Do we have an obligation to ensure that life continues after life on Earth can no longer be sustained? Its inevitable that life on this planet will end. Eventually the sun will gobble up the earth and incenerate everything on it. So should we start preparing a panspermia project to send life from Earth to other places in the universe?
Michael Mautner thinks so. So lets take a look at his argument. The article summarizes his argument as follows:
As members of this planet’s menagerie, and a consequence of nearly 4 billion years of evolution, humans have a purpose to propagate life. After all, whatever else life is, it necessarily possesses an incessant drive for self-perpetuation.So first, it says that evolution has produced ust to have a purpose.... to propogate life. Life intrinsically has an incessant drive for self-perpetuation, therefore we have an obligation to continue the perpetuation of life elsewhere in the universe.
I think this argument has all kinds of problems with it. First, its not clear that evolution gives purposes to anything. To say that implies that evolution is some kind of reasoning force to begin with, trying to accomplish something. Evolution is nothing of the sort. Evolution is simply the name we put on the a feature of biological development through reproduction. Evolution doesn't want, desire, or even aim to make better things. Evolution is RANDOM. Through random chance, animals, plants, etc, are given new traits, which either aid in survival, reproduction, or do absolutely nothing, or hinder survival or reproduction. It is perfectly plausible that evolution would produce animals that are poorly suited for their environment, and yet they continue to exist because of luck (however unlikely it is).
So evolution has randomly given human beings a purpose.... to propogate life. How does purpose get transmitted or developed through evolution? Conceivably it could be hard-wired into our genes and consequently our brains to make us behave in this particualr way (nevermind that this trait may not in fact be present in all human beings). I don't find this terribly plausible, but I'm feeling generous and concede the point.
So we have a evolutionary purpose. Does this translate to a moral purpose? Do I have moral obligation because my biology compels me to? This is dubious at best. I may have an evolutionary drive to fight or flight, but that doesn't make it morally acceptable for me to fight or flight. I may have a moral obligation to do one and not the other. Genetic or psychological predispositions do not give us moral justification for acting in any way at all. Someone who is predisposed to rage doesn't suddenly have an obligation to attack people any more than a woman who is ovulating has an obligation to seek out a partner.
Increasingly its becoming more common for people to believe the opposite, that we have an obligation NOT to reproduce, in order for future generations to live a more comfortable life. Overpopulation concerns are essentially concerns about the future generation's comfort and living standard. But overpopulation concerns, and panspermia plans are ultimately dependent upon an idea that we have an obligation to future generations. I've already argued that this isn't as obvious as most people think it is in end of the world scenatios, which this is.
Another puzzle is that Mautner suggests that we send bacteria to seed other planets. If he is serious in the idea that we have an obligation to propogate ANY life, not just human life, because of evolution (how that happened might be an example of my point about the randomness of evolution), then we currently have an obligation to breed bacteria and not kill off bacteria. Arguably, we could justify killing some bacteria in self-defense, but we should be actively trying to raise the number of living things on this planet, not just human. Since we could more easily increase the number of life by increasing bacteria more so than any other life form, we should start cranking out agar mats and seeding it with whatever it is that we can.
Am I being too hard on him? I feel like I am, but I just think his argument is as absurd as I'm making it sound.