Ethical Question Of The Moment

One of the many podcasts I listen to is Skeptically Speaking. In the most recent episode on Human Research Ethics one of the listeners asked a question that made me laugh, but also made me question and wonder what the answer really would be. Question is paraphrased here:

In the future if we manage to colonize another planet and discover life under the surface of that planet. How should we treat this life?

And bonus question, what if it is tasty?

Now I certainly don’t have the answer to this, but I am curious about the ideas of others.

Do we have a right to spread to other planets if we know that doing so would harm indigenous life on those planets?


About Rodibidably

Jeff Randall is a frequent volunteer for free-thought organizations, including the Center For Inquiry – DC. Having been blogging since January 2008, he decided that a community of bloggers would be an interesting new experience (or at the very least a fun way to annoy his friends into reading his posts more frequently). Since finding out about about the existence of, and then joining, the atheist/skeptic community in 2007 he has been committed to community activism, critical thinking in all aspects of life, science, reason, and a fostering a secular society.
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8 Responses to Ethical Question Of The Moment

  1. Stephen says:

    That is definitely a question we should be asking ourselves long before such a thing becomes reality.

    I would have to operate under the Libertarian principle of live and let live, each as equals, each left to themselves to do as they wish so long as they bring no force against others. That’s if the indigenous life on a planet is civil and doesn’t view us as invaders.

    Ultimately, we could only rightly colonize planets that are not inhabited, or parts of planets should there be intelligent life on it. We would view the colonization of our world by another race as a hostile act I believe and we would view them as invaders.

    The main thing is that we have respect for other species.

    • Jeff Randall says:

      Personally I would say that we have no right to harm life on other planets, and if our actions would bring harm to life on some other planet, that we have an obligation to cease those actions.

      If that means we leave ourselves in a precarious situation, then we have to deal with that.

      Although based on our history, I have a feeling that we’ll end up destroying any life that we come across.

      • Stephen says:

        I have a feeling that if we don’t get wiped out by another civilization, we will likely kill off several of the life forms we encounter before we start to get it right, but I could be wrong.

      • Jeff Randall says:

        I would guess that we would notice any life capable of killing us off, before we attempted to colonize the planet.

  2. writerdood says:

    I’d have to know if it were intelligent life. I assume that’s the question? Humans populate a planet and then discover intelligent life living underground on that planet?

    I think we’d have to talk with them about it, establish communication and see how they feel about sharing their planet. Other factors would have to include, how much have we invested in colonizing this world, and how much effort would it take to move to some other planet. After all, if there’s nothing we can do about leaving, then we obviously can’t leave. On the other hand, if there are only a few thousand people and one ship can take them all somewhere else with relative low cost, then the move is a viable option.

    If there is an indigenous intelligent population on a planet, then my feeling is that the planet belongs to them, and we don’t have a right to colonize it or share it without their permission. Now, if they don’t use the surface, they might not feel strongly against letting us use it.

    There are a ton of factors here, and they’re all going to be different. So many, in fact, that determining them all is nearly impossible. This question could only ever be answered on a case-by-case basis. There is no black and white answer.

    • Jeff Randall says:

      Does intelligence really make a difference?

      What would give us the right to harm life that we don’t consider intelligent? Obviously in this scenario they were there first. They are theoretically part of an ecosystem that does not include us. And this planet is not our home to begin with.

      By harming this life, we’re putting the value of ourselves over millions or perhaps billions of years of evolution that does not include us.

      If we can find a way to co-exist without bringing harm to the life, I’m all for it; but if for some reason our being there would harm the indigenous life, whether it is intelligent or not, I don’t think we have that right.

  3. Stephen says:

    We have no right to go to other planets and harm the indigenous life there. We’d have to practice a very solid policy of defensive force only. That would be the best option for in the future if/when we end up encountering any other species in the universe.

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