Engineering Intelligent Design Philosophy Science

Philosopher: No, do not “terraform” Mars. Appreciate beauty.

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Terraforming means trying to make Mars capable of supporting lots of life, like Earth.

An artist's drawing of one of NASA's Mars rover on the surface of Mars From Monash philosopher Robert Sparrow at Nautilus:

Enthusiasts often advertise space exploration as an opportunity to be virtuous. “To boldly go”—as they say in Star Trek—is valuable mostly because courage is a virtue. But one can’t have the opportunity to develop virtues without the possibility of demonstrating vices, and terraforming Mars would exhibit two major vicious character traits.

One is insensitivity to beauty. Mars has many features of extraordinary natural beauty. It’s is home to the tallest known volcano on any planet, Olympus Mons, whose cap reaches 13.6 miles high—two and a half times the height of Mount Everest. Mars also has arguably the most spectacular canyon system in the solar system, which stretches to about the length of the United States and has troughs 6 to 7 times deeper than the Grand Canyon. The Martian landscape is a system in flux, sculpted by wind and other complex atmospheric and geophysical cycles. Because terraforming would return liquid water to Mars it would radically transform the landscape, destroying its distinctive beauty.

A failure to respond appropriately to beauty is a vice because it makes living a characteristically human life impossible. One thing that distinguishes us from mere brutes is our appreciation of beauty. A person who can wander through the Grand Canyon without being appropriately moved by its beauty is missing something in their make up as well as in the world. Such a person will also struggle to realize characteristically human goods like the development of skills, such as artistic and musical skills, and relationships, such as love, that are premised on the recognition of aesthetic qualities. Only someone insensitive to beauty would not recognise the destruction of the Martian landscape as a tragedy. More.

<em>Coffee</em> Tins A question nags: Wouldn’t the effort be better spent terraforming wrecked environments on Earth? We wouldn’t have to go to work. We could wake up surrounded by it. Thoughts? <em>Christmas</em> <em>Cracker</em> cookie cutter by Lindy Smith

Note: Yes, yes, this is Mars morning here. We have neglected the poor old thing for too long. It might be the only place in the galaxy besides Earth that really does have life, no bull.

See also: Life on Mars: New focus on deciding where to look “Become the microbe”? Implicit in the discussion is a key difference between life and non-life: Life forms seek to live. They don’t just sit there as complex, organized structures; they seek to preserve that state. Is that a hallmark of life, should we find an unknown type somewhere?


Was evidence for liquid water on Mars really discovered last year? Doubts surface. On the bright side, we are now, as noted earlier, looking at specific locations and the hypotheses generated are much less “shot in the dark” than they used to be.

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3 Replies to “Philosopher: No, do not “terraform” Mars. Appreciate beauty.

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    He bases the premise of his entire article on a science fiction novel

    In Kim Stanley Robinson’s science-fiction Mars Trilogy, human colonists “terraform” Mars, turning the rocky red planet into a lush green world.
    The colonists melt the polar ice caps with nuclear explosives, inducing a greenhouse effect that warms the planet. They then seed the landscape with genetically modified bacteria and plants to render the newly created atmosphere breathable. By the end of this process, their descendants are able to walk and live on the surface of Mars without space suits.

    Ironically, the good philosopher also mentions excessive hubris in his article

    The decision to terraform Mars would also exhibit hubris. Often understood as an “excessive pride before the gods,”

    As the video you highlighted illustrates, I don’t think the good philosopher, who apparently thinks a science fiction novel has realistic implications, has to worry about us terraforming Mars anytime soon.

    The video mentioned many difficult problems. Some significant problems were left out of the video, but one huge problem that was left out of the video was the fact that Mars is to small to hold hydrogen:

    Existence Itself Is a Miracle – Oct. 2014
    Excerpt: “For instance, if the earth were slightly larger, it would of course have slightly more gravity. As a result, methane and ammonia gas, which have molecular weights of sixteen and seventeen respectively, would remain close to the surface of the earth. Since we can’t breathe methane or ammonia because of their toxicity, we would die.
    If Earth were slightly smaller, water vapor would not stay close to the planet’s surface, but would instead dissipate into the atmosphere. Obviously, without water we couldn’t exist.”
    Eric Metaxus

    Why Mars can’t be terraformed
    Mars is too small.
    As we can see from Equation 1, Mars will need additional gravity to hold Hydrogen in it’s atmosphere.
    Equation 2 can be used to determine how much additional mass is needed.
    What about Mars and Mercury combined?
    Move Mercury to a martian orbit, use it as a core, shatter Mars into a trillion pieces and spread it across the surface of Mercury. Even with Mercury and Mars combined, it would only raise the H-value from 0.25356 to 0.34551. This is still not high enough.,,,

    Of supplemental note:

    The Cold Trap: How It Works – Michael Denton – May 10, 2014
    Excerpt: As water vapor ascends in the atmosphere, it cools and condenses out, forming clouds and rain and snow and falling back to the Earth. This process becomes very intense at the so-called tropopause (17-10 km above sea level) where air temperatures reach -80°C and all remaining water in the atmosphere is frozen out. The air in the layer of the atmosphere above the troposphere in the stratosphere (extending up to 50 km above mean sea level) is absolutely dry, containing oxygen, nitrogen, some CO and the other atmospheric gases, but virtually no H2O molecules.,,,
    ,,,above 80-100 km, atoms and molecules are subject to intense ionizing radiation. If water ascended to this level it would be photo-dissociated into hydrogen and oxygen and, the hydrogen being very light, lost into space. Over a relatively short geological period all the water and oceans would be evaporated and the world uninhabitable.,,,
    Oxygen, having a boiling point of -183°C, has no such problems ascending through the tropopause cold trap into the stratosphere. As it does, it becomes subject to more and more intense ionizing radiation. However this leads,, to the formation of ozone (O3). This forms a protective layer in the atmosphere above the tropopause, perfectly placed just above the cold trap and preventing any ionizing radiation in the far UV region from reaching the H2O molecules at the tropopause and in the troposphere below.

    Moreover, the terra-forming of the Earth itself, into a planet that was able to support human life, was far more complex, time consuming, process than the good professor seems to realize. In fact, it is evidence for Intelligent Design:

    Life and Earth History Reveal God’s Miraculous Preparation for Humans – Hugh Ross, PhD – video (2015)

    Anthropic Principle: A Precise Plan for Humanity By Hugh Ross
    Excerpt: Brandon Carter, the British mathematician who coined the term “anthropic principle” (1974), noted the strange inequity of a universe that spends about 15 billion years “preparing” for the existence of a creature that has the potential to survive no more than 10 million years (optimistically).,, Carter and (later) astrophysicists John Barrow and Frank Tipler demonstrated that the inequality exists for virtually any conceivable intelligent species under any conceivable life-support conditions. Roughly 15 billion years represents a minimum preparation time for advanced life: 11 billion toward formation of a stable planetary system, one with the right chemical and physical conditions for primitive life, and four billion more years toward preparation of a planet within that system, one richly layered with the biodeposits necessary for civilized intelligent life. Even this long time and convergence of “just right” conditions reflect miraculous efficiency.
    Moreover the physical and biological conditions necessary to support an intelligent civilized species do not last indefinitely. They are subject to continuous change: the Sun continues to brighten, Earth’s rotation period lengthens, Earth’s plate tectonic activity declines, and Earth’s atmospheric composition varies. In just 10 million years or less, Earth will lose its ability to sustain human life. In fact, this estimate of the human habitability time window may be grossly optimistic. In all likelihood, a nearby supernova eruption, a climatic perturbation, a social or environmental upheaval, or the genetic accumulation of negative mutations will doom the species to extinction sometime sooner than twenty thousand years from now.

  2. 2
    johnnyb says:

    I don’t see what the problem would be. There is nobody on mars to appreciate its beauty. Terraforming it would increase its beauty for the simple fact that there would be people around to appreciate it. Even if the entire planet’s mountains were reduced to plains, it would be an improvement. If all of the vast wonders of landscape were reduced to a techno-dystopia, it would still be more beautiful than it is now simply because of the presence of people to appreciate it.

    Now, I appreciate having the discussion now, long before we go there. We should know where we are going, why, and the ethics of doing so. However, the idea that we should leave a dead rock alone so it will stay beautiful to people who will never see it, seems to me a bit wrong.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    Of related note to ‘appreciating beauty’:

    How the sun looks when you take pictures at the same place and time every week for a year – picture

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