Shadows of Things To Come: Cynthia Anne Miller Smith
The Theological Implications Masters Thesis
Intelligent Life on Other Worlds Page
Cynthia Anne Miller Smith
Shadows of Things to Come: The Theological Implications of Intelligent Life on Other Worlds
Colossians 2:17 These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ.
Scholars and intellectuals for thousands of years have speculated on the theological implications of intelligent life on other worlds. Are extraterrestrial intelligent beings (ET’s) like human beings creatures with souls made in the spiritual image of God? Have ET’s not fallen from grace or are they sinners in need of Redemption? Is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ a unique universal event affecting the whole of creation? Did Jesus Christ come to redeem and save ET’s as well as human beings by his grace via his life, death, and resurrection? Is the mission of the Catholic Church to spread the Gospel throughout the cosmos, baptizing all creatures, humans and ET’s alike, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit? Do the very existence of ET’s contradict or support certain interpretations of the Bible’s view of the special nature of humanity? Does the existence of ET’s imply or deny the intelligent design of the universe by an Intelligent Designer who Christians believe is the Logos? This thesis will explore these questions in order to determine whether the answers are consistent with Christian thought and theology as well as compatible with the concepts of universal redemption, justification, sanctification, and salvation as historically posited by the Catholic Church.
[Disclaimer: Although the subject of UFO’s, government conspiracies, Greys, alien abductions, and similar topics are fascinating subjects of study, this thesis is not about these ideas but is rather a mainstream study of the theological implications resulting from the possible discovery of ET’s and how the theory of a plurality of worlds populated with ET’s has affected Christians and Christian thought for centuries down to the present day.]
thousands of years man has wondered whether he is alone in the
universe or whether there might be other worlds populated by
creatures more or less like himself. The common view, both in early
times and through the Middle Ages, was that the Earth was the only
“world” in the universe. Nevertheless, many mythologies
populated the sky with divine beings, certainly a kind of
extraterrestrial life. Many early philosophers held that life was not
unique to the Earth. Metrodorus, an Epicurean philosopher in the 3rd
and 4th centuries BC, argued that “to consider the Earth the
only populated world in infinite space is as absurd as to assert that
in an entire field sown with millet, only one grain will grow.”
Since the Renaissance there have been several fluctuations in the
fashion of belief. In the late 18th century, for example, practically
all informed opinion held that each of the planets was populated by
more or less intelligent beings; in the early 20th century, by
contrast, the prevailing informed opinion (except for the Lowellians)
held that the chances for extraterrestrial intelligent life were
insignificant. In fact the subject of intelligent extraterrestrial
life is for many people a touchstone of their beliefs and desires,
some individuals very urgently wanting there to be extraterrestrial
intelligence, and others wanting equally fervently for there to be no
such life. For this reason it is important to approach the subject in
as unbiased a frame of mind as possible. A respectable modern
scientific examination of extraterrestrial intelligence is no older
than the 1950s. The probability of advanced technical civilizations
in our galaxy depends on many controversial issues [" Life."
Encyclopædia Britannica 2003 Encyclopædia
Britannica Premium Service.
29 Jan, 2003 <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=109623>]. Click on “Intelligent Life Beyond the Solar System.”
The Rev. Dr. George Croly (1780 – 1860) argues that the universe is not strewn with a plurality of worlds on the grounds that the existence of other planets with their own inhabitants implies the necessity of “a Bethlehem in Venus, a Gethsemane in Jupiter, a Calvary in Saturn” (cited in Crowe 334). Yet, many Christian authors from recent centuries argue just that, claiming that the Logos becomes Incarnate on inhabited worlds throughout the cosmos. Others like Rev. Josiah Crampton (1809 – 1883) argue that “the material heavens [are] places of habitation” because Jesus ascended into heaven (p. 30) [cited in Crowe 335]. Ernan McMullin of Notre Dame University says that theologians have been largely silent on the issues of whether the work of Christ extends to inhabitants of other worlds or whether the Logos becomes Incarnate on a multiplicity of worlds, but John Jefferson Davis says that McMullin seems to be unaware of the research of Steven Dick and Michael Crowe, both of whom indicate clearly that such speculations have been going on since the third century A.D. (J.J. Davis 22). Since Jesus is physically in heaven, some speculate that it follows that he becomes Incarnate on many worlds. Is this position theologically sound or is the Incarnation unique to the Earth and why?
There are a series of interesting theological implications to the existence of extraterrestrials (ET’s) leading to a series of theological questions: Is the Incarnation of the Logos unique to the Earth and do its effects apply to ET’s? Does the redemption purchased by the blood of Christ apply to ET’s? Are ET’s like human beings created by God and live in God’s universe under God’s watchful eye? The redemption, justification, sanctification, and salvation of ET’s pose a significant theological question deserving of serious study and contemplation by scholars and the faithful alike. The word “Catholic” means “universal”: Is the salvation of Christ truly universal extending throughout the universe? Catholic teaching is that Christ offers his grace to everyone freely: does that mean Christians should spread the Gospel in order to make that offer known to ET’s? This essay will suggest that, for all its complexities, the question of the salvation of ET’s is not qualitatively distinct from the question of the salvation of humans. C.S. Lewis writes in his science fiction works that ET’s, like humans, are hnau, that is, sentient conscious beings (Space Trilogy). For Christians, the greatness of God implies that the greatness of God’s universe includes other minds and souls who quest for the ultimate reality just as humans do. I will argue that this position is consistent with the positions of many Christian theologians, not only like Aurelius Augustine and Thomas Aquinas but also William of Vorilong, Dr. Thomas Chalmers, Sir David Brewster, and many others. The idea that ET’s can experience the salvation of Christ is not an official teaching of the Catholic Church, but it is not heresy either. I believe it is consistent with Catholic teaching that ET’s can be saved, and I will show that, although the Catholic Church has not yet issued any official proclamations about the matter, many Catholic theologians have speculated on the question through the ages.
The views of mainstream Catholics and Protestants differ from those of Protestant Fundamentalists in that the former generally accept the idea that ET’s exist and can be saved, whereas the latter tend to reject those beliefs. Even those Fundamentalist authors who accept the existence of ET’s often portray them as evil demons who spiritually attack people. For example, Frank Allnut claims that UFOs are demons out to destroy the souls of Christians by encouraging them to believe that “ET theology” can save us rather than Christ. Hal Lindsey is another who believes that UFO’s are satanic, eschatological manifestations. Lindsey writes: “I believe these beings are not only extraterrestrial but supernatural in origin. To be blunt, I think they are demons. The Bible tells us that demons are spiritual beings at war with God. We are told that demons will be allowed to use their tremendous powers of deception in a grand way in the last days” (cited in Wojcik 203). Other Fundamentalists with similar ideas include David Allen Lewis and Randall Baer (ibid.). The position asserted by the Vatican is that UFO’s, whatever they are, are not demons (Coyne). Again, this thesis is not primarily about these ideas, interesting as they are. I am simply trying to emphasize that many Catholics and mainstream Protestants tend to think in general that ET’s are part of the natural order of the universe, whereas many Fundamentalists tend to think in general that ET’s are evil and must be defeated. As a result, many Fundamentalist Christians believe that the Incarnation is unique to the Earth and applies only to human beings on Earth while many other Christians believe that the effects of the Incarnation and redemptive work of Christ apply to ET’s also. Still other Christians believe that the Incarnation takes place on ET worlds as well in order to effect the salvation of other beings. This thesis will explore these questions through an examination of several contemporary and historical theological positions. What do each of these authors contribute to our understanding of the theological status of ET’s? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each position? Then, in the conclusion, I will argue that the mainstream Christians are theologically sound to believe that ET’s can be saved and that it is consistent with Christian theology to believe that evangelism is imperative for Christians to propagate the Gospel throughout the cosmos.
Not all fundamentalists believe UFO’s are evil. Some UFO enthusiasts reinterpret Biblical texts to suggest that visions of prophets were UFOs as in Ezekiel 1:4-28 and the Star of Bethlehem in Matthew as well as the light blinding the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus in Acts of the Apostles. Other interpretations include the notion that Gabriel was an ET who artificially inseminated the Blessed Virgin Mary with the seed of an ET so that her Son might bring the message from space and that God is an ET who parted the Red Sea for the Israelites and gave them the Ark of the Covenant that was actually a communications device for Moses to receive instructions from the particular ET sent to Earth (Wojcik 184 – 185).
The debate in Protestant churches of previous centuries revolved around whether human life existed on other planets. Protestants were vexed that extraterrestrials were not mentioned in Scripture, so any proof of ETs would lie in secular science, making an important fact about our universe determined by reason rather than faith. Since Protestants like Luther and Calvin reject the Thomistic position that humans can use reason to make discoveries about the universe (although they do not reject reason entirely), it might follow that many Protestants should, if they follow the Sola Scriptura arguments of their churches, reject the possibility of ET’s on the grounds that Scripture does not mention ET’s. Critics assert that such logic is akin to arguing that the Braves do not exist because Scripture does not mention them. Responding to such criticism, many Protestants do not in fact so reject the possibility of ET’s because theology among some Protestants is shifting towards allowing reason to tell us many important facts about our universe, leaving Scripture to teach about redemption and salvation rather than the nature of the universe. As someone once said, religion tells us how to go to heaven while science tells us how the heavens go. Thomas F. O’Meara of Notre Dame writes: “Where Christian faith is centered solely in Jesus of Nazareth, where a few Pauline passages linking Christ to the creation are taken to refer to the man Jesus without qualification, and where Christian revelation is one single light in an extensively fallen race and world, theology has difficulty with the existence of extraterrestrials because their mode of religious life would not be centered on Jesus Christ” (2). O’Meara indicates that the possible frequent deaths and resurrections of the Logos would do a disservice to the uniqueness of the work of the Incarnate Logos on Earth (3).
Many scholars embrace a broad range of religious ideas disseminated and presented by Catholic and Protestant authors about the theological implications of intelligent life on other worlds. In this thesis, I intend to examine the ideas of various authors, many Catholic, some not, in an attempt to grasp the basic religious ideas surrounding ETs, in an effort to present cogent theories about our possible reactions to the very real possibility of discovering intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. The question of how the existence of ETs affects us is one of the oldest problems in philosophy as well as science and religion, and the answer has profound implications for our worldview.
In this thesis, I will argue that, prior to the 20th century, the vast majority of intellectuals in the West believed that a plurality of worlds populated with ET’s existed, and many Christians attempted to reconcile Christianity with pluralism. Strangely, in the 20th century and into the 21st century, pluralism lost some of its respectability. I speculate that this loss of respectability may be the result of science fiction books and films depicting a variety of ET’s, some hostile and some friendly, in a way that many of the intelligentsia interpreted as cheesy. Crowe writes that Henry Draper (1837 – 1882) writes in 1866 “Are There Other Inhabited Worlds?” in which Draper suggests that the famous Moon Hoax of 1835 by journalist R. A. Lock who inaccurately reported in his newspaper that life had been discovered on the Moon, only to have the story proven completely false, “left behind an unfortunate skepticism” (p. 50) [Crowe 364]. O’Meara says that “…after World War I, with the discovery of multiple galaxies through the fashioning of more advanced telescopes, the possibility of other intelligent life reasserted itself” (3). In this thesis, I am attempting to make the subject respectable again by pointing out that the debate has been going on for centuries among reputable scholars and theologians and authors.
Chapter 1: The Debate over the Incarnation and Redemptive Work of Christ
Section 1: Chalmers, Whewell, and Brewster et al.
Prior to the 20th century, a public debate raged about whether ET’s populate other worlds and, if so, how this affects Christianity, Christians, and Christian theology, particularly the doctrines of the Incarnation and Redemption of Christ. William of Vorilong in the 15th century views positively a plurality of worlds while believing that ET’s did not sin after the manner of Adam. Thus, he writes, “As to the question whether Christ by dying on this earth could redeem the inhabitants of another world, I answer that he is able to do this even if the worlds are infinite, but it would not be fitting for Him to go into another world that he must die again” (Dick, Plurality of Worlds 88). Thus begins the debate over the Incarnation of the Logos, that is, whether the Incarnation is unique to the Earth or whether it is necessary for Christ to become Incarnate on other worlds to redeem ET’s. The questions become: Does the Redemptive work of Christ on Earth apply universally to sinful ET’s without multiple incarnations? Does the Redemptive work of Christ apply only to humans via his unique Incarnation? Does Christ save a multiplicity of inhabitants of other worlds via a multiplicity of Incarnations? Is the Incarnation unique to the Earth because inhabitants of other worlds are not Fallen like human beings are and thus need no redemption? Does the Incarnation occur on multiple worlds despite sinless ET’s? Numerous authors answer yes to each of the above questions. I will shortly examine their answers in detail.
The discussion surrounding the theology of a plurality of worlds and the Incarnation of the Logos continues in a famous debate in the 19th century between William Whewell (1794 – 1866) who is largely responding to Thomas Chalmers (1780 -- ???) and Sir David Brewster (1781 – 1868) who is responding to Whewell. Whewell, a Christian, was once a pluralist but later writes a book in which he declares that ET’s on a plurality of worlds violates Christian teachings for a variety of reasons, while Brewster, also a Christian, reaches the opposite conclusion. The debate between these two Protestant men is followed by the educated community with the vast majority of people supporting the view that the existence of otherworldly inhabitants does not denigrate Christian theology, essentially Brewster’s position. Some debaters of the period argue that Christ needs to become Incarnate on a variety of worlds, while others suggest that the Incarnation is unique to the Earth while its benefits extend to ET’s. Still others suggest that ET’s may not have fallen and so are in no need of redemption. Many Catholic and Protestant authors not only of earlier centuries but also of today are not at one on this issue of the Incarnation while maintaining that we really don’t know yet and won’t know until we encounter ET’s in the flesh (Crowe and Dick et al.). Sir David Brewster opposes Whewell, engaging in a vigorous public debate that was followed by the academic public religiously. Brewster falls back on the traditional belief that Christ died and rose again for all people on the Earth past, present, and future as well as the people of the antipodes, claiming that extending the benefits of the Atonement to ET’s was simply a logical progression (Crowe 304 – 305). I will place the views of these three men in the context of other numerous authors who make various arguments on the issue of the Incarnation.
As a contrast to the theological debate, one must note that some authors favor a plurality of worlds while disbelieving Christianity. An example is Thomas Paine who in “The Age of Reason” (mid 1790’s) argues that there must be a plurality of worlds (McMullin 164) while ridiculing the idea of a multiplicity of Christs who lived and died and rose again on a multiplicity of worlds (165). Paine argues that one cannot be both a Christian and a pluralist at the same time (Crowe 117). Paine is not a Christian but apparently a Deist who questions Christianity. James Anthony Froude writes against pluralism in 1849 by suggesting it is preposterous that the great Creator of the universe became a mortal human to save souls (Crowe 333).
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 – 1716) favors the plurality of worlds theory along with a belief that inhabitants populate planets around other suns and asks pertinent questions as to whether those inhabitants can be Baptized and serve as priests:
If someone…came from the moon…, like Gonsales [Godwin’s cosmic voyager]…, we would take him to be a lunarian; and yet we might grant him…the title man…; but if he asked to be baptized, and to be regarded as a convert to our faith, I believe that we would see great disputes arising among the theologians. And if relations were opened up between ourselves and these planetary men – whom M. Huygens says are not much different from men here – the problem would warrant calling an Ecumenical Council to determine whether we should undertake the propagation of the faith in regions beyond our globe. No doubt some would maintain that rational animals from those lands, not being descended from Adam, do not partake of redemption by Jesus Christ….Perhaps there would be a majority decision in favour of the safest course, which would be to baptize these suspect humans conditionally….But I doubt they would ever be found acceptable as priests of the Roman Church, because until there was some revelation their consecrations would always be suspect….Fortunately we are spared these perplexities by the nature of things; but still these bizarre fictions have their uses in abstract studies as aids to a better grasp of the nature of our ideas (p. 314) [cited in Crowe 29].
Jewish and Christian theologians of yesteryear adopted the pagan Greek concept of the Logos, the organizing force through which the universe was created, to develop the idea that human beings are rational because we are made in the image of the ultimate Rational Being, the Logos. Many theologians of later centuries write that inhabitants of other worlds are also rational because they are also made in the image of the Rational/Logos. Hence, the rationality of God becomes, after a fashion, somewhat comprehensible in the light of the rationality of the ordered universe which produced rational beings in the image of the Rational Creator Logos. If life, especially intelligent life, has developed on other worlds, there are four possible theories about the work of God throughout the universe, and these are listed below.
Section 2: Four Categories of Opinion on the Incarnation and Redemptive Work of Christ Debate
The authors and theologians whose ideas I describe below permeate the Chalmers/Whewell/Brewster debate and fall into four categories:
Those who favor an incarnation unique to the Earth that applies only to humans and not to ET’s whether ET’s have sinned or not or whether ET’s exist or not.
Those who favor multiple incarnations to achieve multiple salvations for sinful ET’s.
Those who favor multiple incarnations despite sinless ET’s.
Those who favor an incarnation unique to the Earth whose effects permeate the universe and save not only sinful humans but also sinful ET’s.
Category 1 Authors:
Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225 – 1274) suggests that the other Persons of the Trinity other than the Logos could become incarnate. Thomas F. O’Meara of Notre Dame writes, “Incarnation is only one divine activity, involving one creature as the object of that one special divine relationship: it hardly presents all that God can do and is doing” (5). Thomas Aquinas appears to believe that the Logos became Incarnate only once as Jesus Christ.
Guillaume de Vaurouillon (c. 1392 – 1463) avers that intelligent beings on other worlds have not sinned after the manner of Adam. He writes: “As to the question whether Christ by dying on this earth could redeem the inhabitants of another world, I answer that he was able to do this not only for our world but for infinite worlds. But it would not be fitting for him to go to another world to die again” (O’Meara 6).
Philip Melanchthon (b. 15 February 1497, d. 19 April 1560), a German disciple of Martin Luther, espoused the early Protestant view that a plurality of worlds violates Scripture, and since Scripture is the sole rule of faith, God would not have made other worlds without saying so in the Bible (Dick, Plurality of Worlds 88). Since the Bible describes the creation of one world with the Sun, the Moon, and the stars, it follows that he created nothing else, certainly not other kosmoi. O’Meara writes that Melanchthon warns against multiple incarnations and redemptions on the grounds of the Protestant conviction that salvation comes from the God-man Jesus Christ and the Bible (O’Meara 2). Melanchthon wrote in Initia doctrinae physicae (Wittenberg, 1550), fol. 43:
We know God is a citizen of this world with us, custodian and server of this world, ruling the motion of the heavens, guiding the constellations, making this earth fruitful, and indeed watching over us; we do not contrive to have him in another world, and to watch over other men also…the Son of God is One; our master Jesus Christ was born, died, and resurrected in this world. Nor does He manifest Himself elsewhere, nor elsewhere has He died or resurrected. Therefore it must not be imagined that there are many worlds, because it must not be imagined that Christ died and was resurrected more often, nor must it be thought that in any other world without the knowledge of the Son of God, that men would be restored to eternal life [cited in Dick, Plurality of Worlds 89].
The heart of the theological dispute lies in whether life on other worlds expatriates human beings as the most important creations in the universe as well as has deleterious effects on the relationship of human beings to their Creator in terms of the Incarnation of Christ, Redemption, justification, sanctification, and salvation. It raises the issue as to whether ET’s are tainted with Original Sin and need to be redeemed by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Dick asks, “Was Jesus Christ to be seen as a planet-hopping Savior in the new cosmology? Moreover, extraterrestrial inhabitants were nowhere to be found in the pages of Scripture. Such a Pandora’s box of puzzling questions and implications was sufficient to give even many Copernicans, especially in Catholic countries, cause for grave concern” (Plurality of Worlds 89).
Tommaso Campanella (1568 – 1634) defends Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642) by simultaneously defending the plurality of worlds theory, arguing that the theory does not violate Catholic teachings including Scripture but only the teachings of Aristotle. Campanella disbelieves that “men” on other worlds had sinned and needed redemption, asserting that therefore Jesus did not have to die for them, an idea at one time implying that Christ needed to die and rise again for the people populating the antipodes of the Earth, but he is unclear as to how theology would be affected if ET’s did exist and had sinned (Dick, Plurality of Worlds 92-93), simply saying, “If there are humans living on other stars, they would not be infected by the sin of Adam since they are not his descendants. Hence they would not be in need of redemption, unless they suffered from another sin” (O’Meara 2). Galileo himself expresses concern especially about how his Church would react to the speculation of the effects of the Incarnation and Redemption on inhabitants of other worlds and so denies that otherworldly beings exist. Galileo’s friend, the Jesuit Giovanni Ciampoli, warns Galileo in 1615 that ideas about inhabitants on other worlds have profound consequences when taking into consideration the view that such inhabitants are not descendents of Adam nor descendents of the folk aboard Noah’s Ark (Dick, Plurality of Worlds 90).
Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657 – 1757) wrote Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds in 1686 depicting a fictional conversation in which he supports the notion that inhabitants exist on other worlds, claiming that their existence does not violate Scripture or the human faculty of reason. De Fontenelle claims that, because they are not descendents of Adam and Eve, then the concepts of the incarnation of Christ and redemption are not applicable (Dick, Plurality of Worlds 124).
Rev. Richard Bentley (1662 – 1742), in correspondence with Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727), assures us that otherworldly inhabitants are not necessarily human in order to allay the fears of the theologians that the relationship of ET’s to the Incarnation and Redemption does not apply since they are not the descendents of Adam and Eve. Brewster notes that Dr. Bentley asserts that simply because Scripture mentions only the creation of creatures upon the Earth, it doesn’t follow that God did not create inhabitants of other worlds. Bentley notes that the Pentateuch does not mention the creation of angels, but faithful Christians are certain that angels were created (Brewster 139 – 140). Bentley continues, “Neither need we be solicitous about the condition of those planetary people, nor raise frivolous disputes how far they may participate in Adam’s fall or in the benefits of Christ’s incarnation” (Brewster 140).
Timothy Dwight, Yale president/minister (1752 – 1817) writes a series of sermons collected as Theology Explained and Defended in which he argues that Christ’s Incarnation and Redemption are not only unique to Earth but that Redemption applies only to human beings: “in this world there exists a singular and astonishing system of Providence; a system of mediation between God and his revolted creatures….This system, never found elsewhere, is accomplished here….” (V, p. 509) [cited in Crowe 177]. Dwight also argues, among other things, in favor of pluralism and inhabited worlds, claiming that the Lord made
…the countless multitude of Worlds, with all their various furniture. With his own hand he lighted up at once innumerable suns, and rolled around them innumerable worlds. All these…he stored, and adorned, with a rich and unceasing variety of beauty and magnificence; and with the most suitable means of virtue and happiness. Throughout his vast empire, he surrounded his throne with Intelligent creatures, to fill the immense and perfect scheme of being… (I, pp. 78 – 79) [cited in Crowe 175].
Dwight argues that the Lord can understand a cosmos “inhabited by beings…emphatically surpassing number” yet whose minds he knows intimately (I, p. 93) [cited in Crowe 175 – 176]. He argues forcefully the traditional view that Christ created the universe and continues to maintain it:
Throughout immensity, [Christ] quickens into life, action, and enjoyment, the innumerable multitudes of Intelligent beings. The universe, which he made, he also governs. The worlds, of which it is composed, he rolls through the infinite expanse with an Almighty and unwearied hand….From the vast store-house of his bounty he feeds, and clothes, the endless millions…and from the riches of his own unchangeable Mind informs the innumerable host of Intelligent creatures with ever-improving virtue, dignity, and glory. (I, p. 203) [cited in Crowe 177].
Dwight’s position is that Christ’s Incarnation and Redemption are not only unique to Earth but that Redemption applies only to human beings. Rev. William Leitch (1818 – 1864) believes the Incarnation of Christ is unique to the Earth and also rejects the idea that the merits of Christ’s atoning sacrifice applies to ET’s (Crowe 452). Leitch believes that extending the atonement to ET’s is unscriptural with the implication that only inhabitants of the Earth require redemption (329) [cited in J.J. Davis 26].
Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724 – 1803), a German poet, wrote enthusiastically about a universe created by God with Christ at the center. He portrays the angel Gabriel traveling from planet to planet, all with Fallen creatures, including the Earth, but describes the Earth as
…Queen amongst the earths,
Focal point of creation, most intimate friend of heaven,
Second home of the splendor of God, immortal witness
Of those secret sublime deeds of the great Messiah! (I, 517—520) [cited in Crowe 145].
For Klopstock, the universe is Christocentric, and his poetry reflects his belief that Christ is the redeemer of Fallen humanity while simultaneously portraying the life, death, and resurrection of Christ amidst a plurality of worlds populated with intelligent beings (Crowe 144). Nevertheless, Klopstock believes that “only the inhabitants of the earth have fallen into sin and they alone need salvation through a divine mediator” (cited in Crowe 145). Even so, Klopstock believes that Christ brought goodness that permeates the universe (ibid.).
The theological significance of intelligent beings who are not descendents of Adam and Noah is that such beings are not bound to the covenants God establishes with Adam and Noah (Rabbi Norman Lamm) and may have other economies of salvation (Greeley). Scripture attests that where there is no law, neither is there violation (Romans 4:15). Therefore, in order for ET’s to sin, they must violate a set of laws that are different from the ones given to inhabitants of the Earth of whom, if one takes Scripture literally, all are descendents of Adam and Noah. This raises questions such as whether morality is truly universal. The Divine Command Theorist asserts that God’s laws are just and right and good because God commands them, but if God’s commandments do not apply to ET’s, then ET’s may have different economies of salvation (Greeley). Another question this raises is the nature of sin: What is wrong for one species may not necessarily be wrong for another, unless one takes the view that the concept of sin is universal and that moral rules are also universal and must be universally applied. One may also take the view that some sins are universal while others are specific. For example, certain actions are sins for Jews but not for non-Jews. Since Christians are not antinomians, it follows that some moral rules may be universal while others apply only to either Jews or inhabitants of the Earth and not necessarily to ET’s, while other rules are universal and do apply to ET’s. Certainly, it is not currently possible to attempt to define what moral rules are universal in the absence of knowledge of the cultural and theological beliefs and ethics of beings from other worlds. Whewell argues that “truth and falsehood, right and wrong, law and transgressions, happiness and misery, reward and punishment” stem from divine Government, claiming that “to transfer these to Jupiter or to Sirius, is merely to imagine those bodies to be a sort of island of Formosa, or new Atlantis, or Utopia, or Platonic Polity, or something of the like kind….there is no more wisdom or philosophy in believing such assemblages of beings to exist in Jupiter or Sirius, without evidence, than in believing them to exist in the island of Formosa, with the like absence of evidence” (61 – 62). I will argue in Section 4 that God’s divine Government is quite capable of extending to inhabitants of other worlds.
Whewell argues that the very fact of the Incarnation on Earth indicates that Earth is unique as the habitation of intelligent beings in the universe:
The earth, thus selected as the theatre of such a scheme of Teaching and of Redemption, cannot, in the eyes of any one who accepts this Christian faith, be regarded as being on a level with any other domiciles. It is the Stage of the great Drama of God’s Mercy and Man’s Salvation; the Sanctuary of the Universe; the Holy Land of Creation; the Royal Abode, for a time at last, of the Eternal King. This being the character which has thus been conferred upon it, how can we assent to the assertions of Astronomers, when they tell us that it is only one among millions of similar habitations, not distinguishable from them, except that it is smaller than most of them that we can measure; confused and rude in its materials like them? Or if we believe the Astronomers, will not such a belief lead us to doubt the truth of the great scheme of Christianity, which thus makes the earth the scene of a special dispensation (64).
Thus, for Whewell, Christianity is not compatible with the notion that intelligent beings populate other worlds which are also governed by God precisely because of the uniqueness of the Incarnation and the Christian message.
Whewell uses the science extant in his time to disprove logically the notion that other worlds are inhabited. He writes: “The notion, then, that one period of time in the history of the earth must resemble another, in the character of its population, because it resembles it in physical circumstances, is negatived by the facts which we discover in the history of the earth. And so, the notion that one part of the universe must resemble another in its population, because it resembles it in physical circumstances, is negatived as a law of creation” (128). Using Whewell’s logic, it would seem that we cannot assume that life develops on worlds in the Goldilocks Zone simply because the Earth orbits the Sun in the Goldilocks Zone. I think such logic is flawed on the grounds that similar circumstances are often followed by similar events. On the theory that liquid water is essential for life, it follows that life often occurs where liquid water is present. If God is the Creator of a process that leads to life, it seems to follow that other places in the universe where similar processes have occurred will also result in life, though perhaps not life as we know it.
William Whewell, once a pluralist, turns against pluralism in a highly influential work entitled Of the Plurality of Words: An Essay as well as an unpublished dialogue called Astronomy and Religion in 1850. Whewell’s major concern seems to have been related to the Incarnation and Redemption of people on Earth by Christ, seeming to suggest that one may accept either Christianity or pluralism but not both, just like Paine except that Whewell comes down firmly on the side of Christianity.
William Whewell writes Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777 – 1855) on 4 March 1854 that the only inhabited planet in the universe is the Earth since “all intelligent beings are by their nature sinful and the redemption (crucifixion) can not be repeated on the many millions of nebulae observed by Rosse” (cited in Crowe 208). Gauss replies on 5 May 1854 that the notion of ET’s does not contradict even the most fervent defender of the Christian faith (ibid.).
In his Plurality of Worlds Whewell responds to Dr. Chalmers by suggesting that the very reason why humans are the only hnau in the universe is because God is mindful of them (17 – 18). Humans cannot be insignificant creatures on an insignificant planet because God was so mindful of us that he became Incarnate on our planet to redeem us.
John Heinrich Kurtz (1809 – 1890), a Lutheran theologian who denies pluralism, argues against Chalmers and the Incarnation of God on other worlds, claiming that either ET’s are not fallen and therefore have no need of redemption or, if they are fallen, then Christ does not save them (Crowe 261 – 262). This, I think, is a rather bleak outlook for intelligent beings on other worlds.
The Rev. Dr. George Croly (1780 – 1860) also disagrees with pluralism claiming that if other worlds were inhabited by intelligent beings then there would necessarily be “a Bethlehem in Venus, a Gethsemane in Jupiter, a Calvary in Saturn” (cited in Crowe 334).
Abbe Francois Xavier Burque (1851 – 1923) suggests that pluralism cannot be reconciled with the Incarnation and Redemption of Christ (Crowe 421). He claims that Christ being crucified numerous times on other planets to save intelligent beings contradicts Hebrews 9:26 (Crowe 421). Hebrews 9:25-26 says: “Not that he might offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary with blood that is not his own; if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world. But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice” (NAB). Burque does not address, as far as my research can tell, whether the benefits of the work of Christ on Earth extend to intelligent beings on other worlds.
E.W. Maunder, an opponent of the “Martial canals” controversy, also opposes pluralism, stating that it is unlikely that life exists elsewhere in the universe, claiming that God became Incarnate to pleasure the company of human beings and not, apparently, ET’s (cf. Crowe 542). O’Meara writes: “The Son of God is one: our master Jesus Christ, coming forth in this world, died and was resurrected only once. Nor did he manifest himself elsewhere, nor has he died or been resurrected elsewhere. We should not imagine many worlds because we ought not imagine that Christ died and was risen often; nor should it be thought that in any other world without the knowledge of the Son of God that people would be restored to eternal life” (Initia doctrinae physicae, Corpus Reformatorum 13 (Halle: Schwetschke, 1846; reprint, Frankfurt; Minerva, 1963) 1.221) [cited in O’Meara 2].
Paul Tillich writes:
a question arises which has been carefully avoided by many traditional theologians, even though it is consciously or unconsciously alive for most contemporary people. It is the problem of how to understand the meaning of the symbol 'Christ' in the light of the immensity of the universe, the heliocentric system of planets, the infinitely small part of the universe which man and history constitute, and the possibility of other worlds in which divine self-manifestations may appear and be received....our basic answer leaves the universe open for possible divine manifestations in other areas or periods of being. Such possibilities cannot be denied. But they cannot be proved or disproved. Incarnation is unique for the special group in which it happens, but it is not unique in the sense that other singular incarnations for other unique worlds are excluded...Man cannot claim to occupy the only possible place for incarnation (cited in Peters, "Contemporary Theology” 2-3).
Kenneth Delano, a Catholic priest, agrees with Tillich that the Incarnation may have occurred (and may occur in the future) on other planets. Delano reacts to a writer who claims that if human beings are not the epitome of God’s creation, then Scripture is completely wrong in its estimation of the relationship of human beings to God, by suggesting that God may have declined to mention ET’s in Scripture because during the time and in the culture in which the text was written, it did not theologically or morally edify the faith community (Dick, Life on Other Worlds 250). I maintain that the authors of Scripture may not have fully comprehended the extent of the meaning of their words when they wrote them since the Bible contains many prophecies that did not become apparent and faithful people did not understand until later in history. For example, prophecies of the Messiah did not become comprehensible until the manifestation of Jesus to Israel and the world, so it’s possible that prophecies about the mission of Christians to spread the Gospel throughout the cosmos did not or perhaps will not become apparent until human beings encounter living ET’s.
As we see, numerous authors during the Incarnation and Redemption debate favor the notion that the Incarnation is unique to the Earth and the benefits of the Redemptive work of Christ extend only to human beings on the grounds that humans are uniquely intelligent beings in the universe (such as Whewell argues) or on the grounds that extraterrestrial beings, if they exist, do not participate in the salvation of Christ since they are not human (such as Kurtz). On the theory that intelligent beings on other worlds are sinners and need redemption, we come to Category 2 authors who argue in favor of multiple incarnations.
Category 2 Authors:
Category 2 authors are an interesting breed of scholars and theologians who argue that the Logos needs to become Incarnate on a multiplicity of worlds in order to save sinful intelligent beings on those worlds. Some of the most famous philosophers and theologians support this view since it appeals to a sense of fairness and compassion on the part of God. Descartes began writing about multiple incarnations centuries after Origen. O’Meara writes, “Origen wanted to give a cosmic scope to Incarnation as the source of grace and in so doing intimated various incarnations” (4).
Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650), a good Catholic and a highly influential philosopher, largely popularizes the idea of a plurality of worlds in the 17th century; he writes to Chanut on 6 June 1647: “It seems to me that the mystery of the incarnation and all the other advantages which God bestowed on man do not preclude the possibility that he might have granted infinitely many others, very great, to an infinity of other creatures” (Dick, Plurality of Worlds 106).
William Haye (1694 – 1755) wrote Religion Philosophi: or, The Principles of Morality and Christianity Illustrated from a View of the Universe, and Man’s Situation in it (London) that, like Copernicus, “with the greatest Probability (almost Certainty) imagine each Fixed Star to be a sun with Planets…surrounding it…; and all such Planets to be inhabited as well as the Earth….” In addition, he claims that “…Praise and Thanksgiving are continually ascending to [God’s] Throne…from every Quarter of the Universe,” making as a result “a general Religion, a joint Communion, a Universal Church” implying that we as human beings of Earth should love ET’s “not as our own Species, but as our Fellow-creatures, and as Members of the same Church and Communion….” (pp. 14 – 15) [cited in Crowe 86]. Haye speculates that ET’s have fallen just as we have and God acts on those worlds either as “Judge” or as “indulgent Parent…. exalting the Rational Creatures of each Globe from a Material to a Spiritual, and from a Mortal to an Immortal State; transforming them into Angels; and from those Seminaries perpetually increasing the Host of Heaven (pp. 34-35) [cited in Crowe 86-87)]. Nevertheless, Haye diverges from traditional Christianity by asserting that Jesus saves only human beings while ET’s need the salvation of other ET’s who were the Incarnations of the Logos with respect to their individual planets (Crowe 87).
John Foster, a Baptist, responds to Chalmers (see above prior to Section 1 and below in Section 4) by suggesting that the Incarnation may have occurred on other planets. Foster also disagrees with Chalmers’s view that other planets know about the religious events that have occurred on the Earth (Crowe 191).
Reverend Baden Power (1796 – 1860) attempts to find a middle ground between Brewster (see Section 4) and Whewell (see Section 1). Although Power embraces Darwinism, he is a devout Christian who writes in his The Unity of Worlds: “If it be an inscrutable mystery wholly beyond human comprehension that God should send His Son to redeem this world, it cannot be a more inscrutable mystery…that He should send His Son to redeem ten thousand other worlds” (p. 291) [cited in Crowe 310].
R. M. Jouan, a Catholic, suggests multiple incarnations are possible (Crowe 420). Rev. Joseph Pohl (1851 – 1922) speaks little of religion but does note that ET’s need not necessarily have fallen, but if they did, then multiple incarnations may have been the result (Crowe 433 – 434).
Alice Meynell (1847 – 1922), a Catholic poet, also writes poetry apparently favoring the notion of multiple incarnations and multiple gospels (Crowe 444 – 445). The vision of a universe permeated by the ever-acting, ever-working, and potentially explicit self-expression of the divine Word/Logos was never better expressed than in her poem:
Christ in the Universe
With this ambiguous earth
His dealings have been told us. These abide:
The signal to a maid, the human birth,
the lesson and the young Man crucified.
But not a star of all
The innumerable host of stars has heard
How he administered this terrestrial ball.
Our race have kept their Lord's entrusted
No planet knows that this
Our wayside planet, carrying land and wave,
Love and life multiplied, and pain and bliss,
Bears, as chief treasure, one forsaken grave.
Nor, in our little day,
May his devices with the heavens he guessed,
His pilgrimage to thread the Milky Way,
Or his bestowals there be manifest.
But, in the eternities,
Doubtless we shall compare together, hear
A million alien Gospels, in what guise
He trod the Pleiades, the Lyre, the Bear.
[cited in Peacocke 114-115.]
O, be prepared, my soul!
To read the inconceivable, to scan
The million forms of God those stars unroll
When, in our turn, we show to them a Man.
[cited in Crowe 445.]
Karl Rahner, a modern Catholic theologian, suggests that inhabitants of other worlds do not live their lives apart from sin and grace, implying that the grace of Jesus Christ applies to extraterrestrials as well as humans (O’Meara 7). Rahner regards the notion of the Incarnation of the Logos on our world as a problem for the intellect inasmuch as our world is but a tiny mote in a vast universe (ibid.). That said, Rahner does not dismiss the possibility of a multiplicity of incarnations (O’Meara 8).
If intelligent beings throughout the rest of the universe know about the Incarnation and Redemptive work of Christ, then why are they not here discussing the issue with human beings? Perhaps, in the view of Category 2 authors, intelligent beings on other worlds have no need to visit the Earth because they have already experienced the salvation of Christ in their lives. Perhaps for the same reason, in this view, human beings need not visit other worlds to learn anything theologically new. It’s possible that God made the great distances among planets impossible to traverse in order to maintain the uniqueness of each world’s intelligent beings or for theological reasons we don’t yet comprehend. This view contrasts with Category 3 authors who maintain that Christ becomes incarnate on multiple worlds despite the sinlessness of their inhabitants.
Category 3 Authors:
Many authors maintain that Earth is unique in that the first intelligent inhabitants sinned against God and fell from grace. For whatever reason, other races of beings did not experience a Fall from grace and so remain, like angels, as superior servants of God. Let’s begin with Terrasson.
Abbe Jean Terrasson (1670 – 1750) argues in favor of plurality and intelligent inhabitants, claiming that the teachings of the Church including the Bible do not unequivocally deny the pluralist position (Crowe 135). He also suggests that God became incarnate even on worlds which had not Fallen, claiming such inhabitants would deserve the honor even more than sinful beings (ibid.). He concludes, “We infer from all this not only that the Word has incarnated himself on all the planets, but in those where sin has not entered, he is born as other men” (p. 67) [cited in Crowe 135].
Crowe writes, “At another point he [Terrasson] counters the claim that Scripture explicitly states that there is but one Lord by interpreting it as applying only to the divine part of Christ’s nature. Admitting that Christ’s terrestrial incarnation and redemption have sufficient merit for the entire universe, he nonetheless suggests that because Christ has a role both as savior and as teacher, his incarnation as teacher on sinless planets is fully appropriate (pp. 89 – 90)” (ibid.). Terrasson claims there is an infinite number of men on an infinite number of planets “chanting the praises of the Lord….” (cited in Crowe 135 – 136). He goes on, “What an admirable spectacle is also presented by the advance of the infinite number of men-God, who in the last day of the planet present to the eternal Father this infinite number of bands of the elect” (pp. 92-93) [cited in Crowe 136]. Terrasson further claims that angels are the resurrected souls of destroyed planets while demons are the resurrected evil souls (ibid.). The vast majority of authors in this era who expressed religious ideas, whether Catholic or Protestant, favor the idea of a plurality of worlds populated with ET’s yet disagree on the issue of whether there are different economies of salvation, particularly with respect to multiple incarnations.
Dick says in Plurality of Worlds that a Cartesian author [Note: Mike Crowe says this author is Terrasson] wrote Traite de l’infini cree (written before 1746, published 1769) in which he fundamentally changes the arguments regarding the incarnation and redemption so that man becomes one with God, “man in the plural, God in the singular, because the hommes-Dieu [God/man] would be several in number as to human nature, but only one as to Divine nature” (139). The notion that the Incarnation is a universal event rather than one that pertains exclusively to the Earth challenges us to new heights of thought that are not for the faint of heart (ibid.).
Monseigneur de Montignez writes in a series entitled “Theorie chretienne sur la pluralite des mondes” that Christ became Incarnate on the Earth because it is insignificant and its people worthless in order to show forth more grandly the power of God: “the relative smallness of the earth acts only to strengthen our belief in the mystery of the redemption…; the more you represent the earth as a useless point, the more you make man a stunted, weak, pitiful, disgraced being, the more you justify the preference of which he is the object…” (9, pp. 403-4) [cited in Crowe 412]. Montignez claims that Scripture is not understandable in the absence of pluralism. He claims that Christ became Incarnate only once on the Earth yet rules the cosmos, and “the blood which flowed on Calvary has gushed out on the universality of creation…; has bathed not only our world, but all the worlds which roll in space….” (10, p. 272) [cited in Crowe 412]. Nevertheless, he holds to the belief that ET’s have not fallen as humanity has done, which seems a bit inconsistent because if the redemptive work of Christ applies to inhabitants of other worlds, then it follows that they need such redemption due to sin.
Reverend Baden Power (1796 – 1860) attempts to find a middle ground between Brewster and Whewell. Although Power embraces Darwinism, he is a devout Christian who writes in his The Unity of Worlds: “If it be an inscrutable mystery wholly beyond human comprehension that God should send His Son to redeem this world, it cannot be a more inscrutable mystery…that He should send His Son to redeem ten thousand other worlds” (p. 291) [cited in Crowe 310].
The view that the Logos becomes Incarnate on multiple worlds seems to imply that there are benefits other than redemption from sins for numerous local incarnations. It may be that Earth would not be swaying in the balance had our first father and mother not eaten the apple. However, the Bible says that Adam and Eve did eat the apple, and their descendents experience the consequences of original sin. What if free will inevitably results in a fall from grace? This question leads us to Category 4 authors who maintain that, while the Incarnation is unique to the Earth, its benefits apply universally to inhabitants of other worlds.
Category 4 Authors:
Scripture tells us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that inhabitants of other worlds fall under the category of “all” and have sinned, resulting in a fall from grace, just like Adam and Eve and all human beings (except Jesus and, according to Catholic teachings, the Virgin Mary who was preserved from the stain of original sin by the grace of Jesus Christ imputed to her at her conception). Is it possible that the grace of Jesus is imputed to sinful inhabitants of other worlds? Category 4 authors seem to think so. Let’s begin with More.
Henry More (1614 – 1687), although he later breaks with Descartes by his particular pro pluralism position, rejecting both the Epicurean and Cartesian systems as well as atomism, maintains his support for a plurality of worlds, arguing that God reveals to ET’s the good news of Christ’s Incarnation and Redemption and saves them just as he saves human beings (Crowe 17).
Immanuel Kant wrote Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens in 1755 in which he questions whether inhabitants of the large planets in our solar system may be “too noble and wise” to commit sins and also questions whether the inhabitants of the smaller systems “are grafted too fast to matter…to carry to the responsibility of their actions before the judgment seat of justice.” He also speculates that Martians may be just as sinful as the inhabitants of the Earth (Crowe 53).
Edward Young composed poetry in praise of God the Son. Here are a few verses from: “The Complaint: Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality”:
And Thou the next! Thou, by whom
That blessing was convey’d; far more! Was bought;
Ineffable the price! By whom all worlds
Were made; and one redeem’d!…
Thou God and mortal! Thence more God to man!…
Who disembosom’d from the Father, bows
The heaven of heavens, to kiss the distant earth!
Breathes out in agonies a sinless soul!
Against the cross, Death’s iron scepter breaks! (IX, 2262-5, 2348, 2352-5) [cited in Crowe 86].
Famous writers as divergent as Napoleon, John Wesley, and William Blake cherished this poem and encouraged its wide dispersion, keeping it alongside their Bibles and John Bunyan (Crowe 86). Yet Young’s vision of a Fallen Earth amidst a wide variety of inhabited planets inspired Thomas Chalmers and, in the 20th century, the great C. S. Lewis, proving that the ideal of a plurality of worlds populated with redeemable ET’s was within the realm of traditional piety and its Christian practitioners (Crowe 86). Clergyman Andreas Ehrenberg (d. 1726) and school rector Johan Schudt (1664 – 1722) both examine the question of the atonement with respect to ET’s (Crowe 34). Hymnologist David Schober (1696 – 1778) writes in a book that ET’s inhabit a plurality of worlds, an idea he wishes to harmonize with the Christian concept of the Redemption to which he devotes half his book (Crowe 34).
On the question of whether ET’s inherit the sin of Adam, James Beattie (1735 – 1803), a poet and professor of moral philosophy and logic, Marischal College, Aberdeen, writes of redemption that ET’s “will not suffer for our guilt, nor be rewarded for our obedience. But it is not absurd to imagine, that our fall and recovery may be useful to them as an example; and that the divine grace manifested in our redemption may raise their adoration and gratitude into higher raptures and quicken their ardour to inquire…into the dispensations of infinite wisdom” (p. 184) [cited in Crowe 102]. He goes on to say that his position is “not mere conjecture [but] derives plausibility from many analogies in nature; as well as from holy writ, which represents the mystery of our redemption as an object of curiosity to superior beings, and our repentance as an occasion of their joy” (p. 184) [ibid.].
Beilby Porteus (1731 – 1808), bishop of Chester and subsequently of London, wrote in favor of the plurality of worlds theory and redemption, remarking, “on what ground is it concluded, that the benefits of Christ’s death extend no further than to ourselves?” Moreover, in support of his theory that the Crucifixion’s benefits extend to ET’s, he quotes the Apostle Paul:
We are expressly told, that as “by him were all things created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible; and by him all things consist: so by him also was God pleased (having made peace through the blood of his cross) to reconcile all things unto himself, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven: that in the dispensation of the fullness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him” (Colossians 1:16-20) [cited in Crowe 103].
Porteus goes on to assert that “if the Redemption wrought by Christ extended to other worlds, perhaps many besides our own; if its virtues penetrate even into heaven itself; if it gathers together all things in Christ; who will then say, that the dignity of the agent was disproportioned to the magnitude of the work…?” (p. 81) [cited in Crowe 103]. Porteus supports my contention that it is consistent with Christian theology to say that Jesus saves ET’s by his life, crucifixion, and resurrection. Since the efficacy of the Redemption Jesus acquired for us extends to all, humans and ET’s alike, it follows that it is incumbent upon Christians to spread this good news not only to other human beings but also to ET’s.
George Adams (1750 – 1795) writes that Christians should experience pleasure due to our Redemption by Christ, remarking:
…since the inhabitants of…other planets…must equally be objects of the Divine favor with ourselves; and since the rational inhabitants of some few or more among so many myriads may have been found disobedient; is a man to blame for thinking that if they stand in need of restoration, they must be fully as worthy of it as ourselves; and may for anything that we know, have been already redeemed, or may yet be redeemed?” (Adams, Lectures, vol. IV, p. 244) [cited in Crowe 105].
Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680 – 1740) writes a conversation between two people, one a philosopher and the other a Christian, with the Christian asking, “Of more than one world what say you?/How do you prove that it is true?/The new heresy I cannot believe.” The text goes on to say about the “new heresy”:
Should Christ have died
Solely for a single world
Or how have the first Adams
Fallen on all of them also?
Have a thousand Eves also been deceived
By a thousand snakes through a thousand apples? [cited in Crowe 141].
Dr. Andrew Fuller (1754 – 1815) is a Baptist minister who wrote The Gospel Its Own Witness in 1799-1800, arguing against Tom Paine’s Age of Reason. Fuller claims that the doctrine of a plurality of worlds is consistent with Christianity and Scripture. He further writes that the idea of our Redemption by Christ is “strengthened and aggrandized” by pluralism, that human beings and angels are not necessarily the only beings who have Fallen from grace, and that any ET’s who have Fallen from grace may be comforted to know that the Incarnation and Redemption brought to us by Christ “are competent to fill all and every part of God’s dominions with everlasting and increasing joy” (p. 272) [cited in Crowe 172]. Fuller agrees that Christ’s Incarnation is unique to the Earth while his Redemption spreads across the entire universe, averring “The consistency of the Scripture doctrine of Redemption with the modern opinion of the Magnitude of Creation” (i.e., pluralism) and “the credibility of the redemption is not weakened by this doctrine, but, on the contrary, is, in many respects, strengthened and aggrandized” (cited in Brewster 162).
Rev. Edward Nares (1762 – 1841) also agrees that Christ’s Incarnation and Redemption are unique events to the Earth (Crowe 172 – 173). Nares writes that Christ’s redemptive work is manifest “in some way inscrutable to us, to every rational creature throughout the mighty firmament…” (p. 18) [cited in Crowe 173]. Nares asks whether God, though One, may give ET’s “such a knowledge of his ways and will, as their several wants and infirmities may need and require?” (pp. 19-21) [cited in Crowe 173]. While Nares believes that Christ’s mediation work occurred on Earth alone, he writes, “Upon this Earth [Christ’s] body was bruised, and his blood was shed; if there are other worlds in the universe, it is impossible for us to know how it may have pleased God to notify to them the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ….” (pp. 268 – 269) [cited in Crowe 173]. Nares believes that support for the plurality of worlds view expands our understanding of God’s work throughout the universe (ibid.). Nares analyzes the Hebrew and Greek words in Scripture for “world(s)” and “heaven(s),” arguing that such analysis may lead to an expanded understanding of meaning. For example, he cites Nehemiah 9:6 with his translation: “Thou, even thou, art God alone; thou hast made the WORLDS, the UNIVERSE OF WORLDS; with ALL THEIR INHABITANTS; the EARTH, with all things that are therein; and thou fillest the whole with life; and THE INHABITANTS OF THE WORLDS worship thee” (pp. 177 – 178). Alas, Nares’s work is not as popular as Paine’s.
Comte Joseph de Maistre (1754 – 1821) criticizes theologians who reject pluralism on the grounds that it somehow damages Redemption dogma, claiming that believing God has created the vast universe with innumerable stars and planets without ET’s does a disservice to God’s omnipotence (Crowe 181). De Maistre writes:
If the inhabitants of the other planets are not like us guilty of sin, they have no need of the same remedy, and if, on the contrary, the same remedy is necessary for them, are the theologians of whom I speak then to fear that the power of the sacrifice which has saved us is unable to extend to the moon? The insight of Origen is much more penetrating and comprehensive when he writes: “The altar was at Jerusalem, but the blood of the victim bathed the universe” (II, pp. 319 – 320) [cited in Crowe 181].
John Herschel, the famous son of the famous astronomer William Herschel, favors pluralism, as did his father, but his reasons are religious and metaphysical rather than scientific (Crowe 217).
Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805 – 1865) favors pluralism and, according to Robert Perceval Graves’s Life of Sir William Rowan Hamilton, vol. II, Dublin 1885, p. 38), speculates that Christ’s ascension and Pentecost may have consisted of visiting other planets one by one: “May not [Christ’s] transit from the cloud to the throne have been but one continued passage, in long triumphal pomp, through powers and principalities made subject? May not the only begotten Son have then been brought forth into the world, not by a new nativity, but as it were by proclamation and investiture, while the Universe beheld its God, and all the angels worshipped Him?” (cited in Crowe 221 – 222).
Samuel Noble (1779 – 1853), after reading Paine’s Age of Reason, becomes a Christian pluralist, writing Astronomical Doctrine of a Plurality of Worlds in which he attempts to assert that pluralism is consistent with Christianity and also, after reading Swedenborg, becoming convinced that Yahweh (Jehovah) became Incarnate on the Earth because humans were the worst sinners in the universe while Christ’s salvific work extends to ET’s (Crowe 228). Philip James Bailey (1816 – 1902) writes a poem in 1839 called Festus in which Christ speaks to the angel in charge of the hnau on Earth:
Think not I lived and died for thine alone,
And that no other sphere hath hailed me Christ.
My life is ever suffering for love.
In judging and redeeming worlds is spent
Mine everlasting being [cited in Crowe 232].
Ellen White of the Seventh Day Adventists was a pluralist who writes that Christ became Incarnate only once on Earth and that the inhabitants of other solar systems, although evil has not extended beyond the Earth, rejoiced when Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” (Crowe 240 – 241).
Thomas Chalmers wrote Astronomical Discourses in which he preaches fervently on the doctrines of Christ’s Atonement and the sinfulness of human beings who desperately need grace while also arguing in favor of pluralism; he does not believe that Christ became Incarnate on other worlds but believes his redemption extends to other planets (Crowe 186 – 187). Chalmers believes it is acceptable to reinterpret Scripture according to modern knowledge of science and astronomy. For example, he interprets Luke 15:7 (“I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance”) to mean that possible ET’s rejoice over the repentance and conversion of one sinner (ibid.). Accord to Crowe, Chalmers’s sermons and writings were instrumental in the debate over pluralism and ET’s (190). Chalmers writes, “How do Infidels know that Christianity is set up for the single benefit of this earth and its inhabitants? How are they able to tell us, that if you go to other planets the person and religion of Jesus are there unknown to them?” (Chalmers, Astronomical Discourses, Discourse II 69 – 70). Chalmers also writes, “For any thing he can tell, many a visit has been made to each of them on the subject of our common Christianity, by commissioned messengers from the throne of the Eternal. For any thing he can tell, the redemption proclaimed to us is not one solitary instance, or not the whole of that redemption which is by the Son of God; but only our part in a plan of mercy, equal in magnificence to all that astronomy has brought within the range of human contemplation” (72). For Chalmers, astronomy widens our vista, enabling us to experience more vividly the greatness of God by observing his creation and realizing the magnificence and sublimity of the Incarnation.
Chalmers continues: “For anything he can tell, the eternal Son, of whom it is said, that by him the worlds were created, may have had the government of many sinful worlds laid upon his shoulders; and by the power of his mysterious word, have awoke them all from that spiritual death, to which they had sunk in lethargy as profound as the slumbers of non-existence” (73). Chalmers writes that the “Infidels” argue that it is inconceivable that the omnipotent God would deign to visit our paltry little planet orbiting an ordinary star in the vast universe, that the Almighty would actually take on human form and die a wretched death for the purpose of saving a wretched species who live upon a tiny world floating in infinite space (Discourse III 89 – 90). Yet, for Chalmers, that is exactly what happened. He writes:
But tell me, O tell me, would it not throw the softening of a most exquisite tenderness over the character of God, should we see him putting forth his every expedient to reclaim to himself those children who had wandered away from him; and few as they were when compared with the host of his obedient worshippers, would it not just impart to his attribute of compassion the infinity of the Godhead, that rather than lose the single world which had turned to its own way, he should send the messengers of peace to woo and to welcome it back again; and if justice demanded so mighty a sacrifice, and the law behooved to be so magnified and made honorable, tell me whether it would not throw a moral sublime over the goodness of the Deity, should he lay upon his own Son the burden of its atonement, that he might again smile upon the world, and hold out the scepter of invitation to all its families? (94).
The position of Chalmers is that no world is too small or mean for God to care for its inhabitants, and the way God cares for the inhabitants of all worlds is through the mediation of his Son (107 -- 112). He also writes, “Let us put forth an effort, and keep a steady hold of this consideration – for the deadness of our earthly imaginations makes an effort necessary – and we shall perceive, that though the world we live in were the alone theatre of redemption, there is something in the redemption itself that is fitted to draw the eye of an arrested universe” (Discourse IV 130). Chalmers seems to imply that the greatness of the Incarnation and Redemptive work of Christ suffuses the universe and all its inhabitants, Earthly and Extraterrestrial.
Chalmers continues, “Now, though it must be admitted that the Bible does not speak clearly or decisively as to the proper effect of redemption being extended to other worlds, it speaks most clearly and most decisively about the knowledge of it being disseminated among other orders of created intelligence than our own. But if the contemplation of God be their supreme enjoyment, then the very circumstance of our redemption being known to them may invest it, even though it be but the redemption of one solitary world, with an importance as wide as the universe itself” (134 – 135). For Chalmers, ET’s are aware of the Incarnation and events surrounding the Redemptive work of Christ (135 – 136). He writes, “[God] does not tell us the extent of the atonement; but he tells us that the atonement itself, known as it is among the myriads of the celestial, forms the high song of eternity – that the Lamb who was slain is surrounded by the acclamations of one wide and universal empire – that the might of his wondrous achievements spreads a tide of gratulation over the multitudes who are about his throne; and there never ceases to ascend from the worshippers of Him who washed us from our sins in his blood, a voice loud as from numbers without number, sweet as from blessed voices uttering joy, when heaven rings jubilee, and loud hosannas fill the eternal regions” (139 – 140). Chalmers cites Revelation 5:11-13 to support his contention that all creatures throughout the universe praise the name of the Lamb. The Reverend Professor David Cairns in “Chalmers’ Astronomical Discourses” suggests that, for Chalmers, Earth is a battleground between light and darkness that is going on to this day, although Jesus defeated Satan “in single combat” (419). The effects of Christ’s defeat of Satan permeates the universe and its many inhabitants with God’s grace, but the war goes on.
Rev. Thomas Rawson Birks (1810 – 1883) writes Modern Astronomy in which he suggests that two contradictory possibilities exist with respect to the Redemption and the insignificance of the Earth in the vast universe: Either “ours is the only world where sin has entered,” an idea that violates “the plainest lessons of moral probability” (pp. 53 – 54) or the Advent of Jesus is the only one of a “series of revelations” (cited in Crowe 296 – 297). Birks denies the second assertion because the Incarnation has “the plainest impress of eternity…Christ…is the Son of God and the Son of man, in two distinct natures and one person, forever” (pp. 54 – 55) [cited in Crowe 297]. Birks writes an imaginary comment by Christ during the Wedding at Cana:
My hour to people these worlds of light with myriad worshippers is not yet come. Your planet, little though it is…, is the Bethlehem where I now choose to reveal the mystery of my love to sinners, the guilty and despised Nazareth of the wide universe from which streams of light and heavenly wisdom shall go forth to gladden the countless worlds I have made (cited in Crowe 297).
Birks implies that “when the work of redemption is complete, a celestial emigration may begin from our little planet….It may be, that as fresh planets are prepared…to receive a race of inhabitants, unborn patriarchs may be sent forth, like Noah, to people its desolate heritage….” (p. 63) [cited in Crowe 297].
Hugh Miller (1802 – 1856) believes that Christ’s Redemptive work applies to ET’s, denying multiple incarnations of the Logos, asserting that “though only one planet and one race may have furnished the point of union between the Divine and the created nature, the effects of that junction may extend to all created nature….If it was necessary that the point of junction be somewhere, why not here?” (p. 33) [cited in Crowe 322]. Miller appears to desire to maintain the integrity of both pluralism and Christianity by defending both revelation and natural theology (ibid.).
Rev. Josiah Crampton (1809 – 1883) favors pluralism by claiming that the Christian belief that Jesus ascended into heaven is proof that the “material heavens [are] places of habitation” (p. 30) [cited in Crowe 335]. Rev. Robert Knight wrote in 1855 that Scripture indicates that the Incarnation of the Logos is a unique event affecting the whole universe (Crowe 336).
An anonymous author in 1858 wrote The Stars and the Angels which claims that Jesus redeems only human beings of Earth yet supports pluralism by saying that the inhabitants of other worlds are also made in the image of God (Crowe 340). The author speculates that humans from earth may resurrect to become inhabitants of other worlds (ibid.). Rev. Charles Louis Hequembourg in 1859 agrees with the theory that humans resurrect to become inhabitants of other worlds (Crowe 344 – 345). An anonymous review of Whewell writes in favor of pluralism while maintaining that the Incarnation occurred only on the Earth while the benefits extend to ET’s (Crowe 349).
Camille Flammarion (1842 – 1925) is a French enthusiast of pluralism who expresses belief in the non-Christian metemphyschosis and transmigration of souls to other planets. Nevertheless, Flammarion expresses support for Brewster’s contention that Christ’s Redemptive work affects ET’s (Crowe 383).
Abbe Francois Moigno (1804 – 1884) says that he received permission from “the Commission of the Roman Index to declare formally to [Flammarion] that the creation and the redemption are by no means an obstacle to the existence of other worlds, of other suns, of other planets, etc., etc” (cited in Crowe 414). Jules Boiteux, while maintaining the ET’s may not have fallen, does not preclude the possibility of multiple incarnations even while suggesting that Christ’s redemptive work on Earth extends to ET’s (Crowe 415). Pierre Corbet wrote in an 1894 essay in Cosmos that the Logos may have become Incarnate on Earth because “the human race is perhaps…the most guilty of all [and had] the greatest need to profit directly from the redemption” (p. 273) [cited in Crowe 416]. Corbet denies that Christ became Incarnate elsewhere arguing in favor of the uniqueness of the Incarnation on Earth even while favoring the extension of the benefits of Christ’s redemptive work to ET’s. Corbet writes that perhaps ET’s benefit from the redemptive work of Christ without knowing it in the same way that a baby benefits from Baptism without knowing how or why (Crowe 417). His intent is, as a Catholic, to combat the view that pluralism somehow stands in direct opposition to the Christian faith (ibid.). Theophile Ortolon (b. 1861) cites Scripture passages such as the shepherd searching for the one lost lamb while leaving the others behind and the one in which Christ says “In my Father’s house are many mansions” to support his pluralist interpretations (Crowe 417). Ortolan suggests that either extending the benefits of Christ to ET’s or claiming that ET’s have not fallen are equally supportable by Scripture and Christian theology.
Johann Ebrard (1818 –1888) wrote against pluralism and multiple incarnations while simultaneously claiming that applying Christ’s redemptive work to ET’s does not contradict Christian theology (Crowe 428). Catholics and Protestants alike posit on the subject of ET’s and Christianity both positively and negatively in the 19th century and into the 20th century.
Aubrey de Vere (1814 – 1902), a Catholic poet, wrote “The Death of Copernicus” in which the fictional Copernicus reflects:
‘Tis Faith and Hope that spread delighted hands
To such belief; no formal proof attests it.
Concede them peopled; can the sophist prove
Their habitants are fallen? That too admitted,
Who told him that redeeming foot divine
Ne’er trode those spheres?
He goes on:
Judaea was one country, one alone:
Not less Who died there died for all. The Cross
Brought help to vanished nations: Time opposed
No bar to Love: why then should Space oppose one? [cited in Crowe 444.]
Rev. Edwin T. Winkler (1823 – 1883) wrote in favor of the view that Christ’s redemptive work extends to ET’s throughout the universe (Crowe 450).
Rev. George Mary Searle (1839 – 1918), a Catholic, acknowledges that ET’s may exist and questions why God chose Earth of all the planets in the universe upon which to Incarnate his Logos (Crowe 454). While suggesting that God may have created human-like beings on other planets, he denies multiple incarnations (ibid.). De Concilio writes that God made ET’s “in and through Christ” and that Christ’s redemptive work is universal although his Incarnation is unique to the Earth, so that ET’s who have fallen may also be saved (Crowe 455). To the criticism of Thomas Hughes (1849 – 1939), a Jesuit, who argues against De Concilio’s arguments but not his conclusions, De Concilio writes, “when Christ died and paid the ransom of our redemption, He included [extraterrestrials] also in that ransom, the value of which was infinite and capable of redeeming innumerable worlds” (Harmony between Science and Revelation, 1889, p. 232) [cited in Crowe 456].
Sir David Brewster, as mentioned above, favors the notion that Christ’s Redemptive work extends to inhabitants of other worlds. He writes, “the same constellations, Arcturus, Orion, and the Pleiades had sung together when the foundations of the world were laid and they rolled in darkness over Calvary, when the Prince of Life was slain” (19). He also writes:
If we reject, then, the idea that the inhabitants of the planets do not require a Saviour, and maintain the more rational opinion, that they stand in the same moral relation to their Maker as the inhabitants of the Earth, we must seek for another solution of the difficulty which has embarrassed both the infidel and the Christian. How can we believe, says the timid Christian, that there can be inhabitants in the planets, when God had but one Son whom He could send to save them? If we can give a satisfactory answer to this question, it may destroy the objections of the infidel, while it relieves the Christian from his anxieties.
When, at the commencement of our era, the great sacrifice was made at Jerusalem, it was by the crucifixion of a man, or an angel, or a God. If our faith be that of the Arian or the Socinian, the skeptical and the religious difficulty is at once removed: a man or an angel may be again provided as a ransom for the inhabitants of the planets. But if we believe, with the Christian Church, that the Son of God was required for the expiation of sin, the difficulty presents itself in its most formidable shape.
When our Saviour died, the influence of His death extended backwards, in the past, to millions who never heard His name, and forwards, in the future, to millions who will never hear it. Thought it radiated but from the Holy City, it reached to the remotest lands, and affected every living race in the old and the new world. Distance in time and distance in place did not diminish its healing virtue” (148 – 149).
Brewster seems to believe that the benefits of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ extend to the inhabitants of other worlds throughout the universe in the same way that they extend to the inhabitants of lands on the Earth outside Jerusalem (149 – 150).
Crowe notes that, of the published Christians examined in America and Europe between 1860 and 1900, fourteen Catholics and nineteen Protestants support pluralism while ten Catholics and four Protestants oppose pluralism (457).
ET’s may have their own theologies based on God’s intervention in the history of their worlds, but what about the Logos? Did the Logos become Incarnate only once on Earth for the salvation of all intelligent beings throughout the cosmos? Some theologians I have discussed hold the belief that Christ became incarnate on every world with intelligent beings throughout the cosmos, that he lived and died and rose again over and over again….poor Jesus! No, I will argue that, according to mainstream Christian theological principles, one must hold that the Logos became incarnate only once, and that Jesus suffered on the cross only once and rose again only once, and also that the Redemptive effects of Christ applies to ET’s. A reasonable question to ask is why did the Logos become incarnate on the Earth out of all the billions of planets in the cosmos? The answer to that question brings with it a whole host of new questions about Christ and the Incarnation and whether his redemptive work on Earth applies to all planets in the universe. Some writers, like C.S. Lewis, ponder the question and come up with the solution that other worlds need not necessarily have fallen in the same way that Adam and Eve fell from grace in the Garden of Eden, and that subsequent incarnations are therefore unnecessary. In “Religion and Rocketry,” Lewis acknowledges that God may provide inhabitants of other worlds other economies of salvation which do not necessarily involve local incarnations of the Logos/Christ (J.J. Davis 28). Some scholars contend that ET’s are not the descendents of Adam and Eve and therefore are not held to the same covenants or subject to the same inherited disease of Original Sin. Perhaps ET’s fell just as Adam and Eve fell, and so all ET races are fallen in the same way that the human race is fallen. It’s possible that falling from grace is an inevitable consequence of free will. (Augustine and Aquinas do not necessarily agree on this point.) Origen argues that falling from grace is an inevitable consequence of intellectual life while Paul Tillich argues that it is an inevitable consequence of existence (O’Meara 11). I will argue that it is consistent with Christian theology to maintain that ET’s have fallen into sin as an inevitable consequence of free will stemming from intelligence and that the unique Incarnation on Earth as well as the unique Crucifixion and Resurrection purchased the benefits of salvation to sinful humans and sinful ET’s alike. O’Meara argues that we should not impose humanity’s fall from grace and salvation history onto extraterrestrial civilizations, but I think that, inasmuch as sin is inevitable for members of any civilization, the humanity and divine nature of Christ necessitate his extending his grace to inhabitants of other worlds.
O’Meara notes, “When some Protestant theologies identify salvation, sanctification, and redemption with Calvary’s atonement, they conflate quite different enterprises. Incarnation precedes and follows (in the Resurrection) the sufferings of Jesus. The Cross is not the only theology of redemption, nor is it doctrinally the necessary or full purpose of Incarnation” (11). Indeed, the position of the Catholic Church is that everything Jesus said and did is redemptive including his Incarnation, birth, teachings, healings, miracles, passion, suffering, crucifixion, death, Resurrection, and ascension. I maintain that the Incarnation is unique to the Earth, although Jesus may have visited and continue to visit other worlds throughout the cosmos. O’Meara suggests that divine messengers on other worlds may bring important theological messages of truth, but they would not be incarnations (11). In the same paragraph, O’Meara seems to suggest that other incarnations are possible; I’m a little confused about what his position is. [Note: Let Tim read this article to see what he thinks.]
Joseph Pohle (1852 – 1922) says, “No reason compels us to extend to other worlds our own sinfulness and to think of them as caught up in evil….But even when the evils of sin have infected those worlds it does not follow that an incarnation or redemption must have taken place. God has many other means by which to remit guilt” (cited in O’Meara 6). O’Meara continues, “Pohle wonders whether the Incarnation did not occur on earth precisely because our world is weak, small, and not particularly significant. There might be much greater and more impressive planets and planetary systems that have or need no Incarnation, an event giving ‘little earth’ a central significance in a wide cosmos” (6). Indeed, in Scripture, God typically chooses the weakest and least significant people through whom to show forth his power, so it may very well be that God chose earth for these reasons upon which to become Incarnate.
Mainstream Protestants, like mainstream Catholics, are more sympathetic to the view that ET’s are not demons but are probably ordinary people just like we are. The Reverend Billy Graham, a modern Baptist minister who has written many popular books, writes, "I firmly believe there are intelligent beings like us far away in space who worship God, but we would have nothing to fear from these people. Like us, they are God's creation" (cited in Peters, "Contemporary Theology" 2). Billy Graham also writes in a book on angels, "Some...have speculated that UFOs could very well be part of God's angelic host who preside over the physical affairs of universal creation. While we cannot assert such a view with certainty...nothing can hide the fact that these unexplained events are occurring with greater frequency around the entire world...UFOs are astonishingly angel-like in some of their reported appearances" (ibid.).
E.A. Milne in Modern Cosmology and the Christian Idea of God writes that many people have trouble with the concept of the Incarnation in a universe teeming with intelligent life (J.J. Davis 26 – 27). In response to the suggestion of multiple incarnations, Milne writes that a disciple of Jesus would “…recoil in horror from such a conclusion” and avers that Christians cannot believe in their wildest dreams the notion of “…the Son of God suffering vicariously on each of a myriad of planets” (ibid. 27). Milne defends the uniqueness of the Incarnation and Atonement by appealing to the uniqueness of the Earth. He suggests that the necessity of multiple incarnations can be avoided with the evangelization of ET’s by radio (ibid.).
E.L. Mascall in Christian Theology and Natural Science (1956) disagrees with Milne, claiming that no sound theological reasons exist to deny multiple incarnations and atonements (J.J. Davis 27). J.J. Davis writes:
If the Incarnation involved no diminution in deity, why could not the Son of God, in principle, assume other created natures? For Mascall, there would seem to be no compelling reason why “other finite rational natures should not be united to that person too.” This raises the somewhat bizarre image not of the historical “God-man,” but of a “bionic Redeemer” who unites to his divine nature not only the nature of Homo Sapiens but the natures of many other sentient, embodied creatures as well (27).
Mascall acknowledges that other races of intelligent creatures may have so different a civilization that incarnations of Christ on such worlds are unnecessary (J.J. Davis 27).
Father Andrew Greeley, a popular Catholic writer of both nonfiction and science fiction, has written stories in which angels like Gabriel are portrayed as ET’s with unusually long lifespans who serve God as messengers. Father Greeley sent me email in 1996 in which he says, “I think your idea of a survey of what Catholics believe about other life in other places is great. My own feeling is that the Church should be very modest about what it says on the subject and about evangelizing what might be other economies of salvation. We should not mess up as we did in India and Japan when the Jesuit attempt to adjust to those cultures was slapped down by Rome.”
Krister Stendahl, former Bishop of Stockholm and former Dean of Harvard Divinity School, writes at a symposium sponsored by NASA in 1972, when asked about contact with ETs, "That's great. It seems always great to me, when God's world gets a little bigger and I get a somewhat more true view of my place and my smallness in that universe" (ibid.).
A. Durwood Foster asks, "is faith in any way threatened by the possibilities here in view? Why should it be?" (ibid.). Foster suggests that the abiding mystery of God means that we should be open to the prospects of the unanticipated, including, one must assume, encounters with ETs (ibid.). (See section on Scripture below.)
Wolfhart Pannenberg (German theologian) asserts the possibility of ETs in solar systems of the Milky Way or other galaxies. Pannenberg does not follow the Tillich line, arguing that the incarnation of the Logos is Jesus Christ alone through whom the entire created universe came into existence. Through Christ alone God has chosen to bring the entire universe, all of space and time, into a unified whole (Peters, "Contemporary Theology" 4).
Lewis Ford, one of the disciples of the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead known as process theologians, says, "salvation is not just limited to men but applies to all intelligent beings wherever they may dwell" (ibid.). Ford asserts that God causes evolution to occur throughout the universe so that God causes in a good way a universe that is more integrated and precious in his eyes and includes both terrestrial and extraterrestrial complex beings for whom he sets in motion processes so that they evolve and develop.
Charles Davis, a widely respected Catholic scholar in Britain who later left the Church, writes “The Place of Christ” in 1960 in which he argues that the events surrounding the experiences of Jesus Christ are the center of all of space and time (711). The reason why Christ is the center of the universe is because Jesus is God, and the God-man permeates the cosmos (ibid.), filling everything with his presence and infusing everyone on all inhabited planets with his grace and love which everyone can accept or reject as they choose. Humanity’s place in the universe as only one species among many does not conflict with Christocentrism (ibid.). What is the relationship of inhabitants of other worlds to Christ? Davis writes:
The entire material creation is understood as involved in His work and destined to be transformed by the glory of His resurrection. This is an anthropocentric view of the universe, based on the primacy of Christ, and Catholic theology has long accepted its application to creatures naturally superior to man, the angels. Must it be extended to embrace other possible rational creatures, so that man would remain, whatever the physicists might say, the centre of the cosmos? He would not be the centre in a physical sense nor according to the natural order, but according to that higher plan or pattern which God has decreed for this universe and which is known to us only by faith. The fact of the incarnation and the exaltation of human nature in Christ would give man this central position….all the movements and forces of the universe and history are taken up into a higher integration, which is supernatural and centred on Christ (712 – 713).
Davis’s article implies that, if there are multiple incarnations, then Christ’s work on Earth loses “its universal significance” (cf. 713 – 715). If Christ became incarnate a multiplicity of times on a multiplicity of worlds, then our understanding of the Second Coming would be adversely affected. If Christ comes millions of times, what is the significance of his coming again to Earth? (715). If Christians have no Christocentric view of the universe, then we cease to believe that Christianity has a unique message affecting the whole of Creation, and if we cease to believe the message of Christ, the Gospel, the Good News of God in Christ, is unique, then we cease to practice Christianity because we have reduced the Incarnation of God to a mere local event with only local implications (cf. 716). Davis cited Colossians 1:15-19, Ephesians 1, Hebrews 1, and 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 to support his contention that Christ’s atoning work is universal in scope (ibid.). Jesus demands that Christians submit to him as a Person and experience him in a deeply personal relationship in a way that is central to the Catholic faith, and for this reason Christ’s Person, the Being of God the Son, is the center of all of space and time, so that Christ is the God of all inhabitants of all inhabited worlds including Earth (717). In other words, Christ is not a local god with only local powers but the cosmic God with cosmic powers who became mortal on what some astronomers consider to be an insignificant world in the spiral arm of an ordinary galaxy, but God is described in the Bible as often raising up insignificant people through whom to show his great power. Christ, the God-man, is unique, and Christians accept no substitutions. In the Creed, Christians aver “We believe in one God…etc.” Thus, it seems consistent with Christian theology to believe that Christ is the unique God of the universe who rules all inhabitants on all inhabited worlds.
Some Fundamentalist Protestants who are literalists seem to hold the view that ETs cannot exist because the Bible says nothing about them. Therefore, belief in ETs is anti-Biblical and de facto anti-Christian. These Fundamentalists seem to hold the view that Jesus died for the sins of human beings only and not ETs because the Bible says only that Jesus died for human beings and does not say he died for ETs. The argument is unfounded because it claims that anything the Bible doesn't mention is untrue or unreal. This goes against John 21:25, "There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written." The Bible also does not mention automobiles, computers, and the Internet, but that doesn't mean these things don't exist.
Some Fundamentalists seem to hold the view that belief in ETs supports the theory of evolution since the ETs must have evolved separately on different worlds, and the theory of evolution they regard as a direct threat to their Christian faith because they believe God created the Earth and humanity alone in all the universe. Frank Allnut avers that UFOs are demons threatening to steal salvation from otherwise God-fearing Christians by causing them to believe the ETs may teach us a better way of life and religion when nothing is better than faith in Jesus Christ since in Christ alone can humans find redemption.
What is the Catholic response? These Fundamentalist views give rise to the need for a Catholic response; Catholics have often been more open than conservative Protestant authors. Historically, Catholics are more open to the topic than others. Increasingly, Fundamentalists are loosening their stridency against evolution theory in the past 15 or so years. Perhaps 7 days of creation are metaphorical and not necessarily 24 hour days is an increasingly acceptable idea among Fundamentalists recently. They believe we must redo interpretations while keeping Scripture infallible. Nevertheless, the main assessment is that Fundamentalists are historically opposed to evolution. What is at risk when someone says that ETs can be saved? For some Fundamentalists, what is at risk is demoting humanity to a lesser position in the eyes of God. As a Catholic, I believe that the salvation of ET’s promotes humanity to an even greater position in the eyes of God: that of witnesses to Christ whose purpose is to spread the Good News throughout the cosmos.
Conclusion to Chapter 1
The dispute within Christianity over the Incarnation of the Logos and the Redemption of the people of the Earth with respect to the possibility of the Incarnation on other worlds and the Redemption of ET’s permeates religious writings of both Catholics and Protestants during and prior to the 19th century. Tension between pluralism and Christianity contributed to many notable figures abandoning Christianity (Paine, Shelley, Emerson, Flammarion, Harrison, Twain, and others). Indeed, Maunder and Whewell oppose pluralism precisely because for them it conflicts with their Christian faith (Crowe 557). Distinctions among Catholics and the denominations disappear in the debate over ET’s, with many Christians favoring pluralism for the sake of Christianity and with many non-Christians favoring pluralism at the expense of Christianity as well as many Christians opposing pluralism on religious grounds and many non-Christians opposing pluralism for non-religious reasons.
Chapter 2: Scripture and ET’s and Christ
Does Scripture support the idea that the redemptive work of Christ extends to ET’s throughout the cosmos? I will argue that the Scriptural usage of the term kosmos implies that the message of Christ, the Gospel, applies to all intelligent beings throughout the universe. If the Incarnation is an event unique to the Earth yet with universal effects, then it follows that Scripture should support this view. Brewster writes:
Neither in the Old nor in the New Testament is there a single expression incompatible with the great truth, that there are other worlds than our own which are the seats of life and intelligence. Many passages of Scripture, on the contrary, are favourable to the doctrine, and there are some, we think, which are inexplicable, without admitting it to be true. The beautiful text, for example, in which the Psalmist [Psalm 8:3-4 – cms] expresses his surprise that the Being who fashioned the heavens and ordained the moon and the stars, should be mindful of so insignificant a being as man, is, we think, a positive argument for a plurality of worlds (9 – 10)….He whom God made a little lower than the angels, whom He crowned with glory and with honour, and for whose redemption He sent His only Son to suffer and to die, could not, in the Psalmist’s estimation, be an object of insignificance, and measured, therefore, by his high estimation of man, his idea of the heavens, the moon, and the stars must have been of the most transcendent kind (10 – 11)….The Psalmist must, therefore, have written under the impression either that the planets and stars were worlds without life, or worlds inhabited by rational and immortal beings (11).
Thomas O’Meara writes:
Our species on earth is the subject of the biblical narratives. At no point in the Hebrew or Christian Scriptures do we learn that there is another race elsewhere in the universe, or that there is not. Nor is there any reason to think that the “economy of salvation,” a phrase of Greek theologians, is anything other than a divine enterprise for our terrestrial race, the people in and for which it is enacted. It is superficial and arrogant to assert that the Christian or Jewish revelation of a wisdom plan for salvation history on earth is about other creatures. Faith affirms that the Logos has been incarnate on a planet located, in past Ptolemaic astronomy, in a small, closed system. The Logos, the second person of the divine Trinity, indeed has a universal domination, but Jesus, Messiah and Savior, has a relationship to terrestrials existing within one history of sin and grace (8).
I disagree that Jesus is not the Savior of extraterrestrials. I will argue that the Greek word kosmos is a term which has a history of specific meanings depending on the scientific level of the time and culture in which the word appears. In New Testament times, I will argue that kosmos means more than simply the world which today we call the Earth but means everything in what we now call the universe or cosmos. I am not attempting to prove that Scripture references to the kosmos are consistent with Einstein and modern astrophysical concepts. Rather, I’m simply saying that our understanding of the term has evolved over the centuries (cf. Ramm 65-66). For this reason, I will argue that Scripture attests the universality of the Incarnation and Redemptive work of Christ. Furthermore, since the Incarnation and Redemptive work of Christ have universal effects, I will argue that these events cause the salvation of not only human beings but also of ET’s.
O’Meara suggests that Christ as begotten Son (not created) makes Jesus greater than celestial beings, arguing that the Resurrection is the means of comprehending Christ’s relationship to the Church and is meant to be understood eschatologically (8 – 9). The story of Jesus is the story of Creation, especially in the sense that every newborn Christian is a new creation in Christ. Christ’s Resurrection causes believers to die in Baptism and be reborn as new creations in Christ. In my opinion, extraterrestrials can also experience this spiritual rebirth in the waters and Spirit of Baptism. The message of Christ is truly universal, in the eyes of the faithful, and so should apply to inhabitants of other worlds. I believe that the universality of the Incarnation and Resurrection is consistent with Scripture and Christian theology. For O’Meara, Christ is the crux of terrestrial theology, but I think Christian theology should expand to include exotheology if Christianity is to survive in a post-discovery-of-ET’s universe. O’Meara also notes, “Roch Kereszty reflects on the probability of other worlds and their relationships to the Son through incarnation, redemption, or another stance. He notes that without qualifying God’s freedom the divine plan, as we experience it, suggests the offer of divine personal communion to intelligent creatures, and in this hypothetical theology Kereszty grounds a view of the cosmos as populated by creatures who are – in graced nature – our relatives” (10). In my opinion, it is consistent with Scripture and Christian theology to say that the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ makes humans and extraterrestrial intelligent beings brothers and sisters. It is consistent to say that all intelligent creatures, regardless of the color of their skin or the shape of their form, are made in the spiritual image of God and can be reborn in the spiritual image of Christ.
According to Crowe, the following scholars cite Scripture to support ET life: Beattie (102), Brewster (303), Burr (451), T. Dick (197, 200-201), Ilive (37), E. King (104), R. Knight (336), Lord (343), Montignez (412-413), and Sturmy (35).
According to Crowe, the following scholars cite Scripture in opposition to ET life: Catcott (92), Kurtz (262), Leavitt (342), A. Maxwell (195), Thomas Aquinas (4), J. Wesley (94).
Let’s take a look at some passages from the Bible in a moment. These passages mean more than has traditionally been said. But before we begin, let’s define some terminology.
How we define the words “cosmos,” often translated “world” or “universe,” has direct bearing on the theological discussion surrounding Christ’s Redemptive work with respect to both humans and ET’s. Examination of the meanings of words often directly impacts our interpretation of Scripture.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the English word “cosmos”:
Cosmos (‘kozmos) Also 7 cosmus, 9 kosmos. [a. Gr. Kosmos order, ornament, world or universe (so called by Pythagoras or his disciples ‘from its perfect order and arrangement’).]
The world or universe as an ordered and harmonious system.
1650 BULWER Anthropomet. Xv. 149 As the greater World is called Cosmus from the beauty thereof. 1848 tr. Humboldt’s Cosmos (Bohn) I. 53 In this work I use the word Cosmos..[as] the assemblage of all things in heaven and earth, the universality of created things, constituting the perceptible world. 1865 GROTE Plato I. i. 12 The Pythagoreans conceived the Kosmos, or the universe, as one single system, generated out of numbers. 1869 PHILLIPS Vesuv. Xii. 324 A complete history of volcanos should..be in harmony with the general history of the cosmos. 1874 BLACKIE Self Cult. 11 Were it not for the indwelling reason the world would be a chaos and not a cosmos.
transf. An ordered and harmonious system (of ideas, existences, etc.), e.g. that which constitutes the sum-total of ‘experience’.
T. H. GREEN Proleg. Ethics 145 Sensations which do not amount to perceptions, make no lodgment in the cosmos of our experience, add nothing to our knowledge. 1885 CLODD Myths & Dr. II. Iii. 155 The confusion which reigns in his [man’s] cosmos extends to his notion of what is in the mind and what is out of it.
Order, harmony: the opposite of chaos.
CARLYLE Fredk. Gt. II. I, Hail, brave Henry..still visible as a valiant Son of Cosmos and Son of Heaven. 1872 W. MINTO Eng. Prose Lit. I.iii.187 Work, the panacea which alone brings order out of confusion, cosmos out of chaos.
The Greek word kosmos means “world” or “universe” or “known sphere of existence” or “realm of existence.” The word world meant to the ancient Greek astronomers, particularly the Epicureans, a system with its own earth, sun, planets and stars. The ancient Greeks thought of heaven (or the sky) as the Source of which was infinite Nature. Later theologians interpreted the Source as being an all-powerful Creator-God. (Zeus is the god of the sky.) The ancient Hebrews thought of the sky as a physical vault holding back a watery chaos, and when God opened the sluice-gates water fell through in a process we call rain. So, kosmos is a combination of the Earth and the sky along with the heaven’s contents. Both the Hebrews and the Greeks thought of the sky as one-dimensional, though the ancient Greeks knew that the Earth was round. The Friberg lexicon defines kosmos as follows:
16161 ko,smoj, ou, o` basically something well-arranged; (1) adornment, adorning (1P 3.3); (2) as the sum total of all created beings in heaven and earth world, universe (AC 17.24); (3) as all human beings mankind, humanity, all people (MK 16.15); (4) as this planet inhabited by mankind world, earth (MT 16.26; JN 11.9); (5) morally, mankind as alienated from God, unredeemed and hostile to him world (1J 5.19); (6) sum total of particulars in any one field of experience, world, totality (JA 3.6)
In the following Scripture verses, I am using the New American Bible for Catholics translation while using my own translation of the Greek word kosmos as “cosmos” instead of “world.” The idea of the universality of God’s message is implied in the usage of the word kosmos in these passages, although this translation/interpretation is, as far as I know, original with me.
The author of the New Testament letters of John regards Jesus as a universal savior. By universal, the author means everyone in the entire cosmos, although, as I said earlier, kosmos means to John (who is writing for an audience of Gentiles who are Greek-speakers since Greek is the lingua franca of the first century A.D.) the Earth and the sky with all its one-dimensional contents. Since many passages in the Bible imply things to later generations that were not obvious to the author, it follows that the usage of the word kosmos in the Bible implies a larger, more complex universe than that originally envisaged by the authors. Let’s take a look at some passages from John the Evangelist and epistolary:
1 John 2:2: He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole cosmos.
This verse is commonly read to mean that Jesus expiates the sins of human beings, but can it also be interpreted to mean that Jesus expiates the sins of ET’s throughout the “whole cosmos”? Is the crucifixion a universal event with universal effects? Again, we may interpret this passage to have a greater meaning than that which was originally intended by John so that the notion of Jesus saving both humans and ET’s by his crucifixion and resurrection is consistent with scholarly hermeneutics. Let’s look two more passages:
John 6:33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the cosmos.
John 6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the cosmos.
The reference by Christ to the Eucharist in these passages implies that Christians need to bring their celebrations of Communion to ET’s throughout the cosmos, so that they too can participate in the sacred mysteries of the Christian faith. Many Christians want ET’s to participate in their own salvation and experience the unity of the Communion of Saints by receiving the Eucharist. The only problem I foresee is the possibility that the physiology of ET’s might not allow them to receive the accidents of bread and wine when consuming the Body and Blood of Christ. For humans, bread is the staff of life, but for some ET’s bread might be poison. This may be extremely problematic in that the Church regards the Elements of bread and fermented wine to be essential to the celebration, since Jesus used bread made from wheat and fermented wine in his original Last Supper. Thus, this passage may lend support to the view that ET’s may need other economies of salvation. I argue, however, that “bread” may have a larger meaning than the Christian Eucharist and may mean that ET’s who embrace Christ spiritually consume “the living bread that came down from heaven” to effect their salvation. Here’s one more passage from John the Evangelist:
John 9:5 While I am in the cosmos, I am the light of the cosmos.
Genesis tells us that light was the first of all things created, but this light is a supernal light that does not come from the sun and other stars, since the Logos created the sun and the stars on the fourth day. The Logos is the true light which illumines our souls and enlightens our minds and brightens our spirits. Scripture also tells us that “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5b). Also, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the kosmos” (John 1:9). If, as Christians believe, Jesus is the Logos who is the light illuminating the human race, then it is consistent with Christian theology that, by bringing the good news to ET’s, the light may well illumine them as well. Now let’s take a look at Mark the Evangelist:
Mark 16:15 He said to them, "Go into the whole cosmos and proclaim the gospel to every creature."
According to Scripture, the so-called Great Commission tells Christians to spread the Gospel to every “creature,” a word meaning “creation of God.” If creatures as creations of God exist throughout the cosmos, Scripture passages such as this one may indicate that it is our duty as Christians to develop new ways of exploring space so that we can go to other worlds and spread the Gospel to ET’s. Mark also suggests that the Second Coming of Christ will be universal extending to ET’s throughout the cosmos:
Mark 13:26-27 And then they will see "the Son of Man coming in the clouds" with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather (his) elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.
According to Christian Tradition, Jesus will come again at the Parousia to gather his elect from all over the Earth, and the text implies everywhere in space. All over the Earth may mean he will gather all the chosen human beings, while everywhere in the sky may mean all chosen ET’s. Going back to John the Evangelist again, the author implies that humans are not the only creatures subject to Christ’s salvific work:
John 10:16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
A Durwood Foster cites John 10:16 to support the contention that the "other sheep" referred to may be ETs, saying, "[t]he love of God manifest in Jesus Christ has surely not remained unknown wherever there is spiritual receptivity" (cited in Peters, "Contemporary Theology" 2). Jesus may lead these ET’s through the activity of the Church throughout the cosmos. The Church’s mission, as stated above, is to bring the good news to ET’s so that they can be led by Christ. It’s possible that Christ himself appeared to ET’s on their own worlds, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he would appear in human form. The disciples did not recognize the resurrected Jesus until he revealed himself to them in the breaking of the bread. A book called Faces of Jesus features pictures of Jesus as black, white, Japanese, Indian, and so forth. We all see Jesus in terms of our own cultural upbringing, and it may be no different with ET’s. We just don’t know for certain. As Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on Earth?” (Luke 18:8b). This may be the primary concern of Christians – before Christians can bring the faith to ET’s, they must first be examples of faith on Earth. Then, seeing their faith, ET’s may come to recognize the truth Jesus taught.
Brewster supports my interpretation of certain Scripture passages as evidence for the plurality of worlds theory. He writes:
It is evident, from the text we have been considering [Psalm 8:3-4 above – cms], and from other passages of Scripture, that the word Heavens, so distinctly separated from the moon and the stars, represents a material creation, the work of God’s fingers, and not a celestial space in which spiritual beings may be supposed to dwell; and hence we are entitled to attach the same meaning to the term wherever it occurs, unless the context forbids such an application of it. The writers, both in the Old and New Testament, speak of the heavens as a separate material creation from the earth, and there are passages which seem very clearly to indicate that they were regarded as the seat of life. When Isaiah [14:22] speaks of the heavens being spread out as a tent to dwell in, when Job [9:8-9] tells us that God, who spread out the heavens, made Arcturus, Orion and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south, and when Amos [9:6] speaks of Him who buildeth His stories in the heavens, (His house of many mansions,) they use terms which clearly indicate that the celestial spheres are the seat of life. In the book of Genesis [2:1], too, God is said to have finished the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them. Nehemiah [9:6] declares that God made the heaven, the heaven of heavens, and all their host, the earth and all things that are therein, and that the host of heaven worship Him. The Psalmist [33:6] speaks of all the host of the heavens as made by the breath of God’s mouth, (the process by which He gave life to Adam;) and Isaiah [14:12] furnishes us with a striking passage, in which the occupants of the earth and of the heavens are separately described. “I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.” But in addition to these obvious references to life and things pertaining to life, we find in Isaiah [14:18] the following remarkable passage, “For thus saith the Lord, that created the heavens, God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it NOT IN VAIN, he formed it TO BE INHABITED.” Here we have a distinct declaration from the inspired prophet, that the earth would have been created IN VAIN if it had not been formed to be inhabited; and hence we draw the conclusion, that as the Creator cannot be supposed to have made the worlds of our system, all those in the sidereal universe in vain, they must have been formed to be inhabited.
In the New Testament we find passages not only in perfect harmony with the doctrine of a plurality of worlds, but which cannot be well explained without admitting it to be true. When St. John [1:3] tells us that the Worlds were made by the word of God, and St. Paul [Hebrews 1:3], that by our Saviour, the heir of all things, were made the worlds, we cannot suppose that they mean Globes of matter revolving without inhabitants, or without any preparation for receiving them. Our Saviour is described [Ephesians 1:9-10] as having made All things, and God is spoke of as purposing to “gather together in one all things in Christ which are in the Heavens, and which are on the Earth.” The creations thus described, under the name of all things, are clearly creations in the heavens, or above them, for Paul tells us [Ephesians 4:10] that Christ “ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.” In another place the Apostle speaks [Ephesians 3:9-11] of the “mystery hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ; to the intent that now, unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.” When our Saviour speaks of the sheepfold of which He is the door, and of the sheep who follow Him and know His voice, and for whom He was to lay down His life, He adds, “and other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd” [John 10:16] (12 – 14).
Brewster, then, clearly demonstrates my position that Scripture supports the plurality of worlds theory including the notion that Christ not only came for humans but also for inhabitants of other worlds.
The Pauline and pseudo-Pauline epistles also speak of the universality of the Creator who made the Earth and all the planets in the cosmos:
Hebrews 1:2 In these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe (NAB).
Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible (NAB).
Psalm 90:2 Before the mountains were born, the earth and the world brought forth, from eternity to eternity you are God.
[Note: The Greek word aiwn aiwnos (age, world order, eternity) is used in both Psalm 90:2 (Septuagint) and Hebrews 1:2 and 11:3.] These passages indicate that God made all the worlds in the universe, creating both the material universe and the spiritual universe. Since God made all the worlds, it follows that he made any inhabitants upon them and that he is just as concerned about their salvation as he is about the salvation of the inhabitants of the Earth. Since God lives in eternity, he has all of time to effect the salvation of the peoples of the universe, and it is consistent with Christian theology to believe that the Redemptive work of Christ has efficacy for humans and ET’s alike. Matthew the Evangelist supports this contention when Matthew’s Jesus speaks of the salvation of the good and punishment of the evil:
Matthew 13:37-39 [Jesus] said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the cosmos, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age and the harvesters are angels.
This passage may be interpreted to mean that Jesus sows children of the kingdom throughout the cosmos and will separate the good from the evil among both humans and ET’s at the end of the age. The text presupposes the Resurrection of Christ since God the Father will grant to him “all power in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18), implying that the Resurrection is a universal event affecting both humans and ET’s, as the Apostle Paul says, “[He] was handed over for our transgressions and was raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Lewis suggests that Romans 8:19-23 implies that Paul, looking forward to the redemption of the cosmos, believes the benefits of the Atonement may extend to inhabitants of other worlds (J.J. Davis 28).
J.J. Davis discusses Colossians 1:15-20 as providing Scriptural evidence that fallen beings throughout the universe may be redeemed by the Incarnation and atoning work of Christ on Earth without the necessity of multiple incarnations and atonements (28). Davis writes:
It is evident that in the Christological hymn of Colossians 1:15-20 redemption is cosmic in scope. The fact that in the space of six verses there are seven occurrences of the words “all,” “all things,” or “everything” is a clear indication that the redemptive effects of the atoning death of Christ are not limited to humanity, but extend in some way to the entire created universe. The apostle stresses in the most emphatic way the absolute supremacy of Christ in every realm of space, time, and human experience. This supremacy of Christ is asserted in creation (vv. 15, 16), providence (v. 17), incarnation (v. 19), reconciliation (v. 20), resurrection (v.l 18b), and in the church (v. 18a) .
Davis goes on to assert, essentially, that Christ is Lord of all Creation, the entire cosmos, who established order in the universe (31). Christ is the cause, the goal, and the end of the orderly universe (cf. John 1:3 and 1 Corinthians 8:6) . Both the pre-existent and existent Christ permeate Creation in a way that provides a stabilizing force in the structure of the universe (32). Christ’s atoning death on the cross fills all of space and time and is the crux of the space-time continuum, the center of the universe and the center of time (32 – 33). Obviously, then, the benefits of the work of Christ extend to inhabitants of other worlds throughout the universe (33). Davis speaks of Reformation theology, specifically the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), which asserts that “Christ the Mediator….fully satisfied the justice of his Father, and purchased…reconciliation…for all those whom the Father hath given him” and that the benefits of the Redemption permeate all of time, and if the Redemption is not limited by time, then it is not limited by space either, so that Christ’s work on Earth redeems intelligent beings throughout God’s created and divinely sustained universe (33 – 34). Thus, inhabitants of other worlds may be members of the elect just as people on Earth are members of the elect because all intelligent beings are redeemed people (cf. Romans 5:12 – 21 and 1 Corinthians 15:45 – 49) . Davis maintains that his “conclusion is consistent with the earlier opinions of Aquinas, Vorilong, Chalmers, and Milne, but is based on a more developed exegetical argument from biblical theology” (34).
The website www.ou.org/torah/ti/5760/vayeitzei60.htm discusses the Jewish four levels of interpreting Scripture. The first level is pshat or the literal or the plain meaning, that is, the simple reading of the text in the context of the rest of the text. The second level is remez or allusionary or the implied meaning (for example, the Torah codes). The third level is drush or exegesis or metaphorical or a non-literal reading that gives a scholarly meaning. The fourth level is sod or the hidden meaning or mystical which is synonymous with Kabbalah/Nistar. Translating the Greek word kosmos as “universe” or “known sphere of existence” is perhaps the mystical fourth level of interpretation.
The Encylopedia Britannica cites “four major types of hermeneutics….the literal, moral, allegorical, and anagogical” (Hermeneutics: Bib. Crit.):
Literal interpretation asserts that a biblical text is to be interpreted according to the “plain meaning” conveyed by its grammatical construction and historical context. The literal meaning is held to correspond to the intention of the authors. This type of hermeneutics is often, but not necessarily, associated with belief in the verbal inspiration of the Bible, according to which the individual words of the divine message were divinely chosen. Extreme forms of this view are criticized on the ground that they do not account adequately for the evident individuality of style and vocabulary found in the various biblical authors. Jerome, an influential 4th-century biblical scholar, championed the literal interpretation of the Bible in opposition to what he regarded as the excesses of allegorical interpretation. The primacy of the literal sense was later advocated by such diverse figures as Thomas Aquinas, Nicholas of Lyra, John Colet, Martin Luther, and John Calvin.
A second type of biblical hermeneutics is moral interpretation, which seeks to establish exegetical principles by which ethical lessons may be drawn from the various parts of the Bible. Allegorization was often employed in this endeavour. The Letter of Barnabas (c. 100 AD), for example, interprets the dietary laws prescribed in the Book of Leviticus as forbidding not the flesh of certain animals but rather the vices imaginatively associated with those animals.
Allegorical interpretation, a third type of hermeneutics, interprets the biblical narratives as having a second level of reference beyond those persons, things, and events explicitly mentioned in the text. A particular form of allegorical interpretation is the typological, according to which the key figures, main events, and principal institutions of the Old Testament are seen as “types” or foreshadowings of persons, events, and objects in the New Testament. According to this theory, interpretations such as that of Noah's ark as a “type” of the Christian church have been intended by God from the beginning.
Philo, a Jewish philosopher and contemporary of Jesus, employed Platonic and Stoic categories to interpret the Jewish scriptures. His general practices were adopted by the Christian Clement of Alexandria, who sought the allegorical sense of biblical texts. Clement discovered deep philosophical truths in the plain-sounding narratives and precepts of the Bible. His successor, Origen, systematized these hermeneutical principles. Origen distinguished the literal, moral, and spiritual senses but acknowledged the spiritual (i.e., allegorical) to be the highest. In the Middle Ages, Origen's threefold sense of scripture was expanded into a fourfold sense by a subdivision of the spiritual sense into the allegorical and the anagogical.
The fourth major type of biblical hermeneutics is the anagogical, or mystical, interpretation. This mode of interpretation seeks to explain biblical events as they relate to or prefigure the life to come. Such an approach to the Bible is exemplified by the Jewish Kabbala, which sought to disclose the mystical significance of the numerical values of Hebrew letters and words. A chief example of such mystical interpretation in Judaism is the medieval Zohar. In Christianity, many of the interpretations associated with Mariology fall into the anagogical category.
The Reverend Thomas Chalmers suggests that Scripture passages may have meanings beyond the original intent of the authors, and I argue that kosmos is a word whose meaning can be expanded to include the entire universe even though the original authors’ understanding of the extent of the universe was quite limited at the time of original composition. Scripture asserts that God made the heavens:
Psalm 19:1-2 The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder’s craft.
NAB Sirach 43:9 The beauty, the glory, of the heavens are the stars that adorn with their sparkling the heights of God,
NAB Habakkuk 3:3 God comes from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. Covered are the heavens with his glory, and with his praise the earth is filled.
NAB Acts 7:55 But he, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
NAB Revelation 14:7 He said in a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, for his time has come to sit in judgment. Worship him who made heaven and earth and sea and springs of water."
Scripture also indicates that Yahweh is the God of the sky or the heavens. For example, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray “Our Father who art in heaven.” Another example is the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his Baptism and also his ascent into heaven as described in Acts of the Apostles (Lewis xii). Since God lives in the sky, it follows that God is an extraterrestrial, in a sense, although not per se an inhabitant of another world but perhaps an honorary inhabitant of all worlds since God is the creator of all worlds. The very existence of all the worlds in the universe is evidence for the existence of God, leading us to the idea of a divine Designer.
The Argument from Design argues that the very existence of the universe with its consistent physical laws is evidence for the existence of God. If an intelligent being finds a watch, then, even if he has never seen a watch before and does not know its purpose, he still concludes that the watch was made by a watchmaker because the watch is obviously intelligently designed. Deep heaven is such a thing of beauty that it seems inconceivable to have been the product of a random concatenation of atoms. The same is true of living things, particularly human beings. While I disagree with Whewell about the existence of ET’s, I think Whewell was right on the mark when he said: “There is no more worthy or suitable employment of the human mind, than to trace the evidences of Design and Purpose in the Creator, which are visible in many parts of the Creation. The conviction thus obtained, that man was formed by the wisdom, and is governed by the providence, of an intelligent and benevolent Being, is the basis of Natural Religion, and thus, of all Religion” (236). Whewell cites his opponents’ position that the goodness of God necessitates a universe teeming with life because the contrary deprives other planets of the joy of life (252). Whewell has a point in disagreeing with his opponents because it seems clear that the other planets in our solar system probably do not have life on them, although some of the moons of other planets might. If some planets are deprived of the joy of life, why not all the rest of the planets throughout the universe, with only the Earth the apple of God’s eye? The best response seems to be that life is so precious that it is also rare, but neither the preciousness nor the rarity of life dictate that life is unique to one planet in a universe filled with billions of stars in billions of galaxies with billions of planets (with respect to Carl Sagan). That God created original life on Earth is certain in terms of Christian theology; it seems arrogant to me to suppose that God is not equally generous in other solar systems.
While Darwinism tells how life evolves, the theory of evolution says nothing about how life began. The creation of life is a process independent of the realm of natural laws (Whewell 252). Similarly, the Incarnation of the Logos in the womb of the Virgin Mary is a process independent of the realm of natural laws inasmuch as it is nothing less than miraculous. That said, Clarke’s Law famously states, “Any sufficiently developed technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In the technical sense, “magic” is any effect attributed to a supernatural cause. Thus, any miracle is by the technical definition a kind of magic. Hence, one might argue that the creation of original life on Earth is a miraculous event, just as is the begetting of life in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. Certainly, one is not more miraculous than the other. A miracle is a miracle. C.S. Lewis calls the Incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ “deep magic.” It would not surprise me that God causes the miracle of life on innumerable worlds, but I still maintain that the Incarnation is unique to the Earth because the resurrected flesh of Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, and this would not be true if the Logos had to become spiritual again in order to become Incarnate on world after world throughout the universe. Once flesh, always flesh, even in glorification.
Conclusion to Chapter 2:
Since God created the heavens, it follows that God created inhabitants of the worlds in the heavens. Since God is good, it is inconceivable that God does not care about ET’s in the same way he cares about inhabitants of the Earth. Scripture explicitly states that the actions of God affect the cosmos and not just the Earth, so it is consistent with Scripture to state that God became Incarnate to redeem not only sinful human beings but sinful inhabitants of other worlds as well. The view that God is in the universe and the universe is in God is known as panentheism. From the panentheistic viewpoint, all creatures naturally yearn for the God who is inside them. It is consistent with Christian theology to aver that God is the Creator of all creatures, great and small, and all intelligent creatures, human and extraterrestrial, because it is consistent with Christian Scripture.
Conclusion to Thesis:
In conclusion, I believe it is consistent with Catholic teachings that ET’s like human beings are creatures with souls made in the spiritual image of God, that the Logos is the organizing force through which God created the universe peopled with humans and ET’s, that the intelligent design of the universe implies an Intelligent Designer who is the Logos, that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is a unique universal event affecting the whole of creation, that Jesus Christ came to redeem and save ET’s as well as human beings by his grace via his life, death, and resurrection, and that the mission of the Catholic Church is to spread the Gospel throughout the cosmos, baptizing all creatures, humans and ET’s alike, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. I think that these beliefs are consistent with Christian thought and theology as well as compatible with the concepts of universal redemption, justification, sanctification, and salvation as historically posited by the Catholic Church.
Appendix A: Impact on Christianity in the 20th Century and Beyond
Empirical knowledge cannot be certain but the Catholic Church teaches that religious knowledge imparted to us via the medium of the Catholic Church is indeed certain because it is revealed by God. The position of the Catholic Church is that the Tradition of the Catholic Church is the Word of God, and the Bible is the revealed Word of God that is true because the Bible is part of the Tradition of the Catholic Church. The Bible contains stories and ideas that lend support to the argument that ETs exist in the universe. The Bible, in citations given above, support the idea that God has destined Christians to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to ETs in the far flung reaches of the universe.
The Catholic Youth Bible (New American Bible) comments on the Gospel of John 1 on page 1354:
“The ‘Cosmic Christ’: Science fiction or fantasy movies and books often include important eternal beings or powers. The Star Wars series has ‘the Force.’ The Chronicles of Narnia, a fantasy series by C.S. Lewis, has Aslan, the noble lion who is the creator and savior of Narnia. The poem that begins the Gospel of John reads like something from a great science fiction classic. Only, in this case, the story is not fiction but God’s revelation! The poem presents Jesus as the Word, who has existed from all time, the one through whom all things came into being. The Scriptures tell us a great mystery here: the man named Jesus, who lived in Nazareth some two thousand years ago, is the eternal God, who ‘became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ (Jn 1, 14). No one has ever seen God. But Jesus, the perfect image of God, ‘has revealed him’ (verse 18) in flesh and blood.”
George V. Coyne, S.J. writes, "To use the concepts coined by Galileo, both the Book of Nature and the Book of Sacred Scripture can be sources of coming to know God's love incarnate in the universe" ("Extraterrestrial Life" 185). Coyne also writes, "There is deeply embedded in Christian theology, throughout the Old and New Testament but especially in St. Paul and in St. John the Evangelist, the notion of the universality of God's redemption and even the notion that all creation, even the inanimate, participates in some way in his redemption" ("Extraterrestrial Life" 187). Michael Crowe writes, "[Reverend Robert] Knight next argues that passages in the New Testament, especially in the Pauline epistles, refer to a plurality of worlds (pp. 39-48)" (336). [Knight is an Anglican vicar in Polesworth in central England.] The divine universe-creating act is miraculous. The miracle of creation may be a breakdown in an already existing system. Genesis 1:1 seems to support such an idea by beginning its tale in medias res.
In the Modern Catholic Church, the idea of ET’s and their salvation is not new but is frequently accepted by Catholic scholars who have given the idea a reasonable amount of thought.
George Coyne of the Vatican Observatory writes positively about ET’s and their salvation.
Earnest Barnes, Bishop of Birmingham, addressed the question about ETs in his Gifford Lectures in 1927 and 1929. E. A. Milne, an Oxford cosmologist, wrote:
Is it irreverent to suggest that an infinite God could scarcely find the opportunities to
enjoy Himself, to exercise His godhead, if a single planet were the sole seat of His activities? (Davies 45).
Milne also wrote in his book Modern Cosmology and the Christian Idea of God :
It is not outside the bounds of possibility that these are genuine signals from intelligent beings on other "planets," and that in principle, in the unending future vistas of time, communication may be set up with these distant beings (Davies 45).
All Christians are "creationists" in the sense that all believe that God is our Creator, but not all creationists embrace so-called "creation science" propagated by certain Protestant evangelical groups. Certainly, the Catholic Church does not necessarily embrace so-called "creation science," as many Catholics embrace the Augustinian idea that God may have engineered the universe to produce life in the same way that engineers engineer their products to function in particular ways such as heaters being engineered to produce heat or air conditioners being engineered to produce cold air. It's possible that the creation of the first cell may have needed a divine impetus (McMullin 157). So, the development of ETs may have occurred by similar evolutionary procedures because God wants creatures to develop intelligence, indicating a guiding divine hand in the development of intelligence in God's creatures.
Carl Sagan wrote: "Space exploration leads directly to religious and philosophical questions" (Peters, "Introduction" 1). Many people seem to think that Christianity will disintegrate when ETs are encountered, but I think that, while it will have a profound effect on religious beliefs, Christianity will survive. Christianity will be strengthened by the discovery of ETs. Many Christian theologians have greeted the issue positively.
L.C. McHugh, SJ, says that ETs "would fall under the universal dominion of Christ the King, just as we and even the angels do." J. Edgar Bruns, a New Testament scholar and president of Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, says, "...the significance of Jesus Christ extends beyond our global limits. He is the foundation stone and apex of the universe and not merely the Savior of Adam's progeny" (cited in Peters, "Contemporary Theology" 3). In this view, it would seem that the Catholic Church should evangelize ETs on other worlds just as the early explorers of the New World evangelized the Indians. Karl Rahner, an important Catholic scholar, appears to have some agreement with Tillich, saying that the existence of ETs "can today no longer be excluded" (cited in Peters, "Contemporary Theology" 3). Rahner continues, "In view of the immutability of God in himself and the identity of the Logos with God, it cannot be proved that a multiple incarnation in different histories of salvation is absolutely unthinkable" with the result that human theologians "will not be able to say anything further on this question" on the grounds
that God's revelation to humanity has not yet provided any information on the matter since Christian Revelation has the task of providing information on "the salvation of humankind, not to provide an answer to questions which really have no important bearing on the realization of this salvation in freedom" (ibid.).
Grace Wolf-Chase, Ph.D. writes "One Scientist's Thoughts on the Theological Implications of the Existence of Extraterrestrial Life." In it, she cites Colossians 1:15-20: "(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible...all things have been created through him and for him...for in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven by making peace through the blood of his cross." She claims that the Incarnation and the Cross profoundly change everything in the universe (page 2). Even though we have not yet encountered ETs, it is not simply academic to explore the theological and Christological implications of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth for the entire created universe. Are all beings in the created universe separated from God as the result of the Fall of Adam and Eve? (2). She asks: "Are the 'memes' (to use Dawkins' term) of civilization as universal as the laws of nature are? Are all civilizations in the cosmos 'fallen' and in need of a savior? If so, it is not just an intellectual exercise to ask who will be their savior, or how we will relate to them as children of God" (ibid.). She also writes, "What effects might such a discovery have on our Christian understanding of God?" (4). I believe the answer to the first two questions is “yes” and to the last question the answer is a tremendous impact that will enhance and expand our understanding of God. We will no longer see God as restricted or limited to the creation of human beings exclusively but as the greater Creator of a wide variety of intelligent beings scattered throughout the cosmos. The more complex our understanding of the universe becomes, the more we realize how much more complex is the God who created that universe.
If ETs exist, did Christ come to save them? Did ETs sin and need redemption? George Coyne says "yes" to both questions (The Many Worlds and Religion). What are the theological implications for our understanding of God? Did God choose a different way to redeem ETs? Saint Paul and Saint John both speak vigorously of universal redemption and salvation, and all Creation participates in Christ's redemptive work (Coyne, Many Worlds and Religion). God sent his Son to redeem ETs (Coyne, ibid.). Can Jesus Christ the God-Human exist simultaneously on other planets? This question is difficult to answer because we lack proper knowledge of other worlds, at least at this time (Coyne, ibid.). Thomas Aquinas, while disagreeing with pluralism, nevertheless argues that all rational creatures have souls, so, if ET’s are discovered to have rational minds, it follows that ET’s have souls in need of redemption.
Some Christians are uncomfortable with the concept of ETs because it puts humans in a non-unique place in the universe. Philosophers and theologians have debated for centuries whether or not an infinite number of Sons of God will be required among ETs including an infinite number of resurrections (Tarter 144). Discovery of ETs will affect most human religions, and Christianity is no exception, but will the Catholic Church react with aplomb, outrage, reconciliation, or rejection? (cf. Tarter 144). Tarter suggests that any civilizations we detect with our radio telescopes will necessarily be longer-lived than we are precisely because it took so long for the signal to arrive on Earth, and so, being technologically superior, they will probably have outgrown religious beliefs, if they ever had religions to begin with (Tarter 145). I completely disagree. Tarter also claims that the very existence of technologically-advanced civilizations means that they either had no religion to begin with or they will have a solitary religion without disputes over its technical points (Tarter 146). I think this is nonsense. As a scientist, Tarter seems to be creating ET in her own image. That's a big mistake. Tarter says that human history shows that more technologically primitive cultures tend to adopt the religion of technologically superior cultures they encounter, so we will probably adopt the religion of ETs, if they have one. I think Tarter is ignoring the very common occurrence of syncretism in which religions tend to influence one another, and I think our encounter with ETs will no doubt result in similar syncretistic trade of religious beliefs.
Tarter creates a dichotomy between science and religion that, in my opinion, does not exist, at least in the thinking of the Catholic Church which has produced some of the greatest scientists the world has ever known. Tarter assumes that encounters with ETs will cause human religions to disintegrate under the weight of their own disproven mythologies. I think human religions will adapt the way they always do. Tarter writes, "In contrast, those religions with the most catholic of doctrines will begin to adopt a more cosmic perspective" (148). I think the Catholic Church has already adopted a more cosmic perspective and will not go quietly into the night, bowing to the altar of science. Science is not by definition atheistic, and it is wrong for both scientists and the laity to think so. Catholics in general embrace both science and religion as compatible theories of the nature of things.
Covenant Theology suggests that ETs who are not the descendents of Adam and Eve may not be bound by the covenants God made with Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. If God made other covenants with ETs, will humans respect them? McMullin says, "Baptism is open, however, to people of any race who choose to be followers of Christ" (McMullin 161). McMullin doesn't address whether Baptism is necessary for an unFallen race. Baptism may be construed as conferring grace to ETs who have sinned. I speculate that ETs are probably Fallen just like humans are because the Bible says that no one is perfect because "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," assuming that "all" includes humans and ETs.
McMullin asks, "Is salvation possible outside the chosen group?" (161). If ETs can be saved, then what is the purpose of the Bible which tells of the salvation history of God's chosen people, Jews and Christians? Will every ET race have its own "Eve" who commits Original Sin and infects the ETs with a genetic predisposition to sin? Walter Miller in "Canticle for Leibowitz" and C.S. Lewis in "Perelandra" address the question of an Eve preserving the sacred innocence of her descendants (McMullin 168). McMullin writes, "There is nothing, it would seem, about the doctrine of original sin that would make it more or less likely that there should be ETI out there in the first place" (169).
The question arises as to whether ETs have souls. It would seem that ETs must have souls given them by God in order for them to develop into a rational society. If ETs do not have souls, then, as rational creatures ourselves, we might conclude that humans have no souls, which is clearly unacceptable theology. McMullin asks, "How can we limit the ways in which the Creator of a galactic universe might relate to agents like ourselves on other distant planets?" (172). A second or multitude of incarnations on different planets is unnecessary because the grace of Jesus Christ overflows to the whole universe. The universe is fine-tuned towards life (Leslie and Coyne), so God may have established a pattern resulting in many forms of intelligent life in the universe. The anthropic principal may be invoked to assert that God deliberately fine-tuned the universe with a disposition towards the development of life, including intelligent life. God is more than a chef who put together the right ingredients to produce a miraculous universe teeming with intelligent life. Fred Hoyle suggests that the anthropic principle is evidence for the intelligent design theory (Davies 137).
What will the discovery of ETs mean for our Christian worldview and our place in the universe?
The atoning sacrifice of Christ was a onetime event which saves humans and ETs alike. C.S. Lewis in Perelandra discusses the view that some ETs may not have experienced a Fall and so may not need the atoning sacrifice of Christ. God, some think, has become incarnate in a variety of ET forms to save everyone. Rock singer Sydney Carter sang the following:
Who can tell what other cradle,
High above the Milky Way,
Still may rock the King of Heaven
On another Christmas Day?
God may appear in an infinite variety of forms on an infinite variety of worlds without diminishing his power anymore than the Cross diminished his power. The Logos who is Jesus embodies and is "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:24). Wisdom in the Old Testament is feminine, so God is both male and female, both Father and Mother, so we can assume that, since God creates intelligent beings in God's own image, ETs are also male and female.
The natural universe is sacramental in character. Catholics believe the universe contains infinite sacramentals, whereas the Greek Orthodox say all is sacrament. This is a very panentheistic view. Jesus is the God become Man who ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father because Jesus is God the Son, so all of us can become like Jesus, including ETs, assuming we evangelize them. Jesus's transformation was a prelude to the transformation all Christians experience as born-again-in-Baptism children of God. It is significant that water is an essential component in both the development of life and rebirth in Baptism. Will ETs hold the same reverence for water? Peacocke says, "But because it is (albeit unique for Christians) a manifestation of this eternal and perennial mode of God's interaction in, with, and under the created order, what was revealed in Jesus the Christ could also, in principle, be manifest both in other human beings and indeed also on other planets, in any sentient, self-conscious, nonhuman persons (whatever their physical form) inhabiting them that are capable of relating to God. This vision of a universe permeated by the ever-acting, ever-working, and potentially explicit self-expression of the divine Word/Logos was never better expressed than in the poem of Alice Meynell cited earlier in this essay.
Human life is either a fluke, a cosmological imperative, or a miracle (Paul Davies who concludes that human life is a cosmological imperative). Ernan McMullin and George Coyne discuss the view that our ideas about Christ, including his life, teachings, healings, miracles, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension might need to be modified to reflect the new cosmological order. What is Redemption for us and for ETs? Is Redemption the same for us and ETs or different? Did ETs have their own Christ and should we worship at the altar of these other "Christs"? The current Catholic view seems to be that Christ became mortal only once, died only once, and rose again only once to effect the salvation of all, including, by my theory, ETs. Some Catholics like Andrew Greeley suggest that it is presumptuous of us to think we know everything about what God has done on other worlds throughout the cosmos (personal email exchange with Fr. Greeley). Coyne suggests that Scripture and Tradition depict God as loving us without explaining himself or his creation to us (see the Book of Job in which God asks Job why he questions the justice of God in the face of the reality of the divine creation) (Dick, Many Worlds xi). Thomas Chalmers admonishes us, “Think it not enough that you carry in your bosom an expanding sense of the magnificence of creation, but pray for a subduing sense of the authority of the Creator” (Discourse VII 240).
If we accept that God became human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, then the question arises as to why God chose the Earth out of all the planets in all the galaxies in all the vast universe upon which to become Incarnate. Is the earth special or unique in some way? Some astronomers claim that the Earth is orbiting an ordinary star in the spiral arm of an ordinary galaxy of the vast universe, but what is the definition of ordinary in the context of planets? Earth may not be ordinary at all, but we currently lack the knowledge to say one way or the other with any kind of accuracy.
What is the cosmic significance of the historical Jesus who was born on an ordinary planet in an ordinary galaxy in the vast universe? Do ETs damage our theology of Christ as God Incarnate? Peacocke says, "Only a contemporary theology that can cope convincingly with such questions can hope to be credible today" (103). If the universe were governed strictly and exclusively by natural laws, then everything would be completely uniform without diversity, whereas if chaos were the norm, then no patterns would develop capable of producing life, so the only possible explanation for our orderly universe with diversity of planets and living things is that laws and chance cooperate to produce what we know as reality (Peacocke 104). Only God could have produced such an ingenious system. God is the ultimate basis and source of both law and chance (Peacocke 104).
Some science fiction authors like James Blish suggest that our Fallen nature is part of the divine order of things by depicting in his novel a planet of completely rational snakes with no war or crime that has no room for religious faith such that the planet is an object of temptation for humanity and must be destroyed/exorcised for the sake of maintaining the divine order. Walter Miller found Blish's ideas "theologically insane." Is pretereternatural innocence a threat to the
Catholic faith? C.S. Lewis maintains that humanity's Fall from Grace was neither desired nor part of the divine order of things by depicting a race on another planet whose inhabitants are not Fallen and experience thriving societies with great faith in their Creator. Some critics denounce Lewis as "anti-sf" on the theory that "real" science fiction not only does not allow for the existence of God but also is actively hostile to organized religion in general. For some authors, God is indeed persona non grata, but not so for many great science fiction writers and their stories. For many, God is just as real as the text you are reading and just as impossible to ignore.
E. A. Milne writes in his book Modern Cosmology and the Christian Idea of God :
[It is] of the essence of Christianity that God intervenes in History....God's most notable
intervention in the actual historical process, according to the Christian outlook, was the Incarnation. Was this a unique event, or has it been reenacted on each of a countless number of planets? The Christian would recoil in horror from such a conclusion. We cannot imagine the Son of God suffering vicariously on each of a myriad of planets. The Christian would avoid this conclusion by the definite supposition that our planet is in fact unique. What then of the possible denizens of other planets, if the Incarnation occurred only on our own? We are in deep waters here, in a sea of great mysteries (Davies 45-46).
Milne suggests that we humans may convey the idea of the Incarnation to ETs by means of radio technology. E. L. Mascall is a philosopher priest who completely rejects Milne's ideas in his Hampton Lectures of 1956. Mascall writes: "It is in sharp contrast with the attitude of the great classical tradition of Christian thought" with respect to the Passion of Jesus to believe that "the necessary and sufficient condition for it to be effective for the salvation of God's creatures is that they should know about it" (Davies 46). Mascall is of the opinion that Christ died and rose again only for human beings of Earth and not for ETs elsewhere in the universe. George Coyne suggests that the Incarnation of God into the forms of ETs is not necessary for ETs to be saved, claiming that God is powerful enough to save ETs who have sinned in ways other than literal incarnations (Davies 47). So, multiple incarnations of God are not only not necessary but not even likely in terms of Catholic theology. Davies writes: "The difficulty this presents to the Christian religion is that if God works through the historical process, and if mankind is not unique to his attentions, then God's progress and purposes will be far more advanced on some other planets than they are here on Earth. As Barnes pointed out long ago: 'If God only realizes Himself within an evolutionary progress, then elsewhere He has reached a splendour and fullness of existence to which Earth's evolutionary advance can add nothing'" (Davies 50). Davies believes that ETs may be more spiritually advanced than human beings, and, while some humans would regard this as an opportunity to learn more and become more spiritually advanced themselves, other humans would regard this as a threat to our species and religious convictions (Davies 50-51). Davies speculates that other intelligent beings may be right in our own backyard in the form of intelligent computers, and what does that mean for our theology? (Davies 51-53). Davies also suggests that humans will either reject religion as ETs have done, or, in the face of spiritually advanced ETs, humans will adopt their religion (Davies 54-55). I don't agree with this at all. I agree with Coyne that God chooses whatever means is best to save all people, humans and ET’s alike, but, if ET’s are more spiritually advanced than humans, then the result will be two-way syncretism of one another’s religions.
In science fiction stories, ET’s are either portrayed as conquering warriors out to destroy the Earth or space brothers here to bring peace and prosperity to all humanity. In reality, I think our encounter with ET’s will be somewhere in between: ET’s will have their own cultures whose people want to preserve their way of life even while exploring new worlds and developing new relationships with new races of beings such as humans who to them are ET’s. Just as encounters of some human cultures with other human cultures have often been both beneficial and harmful, especially to less technologically advanced cultures, so our encounters with ET’s may bring beneficent cultural exchanges as well as cultural conflicts. ET cultures may be just as varied as human cultures, and we should not expect beginning encounters to be anything other than complex. Beginnings are always delicate times. If ET’s are friendly, we may feel comfortable evangelizing them, but if they are unfriendly, we may be more cautious. Although this is a sociological issue, it has bearing on the thesis because Jesus told us not only to love one another but also to love our enemies, so how we will react to and interact religiously with friendly or unfriendly ET’s is relevant. Spreading Christianity by the sword was popular in Christian history but is Christologically unacceptable because the Catholic Church teaches that conversion must be voluntary or it means nothing. Again, although in Christian history this teaching has been honored primarily in the breach, it is important that we treat ET’s with the same respect with which we would like to be treated. As C.S. Lewis notes in Out of the Silent Planet, we may find ET’s evangelizing us.
Conclusion to Appendix A:
I believe it is consistent with Catholic theology to say that the Redemption purchased for us by the blood of Christ must apply to all people, Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, blacks and whites, humans and ET’s alike, or it means nothing. To believe that Christ died and rose again exclusively for humans of Earth is to trivialize the Gospel and mock the Cross. To preach salvation to humans alone and not also to ET’s is arrogant and unbecoming of Christians. Whether ET’s are more powerful than we are or less powerful than we are, many Christians believe we must preach the Gospel because that is our destiny. To preach to those more powerful than we are as well as less powerful than we are is to teach ourselves what true power is and what true glory is. We learn by teaching. To preach the power of the Resurrection without the scandal of the Cross is to preach healing without cleansing the wound and forgiveness without conversion. Easter without Calvary is meaningless. Believing that humans alone are the only hnau in the universe is like Easter without Calvary. For all practical purposes, it denies the magnificence of God and the glory of God’s universe.
Appendix B: Science and Faith
Science and Faith are compatible: The Catholic Church has no fear of science or scientific discovery. The Catholic Church teaches that faith and science complement one another and, when understood properly, do not conflict, so the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligent life should not adversely affect Catholic theology but rather living Tradition will develop an
evolved understanding of the nature of humanity in the vast universe. The Catholic Church teaches that the theory of evolution does not conflict with Catholic teachings. Thus, God could have initiated life to evolve on Earth as well as on other planets, and God could have created ETs in God's own image as well since God creates intelligent beings in God's spiritual image and not physical image. By exploring space and searching for extraterrestrials, humanity may one day find that what we know now is miniscule compared to what we have the power of learning.
Is the Logos the organizing force through which God created the universe peopled with humans and ET’s? Does the intelligent design of the universe imply an Intelligent Designer who is the Logos? These questions may be construed as scientific questions about the origin of the universe as well as the evolution of life throughout the cosmos. It is important to note that Darwinism tells us how life evolves but says nothing about how life began. How life began is just as mysterious to the scientist as it is to the theologian.
Pope John Paul II said:
....it is necessary for [the] relationship between faith and science to be constantly strengthened and for any past historical incidents which may be justly interpreted as being harmful to that relationship, to be reviewed by all parties as an opportunity for
reform and for pursuing more harmonious communication. In brief, it must be the sincere desire of all to learn from history so as to gain insight into the positive direction that we must take together in the future (Dick, "Extraterrestrial Life and Our World
Genesis 1-11 tells us more about God than about the way God created the universe. Sir Isaac Newton comments in his "Opticks":
"blind fate could never make all the planets move one and the same way in orbits concentrick....Such a wonderful uniformity in the planetary system, must be the effect of providence. This coplanarity has only now been understood -- it's a natural outcome of the Solar System's origin as a spinning protostellar disc" (Rees 71).
Why did the universe expand uniformly except by the guidance of the divine? Newton argues that God imposes order in the form of laws of nature on the universe. Newton also disagrees with the nebular hypothesis, arguing that it leads to atheism. In a letter to Dr. Bentley, Newton writes:
The growth of new systems out of old ones [averred by Whewell – cms], without the mediation of a Divine power, seems to me apparently absured. The diurnal rotation of the planets could not be derived from gravity, but required a Divine arm to impress them. The same power, whether natural or supernatural, which placed the sun in the center of the six primary planets, placed Saturn in the centre of the orbs of his five secondary planets; and Jupiter in the centre of his four secondary planets; and the Earth in the centre of the moon’s orbit; and therefore had this cause been a blind one, without contrivance or design, the sun would have been a body of the same kind with Saturn, Jupiter, and the Earth; that is, without light or heat. Why there is one body in our system qualified to give light and heat to all the rest, I know no reason, but because the Author of the system thought it convenient: and why there is but one body of this kind, I know no reason, but because one was sufficient to warm and enlighten all the rest (Newtoni Opera, tom, iv.p. 430) [cited in Brewster 224].
There is a rational structure to the universe in which we live and breathe. The Greeks believed that the Logos (Reason) is the organizing force through which the universe was created. Jesus is the incarnation of the Logos. The Creator became part of his Creation. Humans and ETs are both part of God's creation. Coyne writes, "Religious experience thus provides the inspiration for scientific investigation" ("Extraterrestrial Life" 184). Arthur C. Clarke writes that some people "are afraid that the crossing of space, and above all contact with intelligent but nonhuman races, may destroy the foundations of their religious faith. They may be right, but in any event their attitude is one which does not bear logical examination -- for a faith which cannot survive collision with the truth is not worth many regrets" (The Exploration of Space).
Brewster writes: “Science ever has been, and ever must be the handmaid of religion. The grandeur of her truths may transcend our failing reason, but those who cherish and lean upon truths equally grand, but certainly more incomprehensible, ought to see in the marvels of the material world the best defence and illustration of the mysteries of their faith” (139). Earlier, Brewster remarks, “It is as injurious to the interests of religion, as it is degrading to those of science, when the votaries of either place them in a state of mutual antagonism….In freely discussing the subject of a plurality of worlds, there can be no collision between Reason and Revelation” (138). My only disagreement with Brewster is with his assertion that nothing in Scripture or reason leads us to believe that the Earth is impermanent (208 – 209) because most scientists acknowledge that our Sun, Sol, is a second generation star that one day, albeit millions of years hence, will burn out, leaving the Earth a lifeless hulk. We may hope that before entropy causes the death of our Sun human beings will be scattered in colonies throughout the universe, but the fact remains that Earth must one day be left behind or humanity will cease to exist. If, one day, all the stars burn out so that not even cinders remain, then our only hope is that the spiritual realm is eternal. Personally, I like to think that the stars will replenish themselves for eternity, that entropy can be reversed, as it says in the doxology, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end.” Perhaps we should say “Cosmos without end.”
Genesis 1-11 does not tell us about the origins of creation but about God's declaration that God's creation is good/beautiful (Coyne, Evolution). Creation is good/beautiful because God created it,
and God is good/beautiful. Scientific search for beauty in the universe leads us to conclude that God designed the universe to be observed and investigated and enjoyed as beautiful. Since God designed the universe to be observed, it follows that the universe is teeming with observers, that is, with ETs. Polkinghorne suggests that the universe is fine-tuned to produce life because God fine-tuned the universe to produce life (Rees 74). The anthropic principle may be employed to explain our universe and its properties, so that we develop the gist of a theory for the nature of the universe even without knowing exactly what it implies in minute detail (Rees 76). Searching for clues to the origin of the universe may be an unending task for which we may not ever obtain a satisfactory answer, but the quest itself is fruitful (Rees 77). Neither relativity nor quantum theory gives us any reason to suppose that time originated with the Big Bang (Smolin 82). Our experiences as Christians lead us to become scientists who are concerned with the nature of our experiences in God's universe. Brewster writes:
From the time when the Earth was without form and void to the present hour, Astronomy has been the study of the shepherd and the sage, and in the bosom of sidereal space the genius of man has explored the most gigantic works of the Almighty, and studied the most mysterious of his arrangements. But while the astronomer ponders over the wonderful structures of the spheres, and investigates the laws of their motions, the Christian contemplates them with a warmer and more affectionate interest. From their past and present history his eager eye turns to the future of the sidereal systems, and he looks to them as the hallowed spots in which his immortal existence is to run. Scripture has not spoken with an articulate voice of the future locality of the blest, but Reason has combined the scattered utterances of Inspiration, and with a voice, almost oracular, has declared that He who made the worlds, will in the worlds which he has made, place the beings of His choice. In the spiritual character of their faith, the ambassadors of our Saviour have not referred to the materiality of His future kingdom; but Reason compels us to believe, that the material body, which is to be raised, must be subject to material laws, and reside in a material home – in a system of many planets – a house of many mansions, though not made with many hands.
Human beings are not simply a chance occurrence in a universe without purpose (de Duve 13). Since human beings have purpose, it follows that ETs have purpose as well, but is their purpose the same as ours? Brewster suggests that future generations of philosophers will contemplate other worlds orbiting other stars with an eye towards the sublime while future generations of Christians will admire such planets and stars as altars upon which to offer their sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving (262).
The development from chaos to order and eventually to consciousness is part of the natural order of things, implying that God designed the laws of nature, so intelligent beings on both Earth and elsewhere in the universe are inevitable. The existence of ETs in the universe strengthens the notion that the universe was intelligently designed by a divine Designer (Davies, "Biological Determinism, Information Theory, and the Origin of Life," 15). The belief that ETs exist is, after a long and arduous journey, the majority view of people from all walks of life from scientists to theologians to the person in the street (Davies, "Biological Determinism, Information Theory, and the Origin of Life" 15). Darwinism explains how life evolves but deals only with already existing life and does not explain in any way how life originated. If life is common in the universe, then it would seem that life is part of the cosmic order, an idea which leaves atheism in the dust and provides evidence of intelligent design by an intelligent Designer. Some cite a lack of evidence for ETs as a reason why we should disbelieve that ETs exist, but I say that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The same could be said for the existence of God.
George L. Murphy, Ph.D., writes: "Johnson makes his belief more explicit by distinguishing between 'theistic naturalism,' which he rejects, and his own 'theistic realism.' The distinction is made clear in his oft-quoted statement:
God is our true Creator. I am not speaking of a God who is known only to faith and is
invisible to reason, or who acted undetectably behind some naturalistic evolutionary process that was to all appearances mindless and purposeless. That kind of talk is about the human imagination, not the reality of God. I speak of a God who acted openly and left his fingerprints all over the evidence. We have to ask, however, if such a God is the one revealed in the cross and resurrection of Christ. Contrast Johnson's last sentence with a thought of Pascal:
What meets our eyes denotes neither a total absence nor a manifest presence of the divine, but the presence of a God who conceals Himself. Everything bears this stamp.
"Pascal had Isaiah 45:15 in mind, and Luther refers to the same verse in arguments for the Heidelberg Thesis which set out his theology of the cross" (7-8).
Science, rather than contradicting Catholic theology, provides a stimulus to encompass and include ideas about the Creator God, including ideas about the nature of the Incarnate Logos.
Christianity shines brightest when presented with challenges stemming from new areas of thought from the Greeks (the concept of the Logos) to the neo-Platonists and Aristotelianism supported by Saint Thomas (Peacocke 91). The current challenge to the Christian faith is the
onslaught of science in the sense of naturalism, the idea that the universe evolved naturally without divine guidance, changing our understanding not only of human beings but also of God.
Darwinism had a more profound effect on science, our understanding of the universe around us, than any other discipline, leading Theodosius Dobzhansky, an Orthodox Christian, to remark, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" (Peacocke 92). Any theology attempting to understand the universe is doomed to fail without taking into account recent developments in scientific thought. We may assume that God is a scientist or an engineer who engineered the universe and devised its natural laws. Since we are participants in the natural universe, we are natural parts of the universe, yet God designed us to be natural parts of the universe, so understanding our place in the natural universe that was divinely created is essential to our progress as a species and as children of God (cf. Peacocke 92). The notion that all things can be broken down into basic constituent elementary particles supports the Biblical view that God made human beings from the dust, and that humans will eventually return to the dust from which we were made (Peacocke 93). Many people, because scientists have not been able to produce life from inanimate matter in the laboratory, conclude that divine intervention is necessary for life to originate (Peacocke 94). Peacocke seems to think that life develops naturally from inanimate matter, but he fails to acknowledge that God may have designed the universe to be predisposed to developing life from inanimate matter. Is the purpose of life and evolution to produce sentient beings like humans or do other living things, including ETs, have value in and of themselves in the eyes of God? (Peacocke 95).
Genesis tells us, "God looked at everything he had created, and and he found it very good" (1:30b). No doubt this means that God created not only humans but ETs "very good." Not all scientists are convinced that evolution's natural selection as a process always accounts for the emergence of new species (Peacock 96). Biological death of individuals is essential to the survival of the species and is the means by which God chose to develop new species (Peacocke 97). Peacocke says, "Of course, the myths of Adam and Eve and of the Fall have long since been interpreted nonhistorically and existentially by modern theologians and scholars" (98). Father Leverdiere agrees that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are mythological in character, though he claims these myths are profoundly true on a metaphysical level. Since God has created humans through the process of evolution, it may be that God has created ETs through the process of evolution, and the convergence theory tells us that ET’s may have sense organs like humans and may have developed intelligence in ways similar to human evolution. That we evolved rather than Fell does not mean that we no longer need to be redeemed by Christ; in fact, our need for redemption is even more acute, as is also true for ETs.
Panentheism, the idea that God permeates the universe so that everything in the universe exists in God, and God exists everywhere in the universe, finds support in the Bible when Paul says to the Athenians, "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Panentheism describes how God relates to his Created universe. So, we may conclude that God not only lives in the human heart but also lives in the heart of ET’s. The Wisdom of God permeates the universe and all intelligent beings. Mortal wisdom is but a pale reflection of divine Wisdom. Spinoza says that humans are comprised of divine thought, so ETs must also be comprised of divine thought as well.
The nature of God and our relationships to God are just as theologically significant as our relationships to one another and to ET’s since both humans and ET’s are creations of God and have the potential to become children of God. For many scientists, God is not a person but an explanation of the cause of the universe (Coyne, Many Worlds and Religion and Intelligent Life 177-178). Christians must view God as not only the cause of the universe but also the cause of our salvation. God is also the cause of the creation of ETs and the cause of the salvation of ETs (Coyne, Many Worlds and Religion). God is more than just a Mind/Spirit/Creator but a Redeemer and a Sanctifier, so God's revelation is more than simply the communication of knowledge/gnosis but is the very essence of in what we live and move and have our being (Paul citing Greek philosophy). Alan Sandage, Edwin Hubble's protege, says, "We can't understand the universe in any clear way without the supernatural" (Heeren). Theology and science have always intermixed in the search for ETs but only recently have become separated. Science began as a branch of theology (Davies 138). The separation between the search for religious truths and the search for ETs breaks down in the modern context. Many people yearn for the religious truths which they hope ETs can provide them. While it is important for us to be sensitive the possibility of the possibly very different religious beliefs of ETs, we must also acknowledge and be sensitive to the religious experiences related to the mysteries of God (Coyne, Many Worlds and Religion). When we seek God, we should not seek God exclusively as scientists or exclusively as theologians but as Christians who embrace both science and Christian theology, a practice that will boost our efforts to come to terms with the existence of ETs who may not share all of our beliefs about the universe and God.
Coyne says numerous times that God is not an Explanation but a loving Being who creates out of that love (Evolution). God is implicit in the universe because the Creator wills that intelligent life form and evolve not only on earth but on other worlds throughout the cosmos. God designed the universe with physical laws that allow matter to self-organize in such a way that conscious life emerges in the universe capable of discerning the laws of physics that led to the development of consciousness in the cosmos (Davies 127). The ability to develop and use mathematics is the most striking example of conscious thought, yet the rules of mathematics are largely a matter of popular vote, so we shouldn't assume that the mathematics of ETs is necessarily the same as ours, though a convergence of thought, like a convergence of the development of biological organisms, may produce similar mathematical theories among ETs and humans. A physician may search the brain and not find the mind in the same way that a scientist can search the universe and not find God; that doesn't mean neither the mind nor God exists.
William Paley, an English clergyman, said in a famous analogy, that if we were to discover a watch, then, even if we did not know the purpose of the watch, we would realize that the watch
was intelligently designed because of the way it was put together and functioned in a purposeful way, so he concludes that, because creatures on Earth seem intelligently designed to function in their respective environments, we realize that an Intelligent Designer made the creatures of the Earth (Davies 74). The theory of evolution contradicts the idea of the watchmaker, but it can be replaced with the idea of a Blind Watchmaker (Davies 74). Christian theologians have suggested that the progress of evolution on Earth implies a divine guiding hand with human beings as the culmination of a great divine experiment (Davies 74-75). Louis Agassiz says:
The history of the Earth proclaims its Creator. It tells us that the object and term of creation is man. He is announced in nature from the first appearance of organized beings; and each important modification in the whole series of these beings is a step toward the definitive term (man) in the development of organic life [cited in Davies 75-76].
Some evolutionists reject the Design theory on the grounds that evolution is random and not purposeful. Thus, if there are ETs, they are just as much a product of random evolution as human beings. Someone once said that if life is nothing more than a flash of light between two points of utter darkness, then we are the most pitiable people of all. The discovery of ETs may undermine traditional Darwinism on the grounds that, while traditional Darwinists maintain that the development of intelligence in humans is a random occurrence, Catholics may assert that the existence of intelligence in other beings on other worlds is evidence of a convergence of traits that may be the result of Design (Davies 86-87). The development of consciousness is a natural product of an orderly universe, so it shouldn't surprise us to discover other beings with consciousness throughout the cosmos (Davies 128-129). These conscious ETs are the product of a designed universe by a divine Designer. The Weak Anthropic Principal asserts that our region of space is one in which observers can exist. The Strong Anthropic Principal asserts that our universe is one in which observers can exist. Quantum Theory suggests that vast areas of the universe lack reality unless observed, and the only way vast areas of the universe can be observed is if there is a divine Observer who created the universe to be observed by intelligent beings. The universe exists because God observes it and created other observers. Observers are a necessary function of the universe. The very existence of the universe depends upon life, that is, living things that observe the universe. God has chosen to create the laws of physics of the
universe so that observers could evolve in it.
The Teleological Principal demands that God create the universe for the sake of observers who evolve in it. The notion that God explains the universe's life-generating character very succinctly answers the problem of why intelligent life evolved on earth and perhaps elsewhere in the universe. God's explicit reasons for bringing into existence living beings who could observe the universe around them may be unfathomable, but the Bible gives us insight into the mind of God, implying that the nature of God as light and love explains why God created light for observers to see by and love for observers to experience in terms of their relationship to God and one another.
God made human beings in God's spiritual image, not physical image. We may exist for the purpose of not only observing the universe but also for the purpose of observing God in our own limited way. Divine selection may explain our existence better than any other theory. The universe seems tailor-made for observers because God indeed tailor-made the universe for us observers. Life demands a divine sustainer.
On the other hand, if life is abundant in the universe, then where are they? Perhaps life develops easily but intelligent life is a little hard to manage, except without divine assistance. For neoplatonists, God is the word for the principle that the universe exists because of the ethical need for it. For Einstein, time couldn't have been created by a temporal being. Theorists like Hawking tend to treat the coming-into-being of the universe as a what rather than a why, while the Bible's story is more of a why than a what. We should be asking not whether God created ETs but why God created ETs, for the why may be the same for ETs as for human beings. Sir Isaac Newton wrote: "And as Christ after some stay in or neare the regions of this earth ascended into heaven, so after the resurrection of the dead it may be in their power to leave this earth at pleasure and accompany him into any part of the heavens, so that no region in the whole Universe may want its inhabitants" (Dyson 135).
Dyson suggests that the mystery of God stands the test of time because, even if we live long enough as a species to answer all the questions about the nature of the universe, God will
remain mysterious and great. The Apostle Paul cites Isaiah 29:14 in 1 Corinthians 1:29: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside." Greatness is found inside the mysteriousness that is God. The Incarnation of Christ on Earth will always remain a great mystery no matter how many ETs we discover. Encountering ETs may affect not only our conception of God but also the doctrines of the Catholic Church. If in our study of the universe we encounter few if any ETs, then some may embrace the empty outlook of atheism on the grounds that intelligent life is a mere accident of nature, while others may claim that the absence of ETs is an indication of the uniqueness of humanity as God's special creation. On the other hand, if we encounter numerous ETs, then some may embrace atheism on the grounds that humanity is neither unusual nor the unique creation of God, while others may claim that the pattern of intelligent life in the universe implies an intelligent Creator who designed the pattern. Since any of these views may be plausibly justified, what reason do we have for believing the truth of any one of them while rejecting the others? The Apostle Paul's response seems to be, "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).
Faith and reason and science go hand in hand. What is more important, theology or science? Theology is a science. Theology without science is lame; science without theology is blind.
Peacock suggests that the Creator creates Creation according to the natural order of things (Dick, Many Worlds x). John Leslie supports the idea that the universe is naturally compatible with the development of life, including intelligent life, because God has created it that way (ibid.). The Anthropic Principle according to Brandon Carter suggests that only universes that have been "fine-tuned" by God in life-generating procedures can produce observers who are necessary in
Quantum Theory to the very existence of reality (ibid.). Leslie supports this view by suggesting that life-generating qualities are the result of divine selection by design. Perhaps the ethics of God demands that God create the universe in the way that it has been created (ibid.).
Human reaction to the discovery of ET’s may vary from one extreme to another. If/when humans discover ETs, will we be ecstatic or unhappy? Amazed or nonchalant? Pleased or angry? Curious or fearful? Shocked or react by saying "It's about time" ? Probably different human beings will experience all these different reactions in one way or another. Humans in general and Christians in particular are much more resilient than often given credit for. Christian theology will survive encountering ETs. If the ETs are friendly, no doubt we will greet them warmly. If the ETs are unfriendly, warlike, or in any other way dangerous, then we will probably join together to meet the threat. If the ETs are much like us in the sense of very diverse, some friendly, some not so friendly, different people will react differently, some offering friendship, others mobilizing for war. Christian theologians will deal head on with ET religions, if they exist, and the Catholic Church will encourage us to evangelize the ETs.
Will there be a government conspiracy/coverup? Doubtful. Example: When pulsars were discovered, scientists disseminated the information quickly around the world, even though some thought it could have been a signal from an ET. The notion that members of government are somehow more enlightened than members of the general population and can therefore "handle"
the existence of ETs with more aplomb is patently ridiculous.
The reaction of the Catholic Church will be, like most people’s, one of curiosity and excitement. The Church will probably want, like scientists, to find out what ETs are like, how they think, what they know, and what they believe. After humans have gathered sufficient information about ETs, then the Church may consider evangelizing them. As Lewis suggests in his novel Out of the Silent Planet, we may discover ourselves being evangelized by ET’s who understand who Christ is better than we do.
How would we react to the news that ETs believe God is on their side in a possible effort to conquer the Earth? How will we know whether ETs are friendly? The history of humanity has taught that warfare is common and may be just as common among ETs. Is it possible that God might favor ETs in a battle of not only planets but ideas? With respect to evangelization of ET’s, Mary Doria Russell suggests in her novels that meetings between cultures are delicate matters and any number of mistakes can lead to catastrophic consequences for both the ETs and human beings alike. The meeting of human cultures on Earth has often resulted in catastrophic consequences for human cultures, particularly less technologically advanced cultures, and there's no reason to think things will be different when humans encounter ET cultures. ETs who are less advanced may be destroyed by humans unless Earthpeople choose to maintain the equivalent of Star Trek's Prime Directive forbidding interference in developing cultures. ETs who are more advanced may accidentally destroy human cultures unless we are very careful.
The Catholic Church should be prepared to defend the Christian faith against the possible onslaught of ET ideas and philosophies and religions that may be counter to Catholic teachings. Catholic teachings are just as valuable as the teachings of ETs, an idea that many New Age followers reject. We may want to ask ourselves why so many New Age ideas are embraced by so many people who hunger for spiritual fulfillment that they could find in their own backyard in the Catholic Church.
Conclusion to Appendix B
The discovery of ETs will have profound effects on human beings and the Catholic faith in particular, but the Catholic Church has made no "official" effort to respond to the possibilities that we are not alone in the universe, although some Catholic authors have addressed the issue directly. Many authors, Catholic and non-Catholics, have expressed concern that culture clashes between humans and ETs may have the same catastrophic consequences as clashes among various human cultures throughout history. Thus, I believe it is incumbent upon us who embrace the Catholic faith to deal with the issue of contact with ETs so that we will be prepared when contact finally and actually occurs.
As a Girl Scout, I was taught the motto "Be prepared!" I am preparing for contact with ETs by discussing my Catholic faith in terms of the cultural and religious impact such a discovery will entail. I hope this Master's Thesis will be a wake-up call to the Vatican to address the possible consequences of contact with ETs before it occurs.
For the Catholic Church, the existence of ETs poses no threat to the Catholic faith, but this is not necessarily true for members of the Fundamentalist Protestant denominations. The Catholic Church can provide a leadership role in explaining the truths of Christianity despite or perhaps because of contact with ETs, so that not only our separated brothers and sisters but also members
of other religious faiths will find meaning in the event without destroying everything they believe and have always been taught. The Catholic Church in the person of the Pope should issue official statements from the Papal Bull explaining the Catholic position on ETs so that Catholics and other human beings will have an anchor to hold onto when contact with ETs occurs.
God made human beings and ETs in God's own image. 1 Peter 3:15b tells us "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame." All people, humans and ETs alike, are creations of God, and we should make it our first priority to treat ETs as free persons who may also be or may also become children of God.
Appendix C: History of the Many Worlds or Plurality of Worlds Theories and Religion
God in the form of Christ is essential to the Catholic understanding of the nature of the universe. We cannot speculate on the theology of ETs without first examining great human theological ideas to think about. Therefore, I will begin this appendix by delving into the history of the development of ideas concerning the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligent life with respect to the plurality of worlds theories and the theological implications resulting therefrom.
Section 1: The Ancient Greeks
The ancient Greeks regarded everything the eye could see, including the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, the stars, and the planets as part of a single kosmos, a Greek word meaning “world” or “universe” or “known sphere of existence” or “realm of existence.” The Greeks questioned whether the kosmos is pan (the all) or holon (universe, all, entire) as well as whether there are innumerable kosmoi which each has its own planets and stars. We are indebted to the Greeks whose curiosity and strong desire for knowledge provided the impetus for the modern quest for extraterrestrial life.
Why did the Greeks seek extraterrestrial life or discuss its implications? Why do I in this masters thesis quest for the meaning of ET’s in terms of Catholic theology? I quest for this meaning because it helps us as Christians to understand ourselves better when we seek to understand others who are not like us or who perhaps may be more like us than we imagine.
Democritus (341 -- 270 B.C.) [Note: Dick on page 9 of Plurality of Worlds says that Democritus lived from ca. 460 – 370 B.C.; check on this.] Letter CXVII of the Letters of Saint Augustine paragraph 28 says:
Democritus, however, is said to differ here also in his doctrine on physics from Epicurus; for he holds that there is in the concourse of atoms a certain vital and breathing power, by which power (I believe) he affirms that the images themselves (not all images of all things, but images of the gods) are endued with divine attributes, and that the first beginnings of the mind are in those universal elements to which he ascribed divinity, and that the images possess life, inasmuch as they are wont either to benefit or to hurt us. Epicurus, however, does not assume anything in the first beginnings of things but atoms, that is, certain corpuscles, so minute that they cannot be divided or perceived either by sight or by touch; and his doctrine is, that by the fortuitous concourse (clashing) of these atoms, existence is given both to innumerable worlds and to living things, and to the souls which animate them, and to the gods whom, in human form, he has located, not in any world, but outside of the worlds, and in the spaces which separate them; and he will not allow of any object of thought beyond things material. But in order to these becoming an object of thought, he says that from those things which he represents as formed of atoms, images more subtle than those which come to our eyes flow down and enter into the mind. For according to him, the cause of our seeing is to be found in certain images so huge that they embrace the whole outer world. But I suppose that you already understand their opinions regarding these images.
For the record, Augustine goes on to disagree with this. While Democritus averred that other worlds existed which had no life, Epicurus (341 – 270 B.C.)and Lucretius affirmed that other worlds existed which were teeming with life including animals and plants. Plato (427 – 347 B.C.) argued that the creator of the cosmos “distributed souls equal in number to the stars, inserting each in each” (cited in Wilkinson 13).
Atomism asserts that the universe is formed by chance occurrences of atoms coalescing within
the void of space (Peters, "Historical Theology" 1). Since the number of atoms is infinite, it
follows that an infinite number of worlds (aperoi kosmoi) also exists (Peters, "Historical
Theology" 1). Epicurus (341 -- 270 B.C.) and Lucretius both believed that plants and other
living creatures flourished on other worlds (Peters, "Historical Theology" 1). Augustine writes
about Anaximander, a pupil of Thales, in The City of God Book VIII Chapter 2: “To him
succeeded Anaximander, his pupil, who held a different opinion concerning the nature of things;
for he did not hold that all things spring from one principle, as Thales did, who held that
principle to be water, but thought that each thing springs from its own proper principle. These
principles of things he believed to be infinite in number, and thought that they generated
innumerable worlds, and all the things which arise in them. He thought, also, that these worlds
are subject to a perpetual process of alternate dissolution and regeneration, each one continuing
for a longer or shorter period of time, according to the nature of the case; nor did he, any more
than Thales, attribute anything to a divine mind in the production of all this activity of things.”
Augustine also writes in Chapter 41 of The City of God: “Indeed, in the conspicuous and well-known porch, in gymnasia, in gardens, in places public and private, they openly strove in bands each for his own opinion, some asserting there was one world, others innumerable worlds; etc.”
Diogenes Laertius (3rd century A.D.) writes of Leucippus in Lives of Famous Philosophers: “Leucippus holds that the whole is infinite…part of it is full and part void…Hence arise innumerable worlds, and are resolved again into these elements.” Diogenes also saved a letter Epicurus wrote to Herodotus that atomism proves an infinite number of worlds exist (Dick, Plurality of Worlds 10).
Pythagoreans such as Philolaus (5th century B.C.) opined that the Moon was inhabited and pseudo-Plutarch writes that Pythagoreans believed that the Moon had plants and animals superior to those of the Earth. Plutarch (A.D. 46 – 120) himself wrote literary though not scientific treatises on the subject of life on the Moon. Plutarch’s writings, particularly De facie in orbe lunae, influenced Johannes Kepler who translated the works into Latin and who was instrumental in the development and propagation of the Copernican theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Pierre Gassendi (1592 – 1655), a Catholic priest who revived atomism, claims that Plutarch’s position is consistent with the idea that the nature of God is amenable to a plurality of worlds (Dick, Plurality of Worlds 56). Because God is omnipotent, God has the power to create a finite universe. In other words, nothing is infinite except God.
Plato 427 – 347 B.C.): In the Timaeus, the Pilot produced order out of chaos. Plato may have influenced Aristotle when he wrote in the Timaeus: “To the end that this world may be like the complete and living Creature in respect of its uniqueness, for that reason its maker did not make two worlds nor yet an indefinite number, but the Heaven has come to be and is and shall be hereafter one and unique” (Dick, Plurality of Worlds 14). For Plato, the Demiurge took pre-existent formless matter and created order in the universe, a view that is consistent with the in medias res beginning of Genesis and an idea that continues to have adherents today.
Aristotle (384 -- 322 B.C.) Aristotle had a profound effect on medieval Christian theology, especially his belief that the earth is the only world, thus denying the plurality of worlds theory.
For this reason, Davies and others sometimes assume that Christianity automatically places human beings at the center of the universe, when historically this is not necessarily the case (Peters, "Historical Theology" 2). Aristotle presented three arguments detailing his reasons why a plurality of worlds is impossible. The third argument, largely ignored by medieval philosophers and theologians, was that a plurality of worlds implied a plurality of first movers, which he regarded as clearly impossible. The first two arguments centered around the concept of natural place.
Section 2: The Ancient Romans
According to Michael Crowe, more than 170 books from the ancient Greeks to the modern world have been published discussing the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe (Davies xii).
Lucretius (98 -- 54 B.C.) In On the Nature of Things, Lucretius, a follower of Epicurus, wrote: "Since there is illimitable space in every direction, and since seeds innumerable in number and unfathomable in sum are flying about in many ways driven in everlasting movement," it makes sense that a plurality of worlds exists, "especially since this world was made by nature" (Peters, "Historical Theology" 1). Through Lucretius the idea of the plurality of worlds and atomism spread throughout Europe. Dick writes in Plurality of Worlds: “Cosmos and chaos were polar opposites; even given the role of chance in Epicurean cosmogony, the formation of our cosmos could not have been an accident unrepeated throughout the universe” (11). Lucretius encouraged disbelief in the gods, an idea not warmly received by Christian Europe. However, if not an accident, then our universe must have been created according to someone’s plan, in my opinion. The concept of an infinity of worlds was problematic for Christians because it implied that the creation of the universe was a random act that was not divine. The solution was to say that God had created a plurality of worlds.
Ephraim the Syrus wrote Fifteen Hymns for the Feast of the Epiphany Chapter XIV line 45: “The shout of the Watchers has come to my ears, -- lo! I hear from the Father’s house – the hosts that sound forth the cry, -- ‘In Thy Epiphany, O Bridegroom the worlds have life.’”
An unknown Critic of Whewell once wrote, “We deduce from this language of Scripture, (‘When I consider the heavens….what is man?’) a positive argument for the plurality of worlds; for that view makes the Hebrew poet’s wonder intelligible” (Whewell 355). The Critic also says “that the provision made for the redemption of man by what took place upon earth eighteen hundred years ago, may have extended its influence to other worlds” (358).
Section 3: The Early and Medieval Catholic Church
Early Christian authors faced the momentous task of developing a reasonable theology in response to the views of the pagan Greek and Roman authors. In the beginning, the early Christian theologians rejected the concepts of a plurality of worlds and extraterrestrial life. Those who rejected these ideas included Hippolytus in the third century, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea in the fourth century, Bishop Theodoret of Cyprus in the fifth century, and Saint Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354 – 430).
Saint Augustine notes that "days" in Genesis are not to be taken literally, since what is a "day" before the creation of the Sun and stars on the fourth "day." Time was created along with the material universe in a way that did not limit the power of the Creator (McMullin 155). Augustine argued that the Creation story in Genesis is best understood metaphorically (McMullin 155). If we discover life (not necessarily intelligent life) in our solar system, it would support Augustine's contention that the "seeds" of life are endemically present in the very fabric of the created universe (McMullin 157). Augustine also writes in On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants Chapter 50: “In its [the Eastern Churches?] exordium one reads: ‘God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds; etc.’” Nevertheless, Dick says that Augustine rejected the plurality of worlds idea because it implies that God must be active throughout the entire universe (Plurality of Worlds 56). Moreover, Augustine rejects the idea that people of the antipodes even exist, writing in The City of God:
Chapter 9.—Whether We are to Believe in the Antipodes.
But as to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets to us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours, that is on no ground credible. And, indeed, it is not affirmed that this has been learned by historical knowledge, but by scientific conjecture, on the ground that the earth is suspended within the concavity of the sky, and that it has as much room on the one side of it as on the other: hence they say that the part which is beneath must also be inhabited. But they do not remark that, although it be supposed or scientifically demonstrated that the world is of a round and spherical form, yet it does not follow that the other side of the earth is bare of water; nor even, though it be bare, does it immediately follow that it is peopled. For Scripture, which proves the truth of its historical statements by the accomplishment of its prophecies, gives no false information; and it is too absurd to say, that some men might have taken ship and traversed the whole wide ocean, and crossed from this side of the world to the other, and that thus even the inhabitants of that distant region are descended from that one first man. Wherefore let us seek if we can find the city of God that sojourns on earth among those human races who are catalogued as having been divided into seventy-two nations and as many languages. For it continued down to the deluge and the ark, and is proved to have existed still among the sons of Noah by their blessings, and chiefly in the eldest son Shem; for Japheth received this blessing, that he should dwell in the tents of Shem.1
In the middle ages, Biblical disputes arose over the existence of people of the antipodes.
Augustine argues that the descendants of Noah could not have reached the antipodes because,
according to the Bible, it was not accessible. Simek writes: “Even if, for some reason, people
did live in the hypothetical southern continent, this continent could not be reached because it was
impossible to cross the equator. Therefore, Christ’s missionary task: ‘Go to all peoples and
teach them’ could not be fulfilled. If this was true then the whole question of the act of salvation
was put into question. But the idea that Christ might have issued nonsensical instructions was
wholly implausible. As the impossibility of crossing the equator was considered a simple matter
of fact, the only possible way open for the Church was quite simply to reject the existence of the
Antipodes” (53). Since later science proves that people exist all around the Earth, it follows that
Christ’s Redemptive work applies to all people all over the Earth and to ET’s throughout the
Cosmos as well.
In the fourth and fifth centuries, some Catholics began developing ideas from Genesis that life
originated and developed from earth and water (McMullin 155). Gregory of Nyssa developed a
theory that the power of life creation was present in the very fabric of the universe only waiting
for God to set the process in motion (McMullin 155). In the First Epistle of Clement to the
Corinthians Chapter XX line 87 contains a reference to life beyond the ocean: “The ocean,
impassible to man, and the worlds beyond it, are regulated by the same enactments of the Lord.”
This can be expanded to mean worlds beyond the earth are also under God’s control.
Lactantius (a fourth century convert to Christianity) in The Divine Institutes Chapter XXIII writes: “Xenophanes most foolishly believed mathematicians who said that the orb of the moon was eighteen times larger than the earth; and, as was consistent with this folly, he said that within the concave surface of the moon there was another earth, and there another race of men live in a similar manner to that in which we live on this earth. Therefore these lunatics have another moon, to hold forth to them a light by night, as this does to us. And perhaps this globe of ours may be a moon to another earth below this. Seneca says that there was one among the Stoics who used to deliberate whether he should assign to the sun also its own inhabitants; he acted foolishly in doubting.”
Archelaus: The Acts of the Disputation with the Heresiarch Manes (a Fragment of the Same Disputation) line 62: “Moreover, there are certain other worlds on which the luminaries rise when they have set on our world.” Hilary and Poiters in On the Trinity Book 1 line 6 refers to “the Creator of Worlds” as does The Divine Liturgy of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark section III. Moreover, the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians Chapter XXXV says “The Creator and Father of all worlds, the Most Holy, alone knows their amount and their beauty.”
John of Damascus writes in An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Book II Chapter VII: “For with God nothing is difficult: but as the painter who has made one likeness will make ten thousand with ease, so also with God it is easy to make worlds without number and end. Rather, as it is easy for you to conceive a city and worlds without bound, so unto God is it easy to make them; rather again it is easier by far.” John also writes in the same chapter: “For he that thinketh nothing of hell nor of heaven nor of ten thousand worlds in regard of his longing after Christ, how should he hunt after the glory which cometh from the many?” John of Damascus and Basil the Great (329 – 379) wrote, according to Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov (1711 – 1765) of Russia, that a plurality of inhabited worlds does not violate Scripture (Crowe 160).
Saint John Chrysostom writes in Homilies of the Gospel According to Saint John Homily V circa section 17: “Nay, if need were that ten thousand, or even an infinite number of such worlds be created, He remains the same, sufficient for them all not merely to produce, but also to control them after their creation.” In Homilies on the Epistle to the Hebrews Homily II section 26 Chrysostom writes: “For the same thing which the one indirectly expressed, saying, ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ and ‘All things were made by Him’ (John i. 3), this did the other also openly declare by ‘the Word,’ and by saying ‘by whom also. He made the worlds.’ For thus he shows Him to be both a Creator, and before all ages, What then? When the prophet saith, concerning the Father, ‘Thou art from everlasting to everlasting’ (Ps. Xc. 2), and concerning the Son, that He is before all ages, and the maker of all things – what can they say? Nay rather, when the very thing was was spoke of the Father, -- ‘He which was before the worlds,’ – this one may see spoken of the Son also? And that which one saith, ‘He was life’ (John i. 4), pointing out the preservation of the creation, that Himself is the Life of all things, -- so also saith this other, ‘and upholding all things by the word of His power’: not as the Greeks who defraud Him, as much as in them lies, both of Creation itself, and of Providence, shutting up His power, to reach only as far as to the Moon.”
Theodoret in The Ecclesiastical History of Theodoret writes in Book I Chapter XI section 131 a version of the Creed: “We believe in one God, Father Almighty, the Maker of all things, visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, God of God, Light of Light, Life of Life, Only-begotten Son, First-born of every creature, begotten of the Father before all worlds; by Whom all things were made; Who for our salvation was incarnate, and lived among men etc.”
Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1224 -- 1274): Thomas says that either a literal or a metaphorical reading of Genesis is possible (McMullin 156). Thomas still leaned toward a literalist interpretation of Scripture (McMullin 156). Thomas dedicated much of his voluminous
writings to reconciling Aristotelian philosophy with Christianity. Does God become less than omnipotent if he creates only the Earth and no other worlds? Because God is omnipotent, God can create an infinite number of worlds. Saint Thomas believes that "it is necessary that all things should belong to one world." For Thomas, unity yields perfection. Thus, God created the Earth perfect rather than create innumerable other imperfect worlds. Therefore, the Aristotelian position that the Earth is the only world God created is consistent with the notion of God's omnipotence (Peters, "Historical Theology" 2). It is important to observe here that Thomas
is making a logical argument based on the premise that the Earth is not chaotic but ordered, not originating by a roll of divine dice but according to the divine plan that unity leads to perfection (ibid.). Thomas follows Aristotle’s belief against a plurality of worlds on the grounds of natural place. Thomas argues that nothing exists outside our world because the unity of our one world is good while any division into a plurality of worlds would not be good. Thomas argues that unity is essential to perfection: “This world is called one by the unity of order whereby some things are ordered to others” because it is an unproven truth that “whatever things come from God, have relation or order to each other, and to God himself…hence it must be that all things should belong to one world” (Summa Theologica Part I Question 47 Article 3). Thomas argues that the Gospel of John 1:10, “the world was made by him,” is a proof that God only made one world.
Aristotle's position that there was only one world was condemned by the Catholic Church in 1277 by a French bishopric council, so that the doctrine of the plurality of worlds was given the official status of not being heresy (McMullin 163). Etienne Tempier was the bishop of Paris who made this declaration, saying that to aver God’s inability to create a plurality of worlds is heresy on the grounds that it restricts the power of God who is actually omnipotent (Dick, Plurality of Worlds 28). The result of this declaration was that theologians were now required to investigate the plurality of worlds theory so that God could overwrite Nature’s laws as expounded by Aristotle or so that Aristotelian physics had to be reinterpreted to include the possibility of a plurality of worlds (ibid.).
In the thirteenth century, Godfrey of Fontaine, Henry of Ghent, and Richard of Middleton of Paris as well as William of Ware, Jean of Bassols, and Thomas of Strasbourg of Oxford all claimed that a plurality of worlds was within the realm of the possible with respect to the Christian faith. These scholars were among the first to declare that not only were other worlds possible but other worlds could revolve around other suns which God could create ex nihilo.
Many Catholics embraced the idea that an all-powerful God could create a plurality of worlds as a direct manifestation of God's power (McMullin 163). John Buridan (A.D. 1295 -- 1358), rector of the University of Paris, wrote: "...we hold from faith that just as God made this world, so he could make another or several worlds" (Peters, "Historical Theology" 3). Buridan did not wish to disagree with Aristotle, so he started with a different premise, arguing that God could create on other worlds material elements, distinct from the material elements of the earth, which obey alien laws and so are ordered in their own way (ibid.). In his argument, Buridan ignored Thomas’s argument of unity and perfection. Peter Lombard’s (1095 – 1165) Book of Sentences, an essential part of the curriculum of every masters student in the medieval era, contained in Book 1 a section entitled Distinction XLIV which asks “whether God could make anything better than he has made.” The question, before 1277, became, “whether God is able to make the world better than he has made it.” Thomas addressed this question in his own Distinction XLIV, written between 1254 and 1257, concluding that God would have had to create another world in order to perfect this one since God created the world perfect in the first place (Dick, Plurality of Worlds 31). William of Okham (ca. 1280 – 1347) argues from Augustine’s assertion that God could create a perfect man who would never sin that God can also create other beings who are different from all the species of the Earth including human beings, and so other worlds with other such beings on them, and so a better world (33). William argues with Buridan and against Aristotle that not all things naturally return to their place but will return to a place that is natural for their species. Unfortunately, William of Okham’s ideas were rejected by the Church and he was excommunicated.
Nicole Oresme, Bishop of Lisieux (A.D. 1320 -- 1382) wrote a treatise entitled "De coelo de mundo" in which he disagreed forcefully with Aristotle that all things tend to gravitate towards the center of the universe (the center of the Earth), arguing that other worlds could have their own center that are not necessarily the same as the center of the Earth, thus arguing that the center of the Earth is not the center of the universe. For Oresme, God could create other worlds in defiance of the natural law expounded by Aristotle, but after the creation of that world, it would obey the same laws as the earth (Dick, Plurality of Worlds 36). Outside of our sphere of existence, an immaterial void exists which is “infinite and indivisible…the immensity of God and God himself” (ibid.). Oresme also says that the Lord “is infinite in His immensity, and if several worlds existed, no one of them would be outside Him nor outside his power” (cited in Dick, Plurality of Worlds 36). Nevertheless, while acknowledging that God could create other worlds, Oresme maintained that “there has never been nor will there be more than one world” (ibid.). Albertus Magnus, John Major, and Leonardo da Vinci all supported the plurality of worlds theory before the Copernican Revolution. John Major (1469 – 1550) claimed that an infinite number of worlds could be a natural part of the universe, an idea also entertained by a Spanish Jew named Hasdai Crescas (1340 – 1410).
Giordano Bruno (16th century) developed many radical ideas of natural and moral philosophy including the notion of an infinity of worlds. Bruno was burned at the stake at the end of the 16th century (A.D. 1600) for a variety of heresies including the idea of an infinite number of worlds but primarily for denying the divinity of Jesus Christ. Bruno wrote:
Concerning this question [of Aristotle whether beyond this world there lieth another] you know that his interpretation of this word world [mondi] is different from ours. For we join world to world and star to star in this vast ethereal bosom, as is seemly and hath been understood by all those wise men who have believed in innumerable and infinite worlds. But he applieth the name world to an aggregate of all those ranged elements and fantastic spheres reaching to the convex surface of that primum mobile….It will be well and expedient to overthrow his arguments insofar as they conflict with our judgement, and to ignore those which do not so conflict [cited in Dick, Plurality of Worlds 64].
When studying the writings of previous centuries, it is important to understand the definitions of the words they use, and mondi meaning “world” means different things to different people. The ancient Hebrews thought the world was surrounded by a physical dome which separated a watery chaos from the world below so that when God opened the sluicegates water fell through in a process we call rain. Bruno is right on target in questioning the meaning of the word for world. Bruno gleefully attacked Aristotelianism in favor of the plurality/infinity of worlds view in his writings in which he particularly advocated the unity of the universe and the belief that God’s might in creating a perfect universe resulted in infinite individuals as well (ibid. 66).
Nicholas of Cusa (15th century; A.D. 1401 -- 1464) wrote of the plurality of worlds and extraterrestrial life: "Life, as it exists here on earth in the form of men, animals and plants, is to be found, let us suppose, in a higher form in the solar and stellar regions. Rather than think that so many stars and parts of the heavens are uninhabited and that this earth of ours alone is peopled -- and that with beings perhaps of an inferior type -- we will suppose that in every region there are inhabitants, differing in nature by rank and all owing their origin to God, who is the center and circumference of all stellar regions" (Peters, "Historical Theology" 3). Cusa believed the universe to be boundless with no absolute center towards which all things were thought to gravitate, saying that the universe’s “center is everywhere and its circumference nowhere,” a notion previously attributed to the nature of God (Dick, Plurality of Worlds 40). According to Dick, Nicholas also proposed an idea completely opposite the position attributed to Aristotle when he wrote:
Life, as it exists here on earth in the form of men, animals and plants, is to be found, let us suppose, in a higher form in the solar and stellar regions. Rather than think that so many stars and parts of the heavens are uninhabited and that this earth of ours alone is peopled – and that with beings perhaps of an inferior type – we will suppose that in every region there are inhabitants, differing in nature by rank and all owing their origin to God, who is the center and circumference of all stellar regions.
Dick says that Nicholas’s ideas are an outgrowth of the Scholastic tradition (42). A contemporary of Nicholas, William of Vorilong, in answer to the question as to whether other worlds could be created that were more perfect than that of the earth, wrote, “not one world alone, but infinite worlds, more perfect than this one, lie hid in the mind of God” (43). William goes on to speak of what other commentators had been unwilling or too fearful to put into writing: “whether men exist on that world, and whether they have sinned as Adam sinned” (ibid.). William averred that such living beings “would not exist in sin and did not spring from Adam. But it is shown that they would exist from the virtue of God, transported to that world, as Enoch and Elias [Helyas] in the earthly paradise.” (ibid. and also Plurality of Worlds 88).
Hasdai Crescas (Spanish Jewish scholar) is a medieval theologian.
In conclusion, the early and medieval Catholic Church had many theologians who supported the plurality of worlds theory despite Aristotelianism. The Catholic Church, as the teacher of the infallible teachings of Christ and faith and morals, did not ever officially reject the plurality of worlds theory or the existence of extraterrestrials but indeed encouraged debate on the matter for a long time past the Copernican revolution and well into modern times.
Section 4: The Enlightenment and the Renaissance and the Protestant Revolution and the Catholic Reformation
Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630) was influenced by Bruno although he rarely referred to him in his writings and rejected his view of an infinity of worlds preferring the concrete and provable to Bruno’s ideas of a magical world. Kepler expressed concern that the new view of the universe displaced human beings as the center and apex of God’s creation by making the Earth only one world among many with intelligent beings populating other worlds:
Well, then, someone may say, if there are globes in the heaven similar to our earth, do we vie with them over who occupies a better portion of the universe? For if their globes are nobler, we are not the noblest of rational creatures. Then how can all things be for man’s sake? How can we be the masters of God’s handiwork? [Kepler’s Conversation 43 cited in Dick, Plurality of Worlds 87 and also cited as the preface to H.G.’s Wells’s War of the Worlds in 1897].
Kepler himself believed that human beings are the noblest of all creatures with the earth the noblest of all the planets circling the Sun. He also averred that Jupiter was inhabited because it had moons, saying that God created the moons of Jupiter for Jupiter’s ET’s just as God created the Moon for the Earth’s inhabitants. I think that human beings are still the apple of God’s eye even if God also blesses inhabitants of other planets. Every firstborn child experiences this feeling whenever the firstborn’s parents bring home a new baby.
Tommaso Campanella asserts that the heliocentric view espoused by Galileo did not include the plurality of worlds theory but rather embraced the idea that there are many subworlds within the one world. Galileo himself, in his studies of Aristotle, Albertus Magnus, and Thomas Aquinas, avers that Scripture speaks only of the creation of one world, so there was only one cosmos, but God could make as many worlds as he desired. Campanella wrote that the existence of water on other worlds violates the Aristotelian principle of unity and vitiates the belief that heaven is a perfect place, thus desacralizing the home of angels and depriving human beings of their hope for eternal life there. Campanella further decried the notion of ET’s by saying that their very existence was opposed to Scripture. Campanella moreover defended Galileo by asserting the Hebrew view that heaven was a physical vault holding back the waters of chaos, citing Scripture to support his view, particularly Genesis 1:1-10, also citing Psalm 103:2-3 (104:2-3), “You spread out the heavens like a tent; you raised your palace upon the waters” and Psalm 148:4, “Praise him, highest heavens, you waters above the heavens” and Proverbs 7:24 (8:24), “When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no fountains or springs of water;.” Galileo asserted that life elsewhere in the cosmos would be very different from life on Earth, an idea that he claims does not diminish the power of God (ibid. 97).
Kepler was a German Protestant while Galileo was an Italian Catholic, and the religious atmosphere surrounding their lives influenced their writings. Kepler’s sense of morality was strongly influenced by Scripture, but he kept his science distinct from his religion. Galileo wrote that theologians should be solely responsible for reconciling theology with science but expressed concerns about the Catholic Church’s reactions to new scientific theories anyway, a prudent position in a society in which the Catholic Church held great political power. Galileo was concerned especially about how his Church would react to the speculation of the effects of the Incarnation and Redemption on ET’s and so denied that ET’s existed. Galileo’s friend, the Jesuit Giovanni Ciampoli, warns Galileo in 1615 that ideas about ET’s had profound consequences when taking into consideration the view that ET’s are not descendents of Adam nor descendents of the folk aboard Noah’s Ark (Dick, Plurality of Worlds 90).
The science historian Colin Russell wrote that denizens of the 17th century posited that God is powerful enough to have created life anywhere in the cosmos he wished and that God created the universe not solely for the benefit of human beings but for all life everywhere so that the glory of God might be manifest to all his creatures universally (Wilkinson 14).
For Rene Descartes, God the Creator is great and powerful yet everything God created is not necessarily made exclusively for human beings nor do we know for what purposes they were all made. Descartes largely popularized the concept of a plurality of worlds in the 17th century. He asserted that we should not underestimate the power of God to create other worlds, a belief used by Cartesians to defend God’s omnipotence in defiance of the absence of such information in the Bible (Dick, Plurality of Worlds 116-117). Dick says that Descartes believed God created Nature and agitated its substance to make chaotic matter and “concluded his work by merely lending his concurrence to Nature in the usual way, leaving her to act in accordance with the laws which he had established” (cited in Plurality of Worlds 143).
Pierre Borel, a contemporary of Descartes, wrote in “A New Discourse Proving the Plurality of Worlds” in 1657, seven years after Descartes’s death, that the plurality of worlds theory was consistent with the teachings of the Bible and accorded well with the doctrine of God as Creator of all those worlds (ibid., 117-118). Borel did not believe that God created all those worlds for the sake of humanity alone, implying that God made other worlds for the sake of other creatures on them (ibid., 119).
Henry More (1614 – 1687), a Neoplatonic philosopher in England, wrote in favor of atomism while maintaining that God is the First Cause who started the universe in motion. More claims that the world is not infinite but that there are an infinite number of worlds, with each star having its own system of planets with life. The notion of life on other worlds, for More, supported the theory that God is omnipotent and therefore has the power to create an infinite number of worlds, an idea that neither contradicts Scripture nor Christian theology (Dick, Plurality of Worlds 52). More took ideas from Rene Descartes and Giordano Bruno to argue that our Sun is a star to other worlds. I think this idea encourages faith in the immense power of God. Although More eventually broke with Descartes, he maintained his support for a plurality of worlds, arguing that God reveals to ET’s the good news of Christ’s Incarnation and Redemption and saves them just as he saves human beings (Crowe 17).
John Wilkins, a Protestant clergyman subsequently made a Bishop of the Anglican Church and a politically powerful man, wrote Discovery of a World in the Moone in 1638 suggesting that the Moon may be inhabited and claiming that such a belief is consistent with both faith and reason. Wilkins argues that just because the Bible doesn’t mention other worlds doesn’t mean other worlds don’t exist any more than the planets don’t exist simply because Scripture doesn’t mention them. When others argued that belief in many worlds was considered to be a heresy in ancient times, Wilkins countered by arguing that the ancients were not always right, which I think is a valid argument as evidenced by the declaration of many heretics later being declared saints. Wilkins says that most skywatchers using the telescope perfected by Galileo can see for themselves as “proof beyond exception; and certainly…man must needs be of a most timorous faith, who dares not believe his own eye” (cited in Dick, Plurality of Worlds 100).
Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) wrote Cosmotheoros, or, Conjectures concerning the Celestial Earths and their Adornments, published in 1698 three years after the author’s death, in which he says “that the production of animals, and especially of man, and especially of wisdom and intelligence, is a Divine work” (cited in Dick, Plurality of Worlds 129). He wrote that the planets of necessity have plants and animals because this better displays divine providence (ibid., 130). He argues that human beings are not the only creatures of God who are endowed with divine substance.
Sir Isaac Newton wrote in 1713:
This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. And if the fixed stars are the centers of other like systems, these, being formed by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of the One [cited in Dick, Plurality of Worlds 142].
William Stukeley wrote to Newton (Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life, ed. A.H. White (London, 1936), p. 73): “God always created new worlds, always creates new worlds, new systems, to multiply the infinitude of his beneficiarys, and extend all happiness beyond all compass and imagination” (cited in Crowe xxiv).
Richard Bentley with respect to the actions of God in the Newtonian universe suggests the existence of ETs, predicting problems in ethics with respect to whether humans are the center of God's creation:
"...we need not nor do not confine and determine the purposes of God in creating all
mundane bodies, merely to human ends and uses...all bodies were formed for the sake of intelligent minds: and as the Earth was principally designed for the being and service and contemplation of men; why may not all other planets be created for the like uses, each for their own inhabitants which have life and understanding?" (Peters, "Historical Theology" 4-5).
Bentley briefly corresponded with Newton in which he suggests that belief in the Deity can be a completely rational process (Plurality of Worlds 144). Bentley asks Newton whether all the matter in the universe could have coalesced without the direct guidance of God, and Newton replies between December 1692 and February 1693 that divine coalescence could only have occurred in a finite universe and not in an infinite universe as proposed by Newton based on Lucretius. Nevertheless, the formation of stars and planetary systems could only have occurred by the direction of God (ibid., 144-145). While Descartes argues that God created the universe with a uniform system of physical laws, Newton argues that God may change physical laws from solar system to solar system (ibid. 147). Bentley wrote: “All Bodies were formed for the Sake of Intelligent Minds: As the Earth was principally designed for the Being and Service and Contemplation of Men; why may not all other Planets be created for the like uses, each for their own Inhabitants who have Life and Understanding” (cited in Plurality of Worlds 149). I believe it is consistent with Catholic theology to say that all people, ET’s and humans alike, have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and thus need Christ’s saving power to attain eternal life.
Bentley participated in a series of lectures the purpose of which, according to Robert Boyle, was to prove “the Christian religion.” Bentley wrote to Newton asking how he reconciled his science with his religious beliefs, and a delighted Newton wrote back four letters published in 1756, one of which contains his assertion that “the Growth of new Systems out of old ones, without the Mediation of a divine Power, seems to me apparently absurd” (cited in Crowe 22). Bentley combined Newtonianism and Christianity with the doctrine of the plurality of worlds in Confutation of Atheism, and his ideas spread widely (Crowe 24). Newton may have been influenced by Bentley as is evidenced by his assertion in a passage published by David Brewster in which Newton argues that, on Judgement Day, Jesus
…will give up his kingdom to the Father, and carry the blessed to the place he is now preparing for them, and send the rest to other places suitable to their merits. For in God’s house (which is the universe,) are many mansions, and he governs them by agents which can pass through the heavens from one mansion to another. For if all places to which we have access are filled with living creatures, why should all these immense spaces of the heavens above the clouds be incapable of inhabitants? [cited in Crowe 24].
In fairness, it should be noted that Newton crossed out the italicized sentences above and inserted at the end the following statement: “We are also to enter into societies by Baptism & laying on of hands & to commemorate the death of X in our assemblies by breaking of bread” (ibid., 25). Newton said in a conversation with the husband of his niece, John Conduitt, that stars were suns around which orbited other planets, that these planets were populated with ET’s, that these suns were replenished when heavenly bodies fell into them unfortunately destroying all life on them, and that ET’s superior to humans “superintended these revolutions of the heavenly bodies, by the direction of the Supreme Being” (Crowe 25). Newton also said that the power of God was required to recreate ET’s on these planets after these catastrophes (ibid.).
The Reverend Dr. William Derham (1657 – 1735) wrote Astro-Theology, or A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God from a Survey of the Heavens in which he claims the universe is designed by God and avers a plurality of worlds which he believes are “places of habitation, which is concluded from their being habitable, and well provided for habitation (cited in Brewster 254). Derham writes that our solar system “is far the most magnificent of any; and worthy of an infinite CREATOR…” (p. xliv) [cited in Crowe 26].
William Whewell wrote Of the Plurality of Worlds: An Essay which attacks the notion of ETs, and the religious implications for the Christian faith debate that followed. Among other things, Whewell contends that the Sun is somehow different from other stars so that other stars do not have the same characteristics requisite for the development of life (185 – 187). Whewell disputes the common contention of many scholars of his day that the benevolence of God necessitates the existence of life on other worlds (234).
Whewell also suggests that the universe is evidence for the existence of God. He writes:
We may remark further, that this view of God, as the Author of the Laws of the Universe, leads to a view of all the phenomena and objects of the world, as the work of God; not a work made, and laid out of hand, but a field of his present activity and energy. And such a view cannot fail to give an aspect of dignity to all that is great in creation, and of beauty to all that is symmetrical, which otherwise they could not have. Accordingly, it is by calling to their thoughts the presence of God as suggested by scenes of grandeur or splendor, that poets often reach the sympathies of their readers. And this dignity and sublimity appear especially to belong to the larger objects, which are destitute of conscious life; as the mountains, the glacier, the pine-forest, the ocean; since in these, we are, as it were, alone with God, and the only present witnesses of His mysterious working (280 – 281).
Whewell seems to imply that the very beauty of the universe is for the benefit of human beings alone who are the apple of God’s eye, but I think that it is also for the benefit of ET’s who are also the creations of God. The view of the heavens from Arcturus is surely not less spectacular than the view from Earth, and it would be a shame to waste such beauty on the unappreciative inanimate rocks and sand. Whewell writes, “The remotest planet is not devoid of life, for God lives there” (281). This is true, but God I believe looks through not only his own eyes but also through the eyes of intelligent beings on a wide variety of worlds, and I believe God probably “saw that it was very good” (Genesis 1).
John Ray, an Englishman, wrote of a plenitude of creatures of God throughout the universe, giving demonstrative Proof of the unlimited extent of the Creator’s Skill, and the fecundity of his Wisdom and Power” (cited in Plurality of Worlds 151). Nehemiah Grew, a member of the Royal Society along with Ray, wrote Cosmologia Sacra: or a Discourse of the Universe as it is the Creature and Kingdom of God in 1701, arguing that other planets including the Moon were other earths which were populated with ET’s to give purpose to other suns (ibid.). William Whiston wrote in 1715 that God’s glory and might was demonstrated in the existence of other planetary systems. William Derham wrote Astro-Theology: or a Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God, from a Survey of the Heavens in 1715 in which he argues that all the attributes of the universe are evidence for the existence of God. John Keill, a Newtonian, argues that planets revolve around other suns, “Hence we are to consider the whole Universe as a glorious palace for an infinitely great and everywhere present God; and that all the worlds or systems or worlds, are as so many theatres, in which He displays his Divine Power, Wisdom, and Goodness” (cited in Plurality of Worlds 155). Johann Jacob Schedult wrote On the Probability of a Plurality of Worlds in 1721 that worlds populated with ET’s “make clear the wisdom, power, and goodness of the Creator, and inspire praise of the Divine” (ibid., 184).
Johann Lambert, a contemporary of Kant and Thomas Wright, published books on the plurality of worlds speculating widely on cosmological and theological implications of ET’s, suggesting that God created a variety of intelligent beings throughout the cosmos as an exercise of the Lord’s omnipotence. Kant, Lambert, and Wright also speculated about God’s purposes for our own Earth. Edward Young wrote:
One Sun by Day, by Night ten Thousand shine,
And light us deep into the Deity [Night Thoughts, “Night Ninth,” lines 748-9].
Young also wrote, “An undevout astronomer is mad” (cited in Crowe 59) as well as:
Each of these stars is a religious house;
I saw their altars smoke, their incense rise;
And heard hosannas ring through every sphere…. (IX, 1881-1883) [cited in Crowe 85].
The great Proprietor’s all-bounteous hand
Leaves nothing waste, but sows these fiery fields
With seeds of reason, which to virtues rise
Beneath his genial ray [cited in Brewster 229].
James Ferguson (1710 – 1776), a self-taught astronomer who influenced the great Sir William Herschel, argues that astronomy is “the most sublime, the most interesting, and the most useful” subject so that by studying it we become “clearly convinced, and affected with the conviction, of the existence, wisdom, power, goodness, and superintendency of the SUPREME BEING!” (cited in Crowe 60). Ferguson also argues in favor of other worlds inhabited by ET’s. Sir William Herschel (1738 – 1822), a great astronomer, endorsed Ferguson’s position that the universe contains a plurality of worlds inhabited by ET’s including the Moon. E.S. Holden believed that Herschel’s view of life on the Moon and other planets “rest more on a metaphysical than a scientific basis” (cited in Crowe 67).
Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700 – 1755), a German, favors a plurality of worlds and ET’s, arguing that ET’s need not resemble human beings (Crowe 140). Johann Heironymous Schroter (1745 – 1816) observed the moon and was
….fully convinced that every celestial body may be so arranged physically by the Almighty as to be filled with living creatures organized conformbably to its physical plan and praising the power and goodness of God, and that the infinite grandeur of the Creator ought to be glorified in the analogous multiplicity of the physical arrangement of the celestial bodies as it is also certainly revealed in the infinite variety of their living creatures (cited in Crowe 71).
Johann Elert Bode (1747 – 1826) wrote about inhabitants of the Sun:
Who would doubt their existence? The most wise author of the world assigns an insect lodging on a grain of sand and will certainly not permit…the great ball of the sun to be empty of creatures and still less of rational inhabitants who are ready gratefully to praise the author of their life.
Its fortunate inhabitants, say I, are illuminated by an unce3asing light, the blinding brightness of which they view without injury and which,m in accordance witht eh most wise design of the all-Good, communicates to them the necessary warmth by means of its thick atmosphere (p. 246) [cited in Crowe 73].
Bode further writes that “rational beings” living on other worlds “are ready to know the author of their existence and to praise his goodness” (pp. 375-376) [cited in Crowe 74]. Bode goes on the say that solar inhabitants are protected from the sun’s intense light by the power of God (ibid., 75). He also suggests that the center of the universe is God’s abode. Jerome Laland (1732 – 1807) wrote about the tense relationship between astronomy and religion:
There have been some writers, as timid as they are religious, who have condemned this system [pluralism] as contrary to religion; this was a bad way to promote the glory of the creator. If the extent of his works announces his power, can one supply any idea more magnificent and more sublime? We see with the naked eye many thousands of stars; an ordinary telescope reveals many more in every region of the sky….[I]magination pierces beyond the telescope; it sees a new multitude of worlds infinitely larger….(III, p. 354) [cited in Crowe 79].
Nevertheless, Laland appears to have developed an intense atheism around 1800 where once he seems to have expressed a intense faith. Blaise Pascal wrote in Pensees “[Finally] they give them, as a complete proof [of God], the course of the moon and planets….” Adding “Nothing is more calculated to arouse their contempt” (cited in Crowe 80). Such writers seem to have great faith in God while simultaneously asserting that life on other worlds neither proves nor disproves the existence of God. Henry Baker (1698 – 1774), a microscopist, wrote in The Universe: A Poem Intended to Restrain the Pride of Man:
Nor can those other worlds, unknown to this,
Lest stor’d with Creatures, or with Beauty be,
For God is uniform in all his Ways,
And everywhere his boundless Pow’r displays [cited in Crowe 82].
John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote in a letter to E.B. Pusey on 13 April 1858 (Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, vol. 18, ed. C. S. Dessain (London, 1968), p. 322), after complaining about how “some scientists usurp the domain of religion” (Crowe xxiv): “Here is Dr. Brewster, I think, saying that ‘more worlds than one is the hope of the Christian-‘ and, as it seems to me, building Christianity more or less upon astronomy.” Newman also remarks in Grammar of Assent (1870), chapter 9: “in the controversy about the Plurality of worlds, it has been considered…to be so necessary that the Creator should have filled with living beings the luminaries which we see in the sky…that it almost amounts to blasphemy to doubt it.”
Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744) supported the idea that God has created a plurality of worlds populated with ET’s in his Essay on Man:
He, who thro’ vast immensity can pierce,
See worlds on worlds compose one universe,
Observe how system into system runs,
What other planets circle other suns,
What vary’d Being peoples ev’ry star,
May tell why Heavn’n has made us as we are (Epistle I, lines 23-8).
Daniel Sturmy wrote A Theological Theory of a Plurality of Worlds in which he argues in favor of ET’s and quests for support for ET’s in the Bible (Crowe 35). Clergyman Isaac Watts (1674 – 1748) composed a hymn which could be interpreted as arguing that Christ came only to the Earth and not to other worlds, but this doesn’t mean he disbelieves ET’s exist, rather saying, ‘tis probable that [the planets] are all Habitable Worlds furnished with rich Variety of Inhabitants to the Praise of their great Creator” (cited in Crowe 36). Thomas Wright of Durham (1711 – 1786) combines science and religion in his quest to understand God’s Creation.
John Wesley (1703 – 1791) was initially a pluralist who wrote in response to an attack on his natural theology by quoting his opponent:
“They who affirm, that God created those bodies, the fixed stars, only to give us a small, dim light, must have a very mean opinion of the divine wisdom.” I do not affirm this; neither can I tell for what other end He created them: He that created them knows. But I have so high an opinion of the divine wisdom, that I believe no child of man can fathom it. It is our wisdom to be very wary how we pronounce concerning things which we have not seen (XIII, p. 398) [cited in Crowe 94].
Wesley also writes:
“Nay,” says the philosopher, “if God so loved the world, did he not love a thousand other worlds, as well as he did this? It is now allowed that there are thousands, if not millions, of worlds, besides this in which we live. And can any reasonable man believe that the Creator of all these, many of which are probably as large, yea, far larger than ours, would how such astonishingly greater regard to one than to all the rest?” (VII, p. 172) [cited in Crowe 94-95].
Section 5: Protestants and Catholics in Europe and across the Atlantic in America
Cotton Mather and Many Worlds Theory (17th-18th century): Mather wrote Wonderful Works of God Commemorated (1690) and Christian Philosopher (1720). Mather argues in favor of the plurality of worlds, writing:
Great GOD, what a Variety of Worlds hast thou created!...How stupendous are the Displays of thy Greatness, and of thy Glory, in the Creatures, with which thou has replenished those Worlds! Who can tell what Angelical Inhabitants may there see and sing the Praises of the Lord! Who can tell what Uses those marvelous Globes may be designed for! Of these unknown Worlds I know thus much, 'Tis our Great GOD that has made them all (p. 19) [cited in Crowe 107].
Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) wrote in 1757 about the possibility of a collision between Halley’s Comet and the Earth: “We must not presume too much on our own importance. There are an infinite number of worlds under the divine government, and if this was annihilated, it would scarce be missed in the universe” (cited in Wilkinson 15 and Crowe 109). Franklin seems to have believed not only in a plurality of worlds but also in a plurality of Gods who he claims each govern every solar system throughout the universe individually (Crowe 107 – 108).
Baron Emanuel Swedenborg (1688 – 1772) was a visionary who claims he saw angels and resurrected humans taking care of other worlds in our solar system and elsewhere. Soame Jenyns (1704 – 1787), a politician, writer of theology, and poet wrote that the goodness of God permeates the cosmos including ET’s:
Hence soul and sense, diffus’d through ev’ry place,
Make happiness as infinite as space;
Thousands of suns beyond each other blaze,
Orbs roll o’er orbs, and glow with mutual rays;
Each is a world, where, form’d with wondrous art,
Unnumber’d species live through ev’ry part.
Beilby Porteus (1731 – 1808), bishop of Chester and subsequently of London, wrote in favor of
Edward King (1735? – 1807) favors a plurality of worlds, composing Hymns to the Supreme Being. In Imitation of the Eastern Songs. The beautiful poetry contains the following lines:
Thou, O Lord, hast made all things in Heaven and in Earth: and Thy tender care is over all.
Innumerable Worlds stood forth at Thy command; and by Thy word they are filled with glorious works.
Who can comprehend the boundless Universe? Or number the Stars of Heaven?
Are they not the Habitations of Thy Power? Filled with manifestations of Thy Wisdom, and Goodness? [cited in Crowe 104].
In another passages favoring a plurality of worlds, King writes, “Many worlds are nourished by it: and its glory is great.” (p. 15) [cited in Crowe 104]. King theorizes that the Sun and Stars are the habitations of the resurrected people (humans and ET’s alike) of the planets in their respective solar systems. Roger Long (1680 – 1770), another pluralist, avers that God created the universe not exclusively for human beings (Crowe 104-105).
Benjamin West (1730 – 1818), writing under the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff, wrote in his Bickerstaff’s Boston Almanach for…1778 about Saturn:
Strange and amazing must the difference be,
‘Twixt this dull planet and bright Mercury;
Yet reason says, nor can we doubt at all,
Millions of beings dwell on either ball
With constitutions fitted for that spot.
Where Providence, all-wise, has fix’d their lot [cited in Crowe 109].
Benjamin Banneker (1731 – 1806), a Negro farmer and writer of an almanac, said in 1794:
View yon majestic concave of the sky!
Contemplate well, those glorious orbs on high –
There Constellations shine, and Comets blaze;
Each glitt’ring world the Godhead’s pow’r displays! [cited in Crowe 110].
Philip Freneau (1752 – 1832) published in his The Monmouth Almanac, for the Year M,DCC,XCV that ET’s are “all comfortably provided for by the benevolence of the Creator” (cited in Crowe 110). James Bowdoin (1726 – 1790) writes that ET’s populate other worlds, an idea that implies the notion of “a SUPREME MIND…” (Crowe 115).
Thomas Paine in "The Age of Reason" (mid 1790’s) argues that there must be a plurality of worlds (McMullin 164). Clearly, in the face of such writings, Christians needed to reconcile their faith with the plurality of inhabited worlds theory (Crowe 164).
[Francois-Marie Arouet] Voltaire (1694 – 1778) favors the pluralist view and writes a science fiction story entitled Micromegas in 1752 in which ET’s from Sirius (Micromegas) and Jupiter listen to a human theologian explain that, according to Saint Thomas’s Summa Theologica that ET’s, “their worlds, their suns, their stars were all made uniquely for man” to which the ET’s rock the ship with their gales of laughter (Crowe 121). Voltaire displays himself to be both a pluralist and a Deist, writing a prayer starting with “It is no longer to men that I address myself; it is to you, God of all beings, of all the worlds….” (XXXVIII, p. 291) [cited in Crowe 122]. Voltaire writes in “Dogmas”:
BY ORDER OF THE ETERNAL, CREATOR, CONSERVER, REMUNERATOR, AVENGER, PARDONER, etc., etc., be it well know to all the inhabitants of the hundred thousand millions of billions of worlds that it has pleased us to form, that we will never judge any of these inhabitants on their empty ideas, but only on their actions, for such is our justice. (LIV, p. 106) [cited in Crowe 123].
Charles Bonnet (1720 – 1793), a very religious scientist from Switzerland, wrote that on other worlds human beings might be angels, and expressed a religious vision of the universe in “Celestial Hierarchies” in which he avers that angels are world-hoppers, asking if the “INFINITELY GOOD BEING” would deny humans the ability to visit other planets, and his reply is, “No; because you are called one day to take your place among the CELESTIAL HIERARCHIES, you will soar, as [the angels], from planet to planet; you will go from perfection to perfection, and each instant…will be marked by the acquisition of new knowledges” (pp. 85 – 86) [cited in Crowe 130]. Bonnet mixed his belief in a plurality of worlds with this strange palingenesis (metempsychosis), leading others to cut his theories off from Christianity proper.
Francois Xavier de Feller (1735 – 1802), a Jesuit, argues against the plurality of worlds theory and ET’s in general, arguing that the Earth is the only planet with intelligent beings. On the other hand, Abbe Jean Terrasson (1670 – 1750) argues in favor of plurality and ET’s, claiming that the teachings of the Church including the Bible do not unequivocally deny the pluralist position (Crowe 135). He writes, “It is asked…if the eternal Word [Christ] can unite himself hypostatically to a number of men; one responds without hesitation – yes. The men would all be men-God [hommes-Dieu], men in the plural, God in the singular, because these men-God would in effect be several in number as to human nature, but they would be only one in respect to the divine nature…” (pp. 54-55) [cited in Crowe 135]. He also suggests that God became incarnate even on worlds which had not Fallen, claiming such ET’s would deserve the honor even more than sinful beings (ibid.). The vast majority of authors in this era who expressed religious ideas, whether Catholic or Protestant, favored the idea of a plurality of worlds populated with ET’s.
For Gottsched and others (including me), the idea of ET’s on a plurality of worlds enhances religious faith in Christ and encourages us to laud our Creator who created such a wondrous mixture of innumerable races of intelligent beings. Ewold von Kleist (1715 – 1759) wrote in praise of the Creator of many worlds populated with ET’s:
Who bids millions of suns with majesty and splendour shine?
Who doth on their wondrous course to countless worlds their paths assign?
Who endows with life each circle? Who unites the wondrous band?
Thy lips’ gentle breathings Lord! Yea, thy most high and dread command [cited in Crowe 143].
Christian Furchtegott Gellert (1715 – 1769), a poet and professor of philosophy at Leipzig, wrote that ET’s populated planets orbiting other stars, “an infinite crowd of creatures [whom] the Lord of all nature creates, knows, and conserves!” (cited in Crowe 149).
Thomas Chalmers wrote Astronomical Discourses (1817) which people interpreted as an attempt to reconcile Christianity with the plurality of worlds theory. James Mitchell (1786? – 1844) wrote Of the Plurlaity of Worlds (1813), saying that arguing against pluralism “would be to impeach the wisdom of our Maker” (p. 21) [cited in Crowe 168]. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834) draws the conclusion that the theory of a plurality of worlds enhances our Christian faith: “What in the eye of an intellectual and omnipotent Being is the whole sidereal system to the soul of one man for whom Christ died?” (Complete Works, ed. Professor Shedd, vol. VI (New York, 1853), p. 502-3) [cited in Crowe 171].
Adam Clarke (1762? – 1832) wrote in favor of a plurality of worlds, arguing that Scripture supports pluralism, citing Deuteronomy 10:14 and the phrase “heaven of heavens” as well as 1 Kings 8:27 and the usage of the term “heavens.” He argues that each sun has its own planets, and God created our Sun and planets in 4004 B.C. (Crowe 173 – 174).
Jacques Necker (1732 – 1804) favors a plurality of worlds created by God and populated with ET’s, and he passed on this belief to his brilliant daughter, Anne-Louise-Gemaine necker whose pseudonym is Madame de Stael (1766 – 1817) who wrote Corinne (1807) in which she says:
…death will be for you only a change in habitation; and that which you leave may be the least of all. Oh innumerable worlds, which to our eyes fill the infinity of space! Unknown communities of creatures of God! Communities of his children, scattered in the firmament and arrayed under his vaults! Let our praises join to yours; we do not know your situation; we are ignorant of your first, second, and last portions of the generosities of the supreme being; but in speaking of death, of life, of times past and to come, we attain, we touch on the interests of all intelligent and sentient beings….Families of people, families of nations, assemblies of worlds, you speak with us; Glory to the master of them all, to the king of nature, to the God of the universe! (p. 140) [cited in Crowe 179].
Vicomte Francois-Rene Chateaubriand (1768 – 1848) is described by Edmond Gregoire as claiming that Christ traveled from world to world throughout the universe to spread his message: “From globe to globe, from sun to sun, his majestic steps had traversed all those spheres which the divine intelligences inhabit, and perhaps [peut-etre] men unknown to men” (Les martyrs, in his Oeuvres, vol. III p. 641; and Gregoire, Hugo, p. 195) [cited in Crowe 181]. Chateaubriand appears to have held the belief that other worlds were created by God for human beings to travel to and inhabit and not necessarily for ET’s.
Thomas Chalmers (1780 -- ??) preached on Thursday, 23 November 1815 at Tron Church, Glasgow on the topic of Christianity and ET’s, and the series of sermons was published in 1817 as A Series of Discourses on the Christian Revelation Viewed in Connection with the Modern Astronomy (also known as Astronomical Discourses). The publication of these sermons had a profound effect on the pluralism and ET’s debate in Christian circles. Chalmers was early on a scientist and mathematician but later in life developed a tremendous love for Christianity and preached it fervently, with the doctrines of Christ’s Atonement as well as the sinfulness of human beings and our need for grace close to his heart, and his knowledge as a scientist served him well in his discussions of Christianity and ET’s. These published sermons were enormously popular with the general public in both Europe and America. It is worth looking at Astronomical Discourses in detail (Crowe 182 – 185).
In his first sermon, Chalmers cites Psalm 8: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou are mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (p. 2) [cited in Crowe 185]. Chalmers says that piously regarding the heavens is a very Christian exercise (ibid.). He also says that God regards everything from the smallest insect to human beings to ET’s with great generosity, so it is both rational and pious to believe that God would “send his eternal son, to die for the puny occupiers of so insignificant a province in the mighty field of his creation” (p. 32) [cited in Crowe 186]. He adds that our Creator “came to this humblest of its provinces, in the disguise of a servant, and took upon him the form of our degraded species, and let himself down to sorrows, and to sufferings, and to death, for us” (p. 71) [cited in Crowe 186].
Niceto Alonso Perujo (1841 – 1890) avers that pluralism does not contradict Catholic teachings (Crowe 422).
The Reverend Thomas Dick (1774 – 1857) dedicated much of his life to the pluralist theory and ET’s. He erroneously believed the moon and other planets in our solar system to be inhabited, but then many people of his era held this belief. He claims that the Bible supports pluralism such as Psalm 8 (cited by Chalmers). When some astronomers suggested that a single massive body exists at the center of the universe, Thomas Dick describes it as “THE THRONE OF GOD” (Crowe 197 – 198). He also suggests that angels may be material ET’s (p. 93) [Crowe 198]. One of Thomas Dick’s main ideas is his attempt to harmonize science and religion (Crowe 198). He claims that inhabitants on a plurality of worlds makes our Infinite Creator even more glorious (201). I believe that the existence of ET’s makes God even more magnificent and worthy of our worship.
Dionysius Lardner (1792 – 1859) in the first chapter of his Popular Lectures called “The Plurality of Worlds” writes: “Are those shining orbs which so richly decoarate the firmament peopled with creatures endowed like ourselves with reason to discover, with sense to love, and with imagination to expand toward their limitless perfection the attributes of Him of ‘whose fingers the heavens are the work?’” (I.p. 51) [cited in Crowe 227].
Ormsby MacKnight Mitchell (1809 – 1862), a West Pointer, was an American pluralist who wrote in one of his lectures:
Around us and above us rise Sun and System, Cluster and Universe. And I doubt not that in every region of this vast Empire of God, hymns of praise and anthems of glory are rising and reverberating from Sun to Sun and from System to System – heard by Omnipotence alone across immensity and through eternity! (cited in Crowe 234).
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882), a famous American Transcendentalist, wrote in his Nature:
But if man would be alone, let him look at the stars….One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime….If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! [p. 5] (cited in Crowe 235).
Isaac Asimov, a famous science fiction and science writer, once wrote a story based on the last sentence of the above quote called “Nightfall,” which many believe to be the best story he ever wrote. In the story, a planet surrounded by six suns has inhabitants who live in perpetual daylight, although there are ancient prophecies about a time when the world was plunged into darkness and mysterious objects called “stars” appeared and civilization was destroyed. The story relates to this thesis because Asimov pits the scientists against the believers of the ancient prophecies; both groups believe there are stars but neither group knows what the stars actually are. Asimov’s story serves to illustrate how religious beliefs as well as scientific beliefs can develop on another world with different attributes. In Perelandra by C.S. Lewis, Maleldil the Young (aka Jesus Christ) commands the first man and first woman on this world that they must stay on the movable islands on the world and not to stay overnight on immovable ground, a commandment the main character from Earth, Ransom, realizes is a different commandment from the one given to Adam and Eve because the conditions on the world Perelandra are different from those of Earth. Ransom reasons that it is not the specific commandment so much as its nature as a commandment which must be obeyed that is important, so he encourages the first woman to obey the commandment even though no reason is supplied as to why the commandment is given. Both these stories serve to illustrate that different theologies can develop on different planets from faith in the same God. Emerson himself later rejected Christianity.
Joseph Smith (1805 – 1844) founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and wrote The Book of Mormon, which he purportedly translated from a Egyptian, Chaldic, Asyrian, and Arabic gold plates given him by an angel named Moroni (he gave the gold plates back to the angel, so they cannot be studied). Although The Book of Mormon does not contain pluralist theories, later Mormons argue that Smith was a pluralist in later documents such as The Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price. In The Pearl of Great Price is a section called The Book of Moses which contains purported visions and revelations given to Moses by God:
And he [Moses] beheld many lands; and each land was called earth, and there were inhabitants on the face thereof.
And worlds without number have I [God] created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.
But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man….
And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof, even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works….
The Mormon church, as I understand it, teaches that God is an extraterrestrial from the planet Kolob (“Book of Abraham”) and that human beings can become gods of other worlds. The position of the Catholic Church on the Latter-day Saints is that, because the Mormons specifically and willfully deny with the validity of the contents of the Nicene Creed, which is a statement about the nature of the Trinity, the Mormon baptism is invalid on the grounds that they baptize in the name of three separate gods whom they call Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, rather than in the name of one consubstantial God which the Catholic Church calls Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, Mormon views on religion and ET’s makes for a fascinating study all by itself. However, because this thesis is concentrating on Christian beliefs with respect to ET’s, this is all that will be said about the Mormons.
Francois Arago (1786 – 1853) gave lectures on astronomy which were later published as Astronomie populaire in the final section of which he writes:
Some very pious persons have imagined that to examine what will be the astronomy of an observer situated on diverse planets was to put oneself into a culpable disregard of holy Scripture. I do not share this view. In effect, in transporting an observer to different planets, and even to the center of the sun, we are not saying that he resembles the inhabitants of our globe. Besides, some very wise theologians, for example, Dr. Chalmers, have proved that nothing in the holy books forbids the supposition that the planets are inhabited. (IV, pp. 759 – 760) [cited in Crowe 247].
Johann Heinrich Kurtz (1809 – 1890), a Lutheran theologian who denies pluralism, argues against Chalmers and the Incarnation of God on other worlds, claiming that either ET’s are not fallen and therefore have no need of redemption or, if they are fallen, then Christ does not save them (Crowe 261 – 262). This, I think, is a rather bleak outlook for ET’s.
Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856), a poet, wrote in Heines Poetry and Prose (London, 1934), p. 330, a touching account of a childhood dream:
I grew entirely confused by all the information learned from astronomy, which subject even the smallest child was not spared in that period of enlightenment. I could not get over the wonder of it, that ll these thousands of millions of stars were great and beautiful globes, like our own, and that one simple God ruled over all these gleaming myriads of worlds. Once in a dream, I remember, I saw God, in the farthest distance of the high heavens….He was scattering handfuls of seeds, which as they fell from heaven opened out…and grew to tremendous size, until they finally became bright, flourishing, inhabited worlds….I have never been able to forget this face; I often saw this cheerful old man in my dreams again, scattering the seeds of worlds out of His tiny window….I could only see the falling seeds, always expanding to vast shining globes: but the great hens, which were possibly lying in wait somewhere with wide-open beaks, to be fed with these worldspheres, those I could never see (cited in Crowe 262 – 263).
William Whewell (1794 – 1866), once a pluralist, turned against pluralism in an essay called Of the Plurality of Worlds: An Essay, published in 1853, which had a negative impact on pluralism in many circles including Christian ones. Crowe believes that Whewells change of heart was largely due to his inability to reconcile pluralism with Christianity (267). When he was a pluralist, Whewell was obviously influenced by Chalmers (Crowe 268). He may also have been influenced by Paley who wrote that the science of astronomy is not the best medium through which to prove the agency of an intelligent Creator [because we] are destitute of the means of examining the constitution of the heavenly bodies, (Natural Theology, 15th edition, London 1815, pp. 378 379) [cited in Crowe 268]. In the dedication to Astronomy and General Physics, Whewell encourages friends of religion to examine positively the progress of the physical sciences, by showing how admirably every advance in our knowledge of the universe harmonizes with the belief of a most wise and good God (cited in Crowe 269). Whewell argues in favor of Intelligent Design Theory, an idea he seems to believe will influence people of faith but not those who do not believe in God (ibid.).
Whewell wrote an unpublished dialogue called Astronomy and Religion in 1850 in which two interlocuters, A and B, dedicated to the debate between pluralism and its theological implications. Speaker A is disturbed by Psalm 8:3-4, and B asks him to explain why, to which A replies that modern astronomy seems to decry the truth of this passage. Speaker B appears to be the voice of Whewell who asserts that As claim that ETs denigrate Gods saving act on Earth by Christ disturbs B who begins to doubt the compatibility of ETs and Christianity (Crowe 278 279). Whewells doubts were rooted in religious concerns, but he tried to combine scientific as well as religious reasons for his rejection of pluralism (Crowe 280 281). His major concern seems to have been related to the Incarnation and Redemption of people on Earth by Christ. He seems to suggest that one may accept either Christianity or pluralism but not both, just as Thomas Paine asserted, but, unlike Paine, Whewell comes down clearly on the side of Christianity. Interestingly, Whewell encourages his readers to refrain from speculating about ETs until it is determined by astronomers that planets around other stars exist. It is noteworthy that astronomers in the late 20th century did exactly that, and no serious astronomer or scholar denies that other planets orbiting other suns exist.
Sir David Brewster (1781 – 1868) opposed Whewell and engaged in a public debate with him that was followed by the academic public. Brewster criticizes Whewell for his intelligent design theory which Brewster feels limits the power of God. Brewster defends pluralism because he claims it demonstrates God’s power (Crowe 301). Brewster read Isaiah 45:12 to support his theory that Scripture supports ET’s inhabiting a plurality of worlds: “For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens, God himself that formed the earth, and made it; he hat established it, created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited” (cited in Crowe 303). Brewster argues that if the worlds are not inhabited then God would have formed them in vain, further claiming that the verse supports the view that the prophets of the Bible were familiar with other inhabited worlds (ibid.). Brewster was fervent in his beliefs to an extreme that troubled even his supporters.
Interestingly, both Brewster and Whewell were devout men who each believed that their respective positions were the more religious than the other for opposite reasons. Brewster’s natural theology caused him to believe that it would be impious to fail to believe ET’s exist on a plurality of worlds, while Whewell thought it would be impious to believe the opposite position. Thus, the debate in the 19th century raged on between two aging patriarchs, the public following the debate, well, religiously.
According to Richard Simpson (1820 – 1876), the Roman Catholic Church had not up to that time made any de fide proclamations either in favor of the theory that other worlds are populated with ET’s or against it (Crowe 337). Crowe writes: “Although St. Augustine and St. Philastrius of Brixen included this doctrine in lists of heresies, St. Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, St. Irenaeus, Origen, and St. Jerome all affirmed it ([Rambler] 38, p. 130)” (337). Simpson disagrees with the Brewster book by saying that Brewster’s suggestions that the Incarnation may have taken place on numerous inhabited planets borders on “Gnosticism” (ibid.).
Richard Anthony Proctor (1837 – 1888) was a prolific astronomical writer whose religious views he rarely expressed, although Crowe notes that he criticizes certain pluralists “whom he describes as overestimating the degree to which God’s design for the universe can be known (Infinities, pp. 45-8)” [Crowe 374]. Although Catholic for a time, Proctor eventually left the Church on the grounds that he was told his theories were incompatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Crowe says that he rarely expressed his beliefs so it is not known how he ever attempted to reconcile Christianity with pluralism (375).
In America, both Catholics and Protestants discussed the issue of pluralism and ET’s, including Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, though these particular giants of literature did not write within the realm of orthodox Christianity (Crowe 446). Whitman embraced pantheism in conjunction with pluralism as well as transmigrational doctrines (Crowe 446 – 447). Whitman may have been influenced by Thomas Paine who was a friend of Whitman’s father (Crowe 447) as well as Paine’s Age of Reason. Whitman was very anticlerical and antichurch (Crowe 447). Mark Twain, also a pluralist, was also anti-Christian and pessimistic (Crowe 448).
In America, although Protestants disputed Darwinism in the late 19th century, they in general found no theological difficulties with pluralism (Crowe 450). The Mormons, the Seventh Day Adventists, and the Swedenborgians, as well as disciples of Thomas Lake Harris, embraced pluralism enthusiastically. Mainstream Protestants were not as enthusiastic, but numerous authors including a Baptist, a Methodist, a Congregationalist, and two Presbyterians wrote on the subject favorably (Crowe 450). Rev. Edwin T. Winkler (1823 – 1883) wrote in favor of the view that Christ’s redemptive work extends to ET’s throughout the universe (Crowe 450). Rev. Adam Miller (1810 – 1901) favors pluralism as well as the notion that humans after death populate other planets (Crowe 450 – 451). Enoch Fitch Burr (1818 – 1907), a pluralist and Congregationalist minister, cites the Bible in Celestial Empires to support his contention that “God, his holy angels…, the spirits of saved men, ... Satan, the evil angels, and the lost souls…have their proper homes on glorious materialisms somewhere out yonder in the profound of space” (pp. 263-4) [cited in Crowe 451]. Rev. William Leitch (1818 – 1864), a Presbyterian, says that the Bible does not directly support pluralism but does not deny it either (Crowe 452). Leitch believes the Incarnation of Christ is unique to the Earth and also rejects the idea that the merits of Christ’s atoning sacrifice applies to ET’s (Crowe 452).
Rev. Augustine F. Hewit (1820 – 1897), the superior general of the Paulists, suggests that currently the plurality of worlds are uninhabited, according to Scripture, but after the final judgement will be inhabited by resurrected humans (Crowe 456 – 457).
If life is an extremely unlikely occurrence bordering on the impossible, then it follows that some divine impetus is necessary for life to occur at all. Darwinism tells us how life evolves but says nothing about how life began. Experiments by reputable scientists have established the veracity of the theory that life arises from previous life and does not arise from spontaneous generation. Nevertheless, many scientists seem to hold to the theory that life arose on Earth by spontaneous generation even while simultaneously asserting that spontaneous generation no longer occurs. This position is inconsistent with science as well as theology.
The Jewish view:
Rabbi Hayim Perelmuter, former President of the Chicago Board of Rabbis and a professor at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, says that modern Judaism would embrace the discovery of ETs wholeheartedly because it would expand the Jewish understanding of the universe. Perelmuter writes, "We Jews have had to adjust to all kinds of things in history, including Nazi Germany and the difficulties with Israel. I am sure we could adjust to space beings emerging from flying saucers as well" (Peters, "Contemporary Theology" 4). Many Christian theologians and popular writers share Perelmuter’s view that members of different faiths will adjust to the existence of ET’s without their faiths disintegrating.
Rabbi Norman Lamm is a modern scholar who refers to medieval Jewish thought to express his belief that Jews should examine “a Jewish exotheology, an authentic Jewish view of God and man in a universe in which man is not the only intelligent resident, and perhaps inferior to many other races” (cited in Dick, Life on Other Worlds 250 – 251). Lamm argues that God is expansive enough to create and love innumerable inhabitants of innumerable worlds. For Jews, the existence of ET’s expands our knowledge of God and his universe while not denigrating the importance and uniqueness of humanity.
Fundamentalists in their literature have sought to demonize UFOs, and this may reflect how Fundamentalists will react to actual ETs. Fundamentalists give the impression that Christianity is more fragile than it actually is (Peters, "Introduction" 2).
Hinduism, Shintoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Islam, and other worlds religions: What are their views on pluralism and ET’s? I have found very little literature by theologians of these world religions on the topics in my thesis.
Aquinas, Saint Thomas. Summa Theologica.
Aquinas, Saint Thomas. Commentary on Aristotle's "On the Heavens" (Aristotelis libros de caelo et mundo, generatione et corruptione, meteorologicorum expositio (Rome, 1952)).
Archelaus: The Acts of the Disputation with the Heresiarch Manes (a Fragment of the Same Disputation). Logos Software: The Early Church Fathers.
Asimov, Isaac. Extraterrestrial Civilizations. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1979.
Ashkenazi, M. "Not the Sons of Adam: Religious Responses to ETI." Space Policy, 8/4: 341-349. 1992.
Author unknown. "The Rael Thing." Earth Island Journal, Spring 98, Vol. 13 Issue 2, p 3.
Brewster, Sir David. More Worlds Than One: The Creed of the Philosopher and the Hope of the Christian. London: John Murray, Albe Marle Street, 1862.
Brooke, John H. “Natural Theology and the Plurality of Worlds: Observations on the Brewster-Whewell Debate,” Annals of Science, 34 (1977), 221 – 286.
Buridan, John. "Quaestiones super libris quattuor de caelo et mundo." Cited by Dick, Plurality of Worlds 29).
Cairns, David. “Thomas Chalmers’s Astronomical Discourses: A Study in Natural Theology,” Scottish Journal of Theology, 9 (1956), 410 – 421.
Chalmers, Thomas, D.D. A Series of Discourses on the Christian Revelation, Viewed in Connection with the Modern Astronomy. New York: American Tract Society, n.d.
Croswell, Ken. "No news from Alpha Centauri (yet).” New York Times, 7/26/96, Vol. 145 Issue 50500 p A29.
Crowe, Michael J. The Extraterrestrial Life Debate, 1750 -- 1900. Dover Publications, May 1999. ISBN: 048640675X.
Davies, P.C.W. Are We Alone? The Philosphical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life. Basic Books, August 1996. ISBN: 0465004199.
Davis, Charles. “The Place of Christ.” Clergy Review, n.s., 45 (1960), 707 – 718.
Davis, John Jefferson. “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence and the Christian Doctrine of Redemption.” Science and Christian Belief, 9 (1997), 21 – 34.
De Fontenelle, Bernard Le Bovier. Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds. Translated by H. A. Hargreaves. University of California Press, August 1990. Originally published in 1686. ISBN: 0520071719.
Delano, Kenneth J. Many Worlds, One God. Hicksville, NY: Exposition Press, 1977. ISBN: 0682486442.
deWohl, Louis. "Religion, Philosophy, and Outer Space." America, 24 July 1954, 420-21.
Dick, Steven J. The Biological Universe: the twentieth-century extraterrestrial life debate and the limits of science. Cambridge University Press, 15 February 2001. ISBN: 0521799120.
Dick, Steven J. Life on Other Worlds: the twentieth-century extraterrestrial life debate. [Note: This book appears to be an abridged and updated version of The Biological Universe.]
Dick, Steven J., ed. Many Worlds: The New Universe, Extraterrestrial Life & the Theological Implications. Philadelphia and London: Templeton Foundation Press, 2000.
Dick, Steven J. Plurality of Worlds: the origins of the extraterrestrial life debate from Democritus to Kant. Cambridge University Press, August 1984. ASIN: 0521319854.
Downing, David C. Planets in Peril: A Critical Study of C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy. Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 1992.
Fitzgerald, R. The Complete Book of Extraterrestrial Encounters: the ideas of Carl Sagan, Eric von Daniken, Billy Graham, Carl Jung, John C. Lilly, John G. Fuller, and many others. New York: Collier Books, 1979.
Galloway, Allan D. The Cosmic Christ. New York, 1951.
Greeley, Andrew. Personal email exchanges with the author.
Heeren, Fred. Show Me God: What the Message from Space is Telling Us about God. Wonders That Witness Volume 1. Wheeling, IL: Day Star Productions, 1997. ISBN: 1885849524. [Note: Ross Pavlac says on his web page: This is a bit of an odd duck, sort of like the stuff in Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos. Show Me God is a non-fiction book about the evidences for God based on various constants and values in the universe being necessary for life to exist. The short story is included at the beginning of the book to show an all-too-possible version of what might happen if the SETI project ends up finding life out there, but not the kind of intelligent life they were expecting.]
Heeren, Fred. "Home Alone in the Universe?" First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion & Public Life, Mar 2002 Issue 121, p 38.
Hesburgh, Theodore. Foreward. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. NASA. SP-419. WASHINGTON, D.C., 1977. Morrison Report of SETI, c. 1975-1976. Morrison, P. and J. Billingham and J. Wolfe, eds. [Note: Source of quote is The Biological Universe by Steven J. Dick page 511: Theodore Hesburgh is the President of Notre Dame University: "As a theologian, I would say that this proposed search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is also a search of knowing and understanding God through His works -- especially those works that most reflect Him. Finding others than ourselves would mean knowing Him better."]
Kaiser, Christopher. “Extraterrestrial Life and Extraterrestrial Intelligence.” Reformed Review, 51 (1997 – 1998), 77-91.
Kaplan, Rabbi Aryeh. World Wide Web: www.innernet.org.il/archives/extrat.htm. Extracted with permission from “The Aryeh Kaplan Reader” published by ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd., Brooklyn, New York, January 2002 edition.
Lamm, N. "The Religious Implication of Extraterrestrial Life."
Lamm, Norman Rabbi. Faith and Doubt – Studies in Traditional Jewish Thought. New York Ktav 1971. [Note: Chapter 5 is entitled: “The religious implications of extra-terrestrial life.”]
Challenge: Torah Views on Science and Its Problems by A. Cannell and C. Domb, eds. 2nd edition. New York: n.p., 1978.
Leslie, John, ed. Modern Cosmology & Philosophy. New York: Prometheus Books, 1998.
Lewels, Francisco Joe, Ph.D. "The Vatican and UFOs: Can Theology Accept an Alien Presence?" Contact Forum: The Journal of the Fifth World. May-June 1998, Volume 6, Issue 3. Pages 24-28.
Lewis, James R., ed. The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds. New York: State University of New York Press, 1995.
McColley, Grant and H.W. Miller, “Saint Bonaventure, Francis Mayron, William Vorilong and the Doctrine of a Plurality of Worlds,” Speculum, 12 (1937), 386 – 389.
Miller, Lisa. "If we're not alone." Wall Street Journal -- Eastern Edition, 01/01/2000, Vol. 235 Issue 1, p R50.
Milne, E. A. "The Second Law of Thermodynamics: Evolution." Modern Cosmology and the Christian Idea of God. Oxford, 1952. [Note: Discusses the problem of the Incarnation of Christ on other planets.]
Murphy, George L., Ph.D. "Intelligent Design as a Theological Problem." World Wide Web:
www.elca.org/faithandscience/covalence/covalence_vol4_no2.pdf. Volume IV, Number 2 "Summer Reading" Issue Second Quarter, 2002.
O’Malley, William J. “Carl Sagan’s Gospel of Scientism.” America, 144 (Feb. 7, 1981), 95 – 98.
O’Meara, Thomas F. Christian Theology and Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life. Theological Studies, 00405639, Mar 99, Vol. 60, Issue 1.
Parrinder, Patrick. "Detached, planet, no neighbors." Times Higher Education Supplement, 1/14/94 Issue 1106, p13.
Peters, Rev. Dr. Ted. "Exo-Theology: Speculations on Extra-Terrestrial Life." World Wide Web: www.contactsupport.net/exo1.html.
Phalan, J. M. "Men and Morals in Space." America 113 (9 October 1965), 405-7.
Polkinghorne, John. Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity. London: Triangle Press, 1994.
Proctor, Richard A. Other Worlds Than Ours: The Plurality of Worlds Studied under the Lihgt of Recent Scientific Researches. Akron, Ohio: The Werner Company, 1870.
Ramm, Bernard. The Christian View of Science and Scripture. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954.
Russell, Robert John and William R. Stoeger, S.J., and George V. Coyne, S.J., eds. John Paul II on Science and Religion: Reflections on the New View from Rome. The Vatican: Vatican Observatory Publications, 1990.
Seife, Charles. "Gimme that E.T. Religion." Science Now, 03/02/2000, p 3.
Simek, Rudolf. Heaven and Earth in the Middle Ages: The Physical World before Columbus. Translated by Angela Hall. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1992.
Sitchin, Zecharia. "Sitchin and Vatican Discuss ETs." World Wide Web: www.sitchin.com. 5th World Journal. (Formerly: Contact Forum) 2000.2 Pages 29-30.
Smyth, Marina. Understanding the Universe in Seventh-Century Ireland. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1996.
Strange, James F. "Some Observations from Archaeology and Religious Studies on ETI." World Wide Web: it.utsi.edu/~spsr/articles/someobservations.html. University of South
Tartar, Donald E. "Looking for God and Space Aliens." Free Inquiry, Summer 2000, Vol. 20 Issue 3, p 38.
Wallace, Alfred Russel. Man’s Place in the Universe: A Study of the Results of Scientific Research in Relation to the Unity or Plurality of Worlds. New York: McClure, Phillips & Co., 1903.
Whewell, William. The Plurality of Worlds. Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1856.
Wiker, Benjamin D. “Alien Ideas: Christianity and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.” World Wide Web: www.crisismagazine.com/november2002/feature7.htm.
Wilkinson, David. Alone in the Universe? Aliens, the X-Files and God. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997.
Wojcik, Daniel. The End of the World as We Know It: Faith, Fatalism, and Apocalypse in America. New York and London: New York University Press, 1997.
Wolf-Chase, Grace, Ph.D. "One Scientist's Thoughts on the Theological Implications of the Existence of Extraterrestrial Life." World Wide Web: www.elca.org/faithandscience/covalence/covalence_vol4_no2.pdf. Volume IV, Number 2 "Summer Reading" Issue Second Quarter, 2002.
World Wide Web: www.ou.org/torah/ti/5760/vayeitzei60.htm. [Note: Jewish discussion of four levels of interpretation of Scripture.]
Zabilka, Ivan L. Nineteenth Century British and American Perspectives on the Plurality of Worlds: A Consideration of Scientific and Christian Attitudes (A 1980 University of Kentucky doctoral dissertation).
1Roberts, Alexander and Donaldson, James, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series: Volume II, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997.