Planetary science and astrobiology as Christian callings

Being a planetary scientist has been a goal of mine at least since I was fifteen. I have always been interested in remote, unexplored places, whether they be distant regions of our own planet, other planets in our own solar system, or planets orbiting other stars in other galaxies. In the past several years, it has become more important to me to connect my profession to the larger spiritual and ethical projects to which I am committed. This of course makes the question, “why be a planetary scientist?” all the more significant.

At first glance, planetary science may not seem to be very closely related to improving life for humans on Earth since it is the study of other planets. Currently, the geosciences are divided between earth science, geoscience on our own planet, and planetary science, geoscience in the solar system. Anything beyond our solar system is considered astrophysics, including the study of exo-planets.

As a Christian, I intend to emulate Jesus Christ through working to create a world that is just, peaceful, and where there is an ecologically harmonious relationship between our civilization and the planet. As a Christian transhumanist, I am interested in the role that can be played by technologies such as artificial intelligence, life-extension, genetic engineering, and geo-engineering in creating such a world. If this is what I am concerned about, why be a planetary scientist? Why not be a terrestrial geologist, a climate scientist, or an engineer? After thinking about that question, I have realized the answer is that we need planetary science to help us determine what our role will be in the unfolding plan of God as it applies to the whole universe.

I believe that God intends to renew not just humanity but all of creation including other planets and the farthest galaxies. I also believe that God wants to partner with us as his created co-creators in this work of cosmic renewal and new creation. This makes certain questions relevant. What does renewing creation mean when it is applies to the entire cosmos? What is our responsibility to the universe? The major questions of planetary science and astrobiology are very important for this big-picture level of God’s plan. How do planets form? How do planets work? Is there life elsewhere in the universe or is it only on Earth? Answers to these questions are very important if we want to know what our role is in God’s unfolding plan for the cosmos. For example, if Earth is the only planet with life and consciousness in the entire universe, it may be that part of God’s plan for us is to spread life throughout the universe. It may be that Earth is supposed to be the start of a biological and technological “big bang,” causing life and consciousness to spread across a dead cosmos and transform it into a living, thinking cosmos. In this context, space exploration and colonization of the solar system, especially through terraformation, could be seen as part of humanity fulfilling its role in making the universe into a living universe.

On the other hand, if the universe is actually teeming with life, that might mean that we should be more restrained in our expansion across the universe. Perhaps, we have an ethical obligation to protect other biospheres by avoiding their harmful contamination. We may also have an ethical obligation to ensure that we do not harmfully interfere with other civilizations and their cultural development. These possibilities are the ethical foundations for planetary protection and the (fictional for now) Prime Directive, respectively.

In either scenario, planetary science and astrobiology would play an important role in determining which scenario is closer to our intended role in creation, or if it is a combination of both scenarios, since planetary science and astrobiology have significant implications for the nature and ubiquity of extraterrestrial life. An understanding of planetary science would also obviously be important for settling or terraforming other planets if we were to decide that our role was to spread life across the universe or at least join a cosmic community of civilizations doing the same.

If God’s plan involves the entire cosmos and we are intended to be his created co-creators, it is reasonable to suppose that we have a role to play not just in shaping our planetary context but our cosmic context as well. This makes the findings of planetary science and astrobiology critically important from a spiritual and ethical perspective since they can help us determine that role. May we be wise in discerning God’s will for us as cosmic citizens as we gain the technological ability to move beyond Earth and out into the wider universe. May we get to know our cosmic neighborhood so that we can responsibly steward the outer space environment and care for any life we might find there, including life that travels there from Earth.

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