Mark Shea is a prolific Catholic writer and blogger, who presents well reasoned discussions on many topics. However, his recent take on human space colonization and Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) activities comes up short. (Hat tip to Rand Simberg)
Mark Shea stresses that his negative views on space colonization and SETI are not based on theology, but on what he sees as the scientific realities. If space technology and launch costs were to continue at the level they are at with the current Space Shuttle system, we won't be going anywhere in a big way. However, Mr. Shea's outlook seems to overlook continuing developments such as nanotechnology, propulsion development, etc. along with the increasing private sector activity which is likely to significantly lower the cost of access to space.
As for SETI, the article rightly points out that the conditions that favored development of life on Earth do not exist every where in the universe, but that does not necessarily exclude a smaller number of civilizations that have spread out and adapted or that intelligent life forms may have evolved to thrive in different conditions than we have. It is as presumptuous to exclude the possibility of other civilizations as it is to insist that they must exist. Whether we ever find other civilizations or not, the modest (and mostly privately funded) search is well worth the effort in terms of inspiration and unforeseen discoveries as a byproduct.
Mark Shea's other point is that some enthusiasts have substituted space colonization and/or SETI as a substitute for the Christian view of our ultimate destiny. That is certainly true, but someone or another has exaggerated the significance of almost any human endeavor. Just because some pundits and citizen political activists seem to think of Barack Obama as almost a new Messiah does not negate the significance of politics and government as worthy endeavors.
Pope John Paul II seemed to have a more positive view on the possibility of space colonization and he put it in a Christian perspective in a 1996 address.
...we live in a very special moment. Using the talents given by God, people of science have been able to develop unprecedented means of obtaining knowledge. Extraordinary means of transportation and communication have been developed. Computers have reached capacities and speeds previously unimaginable. Serious plans can now be made for space stations, space colonies, and for manned missions to planets as far away as Mars. Scientists and technologists are developing the possibilities of making the whole planetary system a home for the human family. But all of these developments will lead to truly significant results only if they are employed within the frame-work of a new humanism, where spiritual, moral, philosophical, aesthetic, and scientific values are developed in harmony, and where there is a profound respect for the freedom and rights of the human person.
Thanks to Karina Fabian for a timely input of this quote. Look for a special feature on Catholic science fiction on this blog coming soon.