A strong protest has been lodged by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) against what it sees as a misguided one million dollar NASA grant to the Center for Theological Inquiry granted in May 2015. The amount was ostensibly provided to make an in-disciplinary inquiry on astrobiology's social implications. This will encompass origin studies, future of life, the evolution of life and its distribution in the universe.
FFRF sent a letter in 2016. Its main contention was that the grant's main aim was theological, and thus religious. The Center for Theological Inquiry has its ideological existence in Christian theology. The FFRF put forward the argument that the grant was clearly unconstitutional. This is because any theological study which enjoys government funding on the basis that it is a science create an unwanted mesh between the church and the state.
After the first tranche of money was given, the FFRF requested NASA not to allocate any more funds towards this project. The former also pointed out that one of this project's co-sponsor was the John Templeton Foundation. This body was known for its predilection towards the funding of projects which promotes overlap between science and religion.
The FFRF did not stop by sending this letter only. An FOIA request was also filed by them so that they could learn more concerning the NASA grant. The inquiry revealed that the Center of Theological Inquiry employed a total of 11 theologians and one scientist. Among the 11 theologians, 10 of them were Christians. The choice of employees should not be a problem if they were doing secular work. They were, however, not doing that. 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.
Andrew Siedel, the FFRF staff attorney, sent a letter to Penelope Boston, the Director of NASA Astrobiology Institute, telling her NASA cannot legally fund theology. He pointed out that the US Supreme Court has clearly said that the action of scholarship fund refusal for any theological subject cannot be termed religious discrimination as per the First Amendment. The FFRF expressed sadness that NASA has strayed away from its scientific path.