Geo016 - Exploration of Mars

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Geo016 / Exploration of Mars / (M) 3:00-5:20 / Lincoln Field 105 / Prof. James Head

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Cindy Beavon (02/18/04)

Our discussion seemed to stem mostly from Geoff's friend's letter. His friend had asserted that that point of contention between Christian theology and the discovery of life elsewhere was a belief that humanity was created in God's image. His e-mail tried to reconcile that perceived scientific “threat,” with biblical legitimacy. I liked how in class we addressed the differences between discovering so-called intelligent life, as opposed to finding microbal life, or even perhaps just plant life. Someone keenly said that we will always be able to rationalize a way humanity will remain unique, no matter what our extraterrestrial discoveries, because after all, we distinguish ourselves from all the millions of other kinds of life on Earth. I had posed the question of what else, specifically, could the religious orthodoxy find unbelievable about the discovery of any life elsewhere, and was disappointed the only response was regarding the trials of Job. Job was a character used to reassure humans that no matter what suffering we experience, God has intention behind what unfolds, and that it's not all random. This knowledge gives us hope. How would extraterrestrial life address this? Although the Chaplain's commentary on this issue was eloquent and fascination, it still did not answer my question.

I did enjoy what Janet had to say regarding her personal, religious reaction to the discovery of life. She basically said that as far as the Bible was concerned, trying to find textual context to this event would be like trying to find a Godly perspective on ATM machines. Not everything needs a religious context to be analyzed, comprehended, and meaningful.

Regarding the Sagan/Mawr debate, I was fascinated by Mawr's rhetoric starting from the beginnings of life, through the species that evolved from that, and the species this subsequently evolved from that, ultimately concluding that intelligent life is not a natural selection favorite, as indeed our sentience is the result of a long series of randomness that only succeeded once. I had also never heard humanity's relatively short stint in the universe compared to the likelihood of other intelligent organisms in that “window,” (this is the point he used to convince us SETI was a waste of time/expenditure) and I found it highly convincing. Sagan did not directly refute this. Overall, I feel both scientists only clashed ideologically, as in answering the question “how fiscally optimistic should astronomers be in searching for life?”

We never discussed the differing implications of finding evidence on Mars that we have common origins or had common origins with what's been going on there, versus discovering a second genesis on Mars. I would have liked to hear a more ‘scientific' reflection of this question. Finding a sign of something we deem living that is not alive here (and just what would that be? Molecules acting in behavior we're unfamiliar with on Earth?) would be exciting, and what kinds of extrapolations could we make from just a few microorganisms? And, if we did find evidence of Earth-like life on Mars, what kinds of hypothesis exist regarding the Earth's relationship with the planet millions of years ago to have this in common?

 

 

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