects is fatigue. ps I am not troubled by the comments, I do have a sense of humour!] Now back to the question:

    The ‘Son of God’ as to Jesus:
    Theologians and philosophers have debated this for many years. But unless God Himself reveals who Jesus is, then one will simply never know (Calvinism at its purest). However, the simple answer is that Jesus is the unique son of God in that He possesses the same nature as God. Adam was the son of God by reason that he was created directly by God – he did not have a human father or mother. Angels are the “sons of God” for the same reason sense in that they were created by God. Israel was symbolically called God’s son. Believers are “sons of God” or “children of God” by faith in the Christ. Jesus, however, has always been the eternal son of God. “No one has ever seen God, but God the one and only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus called Himself the Son of God in a unique sense. Thus, many texts attest to the uniqueness of Jesus as the ‘Son’ of God: An angel: “The angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35) God Himself: “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to him!’” (Matthew 17:5) The demons (fallen angels): “And suddenly they cried out, saying, ‘What have we to do with you, Jesus, you Son of God?’ “(Matthew 8:29) Paul uses an OT prophecy texts: “For to which of the angels did he ever say, ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you?’” “And again, ’I will be a Father to him and he shall be a son to me?” (Hebrews 1:5). Also, Jesus’s own words: “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live'” (John 5:25) “But when Jesus heard this, he said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it” (John 11:4) “Do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?'” (John 10:36). And finally, the words that condemned Jesus (as per Jewish law) “And the high priest answered and said to him, ‘I adjure you by the living God that you tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is as you said'” (Matthew 26:63-64).

    Although Adam, angels, Israel, peacemakers, and Christians are all called “sons of God” the Scripture designates Jesus as the unique Son of God. He possesses the same nature as the Father – God. However, He is not a literal offspring for He has existed for all eternity. The Bible often uses the word son in the sense of ‘possessing the nature of.’ Jesus is the eternal Son of God in this sense, possessing the nature of God. A man can only be the son of his Father. Jesus was the Son of the Highest, and the Son of God. This title son of God does not indicate Jesus was the literal offspring of His Father. On the contrary, the Bible speaks of Jesus as having existed as God from all eternity “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God” (John 1:1) He did not have a beginning as you or I have had. Therefore, He is not a “son” in the sense of a literal offspring. He existed before He was born as a babe in Bethlehem. In the same way, Jesus possesses the same nature of God “For in him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). Jesus is the eternal Son of God in this sense, possessing the nature of God.
    ps Ref: ‘Unicorns’ I believe there was a recent (<24 months ago) archaeological discovery by, I think Russians (???) of a 'unicorn' their description was something more akin I think to a hippo/or rhino-like creature… can't remember details 'but the truth is out there!'

  37. remigius says:

    So, ‘son of god’ means whatever you want it to mean. I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.

    Re the Russian ‘unicorn’ – it’s an…

  38. Daz says:

    If it’s okay with Les (well, even if it isn’t, to be honest), I’ll stick with Prince Buster. Based on the same book, but at least arranged into a pleasing sound.

  39. 1859 says:

    Jesus was a holographic entity sent to earth by The Borg to sow confusion among such dinosaurs as homo sapiens. The Borg have now arrived and taken over The White House. Resistance is futile.