Did the Puritans Start the Seti Project?

This quote about life on other planets was sent to me by my friend Penman, a regular poster on the Biologos site. It is by Richard Baxter, one of the greatest of the 17th century Puritan writers and preachers: 

I know it is a thing uncertain and unrevealed to us, whether all these globes be inhabited or not. But he that considereth, that there is scarce any uninhabitable place on earth, or in the water, or air; but men, or beasts, or birds, or fishes, or flies, or worms, and moles, do take up almost all; will think it a probability so near a certainty as not to be much doubted of, that the vaster and more glorious parts of the creation are not uninhabited; but that they have inhabitants answerable to their magnitude and glory.

Richard Baxter
quoted in “Gathered Gold”

Amazing to think that so soon after Galileo Evangelicals were not only considering, but welcoming, this issue.

The only problems I have in considering extraterrestrial life are (a) are there intelligent aliens in the image of God and (b) what happens if some of them sin – the Lord Jesus can’t, surely, die again?

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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5 Responses to Did the Puritans Start the Seti Project?

  1. James Penman penman says:

    Hi Jon
    You invite comment on my Baxter quote. It’s something that has bubbled away in my mind for some time.

    To be brief:

    (a) If we take image of God to refer to God-consciousness, conscience, & the capacity for heaven & hell, then maybe there are aliens with those qualities. I don’t know if there factually are, but I don’t see why there shouldn’t be. We’ve already got angels who have all those qualities: a non-human form of spiritual life. So who knows? Why not embodied beings on other worlds who share these qualities? I don’t want to be dogmatic beyond Scripture. So, Scripture being silent here, it’s up to empirical investigation to find out.

    (b) I don’t know what happens if an alien race sins. Je suis agnostic. Would it involve the Lord Jesus suffering again? Certainly not as the Lord Jesus, since Jesus’ human suffering avails only for human sinners. Would it involve an alien incarnation? I don’t know. Perhaps there are modes of redemption other than incarnation, especially for other worlds which may be related to God in ways not strictly parallel to our own. I even take the old pre-Anselm view that there may have been other modes of redemption possible for humanity, but that God chose the incarnation & death of the Son as the wisest & best mode for us, rather than the only possible mode (Augustine espouses this view pretty lucidly, & interestingly so does Calvin). I see no theological reason why there cannot possibly be an alien incarnation. It is imaginatively mind-boggling, & raises some enigmas, but I can’t bring myself to pronounce dogmatically “This cannot possibly be.”

    My definition of brevity seems to be going out of the window! Sorry. I’ll close with this poem by Alice Meynell that I find strangely awe-inspiring:

    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 Word.

    Of His earth-visiting feet
    None knows the secret, cherished, perilous,
    The terrible, shamefast, frightened, whispered, sweet,
    Heart-shattering secret of His way with us.

    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 be 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.

    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.

    Alice Meynell (1847-1922)

  2. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Alternatively, have you seen Ward & Brownlee’s Book, “Rare Earth” ? They point out just how many fortuitous aspects of the earth make advanced life possible, and wonder if even the vast array of planets in the Universe might duplicate those conditions rarely, if at all.

    Would such splendid isolation be a waste of God’s effort? I remember (but can’t trace) a quote from a book on the fine tuning of the universe that speaks to the effect that the universe has to be this big to make a world this small. An awesome thought.

    The Curies had to refine a ton of pitchblende to make 100mg of radium, but that doesn’t make the latter any less significant.

  3. James Penman penman says:

    I haven’t seen the Ward & Brownlee book. And I wouldn’t actually defend the view that there definitely are intelligent, embodied ETs on other worlds. Maybe there aren’t. Maybe the whole cosmos is structured to make life on earth possible. Scripture is silent: so it’s the job of empirical investigation to find out.

    All I’d really want to do is keep an open mind. I don’t see any biblical reason why there CAN’T be intelligent, embodied ETs. Nor can I see any theological reason why, in principle, they can’t be redeemed (if they sin) by an alien incarnation.

    At least the open mind makes it easier to write science fiction!

  4. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    “At least the open mind makes it easier to write science fiction!”

    Yes – “To boldly go where nothing ever happens” doesn’t have quite the same ring!

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