In the long In the struggle between Western science and religion, there has been a certain role shift. In the beginning, religious leaders claimed to be deterministic and condemned (usually the death penalty) those who questioned the biblical story of how the earth was created and how it fits into heaven. Scientists are looking for disturbing questions. Today, science is usually a kind of hopeful certainty, and so-called neo-atheists like Richard Dawkins describe religious people as weak and stupid—obviously unable to accept the obvious. At the same time, organized religious believers often believe that they are being persecuted for failing to comply with the regulations. The side that has the upper hand may change, but the battle continues.

Pastor Pamela Conrad, NASA’s geobiologist, straddling this ever-changing and controversial terrain, she studies what environment can sustain life—and also cares for the Anglican congregation outside of Baltimore.Conrad was appointed as a member of the scientific team in 2017, responsible for running Perseverance rover mission to Mars, She helped design experiments to understand the Martian environment, focusing on major questions: Is there life on Mars? Have you ever had it?

Currently, she is carrying out two projects or surveys related to the mission. The first is a set of instruments that can help determine the weather conditions on our neighboring planets in order to assess how hospitable it is to living things. The other uses a special microscope and spectrometer called Watson to identify and analyze planetary organic materials.

In an interview, Conrad described her two careers as complementary ways of understanding the universe and our place in it: “The telescope or anything that looks out to understand the environment is the difference between introspection and introspection. The difference is,’I am a universe, and I also live in a universe.'”

What follows is a condensed and edited record of our conversations about her scientific work and her beliefs and how we challenged and informed each other.

Noam Cohen: As a scientist, you explore the chemistry of life. Is there a mysterious or spiritual quality?

Pamela Conrad: That is not a pursuit. What’s interesting to me is that they are all the same thing. The periodic table of the elements is the periodic table of the elements that we can see everywhere in the universe, whether in astronomy or from the sample of the universe that eventually appeared on the earth-meteorites. We can count on this. Really, this is a question. Given that chemistry is the same, physical forces may be different. How to distinguish between environments that can support life and those that cannot? Unfortunately, this is not a simple question, because we only have one example where we know how to recognize life, and that is life on this planet. So I am also asking, if we see it, will we know?

In your two fields-science and religion-it seems that most people are looking for answers rather than further questions.

Absolutely. I fully admit that I am a statistical outlier. I went there because I like these questions. We forgot about science. Although it uses empirical data, it actually builds a model to understand the data. Even the best scientists sometimes hold too tight a view on their favorite models. A truly great scientist would say: “I was such an idiot yesterday. Of course not, it is today.”

You talked about the Antarctic expedition that had a profound impact on you. what happened?

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