What Is a "Search for Life"?
My project approaches the topic of the societal implications of astrobiology by clarifying the issue of a “search for life” first. The search for extra-terrestrial life, posed against the background of human social life, pushes us to see whether and how astrobiology helps us confront the search for life on Earth. Contemporary phenomenologies have made clear the difference between “living entities” and “life” as objects of study, and in doing this have made “life” problematic. The issue here is how “life” can be a phenomenon. My hypothesis is that the results of the hermeneutical reformulation and phenomenological investigation will lead to looking at the societal implications of the search for life less in the direction of discussions of extremeophiles, or oddness, and more in the direction of why we continue to value life and the most adequate ways to do that. The astrobiological project can both augment and impede the value of a terrestrial search for life.
John McCarthy is an Associate Professor of Theology and former Chair of the Theology Department at Loyola University Chicago. His primary field of inquiry is hermeneutics with a special focus on issues at the intersection of religion and science. He has a PhD from the University of Chicago with a dissertation under the direction of Paul Ricoeur. He has a forthcoming book to be published by Wipf and Stock titled, Where Have All The Heavens Gone: Galileo’s Letter To The Grand Duchess Christina.