From Star Gazing to Astrobiology

Authored by: Grace Wolf-Chase

The Routledge Companion to Religion and Science

Print publication date:  October  2011
Online publication date:  March  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415492447
eBook ISBN: 9780203803516
Adobe ISBN: 9781136634178


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Astronomy is the scientific study of the material universe. It contains many branches today. Two areas of particularly intense focus are cosmology and astrobiology. Cosmology is the scientific study of the universe as a whole – its history, evolution, and future. In contrast, astrobiology concerns itself with life in the universe – its origins, evolution, and future. Astrobiology is a highly inter-and multi-disciplinary endeavor, which incorporates both the physical and biological sciences. The essay by Primack & Abrams in this volume (Chapter 9) summarizes modern scientific cosmology and its impact on traditional origins stories found in religions. Just as all religions include origins stories, all religions are concerned with human beings and their relationship to other life and to the universe as a whole. In this essay, I examine how scientists have come to understand the evolving conditions that have made possible the emergence of life in the universe, and how this impacts on how we humans view ourselves and our place in the universe. I present a broad overview of how technological advancements have enabled the successive inclusion of physics, chemistry, and biology into astronomy, and have changed the culture of science. It is impossible to discuss all of the ways in which technological advancements have led to new discoveries in astronomy, or to include the many thousands of scientists who have contributed to these discoveries through the ages, but I explore a few of the astronomical highlights over the past 400 years.

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