The search for biological life in the cosmos has long been a preoccupation of humankind and is now an established multidisciplinary field of scientific investigation under the name of astrobiology. In September 2015, with funding from the NASA Astrobiology Program, the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton (CTI) embarked on a series of cross-disciplinary conversations between the sciences and humanities on the cultural impact of this search on society.CTI is an independent institution for advanced research on global concerns. It convenes scholars in the humanities and theologians in projects that consider the implications of science, not only for religion but also for society. Astrobiology is at the heart of the discourse.
We live at a time when the existence of life elsewhere seems increasingly likely. Science fiction moves ever closer to becoming science fact. In the United States, NASA continues to be at the forefront of this research and will play a central role in our June conversation.
Inevitably, much of the media response to this area of research is rich in sensationalism but poor in reasoned, cross-disciplinary analysis. Yet all the while scientists and scholars in the humanities and social sciences have been holding a different conversation on science and society, a much more nuanced, thoughtful and creative conversation. It is this conversation that we wished to develop in June and considered what might be the role of digital media in making this discourse more widely accessible.