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Philosophical Issues in Astrobiology and Space Science Seminar Series 2023

Seminar Recordings

Recordings of all of the talks in this series are available to view on our YouTube channel

The fields of space science and astrobiology provide a scientific framework for understanding some of the ‘big questions’. These fields are complex and interdisciplinary and some of the questions that arise within them have obvious philosophical dimensions; they invite a philosophy of space science. In this short seminar series we bring together some of the foremost figures in this exciting field to present, discuss and reflect on these emerging and important questions and issues. These include questions about scientific methodology and evidence, the nature of life and of our search for it, and how we should interact with it if – and when - we find it.

All welcome – please contact to register attendance 

2023 Series

Speaker Date Venue Title Abstract

Beatriz Villarroel 

Stockholm University 


10th January 2023 (3:45pm GMT) PO004, Department of Philosophy, 48/49 Old Elvet tbc tbc

Lucas J. Mix

Harvard University


24th January 2023 (4:00pm GMT)

PO005, Department of Philosophy, 48/49 Old Elvet

How is Heaven Related to Space? Physical and Spiritual Ascent Narratives

Galileo famously quipped “The intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven – not how heaven goes.” Jesus Ascension was not the same as the ascent of a rocket. But what is the relationship between life in heaven and life in outer space? Lucas Mix will talk about the history of ascent narratives, tales of journeying into the heavens, both scientific and spiritual – from Plato to Carl Sagan and The Expanse.

For centuries, physical and spiritual “up” were aligned in the popular imagination. Traditional ascent narratives described a journey in spiritual space as well as physical space. Ancient and Medieval thinkers imagined a spherical cosmos in which distance from earth and from the center was directly correlated with goodness, and elevation had moral value. The Copernican Revolution did not decentre humanity physically, as humans were not physically central in prior cosmologies. It did, however, disorient humanity, relativizing concepts of up and down.

Parallel ascents, through progressive evolution, were popular in Early Modern Biology but definitively rejected in the early twentieth century. Despite this, astronomers and astrobiologists continued to promote ascent narratives labelled as “evolution” and linked them to a developmental story: spaceflight as human adolescence. This picture, when presented as biological science, is susceptible to moral abuse through the comparison of “higher” and “lower” expressions of life – as activities, individuals, or societies. One-dimensional models of the cosmos should be replaced by radial narratives of expansion in multiple dimensions. To complete the Copernican Revolution, we must eject the language of development, progress, and salvation, and speak of spaceflight as a journey outward into the unknown.


7th February 2023 (4:00pm GMT)

PO005, Department of Philosophy, 48/49 Old Elvet





21st February 2023 (4:00pm GMT) PO005, Department of Philosophy, 48/49 Old Elvet tbc tbc

Paul Rimmer

University of Cambridge


7th March 2023 (4:00pm GMT) PO005, Department of Philosophy, 48/49 Old Elvet tbc tbc


Previous speakers: Sean McMahon, Jim Schwartz, Peter Vickers, Kelly C. Smith, Carol Cleland, Eleanor Armstrong, Martin Ward, Philipp Spillmann, Franklin Jacoby, Manasvi Lingam