Religion and science are typically thought of as being like oil and water: they don’t mix well. But some individuals consider the intersection of the two, particularly the role religion can play in spurring human colonization of the universe. Such speculation often occurs in science fiction. Consider the Bene Gesserit religious order in Dune, the most famous sci-fi book of all time.
But philosophers, not just sci-fi authors, also consider religion’s role in space colonization. We spoke with one such philosopher, Dr. Konrad Szocik of the University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow, who writes extensively on religion’s potential role in Mars colonization. We asked him to explain his thoughts on religion and space colonization, why he studies it, and how people react to his unique combination of interests.
What role could religion play in the colonization of Mars?
When one looks at history, there are various examples of religious systems helping support humans in difficult situations. People who look for sense, meaning, and hope often find them in religion. Human settlement on Mars will be an endeavor where thinking and asking about sense, meaning, and hope will be important. Religion can help in this regard.
Religion has another possible function in a moral and ethical context: religion can enhance prosocial behavior (though this may not always be obvious here on Earth). When keeping in mind that religion may induce prosocial behaviors among believers, we can engage in interesting thought experiments. Who, for instance, is more prone to self-sacrifice on Mars in dangerous situations: believers or atheists? Mars colonists will surely be selected for various skills, but should they also be selected for features such as religiosity or atheism?
Third, a specially prepared religion for Mars may be applied to children born on Mars as a pedagogical tool. Such religion could explain to them why they are staying there. For instance, Martian religion could present Earth as a biblical hell – a place where no human being wants to go. This could cause children on Mars to never want to come back to Earth (which, in any case, will become like a hell sooner or later).
How did you end up specializing in such a particular subject?
I am a philosopher interested in future challenges. Missions to Mars, and space colonization more generally, is the next stage in human development. Because of my philosophical background, my interests naturally lead me to consider ethical and social issues. My areas of interest are thus the possible applications of religion on Mars, as well as the challenges that space colonization poses to human ethical standards and moral intuitions.
What are typical reactions you receive when sharing your ideas with others?
I think that everyone thinks I am weird, but they are too kind to share this opinion with me. Some people find this topic interesting. What is a little bit puzzling for me is that my ideas are much more interesting to people abroad, mostly in the United States and the United Kingdom, than they are to people here in Poland. Maybe people in Poland are too religious to think about space in others than religious terms… I do not know.
My topics of interest are often interpreted in the context of science-fiction stories, rather than in science. And of course, my topics are not a science. They are a mixture of philosophical, ethical, and social considerations about possible scenarios of humanity’s future development in the context of space exploration. I treat what I do as the part of future studies.