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Elon Musk’s ‘Multiplanetary’ Dreams Clash With Man’s Propensity For Ruin

Once we open the path to the stars, we set humans on a quest for eternity that this life can never fulfill.

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SpaceX called the Starship’s second test flight on Nov. 18 a “success,” and Elon Musk predicted that the interplanetary rocket would bring about a “fork in the road of human destiny.” The Starship has the potential to make all life “multiplanetary,” Musk wrote on X.  

Some, especially in the media, have questioned whether SpaceX can achieve its interplanetary aspirations. The naysayers focus on the technical troubles, but Musk considers them surmountable

All 33 engines on the Starship fired. The main Starship stage detached from the booster and continued to fly for several minutes. Then its system activated a self-destruct mechanism above the Gulf of Mexico, despite a planned trip around the globe. SpaceX and the Federal Aviation Administration will investigate what triggered Starship’s Automated Flight Termination System. 

All but a small few have no idea whether we can colonize Mars. The technological subjects overawe most minds. But all must consider whether we should colonize Mars and eventually other planets in distant solar systems. 

We, indeed, face a fork in the road of human destiny, and we should consciously plot our course.

Colonization for Consciousness’s Sake 

Musk has given a compelling philosophical defense of multiplanetary colonization. In an interview with Google co-founder Larry Page, Musk said that “human consciousness is a precious flicker of light in the universe, and we should not let it be extinguished.”  

If current models of our solar system hold, then humans only have a few billion years left to prepare for the sun’s death. After those short years pass, the sun will no longer sustain life on Earth. Musk wants humans to get ahead of this calamity. He’s waking us all up to the idiom: “Don’t put all your humans on one planet.” By spreading out, we’ll become extinction-proof. 

Unlike many agnostic scientists, Musk regards human consciousness as something like a miracle. That has led some to describe his views as compatible with Christianity. And there’s certainly good reason to defend Musk’s stance, especially when prominent atheists want humans to understand their consciousness as a subjective illusion and its development as a random occurrence. Once we dive into the details, however, there’s reason for skepticism. 

The goal of his companies — from SpaceX to Neuralink — is to “expand the scope and scale of consciousness” and to help humans “become more enlightened” so they can better “understand what questions to ask.” This will require both mental and spatial expansion, hence the dual concern with biotechnology and space exploration. Abstract philosophical and theological speculation cannot answer fundamental questions. We need applied science to make philosophical progress.

Consciousness, though worth preserving for its own sake, is not self-sufficient. Without technological aid, consciousness will both fail to ask the right questions and to provide for its own preservation. 

By Any Means Necessary 

If we need to expand consciousness to answer fundamental questions about our nature, then we might take extreme steps to do so. Musk acknowledges as much. 

“It appears that consciousness is a very rare and precious thing, and we should take whatever steps we can to preserve the light of consciousness,” Musk said in a 2019 speech at SpaceX’s Boca Chica Launch Facility. 

The “whatever-steps-we-can” framework might sound innocent, perhaps even like a courageous defense of the species. But the principle — the preservation of consciousness by any means necessary — unavoidably places man’s actions beyond moral limitation.  

In Perelandra, the second book of his Space Trilogy, C.S. Lewis described the motivation behind humanity’s quest for interplanetary colonization.  

“It is the idea that humanity, having now sufficiently corrupted the planet where it arose, must at all costs contrive to seed itself over a larger area: that the vast astronomical distances which are God’s quarantine regulations, must somehow be overcome. This for a start.” 

He warned that if man ever had “the power … put into its hands” to reach distant planets, then it would “open a new chapter of misery for the universe.” 

Ecosystem Disruption 

When humans arrive on distant planets, they would disrupt the native ecosystems. Think of the destruction that European explorers brought with them beginning in the late 15th century. The island of Mauritius, as a famous example, lost its endemic dodos and giant tortoises in a few generations. 

Even if there isn’t life on Mars or distant planets, we might wonder whether humans have the right to change other planets. Andrew Coates, a physics professor at University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, called it “cosmic vandalism … to change the environment of Mars from what it is at the moment.”  

Maybe we can tolerate some losses of native extraterrestrial species for the preservation of the human species. And maybe humans will perpetually land on worlds with nothing but raw materials. But we need to determine whether God gave us our native terrestrial ball to govern, as Lewis contended, or whether he gave us a universe to govern.  

Our vision of human nature helps us determine how far the human empire should extend. If we, with Lewis, view man as a fallen species that brings sin and destruction, then we probably don’t want his domain to increase. If we, with Musk, view man as essentially good — as a civilizing and enlightening force in the universe — then we should increase his domain in space and time as much as possible. 

Human Extinction and the False Infinite 

Lewis saw a problem in the hope that scientists placed on interplanetary colonization. It merely delays the inevitable. In an essay, “On Living in an Atomic Age,” Lewis argued that “the whole story is going to end in NOTHING.”  

“The astronomers hold out no hope that this planet is going to be permanently inhabitable,” he wrote. “The physicists hold out no hope that organic life is going to be a permanent possibility in any part of the material universe. Not only this earth, but the whole show, all the suns of space, are to run down. Nature is a sinking ship.” 

In Perelandra, he again described the absurdity of trying to resist mankind’s unavoidable extinction: 

But beyond this lies the sweet poison of the false infinite — the wild dream that planet after planet, system after system, in the end galaxy after galaxy, can be forced to sustain, everywhere and for ever, the sort of life which is contained in the loins of our own species — a dream begotten by the hatred of death upon the fear of true immortality, fondled in secret by thousands of ignorant men and hundreds who are not ignorant.

While we seek out ever-habitable planets over billions of years, innumerable cruelties might become necessary to sustain humanity’s preservation for a few more precious years. Lewis warned that interplanetary colonization would increase the possibility of inter-species warfare. He seemed to consider extraterrestrial life a likelihood. 

“The destruction or enslavement of other species in the universe, if such there are, is to these minds a welcome corollary,” Lewis said of those supporting space colonization. 

Now, I don’t think that Musk has Martian chattel slavery or extraterrestrial genocide in mind. But he will not captain the Starship forever. The terraforming of Mars would take hundreds of years. Other generations, with different aspirations, will lead civilization toward more and more distant planets.  

Musk’s Multiplanetary Vision 

These considerations run into the truth that Musk appears to act with regard to justice and the common good. And it clashes with the right’s practical need to defend the man at all costs. In the past week, he has trashed Media Matterstotalitarian security measures, and the Anti-Defamation League, easily placing him among the world’s top defenders of free speech. He has gone “thermonuclear” against the regime.  

There’s undeniable greatness in a man who can find a way to sustain life on another planet. His vision makes the heart swell with pride in the human race.

“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great. And that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about,” Musk said. “It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”

Once we open the path to the stars, however, we set humans on a quest for eternity that this life can never fulfill. The only hope of eternally maintaining the light of human consciousness is in the Holy Spirit. Musk’s dream for mankind might turn into a nightmare that stretches across galaxies and millennia.


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