Religion, not scientific inquiry, could be a major driver behind humans colonizing other planets, according to a panel of academics.
The panel suspected the primary motivation for humans to leave Earth would be for religious and social reasons, adding that scientific exploration is not a powerful enough motivator to propel human civilization into space.
The panel consisted of scientists, theologians and communications experts. The urge to explore and colonize far away places is historically and fundamentally, a religious impulse, and many religious leaders are already encouraging space travel.
“There was a fatwa put out by Malay Muslim authorities on how to do rituals on the International Space Station — all this has been thought through,” Michael Waltemathe, a theologian at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, said during a panel at the annual Mars Society convention in Washington, D.C.
Experts pointed out that the only motives other than religion to inspire exploration historically are commercial interests, security and nationalism. They speculated that commercial interests likely wouldn’t be sufficient motivation for some time, while security and nationalist imperatives are presently moot.
“Since we got to the moon and we’d already beaten the Soviets that motive was gone,” Paul Levinson, a science fiction writer and professor at Fordham University, said during the panel. “Science proved insufficient as well. Science continues to be motivating factor, but it’s a weak motivation, NASA has tried, and it hasn’t ignited any real passion.”
Levinson in particular pointed out that religious motivations have a long history of promoting scientific advancement.
“Religion has received a sometimes justified, sometimes not justified, rap as being opposed to science and knowledge,” Levinson said. “We should take this idea of interrelationship of space travel and religion a little further.”
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