Daniel Finn-Foley (02/18/04)
Monday's discussion on life on Mars was one of the more fulfilling discussions I have experienced yet at Brown. I thought it was a very open and frank discussion on a very interesting topic. The aspect I found most interesting was the discussion about the repercussions the discovery of life on Mars would have on various religions. As a person who grew up without the outside influence of an organized religion, Janet Cooper-Nelson's perspective was very useful for me as someone who has devoted her life to issues of spirituality and religion. (Quick note, I can no longer use the words “spirit” or “opportunity” anymore without wondering what is happening on Mars)
I feel Janet Cooper-Nelson's presence really helped give the discussion direction; we weren't going around in circles as we were in some of our discussion the week before. It was such a rich topic it even took us past the pre-stated time for the discussion, which I welcomed since I found it fascinating and plan on speaking to Janet about the subject further.
Personally I left the discussion feeling different from when I came in. At first I believed that organized religion such as Catholicism, which works under the principle of human “special-ness” would be able to bend, not break, with the discovery of extraterrestrial life by claiming it as merely another proof of the divinity of god. How else could 2 planets have the same random interaction of molecules resulting in life? But the more we discussed it in class the more certain I became that life on Mars would constitute such a breach of faith within many modern churches that they would not be able to recover from such a discovery. While being able to shrug off new theories such as evolution and the Big Bang, proof of life on Mars would be a solid discovery the church could not recover from.
The question of life on Mars is also one which affects society as a whole, not simply religion. Humanity has always wanted to explore beyond what it knows, and to find new life has always been a question that has fascinated humanity. As the Universe gets larger and larger humanity seems to shrink and, psychologically, we occupy a lonelier and lonelier universe with each passing day. With all our glamorized notions of space exploration such as Star Trek, we are not willing to imagine sending men into the deep recesses of the galaxy and simply finding more lifeless stars and more emptiness. The same fear that makes each individual afraid to be the “last man alive on earth” makes humanity as a whole afraid to be alone in the great expanse of the cosmos.