Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


2.3  Plurality of Worlds and Divine Purpose

By the early and mid-1600's the utilization of the Moon and other planets as abodes for extraterrestrial life had become an accepted theme, certainly in fiction but also increasingly in scientific writings of the time. In the 17th century -- the century of great discoveries, scientific breakthroughs and grand geographical voyages around the world -- more than 200 accounts of trips to the Moon appeared in print.1896

In 1656 the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher sent his hero touring the heavens with an angel as his guide. In the course of these journeys, the Moon was found to be quite habitable, including mountains, oceans, lakes, islands and rivers.1872

About a decade later in Milton's well-known Paradise Lost, the angel Raphael discusses the possibility of life on the Moon and other planets. Says he of the Moon:

Could not there be
Fields and inhabitants? Her spots thou seest
As clouds, and clouds may rain, and rain produce
Fruits in her softened soil, for some to eat
Allotted there; and other Suns, perhaps,
With their attendant Moons…

But Adam is cautioned that it is dangerous to cogitate such matters, as they are best left to the Almighty: "Dream not of other worlds, what creatures there live, in what state, condition or degree."702

David Russen in A Voyage to the Moon (1703) allowed that there might be inhabitants on the Moon, but that traveling there would be difficult because of the lack of air between worlds.742 In Robert Paltock's John Daniel (1751), a survivor of a shipwreck constructs a flying machine to escape his island prison but winds up escaping the Earth instead! On the Moon he finds copper-skinned humanoids who live in caves and worship the Sun.742 And in 1775, a Frenchman named Louis-Guillaume de la Follie published an account of the doings of beings on Mercury. In Philosophy Without Pretension, a brilliant Mercurian inventor-scientist constructs a flying machine which carries a skeptical fellow scientist to Earth and maroons him here.45

But the fictional treatments of extraterrestrial life in the late 17th and 18th centuries were executed with a growing eye to satire and witty criticism of the foibles of modern civilization. Despite the increasing interest among the scientific community in alien life, fictional tales remained remarkably free of science and technical accuracy.

For example, two of the best-known early adventure stories were Cyrano de Bergerac's (1620-1655) Voyage to the Moon (1657) and History of the States and Empires of the Sun (1662) (which was uncompleted at his death) . In the first of these tales, the narrator wears bottles filled with morning dew which are attracted to the Sun -- everyone knows dew rises! -- and eventually transport him to the Moon. There he meets Domingo Gonsales and his trained geese, and the lunar queen and her court are a cruel mockery of the monarchy of contemporary England.1872

Gabriel Daniel's novel A Voyage to the World of Descartes (1694) is a satire on the dualist philosophy of Descartes. Daniel's travelers found the Moon to be inhabited only by spirits.742 Voltaire's characters in Micromegas (1752) are extraterrestrials: One is a dwarf from Saturn with 72 different senses, and the other is a giant eight leagues tall from the Sirius star system possessing more than a thousand different senses. The story is a satire on the supposed intelligence of mankind, as it might be evaluated by objective aliens.742 And Aratus' narrator in his A Voyage to the Moon (1793) treks to Luna by hot air balloon, landing on an island peopled with lipedal snake-like organisms that speak English. The book caricatures British social and political life by describing the civilization of the man-snakes in a most derogatory fashion.742

Another main thrust during this era of development was along religious lines. As the astronomers during the 1600's came to accept the plurality of worlds, an assumption arose that God would never knowingly "waste" a world.747 This view, which persisted well into the 19th and even 20th centuries,95,103,117,206,599 held that if worlds did exist in space their only real purpose could be to harbor manlike beings.1902

In this vein, Ralph Cudworth wrote in The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678): "It is not reasonable to think that all this immense vastness should lie waste, desert, and uninhabited, and have nothing in it that could praise the Creator thereof, save only this one small spot of Earth."747 The Anglican theologian Thomas Burnet followed suit six years later in a book called The Sacred Theory of the Earth, wherein he asked:

God himself formed the Earth. . . he formed it to be inhabited. This is true, both of the Earth and of every habitable World whatsoever. For to what purpose is it made habitable, if not to be inhabited? We do not build houses that they should stand empty, but look out for Tenants as fast as we can.747

In a sermon preached by a young English clergyman named Richard Bentley in 1692, we find still more evidence of the new viewpoint that swept over Christianity in only a century: "It remains, therefore, that all bodies were formed for the sake of intelligent minds... each for their own inhabitants which have life and understanding."747 William Derham, another minister and author of the popular work Astrotheology (1715), was of the same opinion.

Nor was colonial America immune to these new exotheological conceptions. Cotton Mather (1663-1728), a Puritan minister who wrote a book called The Christian Philosopher, had this to say: "Great God, what a Variety of Worlds hast thou created! How stupendous are the Displays of thy Greatness... in the Creatures with which thou hast replenished those Worlds!"*747 During this entire period of literary and theological development, scientific speculation on the nature of extraterrestrial life was on the upswing. Spaceflight to other worlds was no longer viewed as wholly impractical; when Peter Heylyn compiled his World Geography, the Moon was described along with such other "imaginary" lands as Australia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.1872

Bernard de Fontenelle's Conversations about the Plurality of Worlds came out in 1686 and was an instant success. Not only did de Fontenelle conclude that intelligent beings must exist on worlds other than Earth, but he advanced the progressive notion that such beings would have those characteristics consistent with the environment of the world in which they lived.

Mercurians, therefore, were all hotheads in temperament. The inhabitants of Venus, the next planet out from the Sun, "resemble the Moors of Granada, a small, black people, burned by the Sun, full of wit and fire, always in love, writing verse, fond of music, arranging festivals, dances and tournaments every day." Jupiterians rarely encountered each other, since their planet was so large, and the extreme coldness of Saturn rendered the creatures there dull, torpid and sluggish in mind and body. It was suggested that the Moon might not be inhabited at all, because of the thinness of the atmosphere.1950

The first full-length scientific book to deal seriously and specifically with the problem of extraterrestrial life was authored by the Dutch physicist and astronomer Christian Huygens. Entitled The Celestial Worlds Discover'd (1698), it contained many detailed theories and pursued with greater diligence the conform-to-the-environment theme de Fontenelle had also wrestled with.

Of the planet Mars, for instance, Huygens cautiously states: "His Light and Heat is twice, and sometimes three times less than ours, to which I suppose the Constitution of his Inhabitants is answerable." As for populating the Sun,** Huygens (unlike William Herschel more than a century later) is very pessimistic:

That the Sun is extremely hot and fiery, is beyond all dispute, and such Bodies as ours could not live one moment in such a Furnace. We must make a new fort of Animals then, such as we have no Idea or Likeness of among us, such as we can neither imagine nor conceive: which is as much to say, that truly we have nothing at all to say.602

Many 18th century notables freely gave their views on alien life. Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), a Swedish scientist, mystic philosopher and theologian, fancied that Venus was inhabited by two distinct species of giants -- one the gentle, religious, human herdsmen, and the other the cruel, savage plunderers "whose favorite sport is eating what has been stolen."43

In a more serious temper, in 1728 Benjamin Franklin wrote: "I believe that Man is not the most perfect Being but One; rather that as there are many degrees of Beings his Inferiors, so there are many degrees of Beings superior to him."747 The so-called father of Russian science, Mikhail Vasilievich Lomonosov (1711-1765), published many poems of both satirical and scientific bent to communicate his belief in life on other worlds to his countrymen. And John Adams, who became the second President of the United States, made the following entry in his personal diary on April 24, 1756: "...all the unnumbered Worlds that revolve round the fixt Stars are inhabited, as well as this Globe of Earth."

Legal philosophers likewise expressed interest in xenology at an early date. For example, Immanuel Kant's Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens (1755) set forth the then unorthodox proposition that while many worlds may be inhabited, not all planets will bear life. Furthermore, Kant felt it likely that "celestial bodies which are not yet inhabited will be hereafter, when their development has reached a later stage."

The great French philosopher Montesquieu (1689-1755) may be credited with the anticipation of modern metalegal concepts (see Chapter 25). He envisioned the possibility of humans having some form of legal relations with intelligent ETs. In his De l‘espirit des lois (1748) he stated:

Laws in the broadest sense imply relationship. That necessarily follows from the nature of things. In that sense all beings have their laws.... Laws are relationships which exist between it and the different beings as well as the relations between these beings themselves.372

And back across the English channel, the British political leader Lord Bolingbroke (1678-1751) wrote that ours may not be the highest intellect in the universe. In fact, said he, "we may well suspect that ours is the lowest, in this respect, of all mundane systems."747


* A curious book was written in 1757 by Dr. Swinden, a British clergyman, called Researches on the Nature of the Fire of Hell and the Place Where It Is Situated. According to Swindon's detailed calculations, the interior volume of Earth is far too small to hold the multitude of angels that fell from Heaven after the Great Battle. Hence, the Sun is the only possible abode of the devil, it being a well-sustained fire and having plenty of room for Satanic inhabitants.

** The theory of solar-dwellers was once used as evidence at a murder trial. One Dr. Elliot, accused of the murder of Miss Boydell in 1787, stated in open court his opinion that the Sun was endowed with intelligent inhabitants. His friends asserted insanity as his defense, citing as clear proof his beliefs regarding life in the Sun.43


Last updated on 6 December 2008