Thursday, August 27, 2009

Agnes Scott College Ethics Program Lecture Series

Topic for 2009-2010: Extraterrestrial Ethics

Lara Denis, Director x5364

This is a four-part series, inspired by the International Year of Astronomy and Project Galileo.

Fall Semester:


Title: “Values and Ethics in Space” -- Agnes Scott College McNair Ethics Lecture

Speaker: Holmes Rolston III (Philosopher -- Colorado State University)

Date: Thursday, September 17, 2009

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Location: Rebekah Hall, Woltz Room

How earthbound are values and ethics? Values are pervasive on a wonderland Earth, but is there anything of value in space? Out there are only whirls of flaming gas, raw energy, rotating and revolving chunks of brute matter. But non-Earth places are not without intrinsic value. Only arrogant Earthlings will disvalue the creative projective nature out of which they have come. We live in an inventive universe. Astronauts ought to respect the new worlds they visit. Can we expect to share some of our science and ethics with extra-terrestrials? Perhaps in the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, the question to ask is not about the value of pi, or the atomic number of carbon. A more revealing test might be to ask whether one should tell the truth, keep promises, or be just. The Golden Rule may be as universally true as is the theory of relativity.

Holmes Rolston III is University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Colorado State University. His publications include Genes, Genesis and God; Science and Religion: A Critical Survey; Philosophy Gone Wild; Environmental Ethics; and Conserving Natural Value. He has edited Biology, Ethics, and the Origins of Life. His articles have appeared in a wide range of journals, including Ethics, Inquiry, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Theology Today, Natural History, Conservation Biology, Yale Journal of International Law, and Christianity Today. Professor Rolston was awarded the Templeton Prize in Religion in 2003. Other awards include the Mendel Medal, bestowed on him by Villanova University in 2005.

This event is co-sponsored by the Agnes Scott Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, Beta of Georgia, through its McNair Lecture Fund.


Title: “Space Exploration and Environmental Sustainability on Earth”

Speaker: William K. Hartmann (Scientist, Author, Artist -- Planetary Science Institute)

Date: Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Location: Evans Hall, Rooms ABC

Recent exploration of the inner solar system has revealed information on our nearby cosmic environment, including asteroids of many compositions, and the essentially endless supply of solar energy in space. Dr. Hartmann will describe how these results offer opportunities for humans to begin to allow the Earth itself to “relax” back toward its more natural state. Artwork offers a good tool for illustrating and exploring these opportunities; with that in mind, Dr. Hartmann will include images from of his own paintings as part of his presentation.

Dr. William K. Hartmann is a scientist, writer, and painter affiliated with the Planetary Science Institute. His research involves origin and evolution of planets and planetary surfaces, and the small bodies of the solar system. His current research focuses on the new data from Mars as part of his work with the Mars Global Surveyor’s imaging team (NASA). He has authored text books; popular illustrated, non-fiction books; and works of fiction; as well as many technical papers. His paintings have appeared in numerous publications and international exhibitions; he has twice had paintings commissioned by the NASA Fine Arts Program. Dr. Hartmann is the recipient of a G.K. Gilbert Award from the Geological Society of America for outstanding contributions to the solution of fundamental problems in planetary geology (2004). He has been elected as a Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2002). And he was the first recipient of the Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society for popular writing and astronomical paintings (1998).He holds a Ph.D. in Astronomy and a M.S. in Geology, both from the University of Arizona, and a B.S. in Physics from Pennsylvania State University.

Spring Semester:


Title: “The Ethics of Exploration: Planetary Astronomy”

Speaker: Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ (Astronomer -- the Vatican)

Date: Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Time: 7:30, p.m.

Location: Evans Hall, Rooms ABC

Astronomy is a remote and passive field; how can we worry about doing the wrong thing, when we basically aren’t doing anything at all except observing far distant objects? Yet a number of ethical issues arise in the field of planetary sciences ranging from the way we do our work to the broader question of the nature of exploration itself. Is the study of astronomy a valid use of scarce resources, or does it make inappropriate demands on our money, our human talent, and scarce environmental settings like clear, dark mountaintops which may impinge on other human values, such as the rights of indigenous religions, and the desire for personal security and economic well-being? Are we humans “contaminating” space with our presence? Under what conditions is it ethical to “terraform” a planet -- can we be sure that no life would ever arise on another planet in some future date if we did not terraform there? Do we have a responsibility to non-intelligent indigenous life -- say, Martian bacteria -- or to the potentiality of future life that does not yet exist? What assumptions does our activity as explorers make concerning the natural or “supernatural” status of humans in the universe? Every scientific action has a moral dimension that cannot be ignored; but that also includes the decision not to proceed with a scientific action. How do we make these choices?

Brother Guy J. Consolmagno, SJ is an American research astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican Observatory. He also curates of the Vatican Meteorite collection. His research focuses on the connections between meteorites and asteroids, and the origin and evolution of small bodies in the solar system. In addition to over 40 refereed scientific papers, he has co-authored several books on astronomy for the popular market. Among these are: Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist (2000), God’s Mechanics: How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion (2007), and The Heavens Proclaim: Astronomy and the Vatican (2009). During 1996, he took part in the Antarctic Search for Meteorites, ANSMET, where he discovered a number of meteorites on the ice fields of Antarctica.

Brother Guy received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his doctorate from the University of Arizona. All of his academic degrees planetary science, though he has also studied philosophy and theology. Before entering the Jesuit order in 1989, he held several academic positions, including a postdoctoral research post at the Harvard College Observatory. He also spent two years in the US Peace Corps, teaching astronomy and physics in Kenya.

This event is co-sponsored by the Agnes Scott College Observatory.


Title: “Extraterrestrial Searches and Planetary Protection”

Speaker: Margaret Race (Astrobiologist -- SETI Institute)

Date: Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Location: Evans Hall, Rooms ABC

Dr. Race will discuss the status of science investigations in astrobiology (especially on Mars), the policy and legal issues involved in mission planning, and the societal (and ethical) issues that arise along the way. Among these issues she may consider is that of microbial contamination: both of and by astronauts carrying out interplanetary explorations and the vehicles transporting them. What are the dangers of such contamination for affected human beings, or for our own or other planets’ environments? What steps can and we and ought we to make sure that our missions do not transfer microbes from Mars to Earth, or the other way around?

Dr. Race is a biologist, with a focus on astrobiology and searches for microbial extraterrestrial life. She is a marine ecologist by training, with a PhD, from University of California, Berkeley. Her overall interests are in environmental impact analyses, invasive species, implications of new technologies (including synthetic biology and nanotech), science policy, and science communication via the mass media. She has worked on other topics at the intersection of science, technology, and policy, such as bioterrorism, quarantine and public preparedness; global warming and planetary sustainability, and planetary defense—i.e., protecting Earth from hazardous asteroids. Dr. Race is affiliated with the SETI Institute.

No comments: