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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Hannah Pepper-Cunningham (02/18/04)

When I entered class yesterday, my thoughts were almost exclusively focused on the ways in which religion interacts with scientific exploration. I had done a lot of thinking about the ways in which religious views restricted scientific exploration, as well as the ways in which scientific discoveries could disrupt and/or influence the foundations of religious views. Our discussion of Percival Lowell's cultural environment, followed by the discussion of religion with Janet Cooper-Nelson led me to believe that, in today's society, the conclusions I had come to about the intersection of religion and science were as much, if not more, applicable to that of humanity/ human society and science.

Janet Cooper-Nelson helped me to move toward this conclusion when she discussed the idea of scientific exploration being heavily influenced by an “orthodoxy.” This orthodoxy, Cooper-Nelson said, was once most heavily influenced by the church, but was now dominated more by secular elements of society. Throughout the discussion, however, I came to the conclusion that this shift from a religious to a more secular orthodoxy does not represent a very monumental change at all. Since the time of Galileo, our society has, in theory, become increasingly secularized. Despite this, however, societal values, conventions, and other aspects that make up even a secular orthodoxy, come from a genealogy dating back to a judeochristian orthodoxy and so are not much more than an extension of a religious one. Additionally, the fact that an orthodoxy, whether religious or secular, has consistently had a great amount of control over scientific creation combined with the fact that the way in which this control is manifested has not changed significantly with the shift from a religious to a secular orthodoxy, is what led me to think about the intersection of scientific exploration not only with religion, but, on a much broader scale, with human society and culture.

My interest in this phenomenon continued to grow as we discussed the ways in which religious individuals would be affected by the discovery of intelligent life on Mars. Before this class, I would have thought that the principle problem created by such a discovery would be that it would contradict religious dogma. Our discussion on Monday quickly disproved this for me. A CNN article described the way in which the discovery of extraterrestrial life would actually be a joyous one in the religion of Islam, and Julie alerted us to scriptural passages that allowed for the existence of life on other planets. Even when it seemed that we could quote direct contradictions from the Bible, such as with the issue of “in God's image,” religious individuals seemed to be able to weave new discoveries into their faith. And yet, many of us could not accept the fact that humanity would be okay with the discovery of life on Mars. I for one, come from a very secular background, and yet, the idea of discovering intellectual life on Mars pulls the ground out from under my feet. I think that this may be a very human reaction, but that the most easy way to both explain it and document it, is through human religion. Perhaps it is this universal discomfort, rather than dogmatic contradiction, that has in fact driven confrontations between science and religion. It makes sense that this universal discomfort is most visible to the general public through issues involving religious institutions. After all, for most of history, religious institutions have been the most cohesive instruments of human values and culture.

So what causes this discomfort? That is something that I would like to discuss further and certainly need to think about further. Part of me believes that it simply has to do with growing up with one idea of the way things are and then learning that something completely contradicts everything that is believed to be true. I do think though, that after this initial difficulty, it would be pretty rocking to have a whole new planet full of wild and crazy beings. As for “specialness,” as we said in class, humans will always find a way to be special. Always.

On a side note, I asked my roommate, a Baptist, about this issue and she said that “image” did not refer to God's physical image, but rather God's “likeness,” the “fruits of spirit,” such as love, kindness, etc, suggesting that it is these values, not our physical appearance, that make humans in God's image.



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