HPS Lecture - Michael Crowe and Christopher Graney. “Life as We Know It"


Location: 215 DeBartolo Hall

Title:  “Life as We Know It,” by Professors Michael J. Crowe and Christopher M. Graney
From the beginning the human race has scanned the heavens for the meaning of our existence and for signs of creatures living far, far away. The search itself says a lot about who we are.

Note:  This talk is based on an essay that will be published in the Fall issue of Notre Dame Magazine.

Abstract:  This talk will consist of two parts.  The first part will address the question: What is the current status of the claim that the universe is richly populated with extraterrestrial intelligent life, an idea closely linked to the concept of “The Copernican Principle”? In particular, is the optimistic position on this question championed some years ago by Carl Sagan still the overriding view?  We shall briefly survey the history of this very influential debate, suggesting that since 1853 this position has been in steady retreat in the face of scientific discoveries, a retreat that seems to be accelerating today.  Thus another position has gained a measure of currency, a position linked to results in astronomy and also to Darwinian theory.  We believe that this new development has not as yet become widely recognized by the public.  We also believe that it has important implications for philosophical and theological issues related to the ETI debate.  The second part will consist of discussion of the possible impact on the public, and on the broader culture, of wider recognition of the trajectory of “The Copernican Principle” (as applied to the idea of extraterrestrial life), as well as of how the new position in many ways echoes the view of the universe held by a number of early Copernicans.

Michael Crowe

Biographical Information on the speakers:

Among Michael J. Crowe’s nine books, two treat the history of the extraterrestrial life debate.  In 1986, Cambridge University Press published his Extraterrestrial Life Debate, 1750–1900, and in 2008 University of Notre Dame Press published his Extraterrestrial Life Debate, Antiquity to 1915: A Source Book.  He is Cavanaugh Professor Emeritus in the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame, where he teaches a course on the debate.  In 2009, the American Astronomical Society awarded him its LeRoy Doggett Prize for lifetime contributions to the history of astronomy. 

Christopher Graney

For the past few years Christopher M. Graney has been translating the writings of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century astronomers such as Tycho Brahe, Thomas Digges, and Giovanni Battista Riccioli from Latin.  His latest paper based on this work, “Science rather than God:  Riccioli’s review of the case for and against the Copernican Hypothesis” was recently published in the Journal for the History of Astronomy.  He is professor of physics and astronomy at Jefferson Community & Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky.