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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Jim Head (Professor) (02/18/04)

Here are some thoughts that I gleaned from the class discussion and my own reading: 

Science and religion:
-What are the similarities and differences?
-Are there fundamental differences and basic incompatibilities, or has there been convergence and overlap?
-What is the role of faith?  Can scientists accept things "on faith"?
-What is the role of "orthodoxy" in religion and science?   

What is religion?
-Some would argue that religion grew out of mysticism, the desire to explain the unknown through "storytelling" and the attempt to explain powerful and traumatic natural phenomena (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, etc.) of unknown origin through appeal to obviously more powerful forces than humans (e.g., powerful and supreme beings). 
-Others would argue that religion grew out of the desire of humans to know and understand their purpose on Earth, and how to deal with death and the finality of mortality. 
-Is the concept of the presence of a supreme being a statement of fact (we have evidence and we have reached the conclusion that there is a supreme being on the basis of specific information) or is it a statement of ignorance (there is a lot we still don't understand and it is too difficult to comprehend so it is easier to think that there is some power larger than us that accounts for all of this). 

Human specialness:
-What is the human 'purpose'?  Is there one?
-Human specialness: Are we any different than many other animals or is this an illusion?
-If we are not very "different", how do we deal with this?
-If we are "different", why?  Can we be 'special' without any purpose?
-Not too long ago, the Earth was the CENTER of the universe.
-Today, we orbit one of billions of stars in the galaxy and every day we find more planets around other stars.
-There is a distinct likelihood that we might discover conclusive evidence of life elsewhere in the cosmos in our lifetime. 
-How do we account for this "retreat from human specialness".
-If human specialness is further and further diminished, does this pose a threat to religion? 
-Is the concept of a supreme being necessary in order to justify our "specialness"?

Threats of discovery of life elsewhere:
-Consider option b) We are from Mars!: Scientists determine that fossil microbes in Mars rocks are exactly similar to the oldest microbe fossils found on Earth and that living microbes blasted of Mars by impacts four billion years ago fell in the Earth's oceans, explaining the origin of life on Earth.
-What would this do to the concept of human specialness? 
-Finding 'intelligent life' elsewhere: The distinction may be whether or not they have power over us.


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