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Religion, Science, and World-Making: From Whole Earth to Astrobiology

  • St. Thomas More College Auditorium/Room 140 - 1437 College Drive Saskatoon, SK, S7N 5B5 Canada (map)

This lecture, presented by Dr. Lisa Sideris, will examine the paradox inherent in many techno-environmental projects where technology is seen as both a vehicle for journeying “back to nature” and a means of throwing off natural limits altogether, including those imposed by Earth and natural processes. It will focus on a series of high-profile, real-world projects, their entangled religious and scientific roots and rationales, and their conflicting impulses to preserve and transcend nature and earthly conditions.

In the mid-1960s, environmentalist and visionary Stewart Brand actively petitioned NASA to release photos of the Earth taken from space. Brand’s campaign touched a nerve. NASA released the photo of Earth in 1967 and Brand placed it on the cover of his Whole Earth Catalog, a countercultural do-it-yourself manual for tech enthusiasts seeking to get back to nature. The image, along with the iconic photo of “Earthrise” taken during the first manned mission to the moon, evoked feelings of unity and solidarity for many. The “Overview Effect,” as this religious-like shift in perspective is called, is frequently celebrated by scientific and religious seekers alike as a dramatic leap forward in human evolution. Humans now grasped their obligation both to care for our planet and—ultimately—to leave it behind, in an inevitable quest to find other worlds and perpetuate our species far into the future. My lecture will examine the paradox inherent in many techno-environmental projects where technology is seen as both a vehicle for journeying “back to nature” and a means of throwing off natural limits altogether, including those imposed by Earth and natural processes. I focus on a series of high-profile, real-world projects, their entangled religious and scientific roots and rationales, and their conflicting impulses to preserve and transcend nature and earthly conditions.

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