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In this exploratory and speculative essay, I have tried to spell out ethical scenarios based upon existing prevalent assumptions. Included in these assumptions are such things as progress in evolution, intelligence or rationality as the criterion for measuring human advance, attaching human dignity to human rational capacity, and giving top priority to protecting ourselves and our planet. In principle, however, one could pursue astroethics with a different set of assumptions. Regarding our most valued criterion for human achievement, one could imagine replacing advanced intelligence with transformatory love. Then, peace and mutual benevolence would become the moral goal rather than merely just institutions. To follow this path has not been my task here.

As we have seen, astroethics today is necessarily a speculative endeavor. The astrobiology upon which astroethics deliberates is itself speculative. When it comes to extraterrestrial intelligent life forms, terrestrial scientists are comfortable imaginatively exporting to alleged habitats in space the idea of a separate genesis of life and a story of evolution parallel to earth’s story. Evolution in this case is assumed to be progressive, following an entelechy toward increased rational intelligence. In the case where the length of evolutionary development is less than or comparable to our own, we can expect inferior or equal levels of rational capacity. In the possible case where an extraterrestrial race has had more time to evolve, we can expect a level of rational intelligence superior to our own. Speculation on the part of the astroethicist should be ready to construct a framework for moral responsibility that corresponds to these three relevant moral communities.

Teed Peters is Professor of Systematic Theology at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the Graduate Theological Union. Along with Robert John Russell, he co-edits the journal, Theology and Science, at the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. He is the author of The Evolution of Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Life (Pandora Press, 2008) and co-author with Karen Lebacqz and Gaymon Bennett of Sacred Cells? Why Christians Should Support Stem Cell Research (Roman and Littlefield, 2008)

Along with Martinz Hewlett, he is co-author of Can You Believe in God and Evolution? (Abingdon, 2006).


Excerpted and Revised from a paper delivered in May 2008 at Biosphere 2 for the University of Arizona, College of Science Center for Astrobiology

In honor of Neville (Nick) J. Woolf

© Ted Peters

 Printer-friendly | Contributed by: Ted Peters

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Cutting the Ethical Pie for Engaging ETI: An Adventure in Astro-Ethics
The Inferior ETI Slice
The Peer ETI Slice
Hostile? Peaceful? Salvific?
The Superior ETI Slice


Ted Peters
Dr. Ted Peters

See also:

AstroTheology: Religious Reflections on Extraterrestrial Life Forms
Will ET End Religion?
Are We Alone?
The Relation of Science & Religion